BROOKSVILLE — For many senior citizens in Hernando County, it has been a mainstay for friends, fun and support.
The Enrichment Centers Inc. of Hernando County, the 26-year-old nonprofit organization that provides events and activities for seniors, recently moved from the grounds at Oak Hill Hospital to facilities on campuses at Spring Hill Regional and Brooksville Regional hospitals, which are run by Health Management Associates of Naples.
Debbie Walker-Druzbik, executive director for the Enrichment Centers, said the move was good for her organization. "We have room to grow," she said. "It expands our reach."
But it wasn't easy.
When it was time for the Enrichment Centers to renew its lease last fall, the two sides could not agree on terms and the non-profit ultimately decided to join once again with HMA.
"It was a privilege to support them for the last 10 years," said Mickey Smith, CEO for Oak Hill Hospital. "We tried our best, but were ultimately unable to reach a consensus."
Nick Morana, board president of the Enrichment Centers of Hernando, said the organization was seeking a long-term lease and liked what HMA had to offer. The new agreement is for 10 years, with the option to renew for two future 10-year terms, he added.
The senior center, which offers everything from yoga and dominoes to painting and exercise classes, had more than 133,000 visits during 2010.
It's a return to common ground; before 2000, the Enrichment Centers had a similar partnership with HMA and was at the two hospitals at that time. That partnership ended when Oak Hill Hospital was built, with the popular senior center spending the next 10 years on the Oak Hill Campus.
The Enrichment Centers Inc. is dependent upon such partnerships for survival. During the previous contract, Oak Hill Hospital, which is run by Hospital Corporation of America, provided $1.7 million in support.
The moves are just the latest in a series of developments for seniors in Hernando County.
Until recently, the Enrichment Centers Inc. also operated a facility within the Jerome Brown Community Center, but has closed that location as well. Its downtown location will reopen in April as the Hernando County Mining Association Enrichment Center on 800 John Gary Grubbs Blvd. in a space that will also serve as a special needs shelter for the region.
In addition, Oak Hill Hospital recently announced the creation of the Partner's Club, which will provide activities and events in the space formerly occupied by the Enrichment Centers. Meals on Wheels, a federally funded senior feeding program operating under the auspices of Mid-Florida Community Services Inc., will also continue to operate in the space at Oak Hill.
Oak Hill is in the process of hiring a program coordinator and plans to expand its offerings in the comings months, said Oak Hill spokesman Richard Linkul.
In a county where nearly 30 percent of the population is over 65, having places to gather, connect and make friends matters.
"Sharing a game of checkers can make all the difference in the world," said county community services director Jean Rags. "Mental health is 90 percent of your physical health and sitting at home without interaction isn't healthy."
Just ask 75-year-old Pat Day about the value of connecting. For the past five years, she has been visiting the Enrichment Center every Tuesday to see her group of friends. The group also meets on Sundays for dinner and a movie.
On a recent Tuesday, they sat in a cozy room at the Enrichment Center's new space at Brooksville Regional.
"We've got an ideal view," Day said.
The friends' meeting room looked out onto a courtyard with plants, where several guests sat eating their lunch.
Still, some are struggling with the changes and fragmentation of services among multiple sites.
Helen Lack, 78, said she still goes to Oak Hill Hospital for her Meals-on-Wheels lunch. But the music and other programs she enjoyed have moved elsewhere.
"Some are in Brooksville, some are in Spring Hill," Lack said. "Everything seems to be gone. We want to have it all back again."
Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at [email protected]