Nestled along the banks of the Mianus River in the refurbished former Cos Cob pump station, the nonprofit River House Adult Day Center has become an inviting daily refuge for scores of local seniors and adults whose advancing age and frailties make independent living isolating and challenging.
“We feel like we’re a little bit of a best kept secret, and we don’t want to be that anymore,” says Donna Spellman, executive director of the vibrant adult center, the only such place offering daily respite care for seniors in the Stamford/Greenwich area.
Spellman wants to get the word out for good reason: River House is bridging a gap for many seniors, who are striving to maintain some independence but need a social outlet and health monitoring, yet are often reliant on stretched-to-the-max family caregivers for support.
“We do a lot at River House to help our clients, but the one thing we don’t have is beds,” says Spellman. “Everyone goes home, and that’s the point. What we offer here is respite. And for our clients and their families, that can be a really important break.”
WHO DROPS IN
The average River House client is between seventy-five and eighty years old, but they range in age from forty-eight to ninety-nine. “We see a lot of Parkinson’s, dementia, Alzheimer’s, stroke and a great deal of traumatic brain injury, which sometimes brings us a younger client,” explains Spellman. “They come here for so many reasons. In many cases it’s because this is what keeps them from being in some kind of skilled nursing facility. They are remaining in their home or with a family member who acts as their caretaker. Often times it’s a parent living with adult children.”
While most clients are Greenwich residents, about 40 percent come from nearby Stamford. River House provides transportation from both communities, while clients from farther afield make their own arrangements. Most clients come between three and five days a week, and a few come for half-day sessions.
“What we do is personalized and flexible for each client,” explains Spellman. “We are very focused on meeting our clients and their families exactly where they are.”
STAYING CARED FOR (AND BUSY)
Engagement, fun and healthcare are essential parts of the River House day. During our recent visit, a large group of seniors were seated in a spacious recreation room enjoying a volunteer-led chair movement class doing yoga-like stretches and postures from chairs and wheelchairs. Upstairs, clients with more advanced cognitive issues were playing memory games with the therapeutic recreation staff. Other activities might include volleyball played with balloons, barbecues and creative movement class.
In nice weather, small groups of clients may take day trips on the Island Beach Ferry or to local attractions. River House offers a hot catered lunch daily in a room featuring panoramic views of the Mianus River, so scenic it should probably be kept a secret from local event planners. An inviting stone outdoor patio hosts many waterfront barbecues and corn hole tournaments.
In addition, River House has registered nurses and health aides on- site, who do regular medical checks on clients while also providing services such as attended bathing in its expansive, wheelchair accessible shower.
“For some of our clients, taking a shower here is easier than doing it at home; so we’ll take care of that and even their laundry, if they need it,” Spellman explains. “And by checking on our clients vitals and giving them their medications, we’re also able to keep tabs on their health and intervene when there’s an issue that requires more attention.”
CARE FOR THE CAREGIVERS
The stress of caring for an aging loved one with declining health takes a profound toll. With that in mind, River House provides social services support to both its clients and their loved ones.
In addition to offering much needed support group and individual counseling for clients’ caretakers, River House maintains strong ties to local social service providers and health- and eldercare facilities to help its guests and their families access the support and intervention they may need.
“For many of the clients we work with, coming here is the thing that makes it possible for them to continue living at home with family. So the family has to be part of the equation.”
“We’re very transparent in that we’re not the right fit for everyone,” adds Spellman, who says some especially frail seniors may be better suited to round-the-clock in-home care or a skilled nursing facility. “But even when River House isn’t the right place for someone, it’s important to us to be a resource to the community.”
MAKING IT WORK
River House charges a day rate of $100 for clients, which includes door-to-door transportation, therapeutic recreation and hot, nutritious daily meals. But the nonprofit’s small team works diligently to make its services available to anyone who needs them regardless of the ability to pay. A sliding-scale fee based on income means many clients pay much less than the standard day rate.
“Aging is expensive, and we’re very cognizant of that,” says Spellman. “So we’re committed to having a strong scholarship program. We don’t want to ever be in the position of turning someone away because of an inability to pay.”
At press time, River House had openings for new clients.