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Senior Citizen Day Center Gives Care-Givers a Needed Break

September 09, 1993|RENEE TAWA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WEST COVINA — They met at a ballroom dancing singles' party in 1978.

Shortly afterward, Carol and Albert Wacker got married, and they traveled together on eight cruises and five international tours. Their future looked rosy: dancing, traveling and doting on 14 grandchildren at their Covina home.

But a stroke of misfortune changed everything two years ago--Albert Wacker, now 80, was found to have Parkinson's disease. That was on top of other health problems, including six heart bypass operations in 1987. Now, on bad days, he is unable to talk or walk.

Carol Wacker, 64, quit her job as a secretary at Mt. San Antonio College in 1991 to care for her husband full time. Her husband's health maintenance organization pays for part of his treatment, but not for the thousands of dollars in medicine and supplies that he requires. She has not totaled her husband's medical costs, but she knows it is enough to eat up most of their $2,000 monthly Social Security income.

Unlike people who can afford to pay up front for lifetime health care, the Wackers were without extra help until last month, when they enrolled in St. Martha's Senior Care Center.

The senior care center, which opened Aug. 4, provides daytime care, Monday through Friday, in five classrooms at a former junior high school. Rates are determined on a sliding scale, up to $25 a day. Most of the center's costs are covered by donations, said Kimberly O'Connor, program director.

It's a major relief to Carol Wacker, who not only must worry about her husband's medical bills but also about how long she will have the strength to care for him.

Her husband requires constant care. Every day, she dresses and feeds him, and hopes he doesn't fall, as he does a couple of times a day. A simple task like going grocery shopping becomes arduous. She cannot leave her husband alone, so before she found the day-care program, she had to take him along and make sure he doesn't fall or wander off.

"I'm falling between the cracks," Carol Wacker said. "We've always paid our taxes and done our citizenship duties and everything was up front. Now, when we need help, we don't qualify . . . What are we going to do, suffer until he passes on?"

The Rev. Ray M. Smith started the program, saying he came up with the idea for the senior day-care center because many of his parishioners at St. Martha's Episcopal Church in West Covina were taking care of aging parents at home. Their parents were not sick enough to be hospitalized on Medicare, but still needed full-time care.

Almost everything at the center was donated, including the knitted afghans on the beds and the mismatched furniture.

Albert Wacker attends the center daily, which gives his wife time to run errands during the day and get some respite from his full-time care.

"It's fantastic," she said. "They should have thought of it years ago."

The center has four full-time clients and a three-member staff. Albert Wacker's favorite ac combat experience as an Army artilleryman in Operation Desert Storm.

For Barth, hell has two forms.

tivity is dancing with the receptionist. Staff members also help him with tissue-paper art and painting projects.

"The idea was both to give a place where the person could feel it's a home away from home and give respite to the care-giver," O'Connor said. "Someone who's caring for a spouse or parent 24 hours a day . . . they go crazy after awhile."

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