Home care services cuts devastating for some

GRANTS PASS — Sharlene Curnow broke down in tears when she saw the e-mail from her caseworker explaining that state budget cuts would leave her family without the help they have been depending on for her severely disabled 3-year-old son, Michael.

"Without these people in our life, I don't know if my husband and I would be able to stay married, because of the stress it causes our relationship," said Curnow, 36, a customer care representative for a cell phone company in Salem. "No matter how strong a foundation you have prior to having a child with disability, nothing prepares a couple for the stress that comes along with this."

Curnow is grateful that the Legislature's Emergency Board plans to meet Thursday to restore $17.1 million in cuts to the Department of Human Services, but she is all too aware that come next year, it could unravel again due to poor economic conditions.

"People are on a waiting list for ... services for years and they get on the list just to find out it was taken away, and now given back, but potentially will be taken away again in February," she said. "We are going back to the 1940s and '50s when our children who have disabilities were labeled mongoloids and not allowed to have a proper education like all these quote-unquote normal children."

Recognizing that budget cuts ordered by the governor, totaling $158 million at the department, would hurt some of Oregon's most vulnerable people while ultimately costing more money, the Emergency Board will shift spending. The move will temporarily restore programs serving more than 16,000 people and retain $14 million in federal matching funds, said Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, co-chair of the Ways and Means budget committee.

The governor can only make cuts across the board. The Legislature can change spending priorities and is restoring the home care cuts by drawing on reserve funds originally intended to cover growing caseloads at the department, Buckley said.

The cuts had wiped out Oregon Project Independence, a popular program that helps 2,000 people older than 60 stay in their homes rather than move to nursing homes. They sent layoff notices to caseworkers for 1,140 families like Curnow's. The extra funding will keep both programs going through February.

Medicaid In-Home Care programs for 11,000 elderly and disabled people was cut by about half. It will be funded through June. Also getting restored is a community mental health program for 1,462 people without Medicaid.

Ken Poe, 67, of Gresham, was a corporate aircraft pilot, but childhood polio left him struggling to recover from a fall a few years ago. He has been getting help with housekeeping and other chores from Oregon Project Independence. When he learned he would lose the caregiver to budget cuts, "I was disappointed, of course, and kind of frightened.

"You know, 'What am I going to do?' My options are to see if I can get friends to help me out ... hire somebody and afford it on my own, which is really tough, or give up and go on Medicaid, which costs the state $3,000 a month instead of $200 a month.

"To me, it doesn't make sense."

While most state agencies receive some outside funding that blunts the effect of the budget cuts, Human Services has a high rate of state funding, making the cuts particularly painful, department spokeswoman Patty Wentz said.

Kathy Weit, a policy analyst with the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities, said Oregon does not do much for families of children with disabilities to begin with, and the across-the-board cuts were devastating.

Michael Curnow was born with periventricular nodular heterotopia, a brain condition that leaves him unable to walk or talk, but fully aware of his surroundings and condition. His frustration leads to frequent angry outbursts when he often tries to hurt himself, his mother said.

Sharlene Curnow said they make too much money to qualify for the Oregon Health Plan or social security benefits, so they receive limited help outside of special needs classes in school. Their caseworker helped them find help from outside programs, including a special chair that protects Michael when he gets worked up, Mrs. Curnow said.

"What came to my mind mostly was the other families I know who rely on people to actually come into their home to help with diapering, bathing, the things that allow them be able go to work so they can support their family without relying completely on the state," she said. "They wouldn't be able to work without it."

Share This Story