Behind “crises”

August 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jada cannot move on her own.  She says: “I wish I was independent.  I’m not; I’m at the mercy of a lot of people just to exist.” Diabetic and disabled, Jada, a 77-year old widow, relies on a home care aide and she spends most of the weekdays at an adult day health center.  Her existence is correlated to the destiny of public benefits.  Without her home care aide and her visits to the adult day health center, she would probably have to move into a public nursing home. Her situation illustrates that older adults are more dependent on state resources than other age groups. Jada relies on her social security check to have enough money to run her household; she relies on Medicare and Medi-Cal for her health care expenses and for the home care aide.

Jada tells me of the effects of the last deep cut in the provision of services to Medi-Cal. In July 2009, to quell a budget crisis, Medi-Cal stopped providing access to incontinence pads, eye care, dental care, foot care, speech therapists and psychologists. In her words:

 Oh… he [California Governor Schwarzenegger] cut a lot, he cut. You can’t have anything to do with your teeth anymore, you can’t go to the dentist, you can’t go to the podiatrist, you can get your eyes examined but you can’t get glasses, and my glasses, my last pair of glasses, has this thing is about to come off, I wanna see if it can be repaired.

Jada and I calculate the cost of her incontinence pads – “they cost money, those things are expensive.” Since Jada uses eight pads per day, the cut in benefits cost her  $3 a day that translates to nearly $100 a month for pads only, a bit less than the $125 she asked her sister twice in the last two months to avoid going overdraft. Jada explains: “’Cause I ran out. I didn’t have my money.”

The hardship to fix a pair of glasses and to afford incontinence pads shows “how the burden of almost all crises falls disproportionately on the poor” to use the words of Edelman in a book, Political Language, written more than thirty years ago. Other crises await Jada. In 2011 the new state governor, Jerry Brown, cut funding to services to older adults. As a result, day centers, meal sites, and senior centers are closing their doors, cutting San Franciscans like Jada from places where they can increase their social network and receive health care. For example Anita Friedman, the director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services,  decided to close L’Chaim Adult Day Health Center, who serves 400 low-income older adults in Judah Street in the Sunset District. She says: “We already lost $3 million in funding for early childhood, mental health, legal services and food programs. This is an additional $3 million. At the same time, our [number of clients] increased 40 percent because of families who have lost work. These are perfect-storm conditions for us.”

On July 22 2011, referring to the cuts, a reader of the San Francisco Chronicle in a letter to the editor asks:

Is this what we want for our most vulnerable? Republicans speak of family values. What kind of values are these that try to balance the budget on the back of defenceless elders? And we’d rather give tax breaks to the richest 1 percent? Can you smell the smoke? Rome is burning.

This story appeared in the August 2011 issue of the newsletter of Planning for Elders in the Central City. The contribution was funded by the UCSF Community Partnership Fund.

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