Ronnie Polaneczky: Heartless cuts are impractical, too

DEAR GOV. CORBETT:

You'll be hearing from a lot of frightened social-service advocates in the coming months about your draconian budget, which proposes $41 million in cuts to the worst-off Philadelphians - among them the homeless, the mentally ill and the intellectually disabled.

By the time the budget gets voted upon this summer, everyone's stories will have blurred into one anguished, tear-stained cry for help, and you won't recall the details of why everyone was so desperate in the first place.

So I figured I'd devote this column to Dee Coccia, whose tales you need to commit to memory.

If you have a heart, they will haunt you.

Dee is 73, her husband is 74, and together they care for their 46-year-old daughter, who is profoundly disabled intellectually.

Dee is also co-executive director of Vision for Equality Inc., a nonprofit that advocates for the mentally disabled and those who love them. So she knows what life is like for families whose children will never, ever be able to care for themselves.

No matter how big and strong and old they become.

Tell us a story, Dee.

"OK," she says, taking a breath. "We had a case where the son lived with his mom, who was in her 80s. Last month, he was helping her get up the steps to her bedroom. She fell. She died. He sat with her for three days. He didn't know what to do.

"Finally, he knocked on a neighbor's door and said his mother was sick. The neighbor came over and found the body."

Tragically, says Dee, the man had been on a waiting list - with 17,000 other intellectually disabled adults in Pennsylvania - to receive support services that might've provided him, at minimum, with a caseworker to manage his care. Had someone been checking on him, his mother might've been found in time to receive life-saving help.

Gov. Corbett, because your proposed cuts will reduce services to families who currently receive them, many will be forced back onto the waiting list. The 17,000 number will swell. And Dee will hear more horror stories.

Like this one.

"We had a mom whose adult daughter was very disabled. All she could do was sit in a chair," says Dee. "The mom had no help whatsoever. So she attempted suicide. She thought that, if she was dead, her daughter might finally get the services she needed."

Her voice halts.

"I'm telling you, that's the kind of desperation that's out there."

Ironically, as the mother recovered in the hospital from her suicide attempt, the daughter was admitted to the same room because there was no place else for her to stay.

Get this: Medicaid paid the bill.

"It cost thousands of dollars! That same money could have been used to provide services in the daughter's home," says Dee. "Where's the logic?"

Or, frankly, the heart?

Governor, you said, when you unveiled your budget, that the time had come to "sort the 'must-haves' from the 'nice-to-haves.' " Can you explain how you decided that providing in-home help to intellectually disabled adults is merely a "nice-to-have" service, not an urgent need? Especially for their elderly caregivers?

Please don't argue costs - at least not with Dee. She can document case after case in which at-home services were denied for an intellectually disabled adult who was eventualy placed in a nursing home - whose $240,000 annual bill is shared by the state and the feds.

So either your accounting skills are off, Governor, or you have something against those who were born unlucky - or against the parents who were apparently foolish to give birth to them.

Speaking of birth, you are pro-life, a passionate supporter of the annual March for Life event on the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. You once told a group of marchers, "The pro-life movement has to keep reminding everyone that [fetuses] are living human beings."

Is it only fetuses you fret over? Don't you care what happens to them once they've left the womb?

If you do, please revise your budget accordingly. Not because it would be "nice" to help the most vulnerable among us and those desperate to care for them.

But because you "must."

 


Email polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. Recent columns: philly.com/Ronnie. Blog: philly.com/RonnieBlog. Twitter: @RonniePhilly.