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Closing of Brookhaven adult day care knocked

Margaret Suomela, center, who suffers from Alzheimers disease,

Margaret Suomela, center, who suffers from Alzheimers disease, is picked up from the Rose Carracappa Senior Center in Mt. Sinai recently, by her daughter Deborah Gunther, left, and her son-in-law Peter Gunther right. Suomela, 85, has been attending a free day care program at the center for people with dementia. But at years end, the program will no longer be available due toTown of Brookhaven budget woes. (Dec. 11, 2012) Credit: John Paraskevas

Sound Beach resident Peter Gunther expects to start the new year the way 2012 will probably end -- in frustration.

Gunther is in one of about 50 families on the losing end of the Brookhaven Town council's decision to cut spending by eliminating adult day care services, which cater to residents with dementia and other maladies. The program, slated to close at the end of the month, was cut in the town's 2013 budget.

"This is unexplainable," said Gunther, whose 85-year-old mother-in-law, Margaret Suomela, participates in the program twice a week at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai.

During each of her five-hour visits, Suomela plays puzzle games and engages in arts, crafts and history lessons with those with similar ailments. "This was a chance for us to get a break a couple times a week [from caregiving]," Gunther said.

Public outrage has swelled in recent weeks as the closing of adult day care looms, said Mickie Tinkler, program supervisor of the service.

The annual operating budget for the program is about $500,000, excluding building, operation and maintenance costs, town officials say. The town expects to save $330,000 by eliminating the service.

"People are devastated. People are wondering what to do," said Tinkler, who stands to lose her job and has collected petitions to save the program. She said 10 part-time workers will also be fired. One full-time worker is expected to transfer to another town department.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine, who was elected last month, said the program cannot be saved. The administration of past Supervisor Mark Lesko, which crafted the $247 million budget, made it difficult to spare it, and "I'm forced to work with the budget," Romaine said.

Gunther said town officials sent him a letter about the program closure last month, and he was not given a chance to voice his dissatisfaction.

"We are pleased to have been providing services for you in our adult day service program . . . [but] with heavy hearts, we must inform you that, as of Dec. 31, 2012, the program will cease to operate," Gunther said the letter read.

"We apologize for the short notice, but we were working up to the eleventh hour trying to save the program," the letter said.

It concluded that adult day care was eliminated from the budget as part of "program restructuring," Gunther said.

"I feel lousy. My mother-in-law has only been involved in the program a few months. It makes me feel crummy," said Gunther, who pays $33 per visit for his mother-in-law.

The letter offered information on similar services that Tinkler and Gunther said cost twice as much and are farther away.

"We'll be watching her, and if forced to, we'll enroll her in a more expensive program," Gunther said. "It's a program a lot of people need."

Next year would have been the program's 25th year in operation.

Alternative adult centers


Day Haven Adult Day Services: 400 Sheep Pasture Rd., Port Jefferson. 631-476-9698, ext. 213

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