Thousands of backlogged cases in Bay Area home care programs

When Xiao Yu’s elderly parents underwent surgery, she knew she needed outside help to keep them living safely at home. Her mother, 84-year-old Jin Shung Chen, and father, 91-year-old Neng Ban Yu, of Contra Costa County both qualify for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) but say they’ve been waiting for a social worker to approve additional IHSS hours for more than six months.

“Of course I expect [the county] to give it to us on time, but they say they are too busy,” Yu told 2 Investigates. “But, what should I do? I don’t know.”

In-Home Supportive Services is California’s largest publicly funded home care program. It allows qualified elderly and disabled individuals to hire services to avoid nursing homes or hospitalization. Some of these services include basic home care such as cooking and cleaning.

After weeks of speaking with concerned social workers and program recipients, 2 Investigates learned there are thousands of backlogged cases throughout the Bay Area. According to State data, there are currently 3,682 in Alameda County, 2,796 in Contra Costa County and 3,285 in Santa Clara County.

These backlogged cases represent the number of overdue social worker check-ins. At least one physical check-in, or reassessment, is due a year. In order for a family to receive more help from IHSS, a social worker must also physically visit and assess their situation.

In terms of percentages of overdue reassessments, Alameda County has 16.2%, Santa Clara County has 14.5% and Contra Costa stands out at 31.5%.

Xiao Yu’s parents are part of that large percentage of Contra Costa County residents who are living without, what they say is, much-needed IHSS help.

“We are family. We are the kids. Of course we help our parents, but it’s too long. It’s too tire,” said and emotional Yu.

“Every day and month that goes by, that person is living unsafely in their home, “ said Claire Ramsey with the non-profit Justice in Aging. “People do hurt themselves or fall because they’re not getting help they need. I think it’s a dangerous situation.”

2 Investigates wanted to find out why Contra Costa’s numbers are significantly higher those of its neighboring counties. We tracked down Victoria Tolbert the Director of the Contra Costa’s Adult and Aging Services Department. It oversees its IHSS program.

“We don’t get enough money in the funding, and we have a huge cost in that funding in our county,” she said. “The funding structure for Contra Costa County is connected to our tax revenue for our share of costs.”

Tolbert said the IHSS program was designed for when Contra Costa was a rural county. Since the Bay Area’s housing boom, there’s been an influx of people into Contra Costa – an influx it wasn’t prepared for.

“We’re not rural anymore…We don’t have enough social workers to do the assessments that are necessary,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert said her social workers average more than 300 cases each and her department has eight vacancies she’s looking to fill. She said filling vacancies is no easy task because Contra Costa is competing with better-paying positions on other counties.

Tolbert said she is looking to go the State and propose Contra Costa tests new pilot IHSS programs.