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Yount: States cut back on Good Samaritan services

August 15, 2010|By DAVID YOUNT / Scripps Howard News Service

In the modern world, government agencies have largely replaced the Good Samaritan of biblical fame in providing support for sick, poor, and elderly Americans. But as the need for aid expands, government services are shrinking.

The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., recently revealed that half of the states plus the District of Columbia have responded to the current recession by reducing or altogether eliminating in-home care for elderly poor, sick, and disabled Americans, many of whom live alone, surviving on Social Security as their only income.

John Leland, writing in The New York Times on July 16, focused on Oregon, exemplary among the states for assistance to its needy citizens with meal deliveries, housekeeping aid, and support for part-time caregivers in the home.

Now Oregon, facing a $577 million deficit because of shrinking tax revenues, is attempting to balance its budget by withdrawing these in-home services.

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Leland suggests that such economizing is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Providing in-home assistance costs the state an average $1,500 a month per recipient. With the program's disappearance, Oregon's elderly poor and disabled will be inclined to enter nursing homes or assisted living facilities at an average cost to the state of $5,900 a month.

Americans. Rich and poor alike, are living longer. Bringing caregivers into the home to provide a part-time helping hand is more affordable than institutionalizing the needy full-time.

Leland offers the case of Afton England, a 65-year-old Oregonian who suffers from diabetes, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and other health problems that prevent her from walking or standing for more than a few minutes at a time.

Until now, a state program provided England with 45 hours of assistance every month to help her bathe, prepare meals, clean her mobile home, and shop. Her only income is $802 per month from Social Security.

"They yanked the rug out from underneath us," the widow told the Times about people like herself. "I can't function on my own. I took care of my husband for eight years. Now they've taken our dignity."

England's case manager, Brandi Lemke, said of the state's action, "This is not saving any money," and expressed her fear that England will "end up in the hospital because of the diabetes. If she takes a fall she may require more than assisted living can handle."

Bruce Goldberg, director of the Oregon Department of Human Services, told the Times that he has no estimate of how many of its citizens losing in-home care will end up in assisted-living facilities or in nursing homes full-time -- or how the state would pay for institutional care.

Fortunately, the Oregon legislature's emergency board recently promised to reconsider at least some of the cuts, returning to its old Good Samaritan role.

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