Profile: Mallory Vega, Executive Director, Acacia Adult Day Services

Mallory Vega, Executive Director of Acacia Adult Day Services (Lauren M. Whaley/Center for Health Reporting)

Mallory Vega, 60, remembers when Acacia Adult Day Services center opened in 1979.

“With the demographics that we were seeing, we felt that it was a program that would go on forever,” Vega said. “People were starting to say, ‘Hark! The boomers are coming, the boomers are coming.’”

The boomers, and their needs, are indeed coming.

Evelyn Grace Greenhow, 66, says she started attending the center about two years ago just to get out of the house.

“It’s like a family,” she said.

Greenhow receives medical treatment for diabetes, but has also made great friends, which keep her going.

“I look forward to it every day," she said. 

Acacia is not a senior center, nor an assisted living facility nor a hospital.

“We’re different enough that people don’t quite get it,” said Vega.

Like the other 240 Community-Based Adult Services centers around California, Acacia provides low income frail elderly and disabled attendees with transportation, meals, exercise, medication management, physical and occupational therapy, as well as social programs such as dancing, singing and playing games. The chief goal is to keep attendees from needing more expensive care.

It wasn’t too long ago that Vega worried for the future of the center. In 2011 the situation was dire. The state and country were in the middle of a recession. The centers fell under a Medi-Cal benefit that was to be dropped by the state of California, and everyone feared the worst.

“We were advocating for the life of the program and really the lives the program was serving,” she said. “Oh my gosh, what are these people going to do?”

The state and advocates came to an agreement and the centers lived on under the auspices of Medi-Cal managed care. They also survive with the help of private pay clients, foundation grants and other government funding.

Now Vega looks to the future. Retirement isn’t on the horizon for her yet. She’s too excited by the possibility of doing more for a growing elderly patient population.

“I see it very much as a full circle,” she said. “When we first started, it was community based. We never left that tenet of being community based health.” Then, she added, “I feel like there is hope.”

Acacia’s doors are open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Lauren M. Whaley is a journalist for the Center for Health Reporting at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at the University of Southern California. The center receives support from the Gary and Mary West Foundation to report on senior issues.

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Lauren M. Whaley

Freelance journalist Lauren M. Whaley is a photographer, radio producer and print reporter specializing in topics related to mental illness, reproductive health care and health disparities. She is also a childbirth photographer.This year, She is working on a series about how low-income parents access care for perinatal mental illnesses. The project is funded in part by the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism.She was a 2016-17 Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology.Her work has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists, the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX) STEM story project. She has contributed radio, video, photography and written stories to KQED Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, the San Jose Mercury News, the New York Times and other media outlets. For six years, she worked as the Center for Health Reporting's multimedia journalist. She is a past president of the national organizationJournalism and Women Symposium (JAWS) and spent her early 20s leading canoe expeditions for young women, including a solo-led 45-trip in the Canadian Arctic. She is based in Los Angeles.

© 2018 Center for Health Reporting

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