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"Judge blocks state cuts to adult day care"

Original source:

San Francisco Chronicle
By Victoria Colliver, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2009

A federal judge in Oakland ordered the state to stop cuts to the Adult Day Health Care program, ruling that scaling back services could force thousands of poor, elderly and disabled people to be institutionalized.

U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong, in her 24-page decision, ruled late Thursday afternoon that cutting services from as many as five days a week to just three could cause "irreparable and imminent" harm to the people who need them.

"The evidence presented by (the) plaintiffs shows that the continuing availability of five days of ADHC services per week is critical to their physical and mental health and their continuing ability to remain integrated in their community, as opposed to being isolated in a nursing home or other institution," the judge wrote.

The program - which provides nursing care, meals, and psychiatric, social and other services - serves some 37,000 Californians who would otherwise likely be hospitalized or placed in a skilled nursing home.

The lawsuit, filed by three elderly women, is one of a number of legal challenges to recent cuts to the state budget, including a suit filed in San Francisco Superior Court in August by state Senate Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg, of Sacramento, which takes aim at many of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's line-item vetoes.

Thursday's preliminary injunction came the same day that a San Francisco Superior Court judge signed a final order halting the governor's three-day-per-month furloughs for about 7,400 employees at the State Compensation Insurance Fund. The judge ruled that the furlough violated a state insurance code that exempts the employees from cuts.

The state is planning to appeal that decision and is reviewing its legal options concerning the adult day care ruling, said Rachel Cameron, a spokeswoman in the governor's office.

"The governor understands how difficult these cuts are and sees the real Californians and the real consequences ... but had to make difficult and necessary decisions to cut spending in light of the state's multibillion-dollar deficit," she said.

The day care cuts, which were delayed several times, were expected to go into effect this week, affecting more than 8,000 Medi-Cal recipients who use adult day health care services more than three days a week.

"We're very, very pleased, and the 8,000 people who attend the program more than three days a week are also very excited and relieved to be able to continue to get the services they need," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Elizabeth Zirker of Disability Rights Advocates in Oakland.

Zirker contended the decision actually saves the state money.

"Besides putting people at risk of being placed in institutions long term, cutting the program would be more costly because it would increase the need for services from the state," she said.

For Debbie Toth, executive director of Mount Diablo Center for Adult Day Health Care in Pleasant Hill, the ruling means she has to undo all the changes to schedules and services she has made for her 112 clients over the past few weeks in anticipation of the cuts. But she said she's "elated" about it.

Still, the possibility of an appeal keeps her nervous. "Until there's a final injunction, we will not be fully relaxed," she said.

E-mail Victoria Colliver at