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Metro East social service agency lays off 117 employees due to Illinois' budget stalemate

Bill Kreeb, president and CEO of Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, and Elizabeth Patton-Whiteside, public health administrator at the East Side Health District.
Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio | file photo

Updated 12:00 p.m., April 7 with news of more layoffs — Metro East social service agency Lessie Bates Neighborhood House says it can't afford to continue offering in-home care to 300 seniors from the East St. Louis area.  

If the state is unable to find another agency to provide in-home care, the seniors could have to move into nursing homes when Lessie Bates temporarily closes its in-home care program at the end of the month.

Lessie Bates is also laying off 117 employees who work in the program. 

“Our staff goes in every day and does things like cooking and cleaning and just basically caring for some of the poorest and most isolated elderly persons in our community. And without that care they’re going to end up going into a nursing home, which is going to cost the state millions of more dollars to care for them,” said Bill Kreeb, executive director of Lessie Bates.

The non-profit agency has been operating the in-home care program since July 2015 while only being reimbursed for its about half of its clients. Because of Illinois’ ongoing budget stalemate, the state’s Department of Aging now owes Lessie Bates about $500,000 for its contract to provide in-home care to about 150 seniors.

“If we continue we’re going to end up having to borrow probably more than a million dollars to keep the program going and at this point in time our agency just doesn’t have the capacity to do that,” Kreeb said.

While Lessie Bates has been receiving payments for its Medicaid in home-care clients, Kreeb said his agency doesn’t have the option of only serving those clients.

“Under our contract with the Department of Aging you have to serve everybody. You cannot choose just to serve our Medicaid eligible clients,” Kreeb said. “We’re going to continue to operate our head start and early head start programs and our after school programs and things, but this was our biggest program. And we don’t have the funds to meet payroll even so that’s why we had to close.”

Lessie Bates was keeping its in-home elderly care program open through March in the hope that the state would pass a budget, but couldn’t hold on any longer.

“Some of our staff have been with their clients for maybe four or five years and as you know with the elderly they get very anxious about transferring and having other staff come into their home,” Kreeb said. “I mean it’s really scary for them and to do that to all these people is just really a shame.”

In addition to being concerned for the future of the 300 seniors currently under Lessie Bates’ care, Kreeb said he is worried about the agency’s 117 laid-off employees.

“We’ve helped a lot of our staff at least go back to school and get a certification, maybe their nursing assistant certification and they were able to work in our program,” Kreeb said. “Now all those people, the 117 people we’re laying off, are going to end up going back on unemployment which is again going to cost the state millions of dollars. So it just really doesn’t make sense not to get a budget passed.”

In the short-term Kreeb said the state will try to find other agencies that can take on Lessie Bates’ clients. But those agencies also haven’t been paid for their state in-home care contracts since the fiscal year began and are likely facing similar financial strain. If that happens there could be no option except for a nursing home.

Original story from Jan. 31, 2016 — Monday marks the start of Illinois’ eighth month without a budget. Most state departments and agencies are operating under a patchwork of court orders and legislation. But some state-funded social service programs haven’t received a dime since July.

According to a recent survey conducted by the United Way of Illinois, almost 90 percent of state-funded social service agencies in southern Illinois have had to cut services to clients during the budget impasse, including programs for teens, people who’ve experienced domestic violence, and people with disabilities.

“We’re going to have to close our adult daycare in 30 days. We may have to make that same decision for our largest program, in-home care for seniors,” said Bill Kreeb, executive director of Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House in East St. Louis.

With the vast majority of the state’s expenses being paid out, Kreeb said the budget stalemate is hurting the people who can least afford it the most.

“The state workers are being paid, the legislators are being paid. Everybody’s being paid. The 10 percent that’s not being paid out, if you really take a look at it, are for those programs and services that really impact the poorest and most vulnerable children and families in our community here in St. Clair and Madison counties as well as throughout the state,” Kreeb said. “It’s really a shame that the poor, who are really the ones that don’t have a voice, are the ones that are being held hostage with this budget impasse.”

Since July, Lessie Bates has closed three programs; including one to teach young mothers how to prevent child abuse and neglect. Kreeb said his agency has also laid off about 40 employees and accrued about $750 million in debt.

