Maria Hernandez* is 81 years old, lives in Stockton and, if State Budget cuts go as announced, she will be on her own.
As many of her age, Hernandez is senile and her two sons were not only unable to find enough time to care for her daily, but they also faced a problem that most ordinary people encounter at this stage: they do not know how to take care of an elderly person with limitations.
That’s why, a month ago, Hernandez joined other 16,334 Californians who benefit from Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP). A nurse visited her home, a caregiver was assigned to check on her, help her with meal preparation, taking baths and other seemly menial tasks that are not only time-consuming, but are best done by a person specialized in elderly care. She was also issued an emergency-call bracelet and a mediset, a daily-medicine packet she requires to control her health conditions.
But her blessings may end much sooner than many expected… the MSSP is one of dozens of social services targeted to be eliminated as part of the Governor’s budget plan to reduce the State deficit.
Hernandez is not alone in this predicament. There are hundreds of elderly citizens in San Joaquin County —170 of them being served by Catholic Charities’ Senior Services Program— who will fight for the few slots available in for-profit elderly care centers or, if they cannot afford them, left to their own means.
Latest numbers by the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office place the state’s 2011-12 deficit at $25.4 billion. Elimination of this program will save $771,000 in San Joaquin County, $19.9 statewide.
“The proposed program elimination would cost an estimated $55 million dollars or more from increased need for nursing home placements alone,” said Stockton’s Catholic Charities MSSP Site Director Juliana Homan, “this does not include the additional expenses for the inappropriate use of costly services such as 911, emergency room visits, and the use of acute care hospitals.” According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), private senior care fluctuates between $2,714 and $6,150 a month per person, depending on a myriad of factors.
Homan’s statements were made during a press conference held on Tuesday, February 8, 2011, at Catholic Charities’ facilities in north central Stockton. Other speakers included MSSP caregiver Josie Sanchez, Catholic Charities director Elvira Ramirez, and Stephen Blaire, the Bishop of the Diocese of Stockton.
“The financial and human impact will be further complicated in San Joaquin County due to the fact that there are insufficient Medi-Cal beds available for those who will require immediate placement in a skilled nursing facility,” added Colleen Winters, the Site’s Clinical Supervisor, “this can and will result in placement in other counties or in costly acute care hospitals.”
Also present were some MSSP beneficiaries, such as Arsenio Siojo, 93, and Viola Bourne, 92. Facing a TV camera Siojo pleaded for the program not to be eliminated, “please don’t cut this program,” he said, “that’s all I have.”
County program administrators have sent letters to and met with several lawmakers, but no one can assure what will happen.
A budget plan that considers the MSSP elimination may come to legislators as early as March, said Winters. If eliminated, these services could be discontinued by the beginning of next summer.
*not her real name to protect her privacy