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Stanislaus County supervisors to discuss caregiver pay Tuesday

Home-care providers staging protests at the past four Stanislaus County supervisors' meetings usually are met with silence. But that will change next week with an official update on the $60 million program, allowing county leaders to discuss some of what's making providers so upset.

In related news, a provider speaking at Tuesday's county meeting cited the tragic story of a Modesto woman who cared for an autistic son and now is charged with trying to kill the 13-year-old boy with a knife, suggesting she snapped under stress.

"This is a good example of just how hard this job is, and how sad sometimes it can turn out to be," said Mary Burch, one of several providers who have vowed to continue protesting. She referred to Anitra Hankins, 36, who was arrested Monday morning.

Officials have not confirmed whether Hankins is among 4,500 people in Stanislaus County paid to take care of 6,200 low-income recipients, keeping many out of expensive nursing homes.

About 70 percent of providers are relatives, reports show.

In a 2005 bankruptcy filing, Hankins listed her occupation as a caregiver for her son through the county's In-Home Supportive Serv-ices program. Neighbors told The Bee that aides came to the home daily to help care for the boy.

Providers and recipients have spoken during the Board of Supervisors' open comment session since leaders continued funding Aug. 31 for a pilot fraud-detection unit.

At issue are provider wages, which officials want to reduce from $9.38 to $8 per hour, as well as the county's fraud investigators.

The first is subject to ongoing negotiations with a labor union.

Burch on Tuesday said pay should be raised to $10, not lowered, and many speakers have pleaded with supervisors to maintain wages.

"Please have compassion," sobbed Felipa Perez of Modesto, through an interpreter, on Tuesday. She cares for two disabled children, she said.

Ed Huddleston said, "God does ask us to take care of the sick and the lame."

Others have taken increasingly militant tones in the past couple of sessions, accusing leaders of being heartless and disinterested.

"Shame on you!" shouted Ron Halseth of Hughson.

"You know what you are allowing is wrong," Sheryl Davidson of Oakdale told supervisors.

Data tells different story

Officials are barred from commenting on items that don't appear on posted agendas, so the protests have been largely one-sided.

That could change next week, when supervisors will be briefed on program costs and receive an update on the fraud unit.

For example, union leaders have claimed that judgments often go their way when care providers appeal reduced benefits stemming from fraud investigations.

But data provided by Rick Robinson, the county's chief executive officer, show that providers prevailed six times in 102 such cases in the past fiscal year, for a win ratio of less than 6 percent.

Of 18 cases pressed by the union, providers won two, Robinson said.

Although the hourly rate of pay hasn't kept much ahead of minimum wage, total wages passing through the county have nearly doubled in seven years, from $32 million in 2003 to $60 million in the current fiscal year.

Carrie Young of Atwater on Tuesday accused officials of trying to cut wages while being reimbursed by higher levels of government.

But the county pays for nearly 18 percent of the $60 million program, expected to jump to $67 million in two years, officials reported in August.

Next Tuesday's meeting of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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