A court order allows Lessie Bates to receive payment for its Medicaid clients, but Kreeb said his agency continues to serve about 200 seniors a day without reimbursement for its in-home care program.

“Because (in-home care is) such a large payout that we have with payroll every month, we’re hoping we can go through March and we’re hoping that the budget ends up getting passed by March,” said Kreeb.

Like Lessie Bates, the agency Children’s Home and Aid, which serves about 10,000 families in the Metro East, still has some money coming in the door.

A court order requires the state to pay for foster care, and a bill passed in November funds child care referrals.

But Children’s Home and Aid has been operating two programs for at-risk teens since July without reimbursement.

“We’re still providing the service but we’re having to do it with a lot less people,” said Jassen Strokosch, communications director for Children’s Home and Aid. “At a certain point we’ll have to just decide that we can’t keep redirecting funds from other places to cover the program. At some point we will have to shut it down.”

"When you take it away, long term outcomes for these kids look very poor." Jassen Strokosch, Children's Home & Aid

Last fiscal year the two programs had a total of 21 employees. Now 11 staff members operate a 24 hour service line for police in Madison and St. Clair counties. When an officer finds a teenager sleeping on a bench or stealing a cell phone, one of those staff members steps in.

“Our staff (members) are trained counselors," said Strokosch. "These are social workers that can sit down and help these families work through some of these issues. For a lot of these families, and understandably so, the last thing they want is a police officer ringing the front doorbell bringing their son or daughter with them and trying to come in and figure out what’s going on with the family."

Strokosch said the programs are a cost-effective and essential tool for police, courts and families.

“When you take it away long term outcomes for these kids look very poor,” said Strokosch. “There’s just no other place for them to go often other than foster care or incarceration.”

According to Strokosch, Children’s Home and Aid saves the state about $40,000 a year for each child it keeps out of foster care by enrolling them in their program for children at-risk of running away or being locked out of their home. Often times a parent in the home is dealing with mental illness or the teenager is acting out.  Children’s Home and Aid saves the state about $100,000 a year for each child they keep out of juvenile detention through it Redeploy program.

Worker at one of Community Link's workshops for adults with developmental disabilities.
Credit courtesy Community Link
Community Link runs a workshop for adults with developmental disabilities in Fairview Heights.

Community Link, which specializes in services for people with disabilities, has fared a little better since July. It operates early intervention therapy for young children with developmental disabilities in the Metro East, and a workshop for adults with disabilities in Fairview Heights.

With help from the ACLU, Community Link and several other disability services agencies took the state to court for help being able to fulfill a 2011 consent decree.

“The ironic part is that during the budget impasse is we’ve been getting paid pretty regularly, which we hadn’t been before the budget impasse,” said John Huelskamp, executive director for Community Link. “The downside to that is that there are estimates (that) Illinois is spending collectively $30 million higher a day than its taking in. And if that’s true you’re looking at a $10 billion dollar deficit at the end of this mess and they’re won’t be any court order that can protect us if the state eventually runs out of money.”

"We have no money. I don't know how we're going to make payroll." Amelia Jumper, Comprehensive Behavioral Health

  Huelskamp said Community Link’s main difficulty with the budget impasse is attracting and retaining staff. He said state contracts have prevented disability service agencies from raising salaries for the past nine years.

Domestic violence shelters also received funding at the end of 201. But according to Vickie Smith of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, lack of funds going to other social service providers continues to impact people have experienced domestic violence by making it difficult to access counseling and child care.

“The cascade has begun,” said Smith. “People don’t realize the magnitude of (lack of funding to social services). Everyone has a grandmother, a child, a grandchild. You’re going to be touched by this.”

East Side Health District, which serves St. Clair County, has had to close clinics and layoff 70 percent of its staff due to the budget impasse.

Amelia Jumper, the executive director of Comprehensive Behavioral Health in East St. Louis, told St. Louis Public Radio she’s not sure how she’s going to make pay this month.

Jumper closed her agency’s inpatient drug treatment center and its halfway house last fall due to lack of funding from the state, but she recently reopened the inpatient center.

“Not because we received any money, but something had to be done,” Jumper said.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter:@cmpcamille.