By NINA NOLCOX


California's governor and Legislature, facing an official "budget emergency," are instituting a 10 percent budget cut. The cut will be coupled with deferred payments, delaying state payments by two weeks and, later, by another month. These two strategies will inflict pain and suffering on many, including local economies and businesses. But the damage will be most extraordinary for our most vulnerable citizens, our frail elderly.

Wholesale budget cuts at first glance appear to spread evenly the pain of our state's inability to budget responsibly. That appearance is a lie. Universal budget cuts will do far more damage to some than to others, including seniors with limited incomes and chronic health challenges.

Even if we ignore the cruelty our seniors will suffer under the cuts (and it takes a cold heart, indeed, to do that), the proposed cuts still don't make one lick of sense. As a matter of absolute fact, cuts and delayed payments will cost the state far more than any savings they will generate.

I know how painful cuts are. I operate an adult day health facility, one of some 300 such centers across the state serving seniors, most having some form of Alzheimer's disease or other dementia, who have medical conditions that require constant attention and medication. Last summer, when the Legislature failed to pass a budget, our Medi-Cal funds stopped cold. Because the vast majority of those who use adult day services depend on California's Medi-Cal program to fund their care, we faced two choices close our doors or borrow to stay open. At least two centers had to close immediately and a huge number of others borrowed money to continue services.

Adult day health centers are small businesses serving local communities. Forcing us to fund the state's deficit from our own pockets was bad enough mostany of us are still paying down our loans. The anguishing thought of having to turn our seniors away was even worse. The stress literally caused my hair to fall out.

Intolerable cut

The 10 percent budget cut, combined with delayed payment, will make permanent the temporary horrors of last summer. In theory and in practice, that is intolerable.

There will be no savings when we force adult day health centers to close. It doesn't take a Ph.D. in economics to see that the cost differential is substantial. In the weeks after the 10 percent cut is implemented, at least 13 centers will close, driving some 400 seniors to nursing homes. That shift will cost the state at least $15.7 million more than day care. That loss is just the beginning.

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