Home Care Budget Cuts Slight, But Still Painful

By Gene Cubbison
|  Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013  |  Updated 9:21 PM PDT
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Spending Programs for Elderly Spared

NBC 7 San Diego

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Spending Programs for Elderly Spared

California reached a settlement in elder care, reducing cuts to level not as high as expected.
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The state's budget ax will not wind up chopping as deeply as originally expected into a key program for the elderly and seniors.

But for the recipients of "in-home" care services, there'll still be some hardships.

Officials wanted to cut an average of three hours a week from home-care schedules, and that drew lawsuits.

In Sacramento on Tuesday, attorneys reached settlements reducing those cuts to one hour a week.

But there's still fear that serious emergencies could happen, or medical issues could arise, during those lost time-gaps in supervision.

"I need a caretaker,” says Sergio Escrubono, a 94-year-old downtown resident who gets two-hour visits, twice a week, from a state-subsidized caregiver. “Sometimes, you know, I fall down. That's an aging experience."

Add his friend Kenneth Ukahabu, a cancer patient with a variety of physical ailments: “This is a human factor. You have to be sympathetic. I'm 70 years (old) now and at 70, there is not much I can do. Most of the time I can't help myself … even (to take) my own shower."

Escrubono and Ukahabu are among nearly half a million elderly and disabled Californians who receive so-called "In-Home Supportive Services" from licensed domestic workers.

They need help with everything from personal hygiene and medication issues to housecleaning, shopping and exercise.

Their care providers generally make $9.50 an hour with no benefits or overtime -- although a lot of overtime winds up being worked.

Many of the elderly clients are in fragile health, and at-risk when no one else is around.

One caregiver who spoke with NBC 7 Wednesday has a grim prediction about the cuts in hours.

"Our clients are going to suffer, and they're going to die,” said Editha Adams. “And the worst thing at this time is that there are no nursing homes available to them. If there is, it's going to cost of lot of money for them."

Advocates for the elderly and disabled say the service extends their lives -- and that the state is being "penny-wise and pound-foolish".

"We see the state whacking across-the-board, taking out programs that actually make a difference for people and save taxpayer money,” says Paul Downey, president and CEO of Senior Community Centers of San Diego. “So why would you cut something that saves taxpayer moey and increases health and well-being of seniors? It makes no sense."

As Downey explained, in an interview Wednesday with NBC 7: "The whole concept is to keep people in their home, and to avoid going to a higher level of care -- like board and care, like a skilled nursing facility. Which is obviously much more restrictive for thee person, but it's also a whole lot more expensive for the taxpayer."

There's also concern that the budget cuts -- which amount to 8 percent, versus the 20 percent originally planned by the state -- could drive some of those low-wage caregivers out of the business altogether.

And that, eventually, there will be an upswing in emergency room cases involving elderly and disabled patients who might fall through the cracks of those lost budget hours.

"We do God's work,” says Editha Adams. “We work so hard with our clients -- clients that won't be able to take care of themselves. Clients who won't be able to go see the doctor."

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