ALTON — Ann McDade is scared.
The 65-year-old resident at Marian Heights Apartments says for her, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed cuts to senior programs could mean the difference between life and death.
“We need these programs,” she says. “You take away my home services, and I am back in the nursing home, left to die.”
Before moving to Marian Heights, an independent living facility for senior citizens, Ann spent a year in a nursing home, where she says she was neglected and abused.
“I was unable to get my diabetes under control at the nursing home,” she says. “I was in the ER twice, once for being severely dehydrated and once for what they called a drug overdose.
“How can that happen? I didn’t dispense my medicines to myself.”
On another occasion, Ann says she treated an infected wound on her finger after repeated attempts to see a doctor.
“Left to my own devices, I got salt from the cafeteria and soaked my finger in salt water and mouthwash to try and heal myself,” she says.
Using programs such as WellSpring Resources, Senior Services Plus, and the Illinois Department of Aging and its Community Care Program (CCP), the senior was able to relocate to her current home.
“I have a new life now,” she says proudly. “I am still not moving as well as I could be, but I will. I have a regular doctor now; I have a diabetic specialist now. I am so thankful that these programs allow me to do things on my own and treat me like a person.”
The CCP provides home health care and assistance for seniors to remain at home as opposed to placement in nursing homes. Currently, 82,000 seniors receive care through the program every month. It also employs nearly 50,000 individuals.
As part of his aggressive plan to fix the state’s financial problems, Rauner has proposed drastic cuts to the program to the tune of $140 million, cutting 38 percent of Illinoisans who apply and forcing nearly 40,000 Illinois seniors into assisted living.
Adult daycare, case management, homemaker services, medication management and senior companionship all fall under the services affected.
Senior Services Plus Executive Director Jonathan Becker organized a rally at his senior center Monday in response to the proposed cuts, which he says would be devastating to programs and agencies already treading water.
“You work your entire life, you get to the age of retirement, and when you need help most, you are cut off; there is no help out there for you,” Becker says. “That is not the kind of society we want.
“(In a seven-year period), there has been a growth in our programs of 20 percent. During that period, we took out lines of credit and low-interest loans ... while we absorbed those hits financially and took on more work, we did so because the people in this room have a mission — to serve seniors.
“Our agency is a large employer. Senior Services Plus is one of the top 30 employers in the Riverbend area. Our payroll is about $4.5 million a year. These cuts would have a large impact on the local economy.”
There are 2.4 million people older than 60 in Illinois; in the next 15 years, 30,000 people each year will reach the 60-year mark. Since 2011, local funding has decreased 14 percent, while the population of senior citizens has increased by 16 percent.
“What are these people going to do if there are no services left for them?” Becker asked. “You don’t turn your back on the most vulnerable population of people out there.”
Rauner’s plan involves an increase in the minimum Determination of Need (DON) score, instituting an income level of $17,500 and a decrease of at least six hours of service per month, an examination of what is “essential” vs. “non-essential.” State Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton; state Sen. William Haine, D-Alton; Madison County Auditor Rick Faccin and Alton Mayor Brant Walker all voiced their opposition to the cuts at the SSP rally.
“I don’t understand (Gov. Rauner’s) definition of essential vs. non-essential,” Haine said. “None of these cuts were discussed as policy objectives. They were not debated fully for the citizens of the state. We have been genuinely shocked at the level of cuts and how they (will) affect citizens.”
The politicians encouraged people to voice their concerns to the governor’s office. When one man said he gets a “mailbox full” message every time he tries to call the governor’s office, they suggested email and written letters as alternatives.
Another concern is that the long-term ramifications will actually cost taxpayers more. Jim Pennebaker of AARP says dependent care is three times the cost of CCP.
“Taking care of someone at home through the CCP saves the state an average of $24,000 per person per year as compared to Medicaid nursing home placement,” he says.
Ramona Fillback, 72, also lives in Marian Heights and does not want to see cuts to the programs.
“I worked for 46 years, have had seven heart attacks, and have 12 stents,” she says. “I am no longer eligible for heart surgery. I paid my Social Security and I’d like to see it keep working. I think we should change the things that are being taken away from us.”
Representatives from state-funded senior agencies also spoke at the rally, addressing the fact the state’s 92 adult day services are operating on shoestring budgets as it is and cannot take further financial hits.
Robert Thieman, executive director of the Illinois Association of Community Care Program Homecare Providers, says cuts also could cause the closure of more nursing homes.
“If the change in the DON score goes through, those that fall within that category won’t even have a nursing home to go to,” he says. “The ramifications of these cuts are unbelievable, and have not been thought through.”
Family members, agency employees and volunteers are also concerned about the future of their loved ones. As one Senior Services Plus employee put it, “They tell us not to get attached, but it is impossible not to.”
For Ann McDade, the thought of returning to a nursing home or winding up with no place to go brings tears to her eyes. She holds up the emergency assistance device that hangs around her neck.
“This may be a lifeline button, but ALL of these services are lifelines for us,” she says. “I worked all my life and paid my Social Security.
“What did I do wrong?”
For more information
• Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office: (217) 782-0244,
• Governor’s email: https://www2.illinois.gov/gov/pages/contactthegovernor.aspx
• For information and to contact local legislators: www.savecommunitycare.org
• American Association of Retired People number: 1-844-226-1190
• Senior Services Plus: (618) 465-3298 or http://www.seniorservicesplus.org/