A round of state budget cuts to in-home care services for seniors and disabled people is adding insult to injury for Tom Polson of Richland.
Polson has been outspoken about cuts to Ben Franklin Transit over the past couple of years, arguing that route reductions have harmed people like him who live on the poverty line and have no means other than public transit to get to doctor's appointments or the grocery store.
Now his household is being squeezed even more as his partner, Bonnie Smith, stands to lose 10 percent of the in-home care hours she receives via Medicaid starting Jan. 1.
He said Smith has a mental disability that affects her ability to care for herself and is overweight and physically immobile because of a thyroid disorder.
"It's already down to bare bones," Polson said of the in-home services Smith gets. "She can't care for herself, and I can't be there 24/7. She needs this care."
The Department of Social and Health Services recently told agencies such as Aging & Long Term Care of Southeast Washington in Kennewick that long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities will be cut by $40 million in response to Gov. Chris Gregoire's call for 6.3 percent across-the-board reductions at state agencies.
Gregoire ordered the cuts after the September revenue forecast showed another $520 million drop for the remainder of the biennium ending June 30.
Other cuts to Medicaid services include $8.3 million for adult dental services, $4.6 million for adult hospice, $3.2 million for Medicare Part D co-pays for clients eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare, $10.1 million by reducing eligibility for Apple Health for Kids and $20.3 million hacked from medical coverage under the Disability Lifeline program, formerly known as General Assistance Unemployable.
Virginia Janin, local program/fair hearing coordinator for Aging & Long Term Care of Southeast Washington, said she's especially worried about cuts to long-term care programs that help people with chronic diseases or disabilities remain independent in their own homes.
Those programs help clients with daily activities such as bathing, dressing, using the bathroom, cooking meals or doing grocery shopping.
Other cuts starting in December will affect programs like Meals on Wheels and one that provides seniors with foot care, she said.
"This will drive more people into emergency rooms and institutions, which will drive up costs," Janin said. "In the long-run, if this goes through, it will come back to hurt us. We have to look forward to the bigger picture."
Cherie Noble, an area supervisor for Senior Life Resources Home Care Services, said cuts also will affect the local economy by forcing layoffs and reductions in hours for people providing in-home care.
Her agency employs 330 people, who provide in-home care to 680 clients. She expects half of her workers may have to be laid off.
"The proposed budget cuts will be extremely devastating to our clients served, to our providers and to our agency as a whole," Noble said.
Polson worries about how he and Smith will manage without the extra help they get from in-home care services. They have no family in the area, and friends have been reluctant to offer the kind of help the couple need, he said.
"I just don't know what to say," he said. "What in the hell do we do now?"
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org