By Rose Hoban
Last summer when legislators passed their budget for the present year, one item that was designated for a major cut was funding for people with developmental and mental health disabilities who live in group homes.
The old budget called for cuts in hours for personal care, services delivered to those residents to help them with activities such as feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting and getting around. The cuts were due to go into effect in January. If they had, many group homes would have found themselves out of business, with their residents on the street.
Meanwhile, group home operators were instructed to file appeals to the Office of Administrative Hearings that would allow them to continue being paid at their old levels of service as the appeals played out.
In addition, a series of 11th-hour fixes freed up money to keep group home operators whole. First, former-Gov. Bev Perdue found an unspent $1 million to tide the homes over until the legislative session could begin in late January.
Then when the current legislative session started, legislators quickly passed a bill that allowed the homes to tap into a $39.7 million pot of money that had been set aside for adult care homes.
Now the appeals are winding to a close, said Karen McLeod, head of Benchmarks, a coalition of care-provision organizations, “and my members want to know what to do.”
She said that if there’s no fix for the group homes before July 1, facilities would start to close.
The only mention of group homes in the Senate budget is a provision to create a pilot program in six counties that would establish tiers of need for people living in the homes, with different reimbursement rates and maximum hours for each tier.
Currently, personal care services are paid at a rate of $15.52 an hour, with a monthly maximum of 80 hours. Operators have said they need a minimum of 130 hours of reimbursement to cover expenses.
“We asked Sen. Hise (R-Spruce Pine) about the group homes,” McLeod said after she learned the Senate budget had no provision for the group homes. “He said they’ve tried every avenue they legally can to come up with an answer, but they keep hitting a brick wall.”
There’s no timeline for the pilot study in the budget, and it would probably be too late for most of her providers. She said it could take six months to pilot the new payment scheme, several months to analyze the results and then even more time to scale the pilot up to the state level.
By then, she said, it could be too late.
“A Hail Mary for us is to see if that $39 million fund still has dollars in it,” McLeod said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to go to the House and see if they can’t find some remedy.”