Lawmakers deal with reality, politics of budget cuts to seniors, disabled

TRENTON – Stories of budget cuts to seniors and nursing homes sat side by side with lawmakers’ remarks over the politics  of the situation today.

Joseph Bogdan, administrator of the Hamilton Continuing Care Center in Hamilton, Mercer County, and Milly Silva, executive vice president of 11099 United Healthcare Workers East, told the Assembly Budget Committee that if the governor’s budget cuts are not restored in some way programs will be hurt, patients will be affected, and jobs will be lost.

At the same time, committee members lamented how politics has poisoned the atmosphere in the last month.

Assemblyman Joseph Malone, (R-30), Bordentown, talked  about being  on the committee for 17-18 years, and never had he seen an atmosphere so “toxic’’ in its politics.

“It’s just horrible, it’s just immature,’’ he said.

He referenced the back-and-forth at the first budget hearing this week between Assemblymen Lou Greenwald, (D-6), Camden, and Declan O’Scanlon, (R-12), Little Silver as well as the hostile language directed at the governor by Senate President Steve Sweeney after the governor made his vetoes.

“This toxicity isn’t going to solve these individual issues,” Malone said.

Assemblyman Gary Schaer, (D-36), Passaic, echoed Malone’s comments to a degree, and said he, too, “was disappointed at the heat, the fire,” but added, “We have a lot to accomplish at these hearings.’’

Malone urged witnesses to reach out directly to the governor; Schaer said there are departments in place whose role is to serve residents; the idea of everyone reaching out directly to the governor undercuts the Cabinet-level and departmental functions.

“If the message that comes out of today is ‘go to the governor’s office,’ we as a Legislature are not fulfilling our responsibilities,’’ Schaer said.

But the partisan atmosphere continued.  After Malone questioned Silva about the problems of top-heavy administrative costs and requested she get to his office any information she might have about such waste and abuse, Assemblyman John McKeon, (D-27), South Orange, said the nursing home industry is one of the most heavily regulated and it was somewhat disingenuous to question her about this topic at this hearing.

Services at risk

Bogdan said that if his nursing home suffers a $300,000 cut they will have to review programs and transportation at their facility of approximately 180 residents. He said they are losing essentially $29 per day, per patient, per Medicaid.  If the trend worsens, it will get to a point of decision. “We can’t afford to accept too many more Medicaid patients,’’ he said.

Earlier, Barbara Monahan of the Cheshire Home in Florham Park said a 3 percent cut to their operation will undercut the foundation of Cheshire’s work: Helping wheelchair-bound patients get college degrees so they can attain a job and pursue a career.

“It would completely change our environment,’’ she told the committee. “Educational and vocational opportunities will suffer.’’

Cheshire resident Denise Jenny served as an example.

She told the committee she has been a resident of Cheshire for 30 years, was able to attain her college degree through Cheshire’s assistance and she now is a teacher at Montclair State University.

But the looming budget cuts “Jeopardize everything we are still working toward,’’ she said, “our educations, our careers, our lives. This would be devastating to many of us.’’

The Assembly Budget Committee scheduled the hearing to have testimony on real-world examples of how unrestored budget cuts will hurt seniors and disabled residents.

Lawmakers deal with reality, politics of budget cuts to seniors, disabled