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Hillsborough County reopens its adult day care centers

A woman sits next to her elderly sister at a folding table with a green table cloth. Both are wearing masks. The walls are decorated with balloons and a banner that says "We missed you so much."
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Stacey Miller, left, started bringing her sister Patricia to an adult day care center run by Hillsborough County about a year before the pandemic began. She said she is grateful staff stayed in touch with her sister over the phone when they couldn't be together in person.

Caregivers say it was tough not having the centers open during the pandemic to engage their loved ones. They say they're happy to be back.

Hillsborough County reopened its adult day care centers in Brandon and Tampa’s Westshore District on Monday after shutting them down for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.

These facilities offer health and social services to seniors with dementia and other conditions, allowing them to engage with peers and get medical assistance if needed.

The centers also provide family caregivers some relief, according to Remona Singleton, senior supervisor at the Phyllis Busansky Adult Day Service Center in Tampa.

“What we try to do is prolong the need to place these seniors in long-term facilities such as ALFs [assisted living facilities] or nursing home-type facilities,” she said.

RELATED: Hillsborough County reopens some senior centers for the first time since the pandemic began

On Monday morning, a staff member at the center led Sylvia Owens, 70, and other seniors through a stretching exercise. They sat around spread-out tables and tugged at colorful resistance bands above their heads, counting to 10 as a group with each series of repetitions.

Owens has lived with brain damage most of her life, explained her sister Miriam Mitchell, and she has been coming to the center since 2012.

“She loves it. She thinks that she’s going to school instead of adult day care,” said Mitchell. “So for the past two years it's been a challenge for us and inconvenient at times.”

Female staff member of adult day care center stands in front of the room holding an exercise band. She leads other seniors in the room to pull on their own bands as they sit at tables.
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Sylvia Owens (front left) stretches a resistance band over her head as a staff member at the Phyllis Busansky Adult Day Care Center in Tampa leads the group in an exercise. Her sister Miriam Mitchell said she is "elated" to bring Owens back to her friends.

While some privately owned adult day care centers in the region remained open for much of the pandemic, Hillsborough-run facilities stayed closed over fears about spreading the virus to vulnerable residents.

Other family members and friends pitched in to help with Owens’ care during the shutdown, and Mitchell credits that support for getting her through the past couple years. She said the center also held a caregiver support group over Zoom that helped.

Stacey Miller also relied on family for support while her sister Patricia, 71, couldn’t visit the center in person. Miller said she works 10-hour shifts as an elevator dispatcher and was still required to go into work throughout the pandemic, leaving her sister at home.

Miller said she was grateful that center staff kept in touch with her sister virtually, calling her to check in regularly and hosting activities like crafts and trivia over phone.

“Because she was in that age bracket with COVID, you know, she very rarely was out. I wasn’t able to take her anywhere and I was just so cautious because I had to go out and come back in,” said Miller.

“The only thing she could do is speak to these ladies [staff members] two, three times a week, and she’d be like ‘Stacey, school called!’ Just so excited. So that helped her with being isolated for such a long time.”

Elderly woman sits in a wheelchair while her male caregiver talks with a nurse in front of their car. Others stand in the background.
Stephanie Colombini
WUSF Public Media
Melvin Monroe said adult day care centers are "invaluable" to seniors and their families because they keep them engaged throughout the day.

Melvin Monroe helped wheel his 81-year-old sister into the facility Monday morning. She has dementia, and Monroe said he was happy to bring her back to a place that engages her with activities throughout the day.

“Because a lot of times you will find that some of the elderly would be stuck at home, basically doing nothing but watching the TV all day, so facilities like these, they're precious,” he said.

Hillsborough County’s adult day services centers are open to seniors 60 years and older with a variety of medical conditions. The county does charge for services on a sliding scale basis, with some families eligible for grants, according to Remona Singleton.

Officials with the Aging Services Department said they hope to reopen two other centers in Plant City and the Northlakes section of Tampa soon.

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.