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Home-Care Providers Face County Supervisors to Protest Salary Cut

Santa Barbara County seeks approval from the state to reduce by $1 the hourly wage for caretakers of low-income and disabled patients

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday faced a room full of members of the Homecare Providers Union, all wearing green T-shirts, who showed up to protest a proposed salary cut for the In-Home Supportive Services program.

“We understand at the fiscal level they have to think of the bad economy and bad times,” said Yessina DeCasaus, regional coordinator for the union. “But it’s people, making very little already, making even less.”

Under the current IHSS program, 2,800 low-income and disabled patients in Santa Barbara County are able to receive home care. Providers, either working independently or with contracted companies such as Addus, are paid $10 per hour. The county proposes a cut in pay to $9 an hour.

County staff reluctantly recommended the salary cut and the Board of Supervisors approved a letter to the State of California six weeks ago for approval, according to Kathy Gallagher, county director of Social Services. As a Medicaid program, IHSS requires the state to agree on such changes in funding.

Although Santa Barbara County is set to begin budget negotiations next week, staff will be waiting to hear back from the state sometime in the next 30 days. Gallagher said the county can save up to $500,000 per year if the cuts are approved.

The state’s decision could have drastic consequences for Stephanie Eppert, 53, of Santa Maria and her 17-year-old daughter, Jessie, who has Down syndrome.

Eppert said she was able to bring her daughter with her to work while she managed an office for a construction company. She lost her job when Jessie needed to sporadically spend more time in the hospital because of a diminished immune system. In addition to Jessie’s medical needs, her mother fears her daughter could hurt herself or be abused by others if she is left alone.

“She can’t be left alone because she acts out,” Eppert said.

The two lived in a vacant, unfinished office in Paso Robles for eight months with the owner’s approval. Eppert then started working as an independent care provider for $1,900 a month under IHSS.

As soon as the salary cut goes into effect, Eppert said it’s very likely that she will be unable to make rent on her apartment, be forced to put her belongings in storage and sleep in her vehicle with Jessie.

“My biggest fear is losing her,” she said.

Eppert was one of the dozens of home-care providers who showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to oppose the cuts.

Steve Mehlman, the state communications director for the union, criticized the Board of Supervisors for cutting a program through which the state and federal government reimburses “every dime” the county spends.

But Gallagher said that statement doesn’t reflect the reality of IHSS. The federal government reimburses the county for 50 percent and the state another 25 percent of what it spends on the program.

“We’re not talking about fixing a sewer pipe; we’re talking about human beings,” Mehlman said.

He said the argument for sacrifices to be shared by independent home-care providers making $10 per hour even as other county residents make $100 per hour seems unfair.

Addus, which provides 24/7 care for severely disabled patients in Santa Barbara County, is fighting for the contract it has held for the past 20 years. If the county ends the contract, patients would be left to find, hire, train and fire their own home-care provider — duties currently handled by Addus.

“If I’m a 75-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s, how am I going to do that?” said Darby Anderson, vice president of home and community services for Addus.

Noozhawk intern Daniel Langhorne can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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