Nursing Homes, Hospitals Hurting in Absence of State Budget

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, September 4, 2008

Debbie Portela pulls out a letter from the state.  It details how much California owes Casa Coloma, the Sacramento-area nursing home Portela’s family has owned for more than 30 years.

“So they’re sending out a letter every week and letting us know that whenever we get a budget this is how much money we’re going to give you and as of the 25th of August, the amount of money they’re going to send me is $761,251.81.”

That’s a lot of money to float.  More than Casa Coloma can handle.  Portela’s 72-year old Dad is pulling money out of his retirement account to pay the employees.

Portela walks through the home, greeting a few of the 138 patients.  The average age is 87.  Many have Alzheimers.  And ninety percent are on Medi-Cal, the state’s low-income health care program.  That means Portela relies heavily on state funds to stay open.  Right now she’s weighing which bills to pay:

I could barely sleep last night thinking about, ok, so what small vendor am I not going to pay. Am I not going to pay the chemical guy and so is he not going to be able to pay his employees.  Is it ok for the state of CA to say, we’re not going to pay our bills?  What are they telling taxpayers? It’s ok not to pay your bills?”

Many facilities and vendors took out loans, expecting a late budget.  But Betsy Hite with the California Association of Health Facilities says they also expected a spending plan to be in place by now:

“Now those loans are running out and there’s no way that they have to repay those and then they have no more money to pay anything forward.”

Hite says she knows of five homes for the developmentally disabled that have filed notice they’ll close in 30 days.  Republicans have pushed for a measure that would allow the state to pay people like Debbie Portela in the absence of a budget.  But Governor Schwarzenegger won’t support that.  He says it would be a temporary solution that would let lawmakers off the hook.  It’s still not clear when they’ll work out a budget deal.  But when asked this week whether the impasse could go beyond the November election, Governor Schwarzenegger said he was in it for as long as it takes. 

Nursing home employees and patients, hospitals and other health care facilities that care for Medi-cal patients will rally at the Capitol Friday to urge lawmakers to pass a budget.