December 21, 2015

A Search for Alternatives to Match Services With Disabled

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With the budget in a vise, state officials and advocates are examining new ways to reduce the number of people on a waiting list for state-paid services for the developmentally disabled.

They also are looking at providing some services to families who remain waiting.

The disability waiver waiting list has grown longer over the past decade and is now at record levels, with 7,266 Oklahomans on the list. The wait time is nearly 10 years.

The Legislature appropriated $1 million in each of the last three fiscal years to address the issue, causing a slight reduction of the list. But declining state revenue this year resulted in no money allocated to shorten the list, and it has grown again.

In response, officials from several agencies and Gov. Mary Fallin’s office, along with citizen advocates, want to create a web portal to help link people wanting disabilities aid with existing state and community services that might meet their needs.

Those people could then take themselves off the waiting list or not sign up for it for the first time, decreasing the number of people on the list and reducing wait times, said Cody Inman, special assistant to state Department of Human Services Director Ed Lake.

Inman, who was Fallin’s senior public affairs officer until November, also serves on the governor’s executive council, one of two advisory councils formed in March to look at h improving the range and quality of services available to Oklahomans with developmental disabilities.

Often, Inman said, people sign up for the waiting list not knowing exactly what the waiver services are and that their needs can be immediately met through other state agencies or community services.

“If we can’t necessarily provide (waiver) services for the waiting list right now, what we can do is say ‘Let’s assess what your needs are,’” Inman said. “They might not even need waiver services. They might think, ‘Let me get on this waiting list and let me get myself over here because I’m scared, I need help, I don’t know what to do.’”

The two new councils are moving to create a website that would allow people to more easily find services and supports offered by eight participating agencies. The site wold also connect them with informal services, such as family support groups, Inman said.

“We want to build a better network, beyond just DDS (Developmental Disabilities Services),” Inman said. “We can assess, and help them assess, give them tools to assess, ‘Are you really waiting for the services on the waiting list or can we help you now?’”

However, even if a family finds a service through the site, it does not mean they have to drop off or not sign up for the waiting list, given that people’s needs change over time, Inman said.

“It’s a good faith effort on the state’s part to say, ‘Let’s provide access information, let’s provide formal support information, let’s provide informal support information,’” Inman said. “If we can do that now, how much better is it going to make the lives of many of the advocates and people out there suffering from disabilities.”

The site will also allow for some case management and follow-up. It is being developed with a two-year window in mind, Inman said, although it will likely be completed sooner.

“Once it gets into place, you’ll see a change in communication in the way the issues are addressed,” Inman said.

Some services are already provided to people on the waiting list, although funding for some of those services has already run out for this fiscal year, said JoAnne Goin, director of DHS’s developmental disabilities services division.

“We’ve had a difficult budget year, but services remain stable,” Goin said. “Nonetheless, their commitment to the people they serve is strong, and they have continued to provide services in spite of this cut. People have a choice of service providers as they come into the system. In general, we’re holding our own.”

On Tuesday, the state announced it was experiencing revenue failure for this fiscal year, meaning that state agencies will likely see a mid-year budget cut soon. In addition, the state has projected a more than $900 million budget shortfall next fiscal year.

Goin, who spoke with Oklahoma Watch prior to the budget announcement, said no matter the budget situation, the department would continue to provide services and focus on eliminating inefficiencies to save money.

“We will continue to try and do the best we can with what we have,” Goin said.