Cuts to home care worker hours could mean life or death for some disabled.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Lexie Cabrera wears her hair in pigtails and makes eye contact, but it’s impossible to tell whether she can detect her father’s anger about proposed budget cuts to help balance California’s $25 billion deficit.
Lexie, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy, is unable to speak or move her limbs, and depends on round-the-clock attention to perform even the most basic tasks. As a full-time home care worker, her father Frank Cabrera is compensated by In-Home Supportive Services, a joint federal, state and county program designed to keep functionally impaired people in their homes and out of institutions.
“It’s more than just being a parent,” Frank says. “We do everything. We’re the nurse, social worker, psychiatrist. I’m the physical therapist for my daughter.” Frank, 39, has trained in physical therapy to learn how to best relax 19-year-old Lexie’s muscles to minimize pain.
Frank Cabrera is one of 4,000 home care workers in Monterey County reeling from a 3.6 percent reduction in hours that took effect Feb. 1, and they’re bracing for even deeper cuts. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed an additional 8.4 percent cut in hours, saving an estimated $127.5 million. And that’s the best-case scenario for IHSS workers; if voters reject a tax extension in a special election this June, Brown has suggested there could be an additional 8 percent cut.
Home care workers are already calling the county looking for client referrals to, says spokesperson Sam Trevino.
Assemblymember Bill Monning, chair of the health committee, says at a hearing last week attended by 162 witnesses, one constituent told him, “It’s an insult to our dignity. We have to come back every year to make the case for our existence.”
Frank, an active member of SEIU-United Long Term Care Workers, goes to Sacramento for most of these meetings.
Low income and functionally impaired disabled, blind or elderly individuals are eligible for anywhere from six to 283 hours of monthly service. Services range from help with running errands or cleaning house to assistance with mobility or bowel care.
Without full time attention, Lexie would need to be institutionalized. SEIU-ULTCW calculations show the per-patient cost of care in a private institution is about double that of in-home care.
With Medi-Cal and Supplemental Security Income also facing cuts, budget proposals chip away at services for the disabled from all angles. Monning, lamenting the proposed Medi-Cal cuts that would cap annual doctor visits at 10 and reduce provider payments 10 percent, says, “We’re trying to expand medical access, yet we’re whacking away at the infrastructure.”
County Supervisor Fernando Armenta pledges to keep IHSS above water with the county budget, noting the preventive savings the program produces by “preventing skyrocketing hospitalizations.”
IHSS receives half its funding from federal resources, about a third from the state, and 18 percent from the county.