April 30, 2003
Press Fight for Care Funds
I had never thought of Medi-Cal as a Jewish issue. I've written about the program of medical aid for the poor, but my subjects were usually African Americans and Latinos, who comprise the largest number of the state's needy.
I discovered how wrong I was recently, after learning that the coming state budget cuts would hurt Los Angeles-area Jewish services in a big way, especially reductions in Medi-Cal, the state's program for medical aid to the poor.
For example, there are the 89 men and women enrolled at the Jewish Family Service's Valley Storefront Adult Day Health Care Center, people on the low end of the economic scale. The average age is 83. And, showing that the Jewish service organizations extend their work beyond the community, 40 percent of the clients are not Jewish.
They are the frail elderly, suffering from Alzheimer's, stroke damage and other ailments.
Recently, I visited the impressively well-maintained but modest facility, located in a plain building on Victory Boulevard in North Hollywood. On a wall were the clients' watercolors. They had a haunting, emotional quality, as if coming from a part of the artist that, while silenced, was still chugging along. They reminded me of the paintings my mother did before she died.
There was also a gallery of snapshots of events celebrating the Sabbath, Passover, the High Holidays, St. Patrick's Day and Black History Month.
Devorah Teyer, the program director, said many of her elderly clients are impoverished survivors of a time when most of Los Angeles' Jews were working class.
Few went to college in those days, and those that did were usually the first in their family to do so. Men and women were salespeople for big stores with few benefits or small stores with none, or were on the road, dragging their sample cases into inexpensive motels at the end of the day.
Some owned small businesses or worked in the garment industry. Now, having outlived their assets and, in some cases, their families, their health care is financed by the Medi-Cal program.
Most live in board-and-care facilities, where they can live independently under the care of visiting nurses, said Teyer. Some live at home with their families. The center gives the caregivers a respite.
On their first visit to Adult Day Health Care Center, they meet with a nurse, a social worker and an activities director, and figure out the best program, often a mixture of painting and needlework, exercise and physical therapy. A van picks them up in the morning and returns them mid-afternoon. Breakfast and lunch are served.
It costs $70 per person per day. For the poor, Medi-Cal picks up $68.70 of it. But one of the budget-cutting proposals before the Legislature calls for a moratorium on these payments. Another proposal envisions a 15 percent cut.
The Adult Day Health Care Center "saves Medi-Cal a huge amount of money," Teyer said. "That is what baffles me. If we did not have this, how many people would end up in nursing homes?"
And their nursing home care, financed by another part of the Medi-Cal program, would cost much more.
Teyer and directors of similar nonprofits are trying to whip up support to prevent the cuts. She handed me a pamphlet from the California Association for Adult Day Services. It said, "We respectfully urge the Legislature to shield our most vulnerable citizens and families from immediate harm."
Unfortunately for Teyer and her colleagues, "respectfully" is the wrong word. Neither the do-nothing Legislature nor Davis deserve any respect -- and they don't respect anyone who treats them in a polite, respectful manner.
Budget cuts are inevitable. The deficit is huge. But some groups, with clout and savvy, are going to come out pretty well. They are hard at work now, at fundraising dinners for legislators, talking to the governor's staff and political contributors, slipping sneaky amendments to lawmakers and legislative staff. You may read about stalemate and inactivity in Sacramento, but these stories don't apply to smart pressure players.
The L.A. Jewish community is uniquely equipped to play this game. Davis and legislators have attended many fundraising events in Westside and West Valley homes. The hosts and hostesses of these events know the phone numbers and the words that turn these politicians around in a political world where money talks.
But this isn't happening for programs like Jewish Family Service's Valley Storefront Adult Day Health Care Center. At least that's what I'm told by people who care for the elderly poor.
I can think of reasons why. Political insider donors are afraid of offending the legislators or the governor, forgetting that this is his last term and his chances of becoming president are currently remote. Another reason is that those with political clout can usually afford home care or excellent nursing home care for their frail, elderly relatives. Medi-Cal is not on their screen.
Like me, they ought to take a closer look. The future of Medi-Cal is tremendously important to the Jewish community.
Bill Boyarsky's column on Jews and civic life will appear in this space each month. Until leaving the Los Angeles Times last year, Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, covering national, state and local politics; a metro columnist writing about Los Angeles for nine years, and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.