BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – Police escorted protesters in wheelchairs out of a state office building late Tuesday afternoon after a group advocating for disability rights blocked its main entrance.
Around 50 protesters filled the lobby of One Ashburton Place, and the protesters said their group included about 200 people, some who were on the building’s 11th floor and others who were outside.
The disability rights organization ADAPT organized the demonstration, bringing in members from the Massachusetts chapter and chapters in other states.
According to the Disability Policy Commission, the protest was held to demand that the state “negotiate in good faith with advocates to save the Personal Care Assistance program that serves as a lifeline for 26,000 people with disabilities to live in the community outside of nursing homes.”
Since new overtime policies for personal care attendants went into effect at MassHealth on Sept. 1, disability rights advocates have protested multiple times at the State House over the change, which caps the number of hours that PCAs can work at 40 hours per week, with some exceptions up to 60 hours a week.
A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services did not immediately return messages seeking comment late Tuesday. Previously, Deputy Medicaid Director Robin Callahan has said MassHealth is making no cuts to its PCA program or change in authorized work hours and that the program is “committed to a sustainable, robust PCA program to provide critical service for our members to maintain their community independence.”
Brian Shea, a Somerville resident who uses a wheelchair, said he and his wife both receive care from PCAs. He said their primary PCA works 63 hours a week between the two of them and has developed a routine with the family. Shea said the overtime cap puts people who rely on personal care at risk of being institutionalized.
“We’ll get by for a while,” he said. “I don’t know how long, but the thing is you don’t want to just get by.”
Nancy Houghton, a member of ADAPT’s Massachusetts Executive Committee, said the group arrived at around 2 p.m. Protesters remained in the building after 5:30 p.m., and employees leaving for the day were directed down an escalator away from the lobby where the exits were blocked.
“We did not come here to get arrested,” Houghton said. “We did not come here for this to escalate.”
Charles Carr, the Disability Policy Commission’s legislative liaison, told the News Service in an email there was a “Strong state police presence on 11th floor as protesters refused to leave” at around 4:45 p.m.
Troopers wheeled out at least four protesters in wheelchairs and escorted a woman who walked with crutches down an escalator. A man who appeared to be handcuffed was also walked down the escalator as the demonstrators chanted, “Free our people.”