Nursing-unit families confront painful choices

Finding a new home for Ricky will be difficult, most everyone concedes.

Just how difficult is the issue.

Ricky, who has lived 46 of his nearly 50 years at the skilled-nursing unit of the Grand Junction Regional Center, obviously needs a great deal of care, said his sister, Carole Robison-Brass.

Twenty-four-hour care by skilled nurses only scratches the surface of Ricky’s needs,

Robison-Brass said, as she rolled her brother into an event for families and guardians who need to decide where they will take their loved ones once the nursing unit closes next year.

Ricky can’t lift his normal-sized head from the specially designed cart that supports his tiny, 60-pound body.

He can breathe with ease only as he lays on his left side. He has to be moved carefully onto his stomach for short periods to prevent bedsores and accommodate treatment.

He can’t speak, but he is not without the ability to communicate, his sister said.

Ricky’s tooth-grinding was a tip-off to his sister, who asked whether he was hungry. She was rewarded with a grin, less the front teeth that had to be removed because Ricky wore them down.

Understanding his needs is no small task, Robison-Brass said, and the staff that has dealt with him for at least a decade understands him better than anyone.

She doesn’t want to lose that, Robison-Brass said.

Patients such as Ricky are a challenge, said Cindy L. Cridlebaugh, director of intake and marketing for Support Inc. of Aurora, one of 27 care providers that pitched their services Monday to the families and guardians of the 32 clients in the skilled-nursing unit.

More than two dozen care providers filled the gymnasium and kitchen at the Grand Junction Regional Center on Monday, pitching their services to the families and guardians of the people who must leave the skilled-nursing unit there.

Gov. Bill Ritter included the closure of the unit as part of budget cuts aimed at saving the state $320 million.

It costs the state about $600 a day for patients in the unit.

Support Inc. has offered services to clients previously housed at the Wheat Ridge
Regional Center, many who are as vulnerable as the people now in the Grand Junction skilled-nursing unit, Cridlebaugh said.

One of them now gets similar services for $140 a day, she said,

Support Inc. stays in contact with the Wheat Ridge Regional Center employees who dealt with the clients before, Cridlebaugh said.

“It can be done cheaper,” without sacrificing quality, she said.

Efforts to persuade Ritter to keep the unit open suffered a blow Monday when officials said the state’s financial problems were even worse than had been understood. New figures released Monday show the Legislature may have to cut $240 million, on top of the $318 million already cut by Gov. Bill Ritter.

The provider fair turnout shows there is interest in supplying the services, said Tim Hall, deputy executive director of veterans and disability services for the Colorado Department of Human Services, which operates the state’s regional centers.

Ritter has said no client will be removed until families and guardians are satisfied, even if that means the unit has to stay open past the February deadline for closure.

“The families will hold them accountable” to that, said state Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Grand Junction, who has been working with clients at the center.


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