Let’s Use Common Sense in Trimming Family Care

Family Care helps disabled and elderly people live in our communities. Cuts to this program need a common sense approach to protect those most vulnerable.

Recently I met with people who help the disabled. We talked through changes and challenges. I heard many stories that brought concern.

In the state’s rush to cut costs people are losing services, medical care is denied or delayed, homes and programs are closing and staff let go. At the same time, the Governor’s budget ordered eligible people needing services to get on a waiting list which officials expect to swell to 10,000 people.

Caregivers told me about inefficiencies in the system: duplication of services, professionals forbidden from consulting with one another, clients wanting to work being denied the help of a job-coach, and providers told to not worry about quality - putting clients at risk.

Even services to the most vulnerable clients are reduced. For example, a Chippewa Valley home for severely impaired clients was shut down and the clients sent elsewhere. Quality of care wasn’t an issue. Reducing costs seemed to be the driving force behind closure.

Officials are demanding an unusual level of paperwork from caregivers. A care provider said he was required to submit a 274 page invoice. He was forced to hire staff to take care of the paperwork while losing staff to take care of people. This makes no sense.

The state struggles with how to provide high-quality, low-cost care for clients who are unable to care for themselves. Some suffer from cerebral palsy, need a ventilator, are wheelchair bound, are blind, have seizures, compulsive behaviors or unable to control bodily functions. Some are brain injury survivors; some are veterans.

State officials say families and community volunteers could do more to provide care.  Caregivers tell me clients are losing ground when they don’t receive professional assistance.

The challenge is finding the middle ground. Don’t use tax dollars to pay for care family members can and should perform. Assist those who need care and cannot afford it. But we must look at each individual case.

If services are cut to a 65-year-old disabled man and the only caregiver is his 82-year-old mother, has the state placed too heavy a burden on that mother? What if she cannot adequately care for herself?

Listening to the concerns of caregivers provides me with common sense directions:

Keep clients at the center of services. People need an advocate; someone on their side.

Pay providers for quality. Wisconsin pioneered the Young Star approach to quality child-care; let’s do the same for the care of disabled.

Eliminate duplication, waste and inefficiencies. Making clients start over in a program they’ve almost finished is a waste of time and resources. Making providers send in extra paperwork for services already approved makes no sense.

We can’t afford to waste money. A large part of this problem seems to be communication.

Involve everyone in the discussion of care including family members, guardians, and providers. Make sure everyone knows the client’s plan and desired goals.

Focus on the best low-cost, high quality solutions and reward creativity.

Involve family and volunteers in care but don’t lose help of professionals. We all benefit when early childhood and vocational rehab specialists, social workers and special educators bring out the best in those facing challenges. Lives are enriched. Tax dollars are saved.

Invest in prevention and early treatment which helps keep those less-abled productive and pays dividends for us all.

Create a Legislative Study Committee to examine the challenges facing Family Care and work through details of solutions.

Correcting these problems is not only our public duty as legislators, it is our moral obligation. I can say this no better than the woman who wrote me calling attention to the suffering of those differently-abled.

Is NOT ... [it] reasonable to expect some dignity of being among those who understand their constant struggle to overcome pain, discomfort; ridicule by a society that often bears a sense of trepidation by their very existence? They deserve the compassion of society and surely from the people who say they are serving their best interests.