October 22, 2021

Day program in Homer filling a social need

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

From left, standing in background is Caitlin Portzline, owner of Portzline Day Program. Sitting is Linda Stearns of Homer, a participant, and Tina Tracy, assistant activities director. In foreground is Cynthia Boyce, a participant.

Cynthia Boyce of Homer is able to get out of the house and play Skip-Bo — her new favorite card game with others.

A senior citizen, she makes it a point to attend the Portzline Day Program at 6 N. West St. in Homer, three days a week.

The Portzline Day Program is one of two socialization programs operating in the area.

“I’ve been coming since Nov. 10. I love it. There’s plenty of things to do: play cards, games, watch TV, interact with everyone. Being stuck at home is kind of hard,” said Boyce.

Even harder in pandemic times.

Nestled in a suite of small businesses, kitty corner to Kory’s Diner, the space allows anyone over 18 to come and enjoy activities — with Sierra Hubbard, activity director, and Tina Tracy, assistant activity director, both former activities staff at Cortland Park Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.

“This is extremely exciting,” Hubbard said.

The two are working hard with owner Caitlin Portzline to create a safe space for people to come and socialize during pandemic times.

Other day programs in the Homer/Cortland area are not operating now because of COVID-19, like Guthrie Cortland Medical Center’s and the Elizabeth Brewster House’s.

Matt Kemak, aging services specialist at the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging, said Liberty Resources, on south Main Street, Cortland, also offers social activities. Staff did not respond to requests for comment.

“If they are following their COVID-19 protocols during the pandemic, God bless them for helping our seniors out there. We are fortunate that these programs are running,” said Kemak.

Hubbard said staff at Portzline are working hard to ensure safety by disinfecting supplies and furniture frequently throughout the day, requiring all participants and staff to wear masks, and requiring staff to be tested for COVID weekly.”

Portzline Day Program opened Nov. 1 offering a range of activities by the seasoned staff.

Hubbard has been working with activities for eight years while Tracy, for five years. Tracy has also been a certified nursing aide for 30 years.

“They call them ‘the dynamic duo,’” said Portzline.

Portzline, for her part, was a CNA for 19 years. She went to Crouse School of Nursing for her nursing degree. Halfway through, she switched to social work. She has a master’s degree in social work from Western New Mexico University and put that degree to work at Cortland Park, doing advising and discharge work for the building and social work for its Maplewood residents.

Fifteen people can be at the day program, to maintain social distance. There is a community space with a large table and a sensory room off to the side.

Five people are attending the program, which is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Some insurance is accepted. Private pay fees are $75 for eight hours and $40 for four hours.

The day program can be open if it can maintain the New York State COVID safety guidelines, with masks, sanitation and social distancing and daily temperature checks, said Portzline.

Staff are tested weekly for COVID. Portzline is licensed to operate by the New York State Department of Health, state Office of Medicaid General and state Office of the Aging.

There is medication reminder help, meals and snacks, personal care, some maintenance and enhancement of daily living skills, and referrals to other agencies and programs.

Hubbard creates a monthly activity plan that provides physical, artistic, social, spiritual, cognitive activities.

People may have their own idea on what to do and the staff will adapt, she said.

“It’s going. It’s just rough to open in the middle of a pandemic. I know people are hesitant to come out. They don’t want to get sick,” Hubbard said.

They have not had anyone with COVID since they opened, Hubbard said.

Portzline said she’s had calls from families who are interested but are waiting for COVID to be done.

She has a family type home for adults on Route 11 in Homer she opened in June, 2019. Attached to her house, it is licensed through the state Office of Family and Children’s Services.

She knows health care staff and families are stressed right now. She wanted to open a day program.

“This is my passion,” she said.

“This spot was open. It felt right.”

Boyce uses a walker to walk. “I have balance issues,” she said.

‘I pretty much stay home when I don’t go here,” said Boyce.

“I like it very much,” said Linda Stearns, 87, of Homer, another participant. “They have a lot of stuff that they do and its very good.”

Hubbard loves helping people.

“I love the ratio of staff to participant, 4 to 1, or 4 to 2 … It gives us so much room to work with people individually. It makes them happy. It gives them joy,” she said. And she feeds off of that. “I work with people I love.”

“This is what I have always dreamed of, what I have wanted to do,” said Tracy. “The one on one … You are able to have the time to take care of people.”

“People are trapped at home because of COVID. We can help these folks get out. Isolation is such a terrible thing,” said Tracy.