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Hernando caregivers protest Scott's cuts

Stan Doris, left, and Johnathon Coney participate in a rally Thursday on the steps of the Hernando County Courthouse. Protesters objected to cuts in state payments to  caregivers for the disabled. Hours later, Gov. Rick Scott rescinded his order.

LOGAN NEILL | Times

Stan Doris, left, and Johnathon Coney participate in a rally Thursday on the steps of the Hernando County Courthouse. Protesters objected to cuts in state payments to caregivers for the disabled. Hours later, Gov. Rick Scott rescinded his order.

BROOKSVILLE — For 23 years, Jeanine McNeill has run a group home in Spring Hill that provides around-the-clock care and support for adults with developmental disabilities. It's not an easy job, but she wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

Every day is filled with chores that include cleaning, preparing meals, helping clients to get dressed, and a lot of driving to get her five adult clients to and from where they need to go.

For that, McNeill is reimbursed about $8,000 a month through the state's Medicare waiver program. Out of that sum she has to pay for food, gas, utilities, insurance, plus the salaries of four employees.

A rough situation got even worse three weeks ago when Gov. Rick Scott said he wanted an immediate 15 percent reduction in aid to the Agency for Persons With Disabilities, which oversees more than 6,000 providers statewide who care for developmentally disabled people.

For McNeill, that would have meant a huge cut from that stipend. She began running numbers through her calculator. "I figured out I'd be earning about 12 cents an hour," McNeill said. "I don't know anyone who can live on that."

Scott announced late Thursday that he would rescind his order to cut the payments for the disability programs once the Legislature agreed to fill a $174 million budget deficit.

Hours before, McNeill, 47, and about two dozen home- and community-based care providers had gathered outside the Hernando County Courthouse to raise awareness about the proposed cutbacks.

Carrying signs and banners, the group walked up and down the sidewalk, waving to passers-by who occasionally honked their horns and offered thumbs-up signs.

"We're here to give everybody a voice in this," said Christine Hogan, who runs Hogan's Bridge, a Spring Hill facility that provides companion and in-home support to disabled individuals. "It affects a lot of people who aren't able to go out and make up the money some other way."

Scott said in late March that he wanted an immediate 15 percent reduction in aid to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, which oversees more than 6,000 providers statewide who care for developmentally disabled people. But according to Hogan, such cuts would go much deeper for independent and home-based care providers.

"When you add up the all the cuts from Medicaid and other services that are affecting our clients, it could be as much as 40 percent," Hogan said. "All of that trickles down and means that it's going to be tougher for us to serve these people."

Despite the governor's about-face, caregivers like McNeill are still bracing for bad news.

She intends to get rid of her 11-passenger van — the one she uses to take her clients and care providers on group outings — and buy a smaller vehicle that gets better gas mileage. And she is forgoing the purchase of Weeki Wachee season passes for her clients.

"It was just a little extra thing we did for them," McNeill said. "But, it's okay. We'll make it up some other way."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Hernando caregivers protest Scott's cuts 04/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 15, 2011 7:11pm]
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