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Six Home Care Workers Arrested at State Capitol

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For the first time in history, today on the grounds of the state Capitol, representatives from all the unions that represent home care workers in the state of California gathered to protest further cuts to the states IHSS program.

Nearly 2000 people, including care providers, recipients and supporters, clustered under shade canopies before the South steps of the Capitol, listening to speakers, chanting supportive slogans, and blowing bright yellow horns to punctuate the presentations.

The speakers were care providers and union members who had come from across the state to educate the public and especially the legislature on the role home care plays in keeping the state’s health care costs down.

Their message is that home health care saves money and lives, and provides better quality care, while allowing families to remain together.

The IHSS program provides a combination of federal, state and county monies to enable persons who are at risk of nursing home placement to remain at home. Each county administers the program according to the needs of its citizens. Most counties in the state have adopted the independent provider option, which allows the eligible recipient to choose their own provider, either from a list of screened candidates from a caregiver registry, or from their own pool of family and friends.

The care that is given includes meal preparation, shopping, laundry, help with mobility, toileting, bathing and other aspects of personal care. It also includes paramedical services such as assistance with injections, wound care, or tube feeding.

The IHSS program has faced cuts and reforms in previous years. One attempt under Gov. Schwarzenegger to eliminate assistance to those whose needs were considered minimal failed a court test.

A cap on care provider wages succeeded at the state level, but was not put into effect since labor agreements are made county by county, and could not be abrogated at the state level. More recently, an across the board 20% temporary cut succeeded. Another attempt to rein in costs has been to require a basic medical certification in order to be eligible for IHSS.

Across the board cuts have placed financial pressures indiscriminately on recipients who now either have to do without needed care, or have to find providers who are willing to do what is needed regardless of the reduction in payment. Care providers are relatively low wage workers, often receiving only minimum wage. Wages are negotiated at the county level. In Sacramento, the rate of pay is $10.40 per hour.

Today at the capitol, I spoke through an interpreter with Joaquin Martinez, a neatly dressed man in a power wheelchair. I did not ask him about his disability, but it was obvious that he needed care. He accompanied his care provider to the demonstration because, “these cuts have made it very difficult for me. First they cut Medi-Cal by eliminating optometrists. Then they cut SSI. Then they took hours away.”

In the hot and crowded central corridor, right by the California Bear, several demonstrators had chosen to make a more dramatic statement. Ron Tatum from San Bernardino County, who cares for his disabled sister, had volunteered to be arrested to make the point. “I saw what they did in Wisconsin. They eliminated IHSS there. If we don’t make a stand here, there will be a domino effect, and all the states will follow.”

Mary Ordaz, who I saw being taken away under restraint by state police, told me, “I take care of my mom. I had to quit my job to take care of her. I would be devastated financially if they cut this program. Do they want us to be homeless?”

The IHSS program has been on the block for some time. Darrel Steinberg is currently chairing a committee that is looking at ways to make the program more cost-effective. Mr. Scott Mann of SEIU, the larger union entity that has organized this event, told me that they are working with Mr. Steinberg on a plan that will not only save money, but will transform IHSS by integrating the home care delivery system with the recipient’s total health care.

Home care workers and their recipients feel that they are easy targets, but that savings squeezed from them will be negated by the loss of federal matching funds and by the higher cost of caring for recipients in institutions 

 

Joaquin Martinez

Ron Tatum

Mary Ordaz

Juana Mendez

 

 

And more goes on tomorrow!

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