Election coverage
5:54 pm
Thu October 27, 2011

Long-term care initiative is back up for a vote

The Long-term Care Initiative would require the state to boost training for home healthcare workers and implement more rigorous background checks. That’s pretty similar to what was passed but never enacted back in 2008.

When Mike Roth is working there’s little that’s actually beautiful about it and yet when asked what it's like to care for a 51 year-old quadriplegic, Roth said, "It’s like a ballet." And goes on to describe, in great detail, a daily routing that involves everything from administering medications to teeth brushing to tucking in bed with the help of an automatic lift. In the span of two-hours, "I make everything absolutely immaculately clean and then go home," he said.

This kind of precision said Roth, who’s a Certified Nursing Aid, takes years of practice and trial and error. But it doesn’t have to he says.  That’s why he’s backing the Long-term Care Initiative, I-1163.

It includes an increase in basic training for home health care workers paid for by the state. The measure also creates a testing and certification system. And all new caregivers would undergo FBI criminal background checks. Right now, only workers who’ve lived in state fewer than three years are subject to a federal probe.

If that all sounds familiar that’s because it is. This initiative is almost identical to the one overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2008.

The old measure was passed just as the first wave of recession budget cuts struck Washington.  So the cash-strapped Legislature voted twice to postpone the law until 2014.  But supporters of this initiative say that’s too long to wait.

Sandeep Kaushik is a political consultant for the campaign, which is largely funded by the Service Employees International Union.

Kaushik said it's an increasingly pressing problem. "Particularly as the baby boomers retire we are going to see the number of people receiving home care and long term care growing by leaps and bounds over the next few decades. And so given that we have some obvious problems that exist in the system we feel it’s important to take care of those now.

But opponents say the economy is in no better shape now to be able to absorb the extra costs.

Cindi Laws is executive director for the Washington State Residential Care Council of Adult Family Homes which is funding most of the opposition.

"The goal of this initiative is to unionize all the caregivers. It has nothing to do with quality of care,"she said.

Laws projects the measure – which lacks revenue sources - could cost $50 million dollars over the next two years. But a state analysis puts the figure closer to $32 million with almost half covered by federal funds.

Whatever it costs, the money will have to come out of a state budget that’s in worse shape today than it was four years ago. 

Kaushik suggests the state could look into closing existing tax loop holes to fund the reforms. "There are more than 550 tax exemptions and loop holes and special tax breaks that are currently on the books."

Should the initiative pass, we could see another bit of history repeating - the Legislature could put it off yet again, but it would require a two-thirds majority.

Initiative 1163

  • Increases basic training from 34 to 75 hours for most new long-term care workers
  • Requires care givers to pass a test and creates a certification system
  • Requires new caregivers to undergo FBI criminal background checks (Current law requires federal background checks for who’ve lived in state fewer than three years; everyone else undergoes a state background check
  • Increases annual continuing-education hours from 10 to 12 hours

Yes Campaign

No Campaign