Ad­vo­cates seek fund­ing for dis­abil­ity waivers

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Ge­or­gia Geen Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

RICH­MOND — Dozens of dis­abil­ity-rights ac­tivists urged mem­bers of the Vir­ginia Gen­eral Assem­bly on Thurs­day to ap­prove fund­ing to re­duce the nearly 13,000-strong wait­ing list for de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­ity waivers.

De­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­ity waivers, which are granted by Med­i­caid, in­clude sup­port ser­vices for men­tal and be­hav­ioral health, learn­ing and em­ploy­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to speak­ers from The Arc of Vir­ginia — which ad­vo­cates for those with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties — about 3,000 of those on the wait­ing llist are clas­si­fied as “pri­or­ity one,” mean­ing they will need waiver ser­vices within a year. How­ever, The Arc mem­bers re­called ex­pe­ri­enc­ing years-long waits to re­ceive re­sources such as one-on-one job coach­ing, mon­i­tor­ing of self-ad­min­is­tered med­i­ca­tions and in-home care tailored to the pa­tient’s needs and in­de­pen­dence level.

Ch­eryl Emory said she had to leave her job years ago to care for her

daugh­ter, Vir­ginia, who has a dis­abil­ity.

“At this rate, I’ll be 70 or 80 or have died when Vir­ginia gets a waiver,” Emory told a leg­isla­tive panel at a hear­ing on pro­posed amend­ments to the state’s 2018-2020 bud­get. “To­day, we’re ask­ing you to fund all of the pri­or­ity one wait­ing list.”

The Arc’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Tonya Milling, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion wants the Gen­eral Assem­bly to com­pletely fund waivers for those in the “pri­or­ity one” cat­e­gory, fin­ish­ing an ef­fort that be­gan last year when waivers were funded for 1,695 of the 3,000 on the list. She es­ti­mates $38 mil­lion would be nec­es­sary to fully fund the re­main­der of the list.

“You don’t want to waste that big in­vest­ment, be­cause it’s the big­gest one that they’ve made. We don’t want to lose that mo­men­tum that they made,” Milling said. “This is the time, this is the op­por­tu­nity to bring bal­ance to the sys­tem be­fore peo­ple are in cri­sis.”

“In-cri­sis” pa­tients are those with a higher need for ser­vices of­fered by the de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­ity waiver. Many have aging par­ents with their own health con­cerns serv­ing as care­givers, putting them at a higher risk of in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion, Milling said.

Low pay for at-home health care work­ers also im­pacts care for peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, many speak­ers said. The short­age of care providers means even those who qual­ify can­not al­ways get suf­fi­cient at-home nurs­ing.

Joyce Barnes, an ath­ome care worker in Hen­rico County, said she has to work 12-15 hours per day. She asked law­mak­ers to con­sider in­creas­ing wages for providers, in ad­di­tion to a 40-hour work week cap that would al­low them to re­ceive over­time pay. Barnes also sug­gested an ad­di­tional ori­en­ta­tion pro­gram for at-home health care work­ers.

Con­stance Wil­son, an at-home care provider, said she helps her clients with bathing, eat­ing and other day-to-day tasks — but also serves as a com­pan­ion by spend­ing time with them. “We save the state money to keep peo­ple out of the emer­gency room and out of nurs­ing rooms,” Wil­son said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the Com­mon­wealth Fund, a health pol­icy or­ga­ni­za­tion, at-home care re­duces health care costs by 30 per­cent and can be more ef­fec­tive than hospi­tal care.

Also on Thurs­day, mem­bers of RISE for Youth, an ad­vo­cacy group ad­dress­ing youth in­car­cer­a­tion, spoke in fa­vor of Gov. Ralph Northam’s bud­get amend­ment to fund ad­di­tional school coun­selors through­out Vir­ginia. Over two years, Northam’s pro­posed $36 mil­lion for ad­di­tional school coun­selors would bring Vir­ginia’s caseload-to-coun­selor ra­tio from 425-to-1 to 250-to-1, the na­tion­ally rec­om­mended level.

Re­becca Keel, a mem­ber of RISE for Youth, said some stu­dents come to school in “flight-or-fight mode.”

“Their be­hav­iors are crim­i­nal­ized in­stead of rec­og­nized as a cry for help,” Keel said. “Please keep in­vest­ing in sup­port staff rather than law en­force­ment.”

The pub­lic hear­ing at the Sci­ence Mu­seum of Vir­ginia was one of four held across Vir­ginia on Thurs­day. The other hear­ings were in Fair­fax, Roanoke and New­port News.

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