Dr. Steve Hall on disabilities

Thu, 05/07/2009 - 3:26pm
By: Ben Nelms

For those whose lives have not been touched by someone with the many forms of developmental disabilities it may not seem much of a change. But for some of the 150,000 in Georgia with those diagnoses and the families in need of long-needed services the recent substantial increase in funding by the General Assembly is a Godsend. Georgia previously ranked 50th in the nation in new funding for such services and now ranks 9th, yet with the dramatic increases the overwhelming majority of people still receive no services. State Office of Developmental Disabilities (DD) Director Dr. Steve Hall addressed service delivery opportunities and issues with more than 100 individuals, their families and caregivers April 14 at First Christian Church in Tyrone.

Residents of Fayette, Coweta, Fulton, Clayton and Douglas counties attended the meeting. While the numbers are often difficult to determine, Fayette County alone serves more than 3,000 children with special needs.

Hall began the meeting explaining that Georgia has made remarkable progress in funding DD services in the past few years. Noting that the state has a long way to go, Hall said the Georgia moved from 50th to 5th in moving people out of institutions, from 50th to 1st on whether DD individuals are safe in their homes and from 50th to 9th in new funding.

Hall said residential services to DD individuals in Georgia include those operated by biological families, foster providers or private agencies. The state operates only a few residential settings, Hall said. But it is the new host-home concept that is accounting for the greatest increase in residential placement. Those settings serve a maximum of two people.

“More folks are living at home now, but then last year unanimously the legislature the host-home legislation greatly expanded the service where one or two people can live with a host family. So that is our most rapidly expanding service. These homes are definitely the wave of the future. About 25 percent more people every year now are choosing that option,” Hall said.

As for daytime services outside the residence, Hall said the big thing is supported employment, along with various day treatment and sheltered workshop programs.

Hall said that of the $400 million allocated to services other than hospitals, nearly all of that amount with the new waivers is under family control. Under the new system, a waiver is a service delivery instrument that facilitates services provided to the individual. The big difference is that those services are controlled by the person’s family.

“The families get to control the dollars and decide where, if good services are being provided, the dollars can go,” Hall said of the procedure that began in November. “We just started doing this. The family gets an allocation of money, then the money is locked up. They get to say where it goes. Before, the government was giving the money directly to the providers, but now the government is (allocating) it directly to the families, and the families deciding which providers to use. The family works through a (private, contracted) support coordinator that functions like a case manager to find services available in their area.”

The waiver essentially waives the old institutional rules and allows that state to write its own rules, Hall said. Georgia wrote the nation’s first waivers but, until recently, did not implement them.

“We found that the dollars were safer with families than with the government,” Hall said adding that he expected new rates and rules to take effect in approximately 90 days.

Hall told the audience that approximately 30,000 people in Georgia with developmental disabilities are touched in some way by state services, leaving approximately 120,000 without services. Of the 30,000 that do receive some type of services, around 12,000 of those have waivers.

While those numbers show that 80 percent of Georgia residents with developmental disabilities are not touched by any form of service, Hall said Georgia has improved significantly in the past few years and he expects the state to continue to do so. Some of those not receiving services are finding out about the new services coming on-line, while others are not, he said.

“We are not providing services to enough people, but we’ve moved from 50th to 9th in that,” Hall said, noting his hope that the General Assembly will continue its recent initiative of bringing people with developmental disabilities out of the nation’s funding cellar. “What we need to know is that we have wonderful communities trying to help these folks. But we have 6,500 people in critical need of services right now that are on a waiting list. We hope when the economy gets better that the legislature will pass significant new resources like they have the previous four years.”

As with all government funding, the current recession has impacted DD services. That reality prompted one parent in the audience to ask how the budget shortfall might impact services for her son.

“The real truth is that we have to barely hang on this year,” Hall said, adding that none of the waiver services have been cut thus far.

Time, the economy and the legislature will tell the tale for developmental disabilities funding in Georgia.

“In 2007-2008 we had 1,500 new resources for folks. And that kind of pattern is what Georgia needs for several years to be able to catch up,” Hall said.

Former Executive Director at Colorado’s Resource Exchange, Dr. Steve Hall joined the Office of Developmental Disabilities in January, 2005.

The Office of DD is part of Georgia Dept. of Human Resources, which in July will transition into two new departments. Those are the Dept. of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities and the Dept. of Human Services.

Also attending the meeting were Commissioner Eric Maxwell, Sen. Ronnie Chance, Rep. Virgil Fludd and Rep. Matt Ramsey.

The forum was sponsored by Fayette County’s Exceptional OPS, providing a wide range of services across Fayette County for people with development disabilities.

For more information on how to access services and funding contact ExceptionalOPS at (770) 631-1035 or visit www.exceptionalops.com

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