Jeers Greet Plan to Privatize In-Home Care : Social services: First of three public hearings went badly for firm that says it can save the county $4.5 million in three years by cutting time spent with clients.


In a raucous meeting punctuated by outbursts and jeers, more than 200 people who participate in the county's home-care program rejected a proposal to have a private company manage it.

"Who in this room wants them to provide service?" asked Bruce William DeCeault of Anaheim, a home-care provider. "Nobody, that's who," he said to cheers and applause.

The session was the first of three public hearings in which National Homecare Systems of Chicago will explain the details of its plan to take over the In-Home Supportive Services program.

County social service officials, who will be making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors, said the audience's hostility Monday might signals a protracted battle.

"If this group is representative, then it seems that we could be in for somewhat of a war," said Larry Leaman, director of the county Social Services Agency.

In its proposal to the county supervisors, National says it can save the county $4.5 million over three years by reducing the time providers spend caring for clients and focusing instead on specific tasks to be completed.

Currently, about 6,200 elderly, blind and disabled people receive care under the program. The program's budget for 1994-1995 was $22.9 million, of which about $5.4 million is county money.

People eligible to receive home care are visited by social workers who determine how many hours of care will be needed per month. The home-care client is then responsible for finding someone to provide care, and the cost of that care is paid through the program. Children often provide care for elderly parents or parents provide care for disabled children. Providers are not considered county employees and work directly for clients.

In touting National's proposal, company President Kim Kruser highlighted the difficulty many home-care recipients have in recruiting and hiring their care providers. Contracting with National, which provides its own worker if the client wants, would eliminate that problem, company officials say.

For many, the program is all that enables them to live independently. Without it, many would have to go into institutions, such as nursing homes. Consequently, any proposal to reduce the amount of service frightens recipients. And their hostility toward change was apparent Monday night.

As Kruser tried to explain his plan, he repeatedly was interrupted and heckled.

"What are your specific costs!" yelled one woman.

"You're using innuendoes here!" yelled a man.

A third woman asked Kruser his annual income, seeking to compare his salary with that of home-care providers, who are paid $4.25 an hour.

A few others walked out of the meeting at the Garden Grove Community Center.

"This outfit is just out to make money, that's all," said Joan Shifflett of Orange as she walked out. "This idea is just terrible."

Kruser told the group that the current system, which pays for an allotted number of hours of care, is wasteful, and the county pays for more hours than are necessary to take care of people.

He said hours would not be the currency in his system--only the tasks to be completed, from bathing or changing the diapers of incontinent clients, to household chores, such as grocery shopping and cleaning.

Kruser challenged what he called "the implied sanctity of hours as determined by social workers."

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