(WXYZ) — A strip of black ice changed everything for Clarence Golden on a night in 2008.
The car he was traveling in slid into the median before being struck by a semi, leaving Clarence paralyzed below his shoulders.
For the last 13 years, he has largely been confined to a bed in his home.
“He can’t do anything,” said his sister Chalisse Wilson, “without the assistance of another person.
Until recently, Golden’s family and a team of eight nurses and nursing aides have kept him alive since the accident.
They are vital to every minute of his life, from clothing and feeding the 49-year-old to giving him physical and occupational therapy, his four daily breathing treatments and the medications he needs seven times a day.
Golden’s sister quit her job at a bank to become his guardian and full-time caregiver.
“I had a second chance, you know?” Golden told Channel 7’s Ross Jones. “I had other people that was willing to step up, take care of me. “
Two caregivers need to be with Golden around-the-clock, even when he’s sleeping, to make sure he’s breathing.
He is a quadriplegic, making him especially vulnerable to bedsores, which can prove fatal. As a result, the 6’4’’, 260 lb. Golden needs to be moved every 15 minutes to prevent sores from forming.
For his family, it’s all been a heavy lift that got much heavier this summer.
“I know a lot of people refer to the date of the accident of their injury as the worst day ever,” his sister said. “But I would have to say July 2 of 2021 was much worse.”
That’s when Michigan’s new no-fault insurance law took effect. It aimed to reign in the state’s highest-in-the-nation insurance costs, in part, by cutting reimbursement rates for treatment happening outside of the hospital—like in-home attendant care—by 45%.
For the agency that helped take care of Clarence, the cuts were crippling.
“On June 30th at 9pm, they were out and I was here by myself,” Wilson said.
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Golden’s care went from a team of 12 to just his sister, overnight.
Feeling abandoned, she briefly considered putting Clarence in a nursing home, but decided against it: he wouldn’t have staff at his bedside, and would be far from family.
“But the main reason is because he will die,” Wilson said. “If you research a quadriplegic…urinary tract infections are what kill them most often. Not their spinal chord injury, but infections.”
Starting in July, Clarence’s family took on more shifts. His sister pieced together a smaller team of four to help care for her brother.
Before the law changed, she was paid $21-per-hour to care for her brother. The 45% cut would slash that to about $11.55.
Just a few miles up the street, at a nearby McDonalds, pay starts at $14-per-hour.
“That rate to me is despicable because I made more working at the bank in 2011,” Wilson said. “It’s 2021 and I can tell you I do a heck of a lot more work here than I did at the bank.”
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But the cuts don’t end there. The new law also capped the number of hours family members could be paid to care for their loved one: 56-hours per week for the whole family.
If Wilson only worked 8 hours a day, every day, that might make sense. But on one recent Sunday alone, she and her sister each worked 24-hours straight, totaling 48 hours of family care in one day.
It left just 8 hours for the rest of the family, and the rest of the week.
Last week alone, Clarence’s family covered 126-hours in shifts. They won’t be paid for more than half of them.
“It’s unconscionable,” said Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridien Twp.). “It’s absolutely unconscionable what we are doing to these survivors.”
Brixie voted against the new law back in 2019 and today is one of 73 lawmakers who signed on to an amicus brief filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals, saying the new no-fault law wasn’t intended to affect those, like Clarence, injured before July 1.
They want their benefits fully restored.
The court process could take months or even longer to be resolved, and in the meantime, pushes in the Capitol to restore cuts to providers have gone nowhere.
In the short-term, and following an avalanche of criticism, lawmakers recently set aside $25 million to go toward funding gaps created by the new law.
Hard-hit acute care facilities can apply for the funds, but the money is only temporary and could take months to receive.
By then, some providers say they may very well be out of business.
“Lawmakers in Lansing created these problems,” said Channel 7’s Ross Jones. “Why aren’t they in a hurry to fix them?”
“There has been complete lack of interest in doing that with the Republican leadership of both the house and the senate,” Brixie said.
In the state senate, Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clark Lake) twice declined requests for an interview.
But he released a statement saying, in part: “…the new laws guarantee that any accident victim receiving lifetime benefits before the reforms will continue to do so going forward.”
Clearly not, says Chalisse Wilson. Today, she has less help than ever to keep her brother alive, is working longer hours to do it while being paid less than a fast food employee.
“What they did,” she said, “is they destroyed a system that worked.”
Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (248) 827-9466.