Local care provider ends assistance program

Other agencies work to cover gap in services

A Kenai Peninsula-based nonprofit health care provider will discontinue one of its programs due to budget constraints, which could leave about 40 elderly clients without care.


However, five other health care agencies on the Peninsula are transitioning the clients, also called consumers, as well as some preferred employees leaving a minimal gap in services, according to the agencies’ managers.

“Fortunately, we do have the resources at this time, and we’ve talked with many of those consumers and employees in need,” said Rhonda Scott, Personal Care Assistant Program manger at Access Alaska.

Frontier Community Services will no longer provide its PCA program as of Dec. 19. The nonprofit is maintaining the majority of its services, and some of the discontinued program’s employees are shifting jobs. The area’s other care providers plan to absorb many of the consumers. And despite recent changes in health care regulations, the providers are not planning cuts of their own, they said.

The services provided through PCA programs relate to daily living needs like bathing, eating and shopping. Consumers receive services through an agency that handles their needs. They can also handle their own care by selecting, hiring, firing and supervising an assistant. The latter is called the consumer-directed PCA program; it became operational statewide on Oct. 1, 2001.

Frontier decided to shed its PCA program after discovering budget shortfalls during two annual audits, said Executive Director Ken Duff.

The Alaska Department of Senior & Disabilities Services, a branch of Health & Social Services, manages the assistance program. The program provides support for about 4,000 Alaska seniors and individuals with disabilities, according to HSS.

The state reimburses agencies at a rate of $23.32 an hour. In July, it raised the reimbursement rates for many programs.

Frontier paid its PCA employees an average of $15 an hour and provided health and retirement benefits. The costs fell somewhere between $19 and $21 an hour per employee, which is still below the state’s reimbursement rate. Administrative, training and transportation costs sent the program’s budget into the red, however.

About 30 to 40 employees work as personal care assistants, but many work with Frontier’s other programs. There are employees working solely as assistants, Duff said.

“We have a few employees who are dedicated just to personal care attendant services, and generally they’re people who consumers recommended — a relative or friend,” he said.

Duff said Frontier is working closely with the Peninsula’s other agencies to transition consumers’ and employees’ services. Some employees will continue to work with Frontier’s other programs, like the developmental disabilities program.

As long as Frontier’s former consumers and employees contact Access Alaska as soon as possible, services will not be affected through the holidays, Scott said.

Consumer Direct Personal Care in Kenai has spoken with and started to transfer four former Frontier consumers, said program coordinator Jim Trombley.

The increases in health care costs and insurance rates make it difficult for smaller agencies to stay afloat, Scott said.

“All agencies on the Peninsula receive roughly the same, if not exactly the same, reimbursement rate from the state,” Scott said, who has handled PCA programs for more than 15 years. “Agencies need to keep their budgets within what they’re reimbursed.”

ResCare, another care provider, is able to absorb rising costs, in part, because the agency is much larger than Frontier, said executive director Jackie Buckley.

ResCare employs 46,000 employees in 41 states, she said.

“So, because we’re a very large corporation we’re able to have very localized services but receive support from Outside if there’s a dip in revenue or challenges with training,” Buckley said.

Alaskans manage all of ResCare’s Alaska operations.

Changes in state regulations have cut the amount of service hours some consumers receive, she said. Senior & Disability Services sends social workers and registered nurses to assess the needs of individuals, a kind of preliminary evaluation prior to enrollment in a care program.

“There are budgetary constraints, and we understand that,” Buckley said. “But that makes it a challenge for people to maintain the quality of their lives. That’s the reality.”

ResCare has the resources to add additional consumers and assistants at this time, said local branch manager Pamela Phipps. She encourages Frontier’s affected assistants to apply, she said.

Frontier’s main concern with dropping its PCA program was allowing a smooth transition for consumers, Duff said. The area’s agencies have been addressing the concern, however.

In terms of the nonprofit’s provided services, little else will change, he said. Frontier will continue to operate Forget-Me-Not Center, an adult day care center in Kenai. Also, it will continue to operate a senior in-home program, which is similar to the PCA program and supported by a state grant.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.


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