– Several individuals needing critical assistance to remain safely in their homes, advocates for seniors and people with disabilities, and the unions whose members provide care, today filed suit in federal court in San Francisco to prevent impending cuts in the “In-Home Supportive Services” program, known as IHSS. One plaintiff, Mrs. Willie Beatrice Sheppard, recently had a stroke but with the help of her home care worker continues to live independently in her small apartment in Emeryville. Without IHSS, Ms. Sheppard is concerned that she will fall and end up in a nursing home.
The cuts in IHSS services are scheduled to take effect November 1, 2009. Approximately 40,000 people will lose services entirely and an additional 97,000 will have their services cut sharply. The services to be cut are primarily meal preparation, food shopping, cleaning and assistance to medical appointments – basic services which frail seniors and those with disabilities depend on to avoid more costly placement in institutions such as nursing homes.
The lawsuit, which is filed as a class action on behalf of all those affected, seeks to avert what Margaret Baran of the IHSS Consortium, said will be a “humanitarian disaster.” Experts predict that cutting services to this many people will flood emergency rooms and overwhelm adult protective services.
Paul Castro of Jewish Family Services of Los Angeles predicts that “Many of our IHSS clients will end up in…board and care facilities, institutions or simply find themselves isolated from the outside world.” Evie Goldberg, a psychiatric social worker for 30 years, summarized her experience starkly: “People who are nourished by IHSS, particularly when frail and older, live longer. Those without it don’t live as long.”
“It is always less costly to care for people at home. A 2006 study showed that the average… public expenditure on home…based (Medicaid) services is $44,000 less than a person receiving institutional services,” stated Mitchell P. LaPlante, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Institute for Health and Aging, UCSF.
The lawsuit alleges that the IHSS cutbacks will violate federal constitutional due process protections, the Medicaid Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. “The purpose of the ADA is to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and these cuts will result in increased segregation and diminution of rights,” asserted Paula Pearlman of the Disability Rights Legal Center.
“The proposed cuts are especially biased against people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injury, who may need help just as much as people with physical disabilities,” said Melinda Bird of Disability Rights California, lead counsel in the case.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of IHSS recipients and caregivers. Four public interest law firms – Disability Rights California, Disability Rights Legal Center, National Senior Citizens Law Center and the National Health Law Program were joined by the law firm of Altshuler Berzon LLP, which is representing SEIU locals (SEIU – United Healthcare Workers, SEIU – United Long Term Care Workers, and SEIU Local 521), California United of Homecare Workers (CUHW), and United Domestic Workers-AFSCME, whose members are IHSS caregivers and attendants.
Today’s press conference featured a case summary by Melinda Bird, and the expert opinions of Lee Collins, director of the San Luis Obispo Department of Social Services; Donna Calame, executive director of the San Francisco IHSS Public Authority; and Ann Guerra, executive director of the Nevada-Sierra Regional IHSS Public Authority.
SEIU Healthcare, United Long-Term Care Workers’ Union is the largest union of long-term care workers in California. The more than 150,000 nursing home and homecare caregivers provide vital care and services to seniors and people with disabilities.