Debi Lindsey, SLP
Whew! Last week was definitely a crazy week for us at KidsCare Therapy! With near-record freezing temperatures and snowfall accumulation, our office was abuzz with updates regarding school cancellations, rolling power outages, road closures and delayed office openings. I don’t think I have ever been so thankful to see the sun! (And running water, considering the pipes at my house froze from the cold temperatures…) Nevertheless, we would like to thank our therapists for going above and beyond in their efforts to see patients despite less-than-ideal conditions. And not only that, but we would also like to thank them for keeping the communication lines open with us and patients’ families when cancelling or rescheduling due to hazardous road conditions. We are so glad everyone is safe and warmer weather is ahead of us!
In the midst of the weather crisis, Cortney, David and I headed to Austin to speak in front of the Senate Finance Committee regarding the proposed tax cuts to state services, as outlined in Senate Bill 1. It has been reported that the state of Texas is facing an estimated $15-27 billion revenue shortfall for 2012-2013, resulting in a budget crisis that has lawmakers calling for major cuts in state services, including cuts to home care services. The Senate Finance Committee opened the doors for public testimony on Article II Health and Human Services regarding the proposed cuts Tuesday, February 1st, through Thursday, February 3rd, beginning at 9 a.m. each morning. The following are the proposed tax cuts outlined in Senate Bill 1 that directly affect agencies like KidsCare Therapy:
- Primary Home Care: 30%
- Community Based Alternatives: 37%
- Community Attendant Services: 28%
- Community Living Assistance and Support Services: 26%
- EPSDT-Private Duty Nursing, Therapies, Home Health: 28%
(*Information provided from Texas Association for Home Care and Hospice Legislative Alert sent Friday, January 28th, to its members.)
Home health care agencies have already sustained 2% cuts in the last quarter, despite originally being underfunded. An additional 28% cut (to an existing 2% cut) would be devastating to agencies like KidsCare Therapy, causing widespread job loss and limited access of health care to medically-fragile children. Perhaps most disturbing of all is the eminent threat that a cut this drastic could result in agencies (KidsCare Therapy not exempt) across the state closing their doors to providing home health care, as businesses could not survive any more reductions in revenue.
With so much riding on the line, I knew that I wanted my voice to be heard regarding my opposition to the proposed state-funded services cuts. Not often do we healthcare professionals and taxpayers get the chance to educate our lawmakers in person regarding the services we provide and the lives that we touch.
On February 3rd, 2011, Cortney and I practiced our speeches to each other nervously on the way to the capitol, as we tried to contain our experiences, successes, hopes and fears for KidsCare Therapy and for our patients into a measly three minute testimony. We were two of one hundred and fifty testimonies heard that day by the Senate Finance Committee consisting of State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee ,and the vice-chairman State Sen. Juan “Chui” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Other state senators assigned to the committee are: Bob Deuell, R-Greenville; Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls; Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Dan Patrick, R-Houston; Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Florence Shapiro, R-Plano; Royce West, D-Dallas; John Whitmire, D-Houston; Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands; and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. We heard testimonies from families and healthcare providers in opposition of the cuts. We heard testimonies that made us laugh, (a woman with Down Syndrome advocated for ECI services and touted her success as a small business owner, where she rents out margarita machines for parties; in fact, she offered her services to the Senate Committee for their next “company function”), and all were awe-inspiring.
Finally, after 11 long hours, Cortney and I were able to speak in front of the Committee. I must say, keeping my testimony to less than three minutes was the most difficult challenge of the whole day. The senators were not hesitant to cut you off if they felt you were exceeding your time limit. While I am sure my public speaking skills could use improvement, my testimony emphasized the value of home health in terms of cost efficiency and savings in prevention for larger health-care costs. I included my VitalStim® success story and stated my clear opposition to the proposed home care cuts. Cortney provided research regarding funding for home health and included a success story about a former patient that would tug on the heartstrings of even the toughest, most jaded politician. Finally, at 8:45 p.m., we were able to speak. It was a long, but good, day.
Walking through the capitol that night was surreal. As our steps echoed through the halls, I literally got chills when we entered the circular chamber at the heart of the building. I can’t describe the feeling that overcame me when I looked upward to see Texas star in the dome above me, illuminated by the moonlight. Breathtaking. I felt so small in comparison, but so humbled that I could experience the beauty of our capitol in solitude. How often does one get to experience the capitol at night with no visitors or tourists in sight? Realizing the rarity of the moment, and the history that was around me in the quiet of the night, I was so thankful that I was able to take part in the democratic process and grateful to represent the patients that we have the pleasure of serving at KidsCare Therapy .
That night, I began to wonder if my testimony made a difference. In my head, I went over all of the things I should have said and mulled over the other testimonies I had heard prior to mine. I was surprised to know that the senate committee members understand the gravity of the situation and are searching for solutions. Senator Whitmire even stated that this was an issue that transcended party lines. Many senators expressed sympathy, sharing with us that this was not an easy, or preferred, decision, and that they did not want to be responsible for denying care to thousands upon thousands of Texans in need of it. After a lot of thought, I came to the following conclusion: even though my testimony may not have radically changed the opinion of any senator or dramatically reversed a decision, I know I was part of an army that rallied to fiercely oppose these budget cuts to health care. I realized that every voice counts. Had I decided my voice was insignificant, and had others thought the same, we would have had no impact in this process.
Your Voice Counts
If you are an employee of KidsCare Therapy, it is important that you are active in this process. David Reimer will be sending educational emails with current updates, the meaning of these updates, and the steps that you as an individual can take to make a difference. I encourage you to educate yourself on these issues, as the consequences of these decisions will directly affect not only your job, but also your patients’ well-being. As therapists, we are capable of changing lives. Imagine the success we could accomplish if we came together to unite for a single cause! Let your voice be heard and help us build an army to defeat the budget cuts that could devastate the existence of KidsCare Therapy and our mission to provide therapeutic intervention to children who would otherwise not be able receive services. Thank you for all you do!