Disabled activists occupied a Holladay office building for three hours despite a threat of arrest Friday afternoon to call attention to the plight of nursing home patients who prefer home care.
"I was incarcerated for seven years in a nursing home and was told that I would never get out, so jail is nothing new to me," said Dorothy Girek.She and 25 other wheelchair-bound individuals entered the Highland Office Building, 4190 S. Highland Drive, shortly before noon and then blocked entrances and exits, elevators and rest-rooms and refused to leave until officials of the Utah Health Care Association complied with a number of demands.
The activists - most of them from Colorado - travel throughout the country to promote programs, policies and funding that contribute to independent lifestyles for the disabled.
They have been in Utah since Wednesday morning to support the efforts of American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT), an organization that has been seeking more funds for home health care.
Without claiming to be a spokesperson for the group, Utah activist Barbara Toomer said the primary purpose of the sit-in was to demand that the state'shome attendant care program be given $1 million of the $3 million that the nursing home industry got from the Legislature.
"There are people in nursing homes who want to get out but can't get out because of the lack of attendant care," she said.
And that little bit of help will actually save the state money in the long run, she argued, because home care is less expensive than institutional care.
The group also demanded a meeting with the 107-member nursing home association's board of directors and disclosure of its campaign contributions and lobbying expenses. "You don't generate that kind of legislation ($3 million appropriation) on the last day of the session without some power," Toomer said.
Dennis N. McFall, Utah Heath Care Association executive vice president, agreed to set up a meeting with the board and to disclose the lobbying information, but he warned activists not to expect compliance with their demand for $1 million.
"I can't do anything about that - it was a legislative appropriation - and I wouldn't if I could," he said.
McFall said Utah nursing homes lost $17 million last year because of inadequate Medicaid funding. "We're providing the care and we're not being paid for it."
However, he offered to help the group lobby for more money for attendant care. "I will back you extensively and lobby for attendant-care programs for people who don't need to be in a nursing home," he promised. "But I won't lobby for one group at the expense of another."
After huddling with the activists, former legislator Jeff Fox reported back to McFall and increasingly impatient Salt Lake County deputies that the group was not satisfied.
"They want a pledge of $1 million or they won't leave," Fox said. "They are willing to be arrested."
Barbara Guthrie, whose wheelchair blocked McFall's office, said that while members of the group have been called everything from "radical" to "terrorists," they employ only peaceful tactics to make their points. "We're willing to go to jail for it," she said.
Additional deputies were summoned - bringing their number at the height of the standoff to 12 - when the argument appeared to reach a stalemate. However, the deputies decided to withdraw to defuse the tension.
The activists met again with McFall an hour later and then agreed to leave and take the matter up with the association's board in two weeks.