CONWAY — The Mount Washington Valley Adult Day Center celebrated its grand opening Thursday with speeches and tours of the new facility.

More than 100 people turned out for the invitation-only event set inside the center’s Great Room and on the grounds outside.

The state-of-the-art, 14,000-square-foot facility located off Route 113 in Center Conway provides activities and services for those with memory loss and other cognitive impairments.

The Adult Day Center opened officially on Friday, Sept. 13, when it began providing day services for a handful of guests.

Sue Ruka, director of population health at Memorial Hospital, who will oversee day-to-day operations of the center, said about 30 people are ready to come as guests, but some are still waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs or Medicaid approvals to pay for their visits.

Over the past week, she said, there have been four or five people at the center each day, but that is expected to rise quickly. Today, nine guests are expected.

In addition to the Great Room, which includes a cafe, dining areas and space for entertainment, there are arts and crafts areas, a reading room, solarium, porch, exercise room, spa, medical treatment rooms and a community resource room. Outside, extensive grounds have been created with gardens and pathways to walk on, art installations, a pavillion, seating and areas for activities line corn hole.

Each of the areas has been designed to provide relaxation and stimulation for people with memory loss, and Ruka said, “I know we can achieve what we want to achieve here: pleasure and joy for people with memory loss and peace of mind for caregivers.”

“We want people that come here to feel a sense of community,” Ruka said, and the heart of the program will be the staff. “We have a very skilled and experienced staff. I’m very lucky to work with the people I do.”

She also hopes the center can help shed the stigma attached to memory loss and help people get services early, which she said can make a real difference in their quality of life.

“We want people to know this is an illness affecting the brain, and we’re going to work on how to best manage it,” she said.

The center was created through a partnership of Memorial Hospital in North Conway and the Betty C. Ketchum Foundation.

The center cost $9 million to build and will be operated by Memorial Hospital under the leadership of Ruka, and hospital president Arthur Mathisen.

Wendy Ketchum, who represents the foundation named in honor of her mother, said many people came together to make the center possible. “I just thing the Mount Washington Valley is such a great community. We’ve got some very generous people.”

Ketchum said her mother was the inspiration for the adult day center. Betty Ketchum lived with dementia and was a resident of Merriman House at Memorial Hospital at the end of her life, which, she said, “allowed our mother to have the best quality of life that she could have.”

Wendy Ketchum said, “Despite her dementia, her spirit was always there. It came out when Merriman House had activites,” and in creating the Adult Day Center, the family wanted to provide the kinds of engagement and stimulation that they saw help their mother.

“Hopefully, we will be able to help them come out the way my mom came out,” she said.

As several speakers mentioned during the ceremonies, the center also provides a much-needed service to caregivers, whose lives are devoted to caring for someone with memory loss.

Because it is known that music and art can help stimulate memory, Wendy Ketchum reached out to the local arts community, and many artists responded by donating works of art to grace the center’s rooms. The local Material Girls quilting group provided fidgit quilts for guests to use.

“In addition to engaging the minds of our guests and giving them the stimulation they need, we really want this to be for caregivers,” she said, allowing them respite to do such simple things as getting a cup of coffee with a friend or going grocery shopping.

Mary DeVeau, chair of the Memorial Hospital Board, a former nurse and CEO of Concord Regional Visiting Nurses, said she knows what a difference the services can make for caregivers. “We are so pleased to have this here for the community,” she said.

Mathisen said before he joined Memorial Hospital earlier this year, he didn’t know what an adult day center was. Mathisen’s parents still live in his hometown of Portland, Maine, and on a recent call home, he said his father told him, “Your mother is driving me crazy.”

Jokingly asking how that was anything new, he said, his father told him he woke up that morning to find her gardening in the front yard in her nightgown, in full view of several neighboring homes.

“My mom is in her mid-60s, and she has dementia,” he said. “My dad has to 24/7 watch where my mom goes.”

He said he wanted to tell his father about the center, which provides a service still not available in Portland. “This is a great place for elders and a great place for caregivers,” he said.

He thanked the Ketchum Foundation and specifically Wendy Ketchum and her husband, Norman Cloutier, whose support he said has been unwavering over many years of work; Ruka, who devoted much time to the design of the facility; and Kathy Bennett, community relations and development liaison for Memorial Hospital; as well as the hospital board, contractors and many volunteers who worked to make the center a reality.

Referrals for guests are not needed. To learn more about the Adult Day Center, go to mwvadultdaycenter.org or call Sue Ruka at (603) 356-4980.

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