Mountain View Voice

Opinion - July 29, 2011

State budget cuts hit home

Aging comfortably, with all contingencies covered, is something everyone hopes to do, but unfortunately many of us fall short. And when we do, state and federal safety net programs kick in.

That is the state's intention with Medi-Cal, which, among other things, often provides back-up coverage for frail and elderly seniors, including about one-third of those who use the adult day care services offered by Avenidas at the Rose Kleiner Senior Day Health Center in Mountain View. Some 32 low-income seniors that rely on Medi-Cal to attend the adult day care program offered at the Rose Kleiner center on Escuela Avenue may soon be turned away.

Due to California's budget cuts, the state Medi-Cal program will drop its support for low-income seniors in the program on Dec. 1 unless they can pick up more than half the cost of about $76 a day. Given that these participants already qualify for the state subsidy, it is highly unlikely that any of them can afford to pay more for the program. This likely means that this valuable service, which can make the difference between independent living and a nursing home for some, will be out of reach of one of the most vulnerable segments of the city's senior community.

According to the Dept. of Health Care Services, cutting the adult day care benefit will save the state $169 million, a tiny fraction of the California's multi-billion dollar budget. A deputy director of the department called the upcoming cutbacks "a difficult decision," but added that "California is facing a very serious budget deficit," and because Medi-Cal is the state's second largest program expenditure, it had to be part of any budget solution.

And on Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have replaced adult care with an $85 million program that would serve only the neediest recipients. Instead, now the state's strategy is to provide enough transition time to move those receiving day care to other programs.

That is not a good solution, said Lenny Park, director of the center for Avenidas. Park is a strong supporter of the day care program, and she does not view it as "optional."

" These people need to be monitored," Park told the Voice last week, saying many are immobile due to various health conditions, including dementia or an injury. Nurses in the program administer medications and monitor the health of participants. Dieticians make sure that special nutritional regimens are followed and aides plan mentally stimulating and entertaining activities.

All of this will be gone Dec. 1 and care providers believe that as many as one fourth of seniors now receiving Medi-Cal-funded adult day care will wind up in nursing homes, at a much higher cost for the state.

Without a doubt, the state needs to trim its expenses and Medi-Cal is a huge portion of the budget. But to pull the rug out from under frail and elderly senior citizens who have a much better quality of life with adult care than in a nursing home makes no sense. The Governor and the Legislature may be able to point to a $169 million budget reduction in the short term, but the long-term cost will be much greater and be borne by thousands of senior citizens who will lose meaningful care for no good reason.

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