Two weeks before the car accident that changed her life, 32-year-old Helena Cardona of Newman had been promoted to supervisor at her job as a fork-lift operator. She was a workaholic, often taking 12- or even 15-hour shifts. She loved to bowl and play softball. But when the driver of a truck ran a stop sign and hit her car, Elena’s spine was severed. She’s paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair with no hope of walking again.
The workaholic can’t work. She can’t play softball. She struggles with tasks that used to come easily, like keeping her house clean. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy her life, especially thanks to one friend: Paula Stinyard.
Paula got a call in the middle of the night that her friend had been in an accident and was being airlifted to a nearby hospital. She rushed to Helena’s side.
Today, she works as Helena’s in-home caregiver, helping her with everything from the leg stretches that prevent further injury, to cleaning her house, to grocery shopping. Why is Helena and Paula’s story so important?
Because Medicaid makes it possible, and the future of Medicaid is in serious doubt.
It is Medicaid that pays Paula for the hours she spends helping Helena live at home and move closer to her goal of rejoining the workforce. It’s Medicaid that helps Helena pay for physical therapy, regular medical treatments, and even her wheelchair.
If Congress and President Trump succeed in passing a budget that slashes Medicaid, it would be devastating not just to Helena but to Paula, who tears up when she talks about the possibility of not being able to care for her friend.
Paula is a proud member of United Domestic Workers of America, an affiliate of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), and she’s one of thousands of AFSCME members across the country whose livelihood depends directly on funding from Medicaid.
Caregivers. Nurses. Social workers. Addiction counselors. These are people who work every day to keep us healthy. They work with the most vulnerable Americans. And just like the people they work for, they depend on Medicaid.
They know better than most how cruel cutting Medicaid would be. They understand what it will mean for these massive cuts to go into effect. They know Medicaid is more than an insurance program. It’s a promise. A promise to children, who represent half of Medicaid’s beneficiaries. A promise to the elderly who depend on the program to pay for nursing home care. A promise to people like Helena who can continue living a full life in the face of challenges.
And it’s a promise to people like Paula who spend their days caring for others.
Medicaid is supposed to be there for the people who need it. President Trump and his allies in Congress targeted Medicaid in their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but even with the future of those efforts in doubt, they are still planning to slash Medicaid through the budget process. Those cuts could mean states like California will be forced to end home care services people like Helena depend on.
I have a message from Paula to members of Congress debating the future of Medicaid. I hope they’ll listen to what she has to say.
She asks them to take a day to walk in her shoes. To go to the home of someone who relies on a caregiver, to see what she does.
“Go to a resident’s home and care for them, genuinely care for them,” she said, “and then see what it entails.”
If they could see what Paula does for Helena, how she cares for her, how important she is to Helena, maybe then they’d understand how cruel it is to even consider these devastating cuts to Medicaid. The people like Helena who depend on Medicaid deserve better. AFSCME members like Paula who care for their communities deserve better.
President Trump and all members of Congress should be working to strengthen the promise of Medicaid, not working to break it.
Elissa McBride is secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, a union of 1.6 million public service workers.