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The Struggle To Save Long-Term Care

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The State's Department of Health Services program called IRIS, which serves adults with long-term care needs, is at risk of being eliminated from the 2015-2017 Biennial Budget.

Battle lines are being drawn over portions of Governor Walker’s proposed budget for the coming two years. 

A lot of attention has been paid to its potential impact on higher and K-12 education and state parks. However, there are many other programs that aren’t as well known that stand to be dramatically shaped by the measure as well.

One of these lesser known programs is called IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct), which serves adults with long-term care needs.  It’s administered by the state’s Department of Health Services, but would be eliminated under the current version of the budget bill.

"[IRIS] is a unique model that really gives the person more control over their own lives, and we just don't see how that would fit under a managed care umbrella of a giant HMO," says Nancy Gapinski, member of Save IRIS.

What makes IRIS different from other long term care programs is its allowance of the person needing care to choose who they want to hire individually for their specific needs. This could include hiring neighbors to drive you to work, or hiring a family member to help take care of a home.

Despite assurances that care for these adults would continue, the elimination of IRIS worries some people, jump-starting the creation of a grass-roots group called Save IRIS.  Members Julie Burish of Brookfield, whose 19-year old daughter has Down’s Syndrome; and Nancy Gapinski of Glendale, who has an autistic son not yet old enough to be served by IRIS, spoke with Lake Effect's Mitch Teich about the program's importance.

"When you hire people that you know, you get so much more than what you pay for because these people have relationships with the person they're taking care of. You get a higher level of care at a much lower rate, and you get a lot of unpaid natural support," says Burish.

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