Gerald Bowie flashes a toothless smile. The 60-year-old man lost many of his teeth to disease. He has dangerously high blood pressure, his corneas have been replaced and, instead of words, he often utters just sounds.
Bowie is one of 24 residents at New Vista Ranch, a residential care facility for people with mental disabilities. Residents have a variety of health issues that, as with Bowie, often increase in severity and complexity with age.
Now, as part of a $30 million expansion, New Vista officials want to learn why these folks suffer more than the average person. The nonprofit is in the process of building a new research clinic as well as housing for seniors with mental disabilities.
New Vista plans to open a medical clinic this summer at its northern Las Vegas headquarters. Staff, in partnership with doctors from Touro University Nevada, will treat patients with intellectual disabilities, collect and analyze data and try to figure out how best to treat them.
New Vista also aims to build nine on-site homes, each 4,800 square feet, staffed 24 hours a day and able to accommodate up to six residents. The homes will cater mainly to people who are at least 50 years old and have autism, Down syndrome and other mental impairments. They also will serve people with early signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that afflict the elderly.
The project will be built in phases and could take 10 to 15 years to complete, CEO Kelly DeGuzman said. The first phase will include one new home and the 3,800-square-foot clinic. New Vista has $1.2 million set aside, including $800,000 in grants, for that project.
DeGuzman said the mentally disabled have more severe health issues than most people, including more cases of bronchitis, pneumonia and respiratory problems, but the reasons for the higher incidence rates are unclear.
At the same time, mentally disabled people who live with their parents need a home and support after their parents become infirm or die. Doctors expect this will become an even bigger issue as baby boomers age and lifespans rise.
The life expectancy for people with Down syndrome, for instance, has climbed from 25 years in 1983 to 60 years, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.
Patients sometimes follow their parents into nursing homes and are put in Alzheimer’s wards, DeGuzman said. But that’s not the right place for them, and there aren’t always family members who can take them in, leaving few options.
“That’s what we’re trying to prevent,” DeGuzman said.
Touro will provide health care services to clients and help train students by rotating them through the clinic, said Mitchell Forman, dean of Touro’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Patients at New Vista have medical, emotional and social issues that Touro students may not encounter elsewhere, Forman said.
For one, residents often are heavily medicated with antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills and mood stabilizers. Also, patients can have difficulty communicating, which will force students to spend more time assessing their ailments and help them improve their interactions with all patients.
Health care providers in recent years have made strides treating mentally disabled children, but not adults, said Andy Eisen, Touro’s associate dean for clinical education and medical director of its Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. There are few adult-focused clinics around the country and none in Southern Nevada, he said.
New Vista’s clinic will be open to patients of all ages but will likely serve many adults.
“This is an area that desperately needs services, and it’s not being done now,” Eisen said.
It’s unclear how many mentally disabled people live in the valley, though DeGuzman said there are thousands. Among them are New Vista’s 100 clients who live at the facility or in other off-site homes, some of which are owned or managed by New Vista.
Todd Polovina, a 51-year-old Southern California native whose parents live in the valley, is an on-site resident. He moved to New Vista about a decade ago and enjoys gardening and playing the keyboard. He also has been diagnosed with mild mental retardation, impulse-control disorder, hypothyroidism and Williams syndrome, a genetic condition marked by cardiovascular disease, developmental delays and learning disabilities.
Then there’s Kevin Case, whose bedroom looks like that of a young child.
Stuffed animals sit on the bed and around the room. A pillowcase has Winnie the Pooh on one side and Piglet on the other. Another pillowcase features the felines from “The Lion King.” Same for the bed sheets.
Case, however, is 41 years old. He was born with Down syndrome, has mild mental retardation and has lived at New Vista for two decades. His mother lives in Illinois, his father in Las Vegas.
Case’s house manager, Carrie Kennedy, said he has great penmanship and good math skills but would essentially be helpless on his own. It’s as if one part of his brain “gets a certain amount of air” and the other doesn’t, she said.
“Kevin’s a good guy,” Kennedy said. “But I know why he’s here.”