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Social service program loss affecting dozens of Walworth County families

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
October 25, 2009
— Walworth resident Anita Szymanski wishes she could get back to work by getting someone to help watch her two daughters with disabilities.

Another mother, Kathy, who lives south of Elkhorn, wonders how she'll be able to care for her autistic son while she and her husband work full-time jobs.


The organization they counted on, Lutheran Social Services, earlier this month folded the in-home assistance program the women relied on. Lutheran Social Services officials said the company was losing money with the program, which supports about 34 individuals and their families in Walworth County.


That means Szymanski, Kathy and several other Walworth County families have to find other accommodations for their children, who sometimes need up to 30 hours of caregiver help each week.


"I had to change my schedule, my work schedule, my daughter Catherine's medical schedule," Szymanski said. "Had they told me while I was still home in August not worrying about going to work, I would've had plenty of time to find somebody.


"Now when you call other agencies, they say, 'We weren't aware LSS was closing,' and 'We can't accommodate you.'"


Lutheran Social Services officials sent parents a letter in early October explaining the program would cease Saturday, Nov. 7.


Lutheran Social Services spokesperson Briena Jacob said the organization has struggled because reimbursement rates provided by the state have not covered program expenses.


"A lot of non-profits are struggling right now," Jacob said. "We are a mission-based organization, so not all our programs provide financially."


Szymanski and Kathy, who asked her last name not be used because of the sensitivity of the issue, are doing their best to work through the problem.


Kathy's teenage son has severe autism and no independent living skills.


Szymanski's 14-year-old daughter, Angel, has Down syndrome.


Szymanski's other daughter, Catherine, 20, had a brain tumor last year that left her with traumatic brain injury, short-term memory loss, anxiety and panic attacks.


Szymanski and Kathy need help caring for their children because they need their jobs to support their families.


Szymanski and her husband rearranged their work schedules. She's working about 10 hours a week. Her husband's job is somewhat flexible, and he often is able to pick up Angel from the bus stop.


"I just wish I could get back to work," Szymanski said.


Kathy took family leave for a week because she can't find a caregiver for her son during work hours. She wishes there was more time to solve the problem.


Jacob said Lutheran Social Services is helping families affected by the program's cancellation by directing them to other providers. A letter to parents included information about three organizations that could provide services to affected families.


Kathy said that wasn't much help.


Of the three suggested organizations, one doesn't do personal care, the second assists only elderly individuals and the third offers sub-par service, she said.


Kathy has been in contact with an out-of-state provider that might be able to help, but she's afraid the transition will take too long.


"It could be two to two-and-a-half months to get a personal worker from interview to work; maybe if they expedite the process, two months," she said.


"There is no way this is going to be seamless."


With one month's notice and half the time already past, Kathy feels like she's hit a dead end.


"I feel burned by LSS. I feel really burned," she said. "They sent out a notice letter and sent no assistance.


"Some other families will probably not be OK."


Jacob said Lutheran Social Services understands the difficulties, and the organization will continue to care for families until they can find appropriate service elsewhere.


"I can assure them they will have no dropped service," she said. "It is our goal to make sure the transition is as seamless as possible."


That won't help Szymanski.


She hasn't had an in-home caregiver since late August, when her previous Lutheran Social Services worker went back to college and stopped seeing her children.


"They know we need the help," Szymanski said. "Where are they?


"We're going to keep calling. It's all we can do."


Szymanski said Lutheran Social Services officials have been telling her they're trying to replace her care. It's been two months and Szymanski still has no help.


Despite the challenges, Szymanski, Kathy and their families continue to fight. Kathy is hopeful the caregiver she is contacting will come through. Szymanski looks after her daughters and does all she can for them.


"We have to go on," Szymanski said. "We can't stop. I hope that we can get some help in here.


"We just need someone."



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