Saturday, December 19, 2009

Human Services Chief: Cuts Hurt Elder Care


Fitchburg, MA -- People receiving services and others who provide them testified at a forum at Fitchburg State College last night on how cuts to state aid have affected programs.

The forum, moderated by Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, was one of 19 planned across the state seeking input on the upcoming state budget and how to fill a projected $3 billion deficit in fiscal 2011. A panel comprised of Health and Human Services officials also attended.

In a pre-recorded address played at the start of the forum, Gov. Deval Patrick said his administration was going through the budget line by line to find savings while still providing services to the most vulnerable populations in the state. He said his administration was building a budget around community values.

Greg A. Giuliano, incoming executive director of Montachusett Home Care — an agency that provides in-home and community-based services to the elderly — said cuts in state funding have diminished the agency’s ability to provide services.

“It’s important to back up the rhetoric about building a budget around community values,” he said.

He said the agency’s parent organization, Mass. Home Care, which works to keep elders from having to enter nursing homes, has more than 2,000 elderly on a waiting list for services.

The state, he said, impounded $2.5 million that was targeted for staff who go into hospitals and educate people on their rights to community care that can divert them from nursing homes. Additionally, he said, the group-home model that places four elderly people in a ranch house instead of a nursing home has been derailed by the state for two years; and the elder abuse program was cut by $1 million.

He urged the state to restore funding to those areas and not make further cuts.

Suggestions from the audience to fill the state’s deficit to avoid further cuts to services included legalizing marijuana and taxing it to increase revenues, increasing taxes on tobacco products and just generally increasing taxes.

Linda C. Lolly, a personal care assistant for people with mental illnesses, was a proponent of legalizing and taxing marijuana to save in-home services to those she supports.

“I have seen it over and over again that an elderly person can stay in their home when someone comes in and gives them a bath and gets them dressed for the day,” Ms. Lolly, who works for Arcadia Health Care in Worcester, said. “That’s just a few hours instead of having them go into nursing homes that cost thousands of dollars because there is no one else to do it for them.”

Dr. Bigby said the upcoming budget cycle is going to be even more difficult than last year because fiscal 2010 was balanced on $2.1 billion from one-time revenues. Moreover, there is only $561 million left in the state’s stabilization fund, she said, that may be needed in this budget cycle.

The Health and Human Services budget totals $13.7 billion — 51 percent of the state’s overall budget of $27 billion.

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