Lawmakers restore funds for home care

The Oregon Legislature's Emergency Board voted Thursday to restore $17 million in budget cuts to home care programs intended to keep people out of nursing homes and institutions.

The unanimous vote temporarily rescued Oregon Project Independence and other Department of Human Services programs. Those programs serve 16,000 people, including elderly shut-ins, families of severely disabled children and the mentally ill, said Don Bruland, director of senior and disability services for the Rogue Valley Council of Governments.

Project Independence home care services to 150 Josephine and Jackson county residents were terminated on July 15. Thirty-day notices were sent to 110 residents enrolled Medicaid Personal Care programs in the Rogue Valley, which treats the disabled and low-income seniors.

The funding will keep the OPI program alive through February, as well as fend off the Medicaid cuts, he said.

"There is clearly a relief in the sense that we can restore services," said Bruland. "But it is a cautious relief because it is a reprieve. It does not solve the challenges. It just gives us more time to find permanent solutions."

The programs were cut to meet a 9 percent across the board budget reduction ordered by Gov. Ted Kulongoski when state revenues came in lower than expected. Legislative leaders drew money from a reserve fund to plug the gap and rejected the cuts as proposed in other instances, said Bruland.

The Medicaid Personal Care programs for seniors, mental health patients and children with developmental disabilities are funded through June 2011.

More cuts may be needed. But the funding reprieve will give the Legislature some time to shift funding or look for matching federal funds for the at-risk programs once the full legislative body meets, Bruland said.

The Emergency Board also rejected proposed cuts to the Medicaid Meals on Wheels program, as well as the proposed cuts to nursing homes and assisted living facilities from the list of reductions that were slated to go into effect.

"They rejected those cuts and told us to find and offset about $11 million," said Bruland.

The $11 million will come from additional cuts to Department of Human Services administration, along with use of a portion of the Emergency Board's reserve fund.

But the cuts will come from within the entire DHS budget, and not just within the senior and disabilities programs, Bruland said.

However, Bruland said, if the necessary cut levels cannot be reached, DHS may make further staffing reductions. His department has had a hiring freeze for non-case management positions for more than a year. The staffing cuts have a direct impact on the department's ability to care for its clients, he said.

"There is nothing magical about keeping (a senior or a disabled person) in their home," said Bruland. "It takes staff time."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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