Hadley adult day care changes hands, name

  • Betty Thayer, right, longtime owner and director of Thayercare in Hadley, chats Tuesday with participants in the adult day care center, seated from right, Kim Johnson of Florence, Stephanie Henry of Amherst and Joy Smith of Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Pat Ononibaku, right, who bought the former Thayercare adult day care center in Hadley in December, attends a re-scheduled Christmas party there on Tuesday, December 26, 2017, after it had been postponed due to weather last Friday. The business is now known as Bakucare. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Pat Ononibaku, left, who bought the former Thayercare adult day care center in Hadley, attends a Christmas party there on Tuesday, after it had been postponed due to weather last Friday. The business has been renamed Bakucare. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Staff nurse Alice Bernier, standing, brings a drink to Richard Rogers of Amherst during lunch at Bakucare, formerly Thayercare, in Hadley, at a rescheduled Christmas party on Tuesday. Joining them are Brenda McLain, left, of Chicopee, Shelley Housman of Easthampton and Jane Mysona, right, of Ware. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Betty Thayer, center, longtime owner and director of Thayercare in Hadley, hugs Judy Caputo of Northampton during a Christmas party on Tuesday, December 26, 2017, that had been rescheduled due to bad weather last Friday. Caputo has been a participant in Thayer's adult day care program for 24 years. Seated at right is staff social worker April Voisine. Earlier this month Thayer sold the business to Pat Ononibaku of Amherst who has renamed it Bakucare. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Thayercare longtime owner and director Betty Thayer, third from left, sits with participants in the adult day care center in Hadley as Santa Claus hands out presents on Tuesday, December 26, 2017, during a Christmas party that had been rescheduled due to bad weather last Friday. Thayer has sold the business to Pat Ononibaku of Amherst who has renamed it Bakucare. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Thursday, December 28, 2017

HADLEY — It’s not where they live, but for the 74 participants in Thayercare, the site in Hadley center is meant to evoke the feel of home.

“Our motto has always been home away from home, and we’ve always tried to maintain that,” Thayercare founder and owner Elizabeth “Betty” Thayer says.

From breakfast and lunch cooked on site to bingo games and a living room with several couches and recliners, Thayercare aims to be a welcoming environment.

Now, at the close of Thayercare’s 17th year, Thayer and her husband Walter Thayer are turning over the operation to Pat Ononibaku, an Amherst resident who this month renamed the space Bakucare.

As an adult day care, Thayercare works with elderly people with dementia, people with physical ailments and younger individuals with mental challenges, becoming a place to be away for the day from group homes or their parents in a supervised environment.

“Some live with families, some live alone. Here, they learn to be part of a group and a family,” Thayer said.

For Thayer and the participants, who were holding a belated Christmas party at the Middle Street location Tuesday, her retirement means a difficult goodbye.

“When I told them a few week ago, I had half the room in tears,” Thayer said.

“Betty is a really good person. It’s really sad she’s retiring,” said Kim Johnson of Florence, who has been coming to Thayercare for the past five years. “I love Betty to death.”

“She has done so much for me,” said Joy Smith of Amherst, a participant since 2012. “It’s going to be hard without Betty around.”

Stephanie Henry of Amherst, who joined four years ago, echoed those comments. “They go all-out to take care of us,” Henry said. “I love everything about this. It was more than I expected.”

Ononibaku previously ran Baku’s African Cuisine in downtown Amherst. She has experience in long-term care and is a longtime disability advocate, and said she was inspired to acquire the adult day care from Thayer because she has a relative who has been a participant.

“Betty was really welcoming to me and my family member and I love the individual attention my family member receives,” Ononibaku said. “There’s a feeling of calmness and safety. It doesn’t feel like an institution.”

“Betty and Walter will always be part of Bakucare,” Ononibaku said.

Ononibaku and the staff are pledging to keep the traditions going, with the same amount of nurses and personal care attendants and identical activities overseen by activities director Sue Moran.

She has also created a website, Bakucare.com, and appreciated the ease in transferring the permits.

“I feel town of Hadley officials are easy to work with,” Ononibaku said.

Thayer, 66, graduated from nursing school at Holyoke Community College in 1991 and did a rotation in adult day care before taking over as director and nurse at the former Northampton Adult Day Care. But she found being housed in a nursing home wasn’t the right place for individuals to keep their independence and continue living at home.

Thayer found the former rectory for St. John’s Catholic Church an ideal place, with 18 clients when she opened in 2001, many of whom had been at the Northampton site. It has increased enrollment since, and also built a 1,000-square-foot addition.

Thayercare even briefly expanded to a second site in Ware, which remained open for four years before closing, but some Ware residents continue to be picked up by the fleet of eight vehicles.

The site is open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. with 10 staff members, about a 5-to-1 ratio of clients to staff at any specific time, and 50 square feet per person, spread over two floors.

Most people are there for the entire day, playing games, watching television, taking field trips to the movie theater, and during nice weather having supervised walks on the nearby Norwottuck Rail Trail.

Thayercare has contracted with Highland Valley, Greater Springfield Senior Services and the Veterans Adminstration, among others, and 90 percent of clients are on MassHealth, which pays for their transportation and health care.

“We haven’t had to advertise too much. They found us through word of mouth,” Thayer said.

Associate Director Jonathan Rosario, who has six years of experience, said Thayercare offers an important service for family members who are trying to care for loved ones. “Participants don’t get out of group homes and socialize much,” Rosario said.

“I love this place because it’s safe and it’s wonderful,” said Sharon Boyer of Easthampton.

Betty Christian of Northampton, who has been part of Thayercare for 16 years, agreed. “I like it here because everyone is really nice to each other.” Christian said.

Thayer recalled a memorable field trip to Cape Cod.

“Some had never been to the ocean, and it was amazing to see their faces while walking on the beach and watch the sea breeze in their faces,” Thayer said.

Thayer has written a book about her experience, “What Betty Built: Answering the Need for Workable Adult Daycare,” published in 2016.

In retirement, Thayer said her immediate plans are to spend some of this winter in Florida.

But she anticipates returning to Hadley and may start a consulting business for adult day care that will be based on her knowledge and her writing.

Thayer said her clients can seem like grown children. Many were disappointed after the place was closed Friday to have to wait three extra days for a visit from Santa and the delivery of presents. But their excitement on Tuesday made the wait worthwhile.

“The reward I get from seeing their smiling faces is enormous,” Thayer said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.