As her disease worsened, Kristin Prieur’s mother, who suffers from dementia, spent her days socializing at Circles of Caring, an adult day health program in Pullman.
“She’d come home and get off the bus, and I would always ask her how her day was,” Prieur said. “Finally, one day she looked at me and she said, ‘Oh, I can’t remember. All I know is that they made me feel really good, and I’m happy.’ That was enough for me.”
Originally a pilot program meant to address a gap in services for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, it grew to provide health services for adults with a range of chronic illnesses. Circles also offers respite care for its participants’ caregivers, allowing them the time to work, run errands and look after their own health.
Founded by community leaders in Moscow and Pullman with the help of Gritman Medical Center, Circles opened its doors July 1, 2001, after securing a three-year federal rural health outreach grant totaling $600,000.
Sharon Benson, author of the grant proposal and the former co-director of Circles of Caring, said Medicare was supposed to take over funding for the program after the three-year period. Instead, Gritman funded the program until 2012, spending about $3.8 million.
“The number of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s increases every year, and there’s still no availability of funding for these services,” Benson said. “I hope at some point Medicare will come to their senses and realize (these programs) are less expensive.”
Prieur, an in-home caregiver, said she saw firsthand how vital Circles’ services were to the Moscow-Pullman community, so she fought to continue the program when Gritman no longer could fully support the service.
“Gritman sent notice to all of the families that they were closing their doors at the end of the year,” Prieur said. “That was distressing for many of us, so we got together and we became an Idaho nonprofit corporation.”
Circles of Caring, now run by participants’ families with the help of local donors, re-opened its doors Jan. 1, 2013, in Moscow. The organization moved to Pullman in September 2014.
Hollie Mooney, a registered nurse who is the executive director of Circles, said the program focuses on holistic health, with staff monitoring participants’ physical, social and cognitive functioning.
“You need to be able to laugh and be social and support one another,” Mooney said. “I see people that maybe can’t fully be leaders out in the community, but they come here and they can help each other out.”
Prieur said the social component of Circles is what helps participants thrive even as their illnesses progress.
“This population is really invisible in the larger culture,” Prieur said. “They feel it and tend to withdraw more, which only exacerbates the situation. That’s why coming here was such a positive experience (for participants).”
Mooney, along with Circles’ certified nursing assistants and volunteers, makes sure participants’ basic needs are met. They provide meals, monitor blood sugar and even clip participants’ toenails so they can spend quality time at home with their caregivers.
“You get too tired to do the fun things, like looking at picture books or picking flowers in the garden,” Mooney said. “It’s like Maslow’s hierarchy — you do the basic things first, and then you work up to the empowering parts, and sometimes you don’t get there (as a caregiver).”
In the United States, nearly 1 in 4 caregivers spends 41 hours or more per week providing care to their loved ones, according to 2015 statistics from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Prieur said having a respite care option made it possible to keep her mother out of a long-term care facility while easing her own burden as a caregiver.
“By the time you do everything else, to clip my mother’s toenails would’ve just been one more thing,” Prieur said. “(Circles) just made such a difference in the dynamic of our home. It saved my marriage and kept me working.”
Mooney said when she first started working at Circles, she could see what a difference the program made in the lives of participants and their families. As director, Mooney strives to continue that progress.
“There’s that saying out there: ‘It’s not what you said to a person, but how you made them feel,’ ” Mooney said. “It’s how they feel when they walk out that door, and if they’re feeling good, then we’re successful.”