Opinion as shared by Mike Ervin, who is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago.
please visit Mike Ervin blog: Smart Ass Cripple
Frankly, the prospect of Bruce Rauner as governor scares the hell out of me. It goes far beyond the fact that he is another of those money-first billionaires who pushes for austerity for everyone except those in his income strata. What scares me is that Rauner made a chunk of his ridiculous wealth exploiting people with disabilities.
There is a lot of attention being paid to the accusations of abuse, neglect and wrongful death at the facilities of Trans Healthcare Inc., a nursing home chain once owned by GTCR, the private equity firm Rauner headed. But the treatment of the residents is not the issue. Even if the residents are well cared for, they are still being exploited because they are being treated as commodities. A company like GTCR invests in nursing homes for the same reason it invests in everything. It sees an opportunity to make a whole lot of money. It sees nursing homes as a “growth sector,” as it says on the GTCR website.
The way to make money in the nursing home business is to keep the beds full. And this is largely accomplished by rigged public policies that give people with disabilities who need daily assistance from others little choice but to surrender ourselves to the custody of a nursing home.
Most people dread the idea of living in a nursing home for good reason. You lose practically all control over your life. Your personal space is reduced to a few square feet. You only have the personal possessions you can fit in the drawers of a nightstand. You have no privacy. You share your room with a complete stranger. You have no say over what and when you eat or when and if you will get out of or go to bed. If you receive a monthly Social Security payment, the nursing home can garnish it, leaving you only $30 a month for spending money.
There are better alternatives. I’m 58 years old and I’ve used I wheelchair my whole life. I need physical assistance with everything from dressing and bathing to toileting and meal preparation. But thanks to the Home Services program of the Illinois Department of Human Services, I live in my own condo and receive assistance from a crew of people of my own choosing. The state pays the wages of my workers.
But whereas the federal government requires state government to provide a nursing home placement for people who need assistance like I do, it does not require that home and community-based alternatives like Home Services be offered. The vitality and existence of programs like Home Services is completely at the whim of the governor and state legislature.
This s how nursing home owners like Rauner get very, very rich. In Illinois and all over the county, people with disabilities like me who are perfectly capable of living in the community end up filling nursing home beds because they are offered no alternative. Nursing home owners work hard to insure that the funding system stays rigged through their lobbying organization, the American Health Care Association.
I fear what might happen if our governor is someone who profited enormously off this cynical system that sees people with disabilities as nothing more than a profit center. Anyone who thinks people like me must sacrifice our privacy, autonomy and assets to receive the assistance we need would likely see the middle-class lifestyle the Home Service program enables me to lead as extravagant. I fear Rauner would proudly squash programs like Home Services under his steamroller of faux austerity.
Rauner says he has only an economic agenda and no social agenda. That’s nonsense. You can’t separate the two. State budget reflect the social priorities and values of state government leaders. If Rauner sees people with disabilities like me first and foremost as source of cash flow for the very rich, his budgets will be structured accordingly.