Dozens of senior citizens stood outside Gov. Deval Patrick's office in the State House on Thursday demanding that their concerns about cuts in home care spending be heard.
Chanting "Can you hear us now, governor?" the seniors wanted Patrick to respond to a letter several senior advocacy groups sent him in September detailing what they say has been a $15 million cut since 2009 in home care services and asking for such funding to be restored.
Although Patrick didn't meet with the seniors, Ann Hartstein, his secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, took their questions and comments in a downstairs press room.
"The governor is totally communted to community-first," Hartstein said of the policy that promotes home care over nursing-home care.
But advocates and seniors said Patrick isn't doing enough and that underfunding home care ultimately costs the state more money.
"Investing in home care produces a real dividend for the taxpayer as well as helping seniors stay in their own homes," said Mass Home Care Executive Director Al Norman. "We have made a big difference already, but no one seems to know it or talk about it."
According to Massachusetts Senior Action Council numbers, home-care services have save the state $703 million annually by keeping seniors out of costly nursing homes.
But yet 1,221 seniors are on waiting lists to receive home care and may have to go to nursing homes as a result.
"A lot of us have been told that this is a community-first state but have not experienced that this is a community-first state," Massachusetts Senior Action Council Executive Director Carolyn Villers told Hartstein.
Even for those receiving some home care, the amount of help they get has dwindled over the years, according to Ruth Titus, a Nahant nurse working who has worked in home care since 1989.
"I see a big difference in home care these days," she said, adding that fewer hours combined with family members working more, and therefore less able to provide help, has left seniors vulnerable.
Home care, said Winthrop senior Dottie Donofrio, "takes a tremendous burden off of families and gives an opportunity for a person to have some dignity."
The seniors pressed Hartstein to tell the governor to make sure home care is sufficiently funded in the budget he submits next week.
"I think that you'll be pleased with what you see in the budget in terms of the elder budget overall," Hartstein said.
She told them to also make sure they voice their concerns to their legislators. "It's going to be a crucial time for us across the commonwealth ... make sure you advocate for the things you need," she said.
After meeting with Hartstein the groups went to Speaker Robert DeLeo's office, President Therese Murray's office and the Ways and Means office.