Alzheimer’s Association’s folding leaves some scrambling for options

ST. GEORGE – On February 6, the local office of the Utah Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association was abruptly closed, leaving staff and patients nonplussed.

Chapter Executive Director Jack Jenks and Chapter Program Director Nick Zullo came to the St. George office that morning on which annual employee evaluations were slated.

When they arrived at the office, instead of giving evaluations, Jenks announced they were closing the office effective immediately. The staff, which included Mitzi Sullivan, regional manager, and Jessica Merrill, outreach and events coordinator, was laid off with severance pay through March 15. The chapter education coordinator position, held by LuAnn Lundquist, was also eliminated.

The abrupt closing did not allow time for staff or patients to find alternate support or services notwithstanding Jenks’ assurance that “some of those same services provided by the St. George office will continue but under a different format.”

All statements from the chapter state the closure was due to budgetary reasons, and “all staff members were given excellent letters of reference.”

Sullivan expressed frustration that she and the others at the St. George office never suspected a closing of the office was in the works:

“Considering the outcome and the feelings of many of our constituents and community it was a choice that should have been shared with them,” Sullivan said.

“I view what has happened in St George as a reduction in force. We lost personnel,” Zullo said. “We can continue to function by collaboration on space, offices, and conference rooms, etc. The issue is that there were personnel that performed well in their roles, (whom) we have lost.

“Outside of the chapter’s director positions, there were only six positions left in our organization that could be considered for reduction,” Zullo said. “One was vacated and not replaced. Two positions – in the north – were funded 100 percent by pass-through grant funding under a contract with the funder and over which the chapter had no discretion. The remaining three positions – the St. George positions – were actually the only positions funded by the chapter of those six I mentioned. That meant the only personnel that could be reduced were the positions based in St. George.”

The Utah Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association has a board member from the St. George area: Carol Grady, Dean of Nursing at Dixie State College. “Grady was aware of the closure,” said Jenks, “even if the staff at the office were not. It may have seemed abrupt to the staff, but it was not to those on the board. This decision has been in the works for quite some time.”

Jenks said that one-third of small nonprofit charities in Utah have gone out of business in the past year. “Donations are way down, due to the economy and reduced contributions. This closure had no performance issues; it was strictly a budget issue.”

Lundquist said that Jenks presented the closure motion to the state’s Alzheimer’s Association board and the board, including Grady from Southern Utah, voted unanimously in favor of closure.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, “Alzheimer’s is a disease that attacks the brain. It is the most common form of dementia.” One of the main cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s is memory loss, but there may also be others. Once cognition is lost, it does not come back. In addition to cognition, Alzheimer’s can affect function and behavior. Medication is available that can help, but these can also have undesirable side effects. …

“Alzheimer’s is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.”

Former President Ronald Reagan suffered from Alzheimer’s disease after leaving the White House; “When people say, ‘You have Alzheimer’s,’ you have no idea what Alzheimer’s is,” said former first lady Nancy Reagan. “You know it’s not good. You know there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. That’s the only way you can go. But you really don’t know anything about it. And you don’t know what to expect.” In a recent interview, Nancy called it a “long goodbye.”

Support services tend to both the Alzheimer’s patient and the families. There were about 100 families receiving various levels of service from the local office of the association, residents of Washington, Kane and Iron Counties, including the Indian reservation in San Juan.

Of those, Lundquist said:

“Alternative community resources are available to our clients 60 years and older; but we have clients that are in their 40’s and 50’s and there are no other resources to help them other than Social Security / disability.”

Nonetheless, state chapter leaders are given praise for how they handled things after the closing; “I have to hand it to Nick (Zullo),” Lundquist said. “He has had to be present at a community meeting where people were asking difficult and pointed questions, and he agreed to listen to them again in a conference call, and in a ‘town hall’ meeting coming up March 16. At least he was willing to face those who are concerned and let them have a voice.”

Seniors can go to the Area Agency on Aging for services, Lundquist said, but noted that there are waiting lists until the next funding cycle in July.

“St. George is fortunate to have wonderful physicians that serve our clients. There are still support groups functioning in St. George (2), Cedar City, Hurricane, and Kanab. There are many interfaith volunteers that have been trained through (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Service missionary project that are holding faith-based support groups and training.” Lundquist was reassuring.

Jenks also emphasized that many of the services coordinated through the St. George office will continue, but under a different structure. “There are five support groups that will continue, the LDS Church service missionaries will continue, and a staff member from Salt Lake City will visit monthly.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is a national 501(c)3 and is a highly valued organization. The Utah Chapter has worked for many years serving people throughout the state. Lundquist said she feels badly that they have chosen to abandon an office in our rural part of the state, whatever the reasoning may be.

Sullivan and Lundquist have filed for nonprofit status for an organization that will continue to serve the population in Southern Utah.

“Memorials and tribute funds, corporate donations, individual donations, foundation grants, national grants, government grants, and special fundraising events” were all sources of income for the office, Sullivan said. “Washington County has the highest 65- and-older population in the state.”

A Town Hall meeting is planned for March 16 at 11 a.m. at Cliff View Senior Living, 134 W. 2025 South Circle, in St. George. Interested persons may attend, express their concerns and ask questions regarding remaining services and how they can be accessed.

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Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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