Lutz Center struggles to survive |

Lutz Center struggles to survive

While it may be too late to save the building due to inherited financial shortfalls, advocates stress the Lutz Adult Day Care program in Grass Valley is not going away.

The Senior Citizens Foundation put the Lutz Center building up for sale last month to pay off a $150,000 debt incurred by the program during the last several years. The building is the foundation’s major asset.

The foundation is the umbrella organization which includes the Lutz Adult Day Care program, the Grass Valley Senior Center and the High Noon Senior Nutrition program.

To keep its other programs afloat, the Senior Citizens Foundation was forced to put the building on the market, said Sallie Faulkner, president of the foundation’s board of directors.

“We carried the old Lutz debt as far as we could without breaking down the other two programs,” Faulkner said. “We’re not doing this out of desire, but only out of necessity.”

The Lutz Center’s financial woes are based on average daily attendance problems, declining enrollment, and changes in the assisted living landscape, said former Executive Director Liz Mantle, who ran the day care program for seven years.

“For a long time, we were the only congregate community-based care program available,” Mantle said.

Then, to the community’s benefit, a lot of upscale assisted-living facilities sprang up, diverting potential clients away from the Lutz Center, she said.

Mantle said the Lutz Center program is still the best option for low-income daycare for the elderly and disabled in western Nevada County.

But any time you have nonprofits serving indigent clients based on a MediCal sliding scale, there’s little profit and “when you’re running that close to the wire, anything can send you over,” she said.

Mantle, who stepped down from her Lutz Center position in May 2001, said the program started moving back into the black the last three months of her tenure.

“But it was fragile,” she said.

“The bottom line is average daily attendance, and how much of it is our responsibility from a management perspective?” asked Bobby Swanson, the current Lutz Center executive director. “We’re doing everything we can to bring people in.”

Faulkner and Swanson said they’re not ready to give up on saving the building just yet.

If the debt incurred by the Lutz Center could be paid, there would be no need to sell the building and find a new facility for the day care program, Swanson said.

“We’re hoping that a collaboration of local benefactors, public agencies and service organizations committed to continuing this valuable program will come forward to eliminate this debt, and thus eliminate the potential for closing the program, even for a brief period of time,” Swanson said.

Faulkner said many improvements have been made to the building in order to meet the state’s licensing requirements for day health care facilities.

“This building fits the program, so its a shame to think we’d have to move,” she said.

The ultimate solution, Faulkner said, would be for the community to come together and help pay the Lutz debt.

“I’m willing to count pennies, thousand dollar bills or anything in between,” she said. “We need a Santa Claus to keep the building and the program where it is.”

Swanson said the expense of refurbishing a new facility to meet the state’s licensing requirements could cost as much as funding the Lutz debt itself.

“This building has been significantly upgraded through donations and sweat equity by the community,” Swanson said. “One of our concerns is how do we deal with that? If we have to move to a new building, do we ask the community to do it all over again?”

It may be too far down the road to pay off the Lutz debt and save the building from sale, said Rob Shotwell, who is the Nevada County Adult and Family Services program director and sits on the Lutz Center board of directors.

“The biggest priority at this point is to break down the misperception that the program is ending, which may be preventing benefactors from making large donations,” Shotwell said. “We’re anticipating a positive solution somehow, and continuation of the program.”

Due to cuts in staffing and hours of operation implemented last month, Swanson said the Lutz Center is projecting no further monthly cash flow problems.

Due to declining enrollment, Swanson said the Lutz Center was losing between $5,000 and $6,000 a month.

Because the Lutz Center is a state licensed health care facility, Swanson said a certain level of staffing must be maintained, whether the program has one client or 49. This leads to costly overhead when enrollment is down.

To cut costs, the state Department of Health Services granted a request by the Lutz board of directors to reduce the program’s licensed enrollment from 75 to 49 clients.

Currently, there are 46 people enrolled in the adult day care program, which has an average daily attendance of 25.

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