Home care ballot measure raises emotions

Initiative 1029 is either a necessary and long overdue reform to protect vulnerable seniors and disabled people receiving home care or a costly and unnecessary burden on home care providers.

The state's voters may or may not get an opportunity to decide for themselves at the Nov. 4 general election.

The state Supreme Court will hear arguments Sept. 4 about whether the measure should be considered an initiative to the people and put on the ballot or an initiative to the Legislature. The Secretary of State's Office is expecting a decision that day or the next.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2010, the initiative would require long-term care workers for the elderly and disabled to become state-certified by taking 75 hours training followed by a written test and an FBI background check.

They also would have to pursue continuing education and be subject to disciplinary standards and procedures.

Louise Ryan, the long-term care ombudsman for Washington state, said the initiative is a continuation of changes to home caregiver laws that began eight years ago with a legislative task force's recommendations.

"As advocates for long-term care residents, we see a lot of failures because of the complexity of long-term care. They need people with knowledge and skills to provide proper care," Ryan said.

During the last legislative session, a bill was introduced based upon recommendations from a long-term care worker training workgroup, Ryan said. The group didn't produce a consensus but the majority recommended 85 hours training for home care workers and 75 was a compromise, she said.

"There's no magic number of training hours. It's not a huge leap to require 75 hours training for those providing care in the home," Ryan said.

Ryan said I-1029 will increase costs for the taxpayers and home care clients but there's a huge cost to allowing untrained people to provide home care.

"The other thing is the FBI background checks, that's another important piece of the initiative. The Washington State Patrol only checks the state's records," she said.

Tom Boughner owns a Home Instead Senior Care franchise at 720 E. Washington St. that provides companionship and housework services as well as "personal care" such as dressing and bathing.

I-1029 would make home care more expensive, less available and more difficult for people to get into the field, he said.

The initiative would apply to home care agencies, adult family homes, disabled children services and even family members who are paid by the state, he said.

"So you would need this training even to care for your own mother. How much training do you need for what you'd be doing for your own family?" Boughner said.

"Mandating this training will hurt because it will raise costs by maybe 25 percent for us and decrease options for those seeking long-term care," he said.

"The Service Employees International Union (I-1029 sponsors) hasn't made a case that there's a problem that needs to be solved. There's no data nor that the existing training is inadequate," Boughner said.

His employees receive two or three hours training before they start, then go through two training guides within the first 30 days and another two within three months, Boughner said.

The cost of the additional training mandated by I-1029 would be passed onto his clients but home care agencies that are paid by the state Department of Social and Health Services also would be affected, Boughner said.

"The state of Washington estimated this training would cost $135 million over five years. So as a taxpayer, I'm offended because it is a cost to me without any visible benefit. It's just a pork barrel," he said.

Boughner said the state already mandates that caregiver agencies use the Washington State Patrol's criminal database for employee background checks and in addition his agency does a 50-state background check plus checking the person's driving record check and six references.

"Any problems with home care agencies haven't been widespread. There was one incident in New Jersey that made the news but I haven't seen one here involving an agency that follows the state regulations," he said.

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