DUNEDIN — When word spread that Mease Dunedin Hospital had issued an eviction notice to an adult day care program operating in a hospital building, city commissioners swooped in to save the day.
In November the city pledged $35,000 toward major roof and gutter repairs that the hospital said it couldn't afford to make for the day care on top of a multi-million dollar expansion of its emergency, operating and other patient facilities.
However, three months later, the adult day care program has shuttered its Dunedin branch anyway.
Even before the eviction notice, Neighborly Care Network president Debra Shade said the nonprofit, which opened a larger Tarpon Springs location in December, had contemplated closing the Dunedin operation to reduce expenses.
So by mid-January, with federal reductions in Medicaid reimbursements on the horizon and still no renewed lease in hand, Shade decided the writing was on the wall. Neighborly's Dunedin branch closed Feb. 4. Clients are now being bused to the new Tarpon center, inside the Solomon Peska Center at 431 E Spruce St.
The move, Shade said, saves Neighborly, the city and the hospital money, and also ensures the future of the program in a space that Neighborly owns.
"The city was so gracious in offering us the money and we were so happy," Shade said. But, "strategically, we decided that we could not afford to have two day cares."
She added: "It's nobody's fault. … It's a win-win all around."
The closure brings Neighborly's number of Pinellas County adult day care centers to three. The centers ensure that seniors with dementia, brain injuries or physical impairments can remain home with loved ones by providing their emotionally and physically drained caregivers with respite or the means to continue to work.
Neighborly's partnership with Mease Dunedin Hospital had begun in 2002. While the adult day care occupied a hospital-owned facility at 820 New York Ave., Mease paid Neighborly's cost of rent, patient lunches, furnishings, utility and tax costs, parking and liability insurance. In exchange, the nonprofit staffed the center to serve up to 25 seniors or hospital patients a day.
In September, Mease told Neighborly to vacate the building by Dec. 31, but the city stepped in to help in early November.
City records show Shade emailed City Manager Rob DiSpirito about her group's decision to pack up hours after DiSpirito corresponded with Mease Dunedin chief operating officer Lou Galdieri about the new three-way contract. DiSpirito said the email caught him "off guard."
In an email the next day, Jan. 18, DiSpirito explained to Shade that the city had already lined up a contractor to start repairs once attorneys for the city and hospital finalized paperwork, which had been delayed by holiday vacations. He also reminded her of their November phone conversation about the city and hospital's solid, publicly-made commitment to the project and that officials would be in touch once documents were ready.
DiSpirito shared with the Times Shade's Jan. 29 letter to the city indicating that Neighborly's decision was "financial."
"It's too bad that the funding realities are such that they had no choice" but to close, DiSpirito said. However, in the Tarpon space, "they can take on more people and that's a net gain for the community. Having more Dunedin residents served outweighs the location of the facility."
Shade said it won't cost anything extra to bus clients to the renovated 14,000-square-foot Tarpon facility because seniors from Tarpon previously were being bused to Dunedin anyway.
While the Dunedin building could only serve a maximum 25 of roughly 50 enrolled clients a day, the Tarpon facility has space for up to 112 — allowing the program to grow and possibly hire more staff.
A Mease Dunedin spokeswoman said the former Neighborly Care Network building will be razed while hospital bosses decide the property's fate.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.