VNA: Home away from home

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Yvonne Bourque, 85, (right) stands with Visiting Nurse Association staffer and Colchester resident Gail Halvorson at the Adult Day Program in Essex. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Yvonne Bourque, 85, (right) stands with Visiting Nurse Association staffer and Colchester resident Gail Halvorson at the Adult Day Program in Essex. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Close to home: A monthlong series for Hospice and Home Care Month

Yvonne Bourque has spent several years with the Visiting Nurse Association’s Adult Day program.

The 85-year-old first worked as a cook at the former Williston site, preparing daytime meals for adults of all ages and cognitive abilities.

When Bourque’s aging sister needed some extra help, she took her to the program. She often stopped in to visit during the day, perhaps pausing to playing a board game or take a walk around the building.

After she had a stroke last year, just months after her husband died, Bourque knew it was her time to become a client.

Last Thursday afternoon, she cut pictures from a magazine, pasting the clippings into an autumn-themed collage. As Frank Sinatra played through a speaker, Bourque situated a monarch butterfly atop a leafy green image.

She’s quick to show a photo of her great-grandson, tucked securely in her purse, and her prized charm bracelet. A bust represents each of her seven children, engraved with their year of birth.

The former dairy farmer now lives with her daughter in Huntington and comes to the Essex Adult Day program five days a week.

“She works, and I come here,” Bourque said, of her daughter.

That’s a pretty typical arrangement for clients of the VNA’s Adult Day program. With sites in Essex, Colchester and South Burlington, the program provides daytime care for adults on weekdays.

Lynn Chase-Denton, a Milton resident and site supervisor in Essex, said the program sees a range of clients. Currently, the enrolled group falls somewhere between age 26 and 97.

The services often allow clients to stay in their homes longer, Chase-Denton said, avoiding or delaying full-time nursing home care.

Many have memory loss, but not all. Some have intense medical needs or cognitive delays, while others just need some time to socialize with their peers.

It can be difficult to plan activities for such a wide range of clientele, but activities assistant Joan Grundhauser says that’s OK.

“We don’t expect all activities to appeal to all people,” Grundhauser said. “People always have a choice whether they participate or not.”

She said the Essex clients especially love to engage in intergenerational activities with kids from the daycare next door.

Grundhauser recently developed a matching game to play with visiting children, giving the youngsters a picture of a baby animal and the VNA clients an image of the respective adult animal.

The kiddos came trick-or-treating on Halloween and plan to sing Christmas carols in December.

Chase-Denton said some of the children were intimidated at first but soon grew comfortable at the center. She hopes that will transfer over to their own lives, especially when they interact with grandparents or other elderly relatives.

“I think that’s a beautiful thing,” she said. “They’re not afraid of the elderly.”

In Colchester, a community garden is a big hit, according to site supervisor Donna LaFromboise-Perretta. The clients tend to crops all year and eventually use the harvest to cook community meals.

This year, they entered some of the produce into the Champlain Valley Fair competition. The group won several blue ribbons and went on an excursion to see their accolades up close.

The programs generally run from 8:30 a.m. to just before 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Rates depend on a sliding scale, but generally fall around $18 an hour.

All prospective clients are invited to spend a free day in the program, allowing them to get a feel for the environment.

That’s exactly what 74-year-old Colchester client Nancy Viator did. The Vermont native moved back to Burlington after more than 40 years in Texas.

Viator could live alone, but knew she would quickly grow tired of sitting at home by herself. She visited the Adult Day program on a Friday and was enrolled full-time by the following Monday.

“I like to be with people,” she said.

Yvonne Bourque examines her autumnal collage at the Essex Adult Day Center last Thursday. With programs in Colchester and South Burlington, the center provides daytime, weeklong day care for adults in need of assistance. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Yvonne Bourque examines her autumnal collage at the Essex Adult Day Center last Thursday. With programs in Colchester and South Burlington, the center provides daytime, weeklong day care for adults in need of assistance. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Now in her tenth year at Adult Day, Viator serves as a mentor of sorts for other clients. She’s the self-appointed leader of the welcoming committee, making sure all new guests feel comfortable.

She also knows her son can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing she has a skilled team looking after her. LaFromboise-Perretta said it’s one of the most important services she and her staff provide.

“That’s one of the greatest things about my job,” she said. “I can help people stay together longer.”

The full spectrum of medical care provided at the centers includes everything from weight monitoring to insulin shots before meals. Diane Olechna, manager of all three sites, said the constant services mean staff can spot a medically unusually occurrence.

In Essex and South Burlington, clients can opt for “memory care,” a specialized model for those experiencing dementia. A separate room provides a dedicated space for those clients in Essex, though Chase-Denton said integration between the groups is nearly constant.

“It was a struggle for us at first,” she said. “By integrating everybody, there is nobody here with a disability. Everybody is all the same.”

On the memory care side, staffers help clients write creative short stories on a whiteboard. Small lap quilts crafted by the Essex-based Champlain Valley Quilt Guild feature familiar items like lacy handkerchiefs and silk ties.

Chase-Denton said it’s amazing to hear the stories those simple textures can inspire.

“They talk, we listen,” she said. “We validate what they have to say.”