EL RENO — Mary Brinkley doesn’t sleep much these days. She’s too busy fighting financial battles in her mind for people who can’t always fight for themselves. She tosses in bed at night, churning ideas in her head in hopes of corralling that inspirational thought that will turn the tide for the social service programs she supports. At times, she feels as though she’s fighting shadows.
But she won’t quit. She can’t quit. She fights for the elderly. As executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Homes and Services for the Aging — a nonprofit organization dedicated to a better quality of life for the elderly — Brinkley fights on several different fronts. But no fight is more important, or desperate, than the financial crisis threatening Oklahoma’s adult day care centers, which are largely funded by state dollars. Most of the centers hustle for the relatively few federal contracts and ever-elusive charitable donations in order to pay the bills. Now a shrinking state budget and looming cutbacks have thousands of families, center administrators and caretakers frightened about tomorrow. “We’re gonna have a train wreck,” Brinkley said. “And nobody seems to be taking this seriously. If we don’t find a solution to this problem, we’re gonna be turning people away who really have no other options and who wants that on their conscience?” Brinkley, 49, might be one of the few Oklahomans who understands the big picture. As an advocate, she regularly attends staff meetings of the State Health Authority, State Health Department and DHS on issues dealing with the elderly. She can also be found roaming the halls of the Capitol, where she sits on various committees and spends countless hours trying to “inspire” and “educate” legislators. And Brinkley does so with an unbounded energy. Still, she thinks an adult day service program will prove to be a tough sell with legislators. “Everyone has heard of nursing homes, and nursing homes are an important part of the continuum of elderly care,” Brinkley said. “But a lot of legislators don’t even know what adult day service is. That’s why we must use education. “Adult day services is a viable option — a cost-effective option — and a preferred option.” The state pays an average daily rate of $129.18 to house a nursing home patient, according to the State Health Authority. Adult day centers receive $45 from the state to care for a client based on a six-hour day, according to DHS. “Why place someone in a nursing home early when they might be able to spend a year or two attending an adult day center instead?” Brinkley argues.