On September 16, the Department of Social and Health Services released a new budget cut scenario that amounts to a drastic elimination of critical long-term services and supports that help with daily activities like eating, bathing, and taking medications. Losing those supports will endanger our most vulnerable Washingtonians.
The Long-Term Care Coalition, a broad and diverse coalition of long-term care advocates (listed below), has monitored projected budget cuts and is working with a unified voice to object to this rollback in essential support. In addition to the immediate health crisis, the older population continues to grow. Now is not the time to pull the rug out from under those who need care the most.
Before the pandemic, many advocates and providers were concerned about our ability to meet this rising need. Cuts today will have a ripple effect that will impact services for years to come, including increasing use of emergency rooms, increasing hospitalizations for longer periods, and increasing the cost burdens in other health programs.
“Those who rely on state long-term care literally have nowhere else to turn for help to do the basic daily tasks the rest of us take for granted—the risks to their health and safety would be severe,” said Cathy Knight, chair of the Washington State Association of Area Agencies on Aging and director of Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency serving Seattle and King County.
The new budget reduction options would leave thousands of older adults and people with disabilities without the programs that they need to stay safe and healthy. More than 12,000 people would lose access to coverage.
The people who rely on our state’s long-term care system do not have their own resources or family to fall back on for care. The coalition is urging legislators to avoid cutting programs that could potentially harm the most vulnerable in our communities.
More than six months into the current pandemic, older adults remain at increased risk of contracting the coronavirus. Nowhere is this more telling than the stories that we have all read about the impact of coronavirus on staff, families, and residents of nursing homes and other inpatient settings.
“Now is not the time to cut funding for long-term services and supports, especially for long-term care facilities, which have been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jim Wilgus, Executive Director, Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter. “Nearly half of long-term care community residents live with Alzheimer’s and dementia. This is an incredibly vulnerable population with very intensive care needs.”
Wilgus continued, saying, “Family caregivers often can’t take care of a loved one with dementia on their own, especially in the latter stages of the disease, so they rely heavily on long-term services and supports. Cutting the funding for that care could have deleterious effects for the individuals and families we serve.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 55 percent of COVID-related deaths in our state have occurred in long-term care facilities. Medicaid cuts to these settings should not be an option. Failure to provide adequate resources to fight the virus will further burden our already strapped essential workers and will put residents in harm’s way.
“Caregivers—most of whom are women, and often Black women, women of color and immigrants—care for clients at high risk for COVID-19,” said Sterling Harders, SEIU 775 president. “Caregivers in our state are risking their lives to show up to work every day to protect our most vulnerable. To cut funding for the frontlines of healthcare in the middle of a global pandemic is tantamount to neglect. Cutting funding also means cutting thousands of jobs our economy can’t afford to lose during this recession.”
Vicki Bickford, an individual provider and home care worker in Vancouver, WA, worries for her client and her own economic stability: “With my client, getting kicked off Medicaid and losing care because of the DSHS budget cuts is an attack on his health. He needs constant care, and he can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket. Without the care I provide, he will have a very difficult end of life, because that’s what it would do, it would end his life. And for me, a frontline healthcare worker, a pay cut would threaten my ability to keep a roof over my head and food on my table—things I need so I can stay healthy and strong to be able to care for some of our state’s most vulnerable.”
For years, Washington has been recognized as one of the leading states when it comes to long-term services and supports. We have spent a great deal of time and effort to build a person-centered focus that promotes choice and flexibility and allows our most vulnerable to select the best type of care that works for their situation. Drastic cuts to funding for Medicaid would threaten these advancements, likely resulting in our most vulnerable citizens losing the lifesaving supports that they count on.
We all want the security of knowing that we, and our loved ones, will have the care we need when we need it most. Low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and their caregivers rely on these services to survive. Our long-term care system is already under strain. We cannot meet the needs of the most vulnerable Washingtonians if we shred the long-term support safety net when we need it the most.
The Long-term Care Coalition invites all Washingtonians to join us in objecting to reducing critical services to those most affected by this pandemic. We encourage lawmakers and budget writers to protect our most vulnerable populations.
Contributed by Christina Clem and Cathy MacCaul, AARP Washington.
Long-Term Care Coalition
Working to protect the health of Washington’s most vulnerable. Members include:
- All Ways Caring
- Adult Family Home Council
- Casa Latina
- Catholic Community Services
- Consumer Direct Care Network Washington
- CDM Caregiving Services
- First Choice In-Home Care
- Full Life Care
- Korean Women’s Association
- LeadingAge Washington
- National MS Society
- Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 8
- Office of Developmental Disabilities Ombudsman
- Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action
- SEIU 775
- The Arc – Washington State
- Washington Association of Area Agencies on Aging
- Washington Health Care Association
- Washington Home Care Coalition
- Washington State Developmental Disabilities Council
- Washington State Long-term Care Ombudsman Program
- Washington State Senior Citizen’s Lobby
- Washington State School Retirees Association