Mike Auberger says he'd rather be jailed than placed in a nursing home.
"At least I know when I get out of jail -- it's a seven-day sentence, a 10-day sentence," the 36-year-old quadriplegic said.
"When you go into a nursing home, it's a life sentence."
Auberger and approximately 300 other disabled activists from 25 states picketed outside the Health Care Financing Administration in Woodlawn yesterday, protesting the lack of national policy to fund personal attendant services.
The protesters, members of American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, want 25 percent of Medicaid's $23 billion, currently budgeted "in favor" of nursing homes, to instead be budgeted for the establishment of community-based national attendant service programs.
Such programs, they say, would allow people with disabilities and the elderly to live independently in their own homes rather than in nursing homes. There are about 43 million disabled people in the United States, 1.5 million of whom would live in the community if attendant/personal assistance/support services were available.
Auberger, who traveled from Denver for the protest, runs a home health care agency that employs about 90 people and provides care for approximately 150 disabled and elderly people in Denver and Colorado Springs.
The fewer than half the states, including Maryland, have programs for in-home attendant services, according to Ellen Leiserson, an independent social worker who was previously program manager for the In-Home Aids Services for the state Department of Human Resources. Leiserson said that in Maryland, there are long waiting lists for those who wish to employ attendants.
"My level of disability would cost $60,000" a year in a nursing home, Auberger said. "Using attendant services, it costs $2,000 per month."
"We are not going to take it any longer," Wade Blank, co-founder of ADAPT, shouted through a speaker to an enthusiastic crowd.
"We will not be ignored . . . we will come again and again and again until nursing homes begin to lose their funding and people are allowed to live in their own homes."
A picket who identified himself only as "Bob," said that, while he isn't immediately in need of home attendant care, he doesn't know what the future holds.
"I don't want to give up my house. I don't want to give up my garden," said the full-time engineer.
"I can't even visualize doing my job from a nursing home . . . they wouldn't even let me come and go without signed permission," he said.
According to Richard Cotter, deputy assistant administrator for management of HFCA, leaders of ADAPT were in Washington last week but refused a meeting with federal Medicaid Administrator Christine Nye, who had offered to talk with them.
Protesters want to meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, who they say has repeatedly refused their requests.
Several of the demonstrators admitted that they were unsure how much the protest would accomplish.
"I don't expect this [demonstration] to do it all," Bob said. "There's going to have to be a long information process."
"The nursing home industry is a billion-dollar industry -- they give political contributions to politicians who protect their interests," said Lillibeth Navarro, who came from California to picket.
"This is going to be a difficult struggle," she said.
"But, because our cause is right, because it touches practically everyone, we will prevail."