In-home services to get support from Board of Supervisors

The more than 1,700 county residents who receive care through In-Home Supportive Services will soon have a little more certitude about their futures, as the county prepares to sign a memo of understanding that will keep care workers in place through June 2011.

Workers will receive their current wage of $10 an hour under the proposal that comes before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The workers are represented by the United Domestic Workers of America and have been without a contract since July 1.

In-Home Supportive Services serves disabled individuals who would face going into an institution if the program did not exist, according to Lee Collins, the county’s director of Social Services.

In San Luis Obispo County, 60 percent of those being served are disabled children or adults younger than 65.

Slightly fewer than half of those hired to help them are relatives or friends.

Those receiving the services hire and fire their service workers and sign time cards.

Before they receive aid, the county reviews recipients for financial need, degree of disability and possible alternatives to In-Home Supportive Services.

“The average number of authorized hours per beneficiary is 97.7 per month,” Collins wrote to The Tribune in an e-mail. “The actual average paid hours are somewhat less (about 93 per month) due to circumstances that may include the hospitalization, temporary absence or death of the beneficiary.”

The cost to the county over the life of the contract would be $7.4 million. The federal government pays half the cost, the state one-third and the county the remaining 17 percent.

In-Home Supportive Services continues to come under fire from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for alleged fraud, which he has estimated as being in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Schwarzenegger has established a statewide task force to determine whether the fraud suspicions are real and, if so, root out wrongdoing.

The task force is working on background checks and fingerprinting for IHSS providers and recipients, targeted mailings to high-risk or suspect providers, enhanced antifraud training for county social workers, unannounced home visits and increasing the number of state fraud investigators, among other changes.

Collins has forcefully denied that fraud is a problem in San Luis Obispo County and has accused Schwarz-enegger of politicizing the issue while disregarding the good, necessary and sometimes grueling help care workers provide.

“The kind of work performed may include grocery shopping and meal preparation, and it may include changing adult diapers and bathing the very elderly,” Collins wrote.

“It may include vacuuming, or it may include turning bed-bound individuals and treating open bedsores. Maybe it’s washing dishes, or maybe it’s changing catheters and colostomy bags. I’ll tell you this: Some of these things I’d be happy to do for $10 an hour but others, well, not as much,” he wrote.

Collins said the governor’s proposed changes “would end eligibility for about 87 percent of those who are served. In round numbers, this would toss about 1,500 of our community’s disabled individuals off the program.”

He said some would go to institutions, others would move in with family members and still others would continue to receive care from volunteers.

Assuming that 10 percent of those discontinued from the program would enter nursing home care, “then we’re looking at trying to find 150 beds. Our preliminary inquiries suggest that this local capacity simply does not exist, and it would take some time for the nursing home industry to ramp up to meet that need.”