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Cindy VanCamp, a home-care worker, shares a moment with Phillip Patton, who has cerebral palsy, at his apartment in Medford. VanCamp and thousands of home-care workers across the state are facing pay cuts and the loss of health coverage due to state budget reductions. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch

'We're barely making it'

Most people want to avoid the kind of intimate moments Phillip Patton has shared with his home-care worker.

Cindy VanCamp, a 55-year-old Medford woman, has taken care of Patton for eight years under a state program, washing him, helping him go to the bathroom and insisting he get rid of old, soiled garments.

"The only thing we haven't said is, 'I do,' " said Patton, a 46-year-old Medford man with cerebral palsy who has a sense of humor despite his struggles with the simple tasks that most take for granted.

While VanCamp has provided care through a state program to Patton at $10.20 an hour, she has struggled with her own health issues, including wrist and knee problems. So she was thankful that a $27,000 surgery on her collarbone was covered by her insurance.

VanCamp qualifies for health insurance through the state because she logs a minimum 80 hours of work a month. That likely will change Jan. 1, when the state will reduce the number of hours home-care workers can claim each month, meaning many will no longer qualify for health insurance.

VanCamp and 1,200 home-care workers in Josephine and Jackson counties — there are about 10,500 total in Oregon — staged rallies on Monday to protest the state mandated budget cuts.

The state also is proposing to raise from 80 to 130 the number of hours a home-care worker must put in to qualify for health insurance. Talks with state officials and representatives of Service Employees International Union Local 503 reached an impasse last week over that and other issues.

Gene Evans, spokesman for the Department of Human Services, said no one is happy about the impacts on home-care workers and the people they care for.

"These budget reductions across the board are difficult for everybody," he said.

Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, said the short-term savings for the state could end up costing more in the future.

"It's one of those counterproductive financial issues," said Buckley, one of three co-chairmen of the Joint Ways and Means Committee that brokered the state budget.

Home-care workers still will need health care but will have no insurance, and those being cared for could end up in assisted-living facilities, which cost more than in-home care, Buckley said.

"It's a pretty awful situation," he said.

Another $107 million state revenue drop recently didn't help the budget situation, Buckley said.

At the same time, a current 10.8 percent tax rate for joint filers earning between $250,000 and $500,000 will drop to 9.9 percent in 2012. That was a component of Measure 66, passed in January 2010, which initially raised taxes on people in that income bracket from 9 percent to 10.8 percent, but then rolled it back beginning in 2012 to 9.9 percent.

Buckley said the $100 million in revenues lost from the partial rollback could have been used for home-care workers and other endangered services. He said the state also has to scramble to find $6 million that goes to community corrections systems managed by counties.

The savings from reducing hours for home-care workers has been calculated at $4.1 million in the current biennial budget.

Don Bruland, director of senior and disability services with the Rogue Valley Council of Governments, said it will be difficult for the home-care workers to make up the extra hours to qualify for the insurance program.

He said any more cuts to home-care workers could end up costing the state more money because it could mean more people don't have health insurance.

"Many of the home-care workers and older individuals in the program have challenging situations themselves," he said.

Bruland said the workers take care of 1,300 people in Josephine and Jackson counties who suffer from severe disabilities.

Rebecca Sandoval, a home-care worker who was at the Medford rally Monday, said that many of those who provide care depend on every penny they receive.

"We're just barely making it anyway," said Sandoval, who has diabetes.

Like many home-care workers, Sandoval said she puts in extra unpaid hours to help others.

She said everyone throughout the state has made sacrifices during the recession, but she said home-care workers have seen their hours and wages consistently cut over the years.

Sandoval said it's difficult to understand how wealthier individuals are seeing a partial rollback in taxes while she deals with an ever-declining income while providing a critical service.

"Let's be fair about the sacrifice," she said.

In the midst of the debate about home-care workers, seniors and the disabled try to make sense of it all.

Patton struggles to get out of his chair in his Medford apartment, his legs locked and withered from the cerebral palsy.

He said he doesn't know how he would get by if VanCamp worked fewer hours.

"Oh my god, I don't want to go there," he said. "This woman works hard for her money."

VanCamp said it's difficult for her to see how she could spend less time caring for Patton.

"He spends Thanksgiving and Christmas at my house," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

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