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Friday, February 26, 2010

IHSS Threatened in California

Clients fear loss of in-home services

By Sam Womack/Staff Writer Posted: Friday, February 19, 2010

When taxes are paid, there’s a certain expectation that those hard-earned dollars will go to help children, the elderly, the disabled — the most vulnerable and helpless in our society.
And yet, in an effort to close the state’s estimated $20 billion deficit, one proposal is to take away Andrea Hylton’s lifeline.

Hylton is a 64-year-old Santa Maria resident with a multitude of debilitating mental and physical issues.

She is also one of approximately 427,000 California residents with disabilities who could lose their state-funded caregiver if the state Legislature agrees with the governor’s recommendation of cutting $1.8 billion from the program, according to a Santa Barbara County report.

Approximately three years ago, Hylton hired Susan Oeland through the state’s In-Home Support Services (IHSS), a program that identifies how much assistance a person needs, and then provides the money to hire a helper, either a family member, friend or a professional provider.

The services are available to low-income people who are over age 65, blind, or with disabilities, to enable them to remain safely in their home as opposed to committing them to more expensive options, such as institutions or nursing homes.

It is a cost-saving safety net and welfare program that has been around for 35 years.
Approximately 47 hours a month, Oeland helps Hylton with housework, laundry, cooking, shopping, bathing, dressing and making it to doctor’s appointments.

“Without (IHSS) I would be helpless, completely helpless,” Hylton said this week.

In Santa Barbara County, there are a total of 3,000 IHSS clients who require anywhere from a few hours a week to round-the-clock assistance in their homes.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget includes limiting services to IHSS recipients to those with a functional index score of four or less — one being able to perform a certain task and five being unable even with assistance determined by a social worker.

The index scores do not take into account whether the person resides alone, has cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, or needs protective supervision or paramedical services, according to Santa Barbara County analysis.

Approximately 2,700 people are at risk of losing their IHSS assistance in Santa Barbara County, and “a vast majority of these people are going to be left to languish or linger alone, without any support or assistance,” said Kathy Gallagher, director of the county Department of Social Services.

“I’m just scared of what might happen,” Hylton said.

The 30-year Santa Maria resident has no family, no social network and no car, and survives on a fixed income.

A few weeks ago, Hylton took a tumble in her apartment at about 3 a.m. and broke her knee cap. She crawled to the phone and called a friend, who didn’t call back until four hours later. She waited on the friend to call 9-1-1, but did not explain why.

“I was scared. I was in pain. There was no one to help,” she said of the upsetting experience.
Her recent accident is similar to what the county’s analysis predicts as a result of the program cuts.

“There will be a portion of recipients that will be at high risk of self-neglect as they cannot physically care for themselves or meet their basic medicinal needs. This could result in serious injury, institutionalization and even accidental death,” it stated.

Like many who receive IHSS assistance, Hylton doesn’t have the means to afford a nursing home, but even if she did, there are not enough beds in California.

An estimated 1,300 IHSS clients in Santa Barbara County could probably qualify for a nursing home bed, but there aren’t even close to that many on the Central Coast, Gallagher said.

In the state, there are only about 20,000 licensed nursing home beds, and a study from the UCLA Center for Health Research estimates that more than 200,000 clients would seek beds if the IHSS program was cut.

Ironically, in the 1980s, the IHSS program was created to reduce the high cost of nursing-home care and offer seniors a better quality of life in their own home, which is why nursing homes fell out of favor.

Hylton said she would avoid a nursing home or institutionalization for a long as possible because her constant companion “Peanuts,” her pudgy Jack Russell terrier, could not come along.
But she may never need to make that tough choice, because her IHSS provider, Oeland, has become more than a part-time helper; she is Hylton’s friend.

“She’s like a second mom to me, and I’m like her daughter,” Oeland said.

“I’ll never let her be alone. I’ll continue to take care of her if the program is eliminated,” she vowed, even though as an IHSS worker, she faces a wage decrease from $11.50 to $8 an hour in the proposed state budget.

IHSS assistance is just one human-services program on the chopping block in the governor’s proposed 2010-11 budget.

Also included are CalWORKS, Healthy Families, Medi-Cal, Supplementary Security Income (SSI) and the California Food Assistance Program.

The proposed budget also stipulates that if the federal government doesn’t come up with an additional $7 billion for the state, then IHSS assistance, along with CalWORKs and Healthy Families, will be completely wiped out.

Posted in Govt-and-politics on Friday, February 19, 2010

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