Illinois home care providers caught in budget squeeze

Posted: Mar. 8, 2013 8:09 pm Updated: Mar. 22, 2013 10:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

Illinois will not have money to pay about 25,000 home care providers after the end of next week.

Officials from the Department of Aging have been notifying caregivers that the agency will run out of appropriation authority in their home care line item on Friday.

"I certainly hope that seniors are not afraid that they're not going to get the help they need. I'm sure these agencies will continue to provide their services," said Lynn Niewohner, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging.

Niewohner expects the agencies will continue to provide in-home care -- helping seniors get out of bed, prepare meals and other necessary activities. Senior day care services are handled by some of the same agencies.

Niewohner said all the agencies providing services under state contracts have been forced to take out loans to compensate for slow state payments.

"We're all just doing what we have to for our clients," Niewohner said.

That's what some state officials are counting on. Agencies that handle home care duties have been asked to keep providing the care, even though the Department of Aging has no authority to incur any more debt.

"Aging asks that you continue to submit (invoices) related to service dates in Fiscal Year 2012," Dennis Miner, chief financial officer for the Division of Finance and Administration, said in a memo sent to agencies.

Miner said "the Department, the Governor's Office of Management and Budget and the General Assembly are working" on a solution.

That comes as a surprise to some lawmakers.

State Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, blames Gov. Pat Quinn for failing to think ahead and manage the state budget.

"It's just ludicrous that this administration can't budget better. It was no surprise to the Department of Aging that this was coming. Why wasn't it in the appropriation that went through for other agencies?" Tracy said.

It would take about $300 million to provide services through the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Tracy believes the Legislature will leave it up to Quinn to "find those funds" and use his discretionary budget power to cover the shortfall.

Jennifer Triplett, director of Community Care Systems Inc., in Quincy, has between 160 to 180 clients getting adult day care and in-home services. She has known since December that home care funding would run out unless the Legislature took action.

She said it would be in the state's interest to maintain in-home care because that is far less expensive than nursing home care. The only option left for some if they can no longer live in their own homes, she said.

Brenda Fleming, director of West-Central Illinois Case Coordinator Unit, said in January that the average in-home care client gets $900 in state services per month. If that person has to go to a nursing home, the statewide average is $3,200 per month.

The Department of Aging reports that about 80,000 people are assisted by home care aides.

Triplett has been assuring clients their service won't be affected by the state's budget problems.

"They shouldn't worry about their services at this time. They'll continue to get their services," Triplett said.