Editor's Column - July 2008

The economy sure has become the topic of conversations at all levels—from political circles to water cooler talk. Brigette Menger-Anderson, Personal Assistant Services Manager at Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, recently discussed gas prices and their effects on seniors and people with disabilities in a conversation on Minnesota Public Radio, http://tinyurl.com/5m3ogs. That conversation was broadcast June 5 on National Public Radio. As we go to press, the New York Times has picked up the story, http://tinyurl.com/5aptk9. Both versions cover how commuting costs are hurting the healthcare industry, especially independent living. Many of the PCA agencies reimburse for gas mileage from one client’s home to the next, but don’t pay from the PCA’s home to the first client or from the last client to home. In many occupations, this is the standard. But in the home health care industry the salaries are so low that it’s making it difficult for agencies to find PCAs willing to travel or fulfill the needs of clients needing to have two or three visits per day. If you don’t have an eight-hour shift it’s hardly worth the PCA time with rising gas prices. Low salaries make it more difficult for PCAs to afford an economical car or to keep it maintained for best fuel efficiency.

PCAs are not the only ones affected by high gas prices. According to the New York Times article, Meals on Wheels has had to cut deliveries throughout the country. This is especially felt in remote rural areas. Elaine Eubank, president of CareLink, a nonprofit agency that serves elderly people in Arkansas, said “We’ve had one increase from Medicaid in 11 years, but home care and Meals on Wheels keep people at home for a fraction of the cost of a nursing home. The state pays for care once they’re in a nursing home. So our cuts may cost more than they save.” Gee whiz, have we heard this story before: cutting the funding of home care so that people end up living in nursing homes at a higher cost to the state? Most importantly, underfunding for home care results in people living where they don’t want to live.

Is drilling new oil wells the answer? Is light rail the answer? Light rail seems to me to be the more logical of the two. Neither of these answers is a quick fix by any means, but using more fossil fuels versus investing in a public transit seems like a no-brainer. So could we invest more money in two ways, first by increasing support for all levels of home care and second, by creating a larger, standardized, public transportation that everyone can use. By everyone I mean your grandmother, your neighbor who’s got vision loss, and your neighbor who is doing home care? The insurance industry sure doesn’t want the population to have no need for vehicle insurance. The oil industry definitely doesn’t want us to even become one or two percent less dependent on their products. Who else would lose profits if the country became dependent on public transit?

We have a new intern at Access Press, Silas Matthies, and he’s written his first published article. Silas brings us an article on the tragedy last month about the young man with autism who became lost in the Wisconsin wilderness. There’ve been many questions and conversations about implanting GPS in people who might find themselves lost or who are unable to communicate or navigate their way back to safety. We very much hope to bring you a more in-depth article on related topics in next month’s Access Press.

Hope everyone’s having a nice summer. And thanks to the great staff and volunteers who helped produce this July issue.