EL SOBRANTE -- Twenty years ago, Marie Behr and her husband, Peter Behr, opened a nonprofit to serve the elderly and disabled in West Contra Costa County.
Now their center, the Guardian Adult Day Health Center, is partnering with another East Bay agency, Center for Elders' Independence, or CEI, to increase services to local seniors.
According to 2010 census data, there are 132,000 people over age 65 in Contra Costa County, 13 percent of the population. But with life spans increasing and the baby boomer generation aging, the state anticipates that the percentage of seniors will grow rapidly.
By 2020, seniors in Contra Costa County will make up 17 percent of the population, and elder care advocates worry that there aren't enough programs in place to handle the coming need.
"The numbers of seniors are growing exponentially," Dianna Garrett, director of communication and planning at CEI, said. "And at the same time, we're receiving cuts.
"California has some challenges on how we are going to build our services and handle this coming age wave," she added, before pointing to the partnership with Guardian Adult Day Health Center as an example of a model that gives her hope.
CEI is a nonprofit elder care program that provides comprehensive health care through a national model called the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE. Through PACE, the center provides qualified seniors with physicians, specialists, medication, emergency nursing home care and physical and mental therapy, among other things.
The service is free for seniors enrolled in Medi-Cal and Medicare, but it also serves Medi-Cal-only recipients and private-pay individuals for varying amounts.
CEI has served Contra Costa County for about the same length of time as the Behrs' health center, but until it partnered with the husband and wife team earlier this year, it didn't have a facility in the county. Instead, participants were bussed from the surrounding area to its nearest facility in Berkeley.
This new partnership will mean that PACE participants can take advantage of health and therapeutic services closer to home at Guardian's Adult Day Health Center and still benefit from full medical care at CEI's other facilities.
Mary, whose last name was not provided because of privacy guarantees under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is one of the first seniors to make the move from Berkeley's facility to El Sobrante. She lives in Richmond and says that after two weeks attending Guardian, she's happy with her decision.
"It's only 15 minutes from my house," she said. " I think it's nice, and the food is good."
Peter Behr, who together with his wife still runs the daily operations at Guardian, said he hopes that CEI will be able to get the word out to more seniors that Guardian is a place in their community where they can come to get care and support during the day that will keep them in their homes.
"Our mission is to keep people out of nursing homes and places where they'd otherwise be institutionalized," he said.