Monday, January 25, 2010

The cost of cuts: Special reports from the Kansas Health Institute, Final Episode

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 5:00 AM

click to enlarge Doris Baker is on a waiting list for in-home services designed to help people with physical disabilities avoid having to move to nursing homes.
  • Doris Baker is on a waiting list for in-home services designed to help people with physical disabilities avoid having to move to nursing homes.

Throughout last week, we ran excerpts from a series of stories by Kansas Health Institute journalist Dave Ranney. The stories illustrate how Kansas lawmakers, faced with the need to cut the state budget, have a problem understanding some simple math: In the long run, it's a lot less expensive to fund services that help disabled children and adults live independently, at home, than to pay for them to live in more expensive institutions.

To recap Ranney's main discoveries:

More than 5,700 Kansans with physical or developmental disabilities are waiting for Medicaid-funded services designed to help keep them out of a nursing home or state hospital.

About 2,000 people on the waiting list are developmentally disabled children or adults who are receiving some government-funded services but are waiting for others for which they are eligible.

But almost 3,800 of the disabled are receiving none of the assistance for which they are eligible and it is not uncommon for a person to wait years before the services become available.

The stories we've excerpted so far -- "Waiting lists for state services expected to grow," "Man wants out of nursing home," "Family awaits help." and "Parents wait for help for 'differently abled' son" -- show what that reality looks like in terms of people, not numbers.

So do two of the final pieces in Ranney's series. "Disabled grandmother seeks help" tells the story of Doris Baker, 60, who is rearing her granddaughter.

Saedra Walters is 17 and her parents because of a number of personal problems are not in the child's life anymore, Baker said.

The girl's father, Baker's son, is in prison in Arkansas for murder.

"I

have complete custody of her," Baker said. "She's amazing. She's an

honor student, she's in band, she has people offering her scholarships

to go to college."

Trouble is, Baker has diabetes, arthritis and a bad heart. She worked

as long as she could, but now she and Saedra live on Baker's disability

and food stamps. She applied for in-home services to she wouldn't have

to move to a nursing home, and now, like thousands of other Kansans,

she's on a waiting list.

"The last time someone moved off the list was in January 2009," said Nanette Unruh, Baker's case manager at the Prairie Independent Living Resource Center in Hutchinson. "No one's come off the list since then."

Budget

shortfalls caused state officials to enact a waiting list for people

with physical disabilities in March 2009. The list is now "frozen."

Byron Hankins of Parsons tells a similar sad story.

Further complicating matters, Ranney reports:

"When legislators ask how many people with developmental disabilities

are on the state's waiting list for home and community based services

they get two answers."

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services says the number is now close to 2,200.

Interhab, an association representing 41 community based programs that provide services to the developmentally disabled, says it's more

like 4,200.

Neither disputes the other's numbers.

Interhab's number includes adults and children whose needs may not be immediate; for example, a special education student whose parents let the state know their son or daughter will need services in two or

three years.

SRS' number includes only those whose dates for needing a service have passed.

In recent years, Ranney notes, the waiting list has increased by about 300 to 400 persons annually. In 2008, Rep. Bob Bethell, a Republican from Alden, helped write a bill that would have helped eliminate waiting lists for the developmentally disabled and increased the capacity of community programs. "The bill called for spending $100 million over four years," Ranney reports. "It passed but was not funded."

Meanwhile, Ranney writes, "the person on the waiting list the longest has been waiting since June 2005."

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