Disabled, seniors program faces cuts

County providers, clients advocate for adult day care

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

After a drunken driver caused Vancouver resident Fern McCarty to become blind and partially paralyzed at age 49, McCarty couldn’t even get around in a wheelchair.

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Other proposed cuts that would impact seniors and people with disabilities:

Eliminate over the counter pharmaceutical coverage.

Eliminate routine dental care

Reduce reimbursement to home care agencies.

Reduce funding for long-term care ombudsman program, which sends volunteers into long-term care centers to advocate for residents and prevent abuse

Rate reductions to nursing homes.

Reductions to case management services, Meals on Wheels and other programs funded through the Senior Citizens Services Act.

Eliminate Disability Lifeline medical coverage.

Eliminate essential needs and housing support program

Eliminate medical interpreter services.

Years of physical therapy through the state’s subsidized adult day health program has helped her build enough strength in the functional side of her body to maneuver her wheelchair.

“They (the physical therapists) helped her get going,” said McCarty’s daughter, Sheila Vido. “My mother, now, you can’t keep her down. She pushes the wheelchair with her good arm and her good foot.”

State budget cuts threaten to end McCarty’s ongoing treatment through the subsidized program. She is just one of tens of thousands of seniors and people with disabilities who will lose long-term care and other supports under a pending budget reduction proposal to carve $750 million in spending.

Clark County service providers and clients are concerned over the proposals and have launched a public awareness campaign to oppose the cuts. They note the cuts will leave vulnerable people without care and also result in thousands of lost jobs.

State lawmakers will begin discussing the unpopular proposal during a

special session beginning Nov. 28, but local lawmakers say they don’t think lawmakers will be able to come to a vote until the regular session in January. The cuts are agonizing, and they follow four years of reductions, said State Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver. He said per-capita state spending is now down to the levels of 1988 when inflation is factored in.

About 1,000 people would lose access to subsidized adult day health, which includes physical therapy and a nurse’s care for people who may suffer from conditions such as diabetes. Without the subsidized program, McCarty’s family would not be able to afford to pay for her physical therapy. That would likely mean McCarty would slowly lose her strength and then her mobility, Vido said.

“She would probably be stuck to her bed,” Vido said.

She said the program also provides McCarty with important socialization. “She loves coming here so much that she cries when she can’t make it,” Vido said.

Vido said she moved her mother from Oregon to Washington about 15 years ago to take advantage of the adult day health program. Now, the program faces total elimination.

CDM Adult Day Services Center near downtown Vancouver provides adult day health. About 13 of its some 45 clients receive the state subsidy. Without the subsidy, the center’s operational funding would decrease by about 30 percent, said Cheryl Cody, center director.

Statewide, up to 25,000 would lose benefits for home care, adult family homes, boarding homes and nursing homes.

Family caretakers who are paid by the state to stay home and care for their loved one will lose health insurance. Home care with caretakers who are family or friends is significantly less expensive than sending an elderly or disabled person to a nursing home.

“We want people in the community to have a choice,” said Linda Lee, an in-home care provider who also is on the board of the local chapter of Service Employees International Union. “We have a very good long-term care program in the state of Washington, and they are trying to dismantle it.”

Lee said reducing eligibility for in-home care and edging out thousands of elderly in need in the process will only increase the state’s costs in the long-run because more Medicaid patients will be forced out of their home and will need nursing home care, which is more expensive.

Vancouver resident Charles Dukeshire who is paid about $10 per hour to care for his wife, said he worried his wife will be cut from the in-home care program, and the couple won’t be able to pay their rent and other expenses. At age 75, Dukeshire said he’s not optimistic he would be able to find a job, and if he did, he wouldn’t earn enough to pay for his wife to stay in an assisted living center.

State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said he agrees that proposed cuts are “awful.” They’re also mandatory, according to the state constitution.

“We have to have a balanced budget, and there’s a very small part of the budget that we can look at to make up the shortfall,” Moeller said.

However, Moeller said lawmakers need to see reliable numbers that show whether certain cuts, such as in-home care, don’t raise the state’s costs later on.

“If we force the aged out of their homes and into nursing homes, it’s 10 times more expensive,” Moeller said. “Then, have we made a cut?”

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://www.twitter.com/Col_Trends; http://www.facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com