State agency drops plan to limit home care for dozens of people with disabilities

State agency officials have scrapped a controversial plan that would limit home nursing care to around 200 people with disabilities, potentially disrupting life as they know it.

Under the proposed change, dozens of people who receive 24-hour care in their own homes or families would have had their help limited to 16 hours. The state had presented a plan to further stretch existing dollars to serve more than 7,000 people on a waiting list.

The proposal, however, left families of at least 188 people wondering whether to seek out different lifestyles – like relocating their loved one with three roommates and sharing support staff in a licensed provider home – or trying. to find the money to make a difference.

“Some families and stakeholders thought they were going to be affected by the changes to the waiver, so there is no change in the waiver, and these individuals and families will not be affected,” Judy Fitzgerald, department commissioner of state. behavioral health and developmental disabilities, the agency’s board of directors said Thursday.

The announcement drew cheers from advocates like Pam Walley, who is the director of quality and compliance at Georgia Options, a service provider that focuses on supporting people with disabilities in non-congregational environments.

Callie Moore (contributing photo)

Walley is also the mother of Callie Moore, 26, who lives in an apartment in Athens with a roommate who she shares staff support with overnight. Moore has reportedly seen his 24-hour nursing service cut under the now-abandoned plan.

Walley and others had urged the state to find another way to serve more people on the waiting list.

“I am delighted to hear that people who require nursing services and additional staff support will have the right to access these services while living at home,” said Walley. “Self-advocates, families and allies worked very hard to bring our concerns to the heads of state, and we were not always sure we were heard. “

The change had been included in the renewal of the state’s Comprehensive Support Exemption (COMP) via Medicaid, which is part of a program designed to help people with disabilities avoid institutionalization.

The cost to provide services to the 188 people who receive 24-hour care in their own homes or families is about $ 22 million, with the federal government paying just over half of the cost. cost.

It was never clear how many people could have been taken off the waiting list as a result of the change. SState lawmakers added about $ 2 million to this year’s budget with the intention of funding about 100 slots.

The state resubmitted its waiver plan last month without capping nursing hours due to a provision in the American Rescue Plan Act requiring states to maintain existing levels of home and community services.

But the change of plans is also bringing agency leaders back to square one with their efforts to reach more of the thousands of people with disabilities who are waiting for services.

Advocates and families have called on the state to increase funding for waiver services. Challenges exist beyond funding, however. Suppliers, for example, have struggled to keep enough direct support professionals on their payroll to perform the services.

“Our goal with the proposed changes was to serve as many people as possible,” Fitzgerald said in a statement Thursday. “While we have removed the proposed caps on skilled nursing and overtime from our waiver request, we are not relinquishing our commitment to the 7,000 people still waiting to be served.”

State Senator Sally Harrell, a Democrat from Atlanta, advocates a different approach: pressuring the governor to increase funding for services enough to eliminate the wait list over the next five years.

“The state has enough revenue to fund more waivers. They just didn’t have the political will to do it. So there was no need to fix the ceiling. Taking from one group to serve another group was not necessary because the state has the money to serve both, ”Harrell said Thursday.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s spokeswoman Katie Byrd said Thursday the governor’s office was not yet ready to discuss budget items. The governor will officially unveil his spending plan next month when lawmakers return to Atlanta for the legislative session. As reported by the governor, Fitzgerald submitted a lump sum budget proposal for his agency.

State lawmakers have funded around 100 to 250 waivers each year in recent years. But the pressure for more funding is now coming as the state sees its coffers swell. So far, earnings for the year are up almost 17% from a year ago, according to a report released this week.

“We hope the governor will use the surplus funds to increase the number of waivers available to support people with developmental disabilities and their families,” said Eric Jacobson, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. “In addition, we hope that the governor will provide the necessary funds to increase the salaries of direct support professionals.”

Rising revenues mean there will also be many other causes competing for some funding – even as politicians make election year arguments for lower taxes.

“You don’t cut taxes before you serve these people,” Harrell said. “Because it’s part of basic governance.

“People are afraid to make commitments that you have to keep year after year, which would be one of them because we don’t know what’s on the horizon in terms of the economy,” said Harrell. “But, for me, if we want to do it, then now is the time.”

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