Local News

Advocates file suit for developmentally disabled

Area advocates for the developmentally disabled and other health service providers are calling on state legislators to protect the most vulnerable Kansans from further budget cuts.

Date: 12/31/1969

By SHAJIA AHMAD sahmad@gctelegram.com In mid-March, InterHab, an association of disability service providers based in Topeka, filed a lawsuit with the Kansas Supreme Court to reverse the implementation of funding cuts made to developmental disability services in the current fiscal year, ending June 30. According to InterHab, over $10 million in state funds used to help developmentally disabled Kansans who don't qualify for Medicaid services was stripped during 2009, affecting more than 2,000 children and adults across the state. In its legal suit, the provider association argues that the state's actions violate equal protections afforded under state law, federal Medicaid law, and the Americans with Disabilities Act and Federal Rehabilitation Act. Debbie Reynolds, director of Garden City's Mosaic, a faith-based agency that serves about 125 developmentally disabled individuals with vocational and residential services, agreed. The director said she feels it's been irresponsible of state officials to implement cuts to health providers like hers and advocated lawmakers raise revenues to avoid spending more dollars down the road. Because Medicaid is its primary source of funding -- about 95 percent -- Mosaic agencies across the state reported a $1.4 million loss across the state due to the 10-percent Medicaid rate reduction implemented by state officials for the remainder of this fiscal year, a $40,000 to $45,000 per month funding decrease in Garden City where about 125 clients are served, according to Reynolds. "We're here in order to ensure that our clients are able to live independent lives. Some can't cook or clean on their own, or need a reminder to take their medications or help driving someplace," Reynolds said. "(With further cuts) somebody's going to end up serving some of these folks in a different capacity, like the corrections system." In anticipation of further cuts at Mosaic, all staff wages have been frozen and employees are paying higher insurance premiums, Reynolds added. Further cuts for the fiscal year, which begins July 1, also may mean Mosaic will have to cut back on assistance for some of its most independent clients, staff said, though the agency already exists in fairly fragile environment. A state-wide waiting list for individuals seeking vocational and residential services is nearly five years long, according to Noelle Anglesey, a Mosaic case manager. In the last two years, no one from the Southwest Developmental Services Inc. service area that serves 18 southwest Kansas counties has come off that list, she added. "It's hindering them from going out into the real world and living independent lives," the case manager who has been with Mosaic for more than five years said. "(If we lose clients), our biggest concern is who would take them to the doctor, or even remind them that they need to go to the doctor?" Mark Hinde, director of the Southwest Developmental Services, Inc., which operates under SRS, was not available for comment Friday afternoon. At Area Mental Health, the 10-percent Medicaid reduction rate has been more than a $550,000 projected loss this year for the agency that serves mental and crisis services for 13 southwest Kansas counties. Ric Dalke, AMH's executive director, said he hopes legislators will rescind the Medicaid cut at the beginning of the new fiscal year. Like Mosaic, AMH, too, has been tightening its operations over the last three years as it's shouldered a burden of $1.1 million in reductions in State Mental Health Reform contract dollars and $70,000 in funding from local counties, according to Dalke. "Where do you cut more?" Dalke asked, adding that while the agency still strives to answer all crises calls at all times, it's support services including home visits, transportation services and attendant cares, have been weakened while simultaneously, more and more individuals are requesting services and requiring assistance from the agency's sliding scale in order to afford them. In Finney County, charity care increased 43 percent from 2008 to 2009, from about $466,000 to about $669,000. In its attempt to assure no employee layoffs, the area mental health agency has also seen a 14 percent reduction in staff through attrition over the last three years, and has been unable to provide a cost-of-living adjustment for its employees, Dalke added.