Although she won’t take sole credit for it, Cris Chater, MNA ’02, is widely recognized for saving Senior Access, Marin County’s only day program for older adults suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
When Chater took over as executive director of the nonprofit in 2005, Senior Access had been struggling for years to survive. Medi-Cal reimbursements and fees were insufficient to sustain the services. Staff morale was low, turnover was high, and the agency did not have a formal development or outreach plan. Funds were scarce and it seemed as though the organization was about to close its doors.
“When I took this position, I wasn’t quite aware of the change required,” she said.
Yet Chater immediately began assessing the organization while also working to increase and diversify Senior Access’ funding support. She met with county supervisors, health officials, and other key leaders, and spoke at various community meetings. Chater also researched foundations and wrote new grant proposals. Her efforts paid off—within Chater’s first year, the number of donors increased by 25 percent and the organization raised almost $450,000 more than the previous year.
Yet by the end of 2006, Senior Access found itself in a financial crisis. The gap between falling reimbursement rates, what families could afford to pay for services, and the increasing cost to operate the programs simply became too wide and deep. Chater worked for nearly two years to find a solution, including discussing possible mergers and takeovers. By May 2008, Senior Access was literally about to discharge all its clients when another organization stepped in and agreed to take over the health care portion of the nonprofit.
Without the more expensive health care program, Senior Access has thrived by focusing on the day program, even moving into a new building within the past year. Monday through Friday, Senior Access offers clients a social group setting full of creative and intellectual activities, ranging from chair yoga, a discussion of oil wells, a sing-along, and Japanese brush painting.
From her office just off one of the main meeting rooms, Chater can easily see and hear the excitement of participants throughout the day.
“They’re the ones who mentored us, who taught us, and they get older and all of a sudden they’re not valued?” Chater said. “It always reminds me why it’s so important to be an advocate for this silent population.”
Thanks to Chater, Senior Access’ clients aren’t likely to be forgotten.