New report: Gov’s plan to abolish senior program is flawed

If you asked Maria Contreras if it’s a good idea, she’d say no.  So would Kwan Hi.  In fact, if you asked most of the seniors at one of California’s bustling Adult Day Health Centers, they’d likely agree.  They are two of more than 39,000 seniors who would pay the price if a proposal by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to eliminate all of California’s 312 Adult Day Health Centers were to be approved.

An Adult Day Health Center, or ADHC, is a low-cost medical facility where elderly patients receive critical health services before returning home.  California has more than three hundred ADHC programs statewide.  At these centers, thousands of seniors, most who are frail, chronically ill, isolated or suffering from serious medical conditions, are served in a way that allows them to stay at home, even though most are eligible for nursing home care, and keep their dignity and pride as they grow older.

Every state has some kind of ADHC program. Thousands of programs across the country each day help people who might otherwise sit home alone, or who qualify to be moved into a nursing facility.

What makes California different is Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposal to eliminate all of the ADHC programs as a part of his plan to reduce the state’s budget deficit.  The governor’s budget hawks claims that eliminating the program in its entirety would save the state around $135 million dollars.

Unfortunately for the governor, a new report released this past week by the Virginia-based Lewin Group – one of our country’s premier independent health care consultants – on behalf of the Congress of California Seniors, concluded that if the state were to proceed with the governor’s proposal, it would end up costing the state more than $51 million in the first year alone, growing to about $72 million within ten years.

Their conclusion was based on the fact that more than a third of the 39,000 seniors who participate in the ADHC program would transition to a nursing home because of their inability to care for themselves.  Currently, the state pays roughly $76 a day for an ADHC patient compared to about $165 for that same patient receiving care in a nursing home facility.

Mrs. Contreras, a 74-year-old widow who suffered a stroke four years ago, comes to her local ADHC center to receive daily physical, speech and occupational therapy.  Had it not been for her local ADHC, she would have ended up in a nursing home years ago – at a greater cost to taxpayers.

According to statistics compiled by the California Association for Adult Day Services, most ADHC patients typically suffer from multiple chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, dementia, diabetes or other kinds of ailments and nearly 75% need assistance with basic activities of daily living.

Aside from the human toll to patients, eliminating the ADHC program would impact California’s unemployment rate.  If all of the 312 centers were to close, the Lewin Group report estimates that more than 7,600 people who work at the centers would lose their jobs and another 2,500 would become unemployed as a result of the overall impact to the industry.  With California’s economy in such fragile condition, we cannot afford another 10,000 people on the unemployment line or sustain the tens of millions of dollars lost in tax revenues, and consumer spending.

What was also striking about the Lewin Group report was the impact eliminating the ADHC program would have on family caregivers.  Many elderly patients who currently receive ADHC care and decide to stay home instead of moving to a nursing facility will require around-the-clock care.  According to the Lewin report, more than 8,000 Californians would be forced to either quit their jobs or reduce their work hours in order to care for a family member.  This would cost the state millions in lost income and sales tax revenue, not to mention putting more Californians out of work.

Cutting the ADHC program will have a devastating impact on tens of thousands of Californians while costing the state more in the process.  It’s bad for the economy, our elderly, and the family members who will have to stay home to provide care.  Rather, our elected leaders ought to look elsewhere to solve the state’s budget problems.

Mrs. Contreras and Mr. Hi are right.  We ought to say “no” to this shortsighted proposal.

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