DSHS town hall draws a crowd

Looming health, social service cuts have many on edge

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer



Cuts to state programs

Candidates for elimination or deep cuts under a new round of cuts to the Department Social and Health Services (a partial list):

Elimination of alcohol and substance abuse services for adults.

Elimination of state food assistance program.

Elimination of adult day health services.

Elimination of monthly cash grants to the aged, blind and disabled and to pregnant women.

Elimination of naturalization services and most English proficiency programs for refugees.

Reduction in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families cash grants.

Elimination of Basic Health Program.

Elimination of Disability Lifeline Program.

Deep cuts to in-home care, adult family homes, assisted living homes, boarding homes and nursing homes.

Suspension of adult pharmacy benefits.

Elimination of non-emergency adult dental work.

Reduction in domestic violence services to children.

More than 350 recovering drug addicts, long-term care providers, caregivers for the disabled and others who depend on Washington’s tattered safety net got a stark look Thursday at what another $883 million in state social services and health cuts would feel like.

The statistics, and the programs they represent, were much more than numbers to scores of speakers who came to hear Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Susan N. Dreyfus lay out the options the Legislature will face when it meets in special session Nov. 28 to carve another $2 billion out of the 2011-13 state budget lawmakers adopted just five months ago.

Dreyfus noted that the Legislature already has slashed $2.2 billion in social and health programs since 2009 and cut a total of 2,902 DSHS employees to help balance a budget crippled by the state’s stubborn recession.

In her briefing, the second of three she is holding this week, Dreyfus laid out the numbers along with a heavy dose of compassion for the tens of thousands of Washington residents who will feel the pain.

In broad strokes, the cuts on the table would cost more than 80,000 aged and disabled citizens their home-based or long-term residential care; eliminate subsidized drug and alcohol services to more than 55,000 clients; and reduce counseling and other services to 45,000 children victimized by domestic violence.

The hardest cuts to make will be to vulnerable populations including the poor, the frail elderly and the disabled who will be unable to care for themselves, Dreyfus said. She finds some of those cuts “unconscionable,” she said, but she and her staff had no choice but to find new cuts adding up to $573 million in discretionary spending. Those cuts in turn will cost the state an additional $300 million in matching federal funds, she said.

No decisions have been made, Dreyfus stressed. She urged citizens to be “as active and engaged as you can be” and to talk with legislators about their concerns.

“Even if the governor and Legislature have a conversation about revenue, that won’t solve the problem,” she said. “Cuts will be necessary. You can’t raise enough revenue in the time left” in this budget cycle to make up a 10 percent cut. ”All of us are being called to leadership right now.”

A large contingent of recovering drug and alcohol addicts showed up at the town hall, which was held at the Fort Vancouver Artillery Barracks. The crowd, which included at least a half-dozen deaf recovering addicts, filled the main hall and an overflow room as people took turns describing how state programs had turned their lives around and expressed despair at the likely loss of that assistance. Several in the audience carried signs that said, “Treatment Works.”

“That’s the epitome of what my life is today,” said a woman who gave her name as Augusta. “Without this, I would be a person who caused pain, heartache and crime.” Without drug treatment, she said, “I would not have my son in my life. I would not be a functioning member of society.”

Dawn Nicholas, a certified nursing assistant, said it is getting harder and harder to provide adequate care in long-term care facilities. “Our residents have changed,” she said. “We have a lot more acute residents. Our hours are being cut by the state, but we are getting residents that take more time, so we’re short-handed on staff. “ With 14 to 16 clients to care for, she said, “I go home crying sometimes because I don’t have time to do the basics.”

Crystal Rich, who operates a drug abuse prevention center in Longview, said elimination of substance abuse programs would mean “my whole company shuts down.”

“I don’t see how drug- and alcohol-addicted people aren’t considered ‘most vulnerable,’” she said. “Their children aren’t being fed. We’re making more vulnerable adults.”

“I’m a deer in the headlight,” said Darla Helt of the Arc of Clark County, because her two sons, ages 19 and 21, are among the 44 percent of developmentally disabled people standing to lose services.

“What they are proposing to cut is every program we have put in place,” said Kay Park, past president of the Arc of Clark County.

“People are going to die, not just people with chemical dependency issues but people with mental health issues,” predicted Sandra Whitmire, who operates a drug and alcohol abuse prevention center in Cowlitz County. “It’s going to be hell on earth.”