Aging drives the frail far from home
EAGLE – Last week, Ken Wilson’s heart broke.He had to place his wife of 49 years, Pat, into an assisted-living facility in Glenwood Springs. Pat’s health, which has been failing for 20 years, had finally reached the point where Wilson could not take care of her by himself in their modest home, just west of Eagle.He would have loved to keep his wife close to home, but in a county where there are no assisted-living facilities, that was simply not an option. But even as Wilson, a captain in the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, travels back and forth to Glenwood several times a week to visit his wife, the local newspapers continue to churn out headlines about county spending – $6 million for open space in Edwards and $1.9 million for a new livestock pavilion at the county fairgrounds. That has Wilson perplexed, he said. “I think county priorities are all wrong,” he says.It’s an emotional subject for Wilson. He says he understands the need for a better barn for the 4-H kids to raise their animals, and understands the county has other projects. But what he knows is that all of his family is in Eagle, and his wife is 35 miles away. He notes, with some envy, that neighboring Garfield County has three assisted-living facilities. And, he wonders why some of the millions of dollars spent on open space and fairgrounds facilities couldn’t be re-directed to a local assisted living facility, he says.He believes his wife would be happier, and maybe healthier, if she could have family nearby.
“We don’t let people grow old and die here. That’s just not fair,” he says.Demanding drivesEagle resident Ardyth Nimon understands where Wilson is coming from. For nearly two years, she drove to Glenwood Springs or Carbondale, several times a week, to visit her husband, Jim, who died in November.Nimon says the months of travel were both financially and emotionally demanding.”When you have somebody you have to put in a nursing home, and you have to go to another county to get help, I think it is pathetic,” she says.”I don’t know the answer, I really don’t,” Nimon adds. “I think our county commissioners could do a little bit better.” She remembers years past when the county commissioners promised an assisted-living facility and a nursing home. The project seemed to be a priority. “It all went down the drain. We’ve heard about if for years, and still it never happens,” she says.
County Commission Chairman Arn Menconi agrees the past board of commissioners championed the need for an assisted-living facility, and did some talking about pursuing the project. However, when a detailed study was made, the county found operating a facility would require a $500,000 yearly subsidy.”We were all very frustrated. We really wanted to make it happen,” says Menconi. He notes that all three of the current commissioners support an assisted-living facility.Not old enough? The yearly subsidy is why an assisted-living facility isn’t comparable to the county spending $2 million on open space, Menconi said. ” The problem is we can’t operate it at a break-even cost, even once it’s built. That’s a serious issue,” he says. Menconi noted that after the county purchased a senior citizen housing complex a few years ago, they were surprised to find themselves spending $50,000 a year subsidizing it.
And the commissioners also envision an assisted-living facility for both low-income seniors and those who are more financially comfortable, Menconi says. “We could make one happen today if we only wanted to cater to high-end people willing to pay much higher rates,” he says. “We were trying to make it affordable to a spectrum of incomes.”Demographics are also a factor. Experts say a rule-of-thumb is that somewhere between 7 percent and 12 percent of the population must be age 75 or older in order to justify an assisted-living facility. The 2000 census estimates that only about 3 percent of Eagle County’s population is over the age of 65.Plans are in the works for a hospital and assisted-living facility at Eagle Ranch. The project would be built by Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs and Vail Valley Medical Center. But that project will be built in phases and the hospital is the first priority. Those involved in the medical facility also are reluctant to say when construction will begin, even on the first phase.But all of that is small comfort to people who have an immediate need, Wilson says. “She ought to be here. I shouldn’t have to drive 70 miles to see her,” says Wilson, as he looks at a portrait of his wife taken back in healthier, happier days.Vail, Colorado