Budget cuts target senior assistance

By: - August 11, 2005 5:23 am

Record & Landmark
By Carrie J. Sidener

In home health caregiver Cassandra Robinson takes Deanie Mash’s blood pressure. Mash would be just one of the individuals affected by cuts in the budget which provides home health care. Rebecca Koenig (Record & Landmark)  

Some days Deanna Mash is in so much pain that she can’t bring herself to get out of bed, much less fix lunch.

The 63-year-old suffers from arthritis and has had two hip-replacement surgeries. She needs help to do the simple things.

“I can’t do much,” she said. “Some days, I do good to do anything.”

Mash gets help from an in-home aide through a Medicaid program called Personal Care Services. The aide cooks, washes dishes, does the laundry and other things that give Mash the freedom of staying at home.

But the proposed state budget eliminates some funding to the program, meaning seniors like Mash will have to do more things on their own.

The cuts would reduce the number of hours that in-home aides can spend with patients. 

There are 24,000 people in North Carolina who are served through the PCS program.

PCS is prescribed by a doctor and typically serves elderly women who live alone, said Virginia Stewart, director of professional services for Carolina Health Professionals in Statesville.

“I believe they are targeting the program because the recipients are not up on the legislature,” Stewart said. “They are sick and can’t care for themselves. It’s an easy way to cut expenses without any hoo-hah.”

Tim Rogers, executive director of the Association for Home and Hospice Care of North Carolina, said he fears that the cuts will force many into nursing homes.

“We thought a compromise had been reached,” Rogers said, but now “home care will be taking an appropriations cut and rest homes will get a rate increase.”

Rogers said the PCS program costs much less than a rest home – $700 per month compared to up to $3,200 monthly for skilled nursing.

“The legislature pointed to higher growth in personal care services” as a rationale for cutting the funding, Rogers said, but “that growth is good growth. Many people want to stay home.”

Tracy Gentry, adult services supervisor for Iredell County Department of Social Services, said the program has been a frequent target, trimmed from a maximum of 80 hours per month to 60 hours and now 50 hours.

“For a lot of people, this is the only thing that is keeping them safe and in their homes,” Gentry  said.

“Everyone wants to be at home to age in peace. Being institutionalized is an option, but it should be the last option. The funds should be available to keep people at home.”

Seniors blame Raleigh

The two hours and 45 minutes that Mash’s in-home aide spends with her isn’t enough to get everything done.

“I used to be able to do it all on my own, but with the arthritis, I can’t do much anymore,” Mash said. “If it wasn’t for their help, I couldn’t make it. I don’t know what I would do.”

Mash said she thinks the cuts are happening because the lawmakers don’t know what it is like to be dependent on state aid to do even the simplest things.

“They don’t understand what it’s like to not be able to mop the floor or stand at the sink and wash the dishes,” she said. “What little we get, they are cutting … They don’t realize what they are taking away from people who can’t help themselves.”

State Rep. Julia Howard, R-79th, said she understands why people are upset. “It’s one of the many things on this conference committee report that I don’t like.”

None of the other legislators who represent Iredell County returned calls seeking comment.

Hurting those in need

Ernestine King said her in-home aide fixes meals, helps her bathe and washes her clothes. The 80-year-old must use a walker and said she often can’t pick up the things she drops.

King said the Medicaid cuts will only hurt people that need help.

“I couldn’t survive without her,” King said. “I don’t want to go to no nursing home.”

Stewart said the the people who benefit from the PCS program want to stay in their communities.

“If a person can remain in their homes and their needs are met, (they) are healthier and happier and live longer,” she said.

‘I don’t understand’

The fear now, Stewart said, is how the cuts will impact patients.

“They just keep cutting, and I don’t know how much we can do if we are cut further. I don’t understand,” she said.

“Maybe the nursing homes have more lobbyists. It seems more cost-effective to me to help someone stay in their home with a few hours help, than to pay for total care in a nursing home.”

Ruth Fulbright of Statesville said she doesn’t understand it either, because she can’t get along without the help of her in-home aide.

The 68-year old has emphysema and says her breathing prohibits her from doing normal household activities.

“I don’t know what I would do without her,” Fulbright said. “It’s wonderful that I’ve got her and I don’t want to lose her.”

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066