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State program for the disabled inadequate, advocates say; local facility part of talks

Jun 24, 2014 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

The state is inadequately funding and managing one of Wyoming's main disability services programs, resulting in cuts in services and parents of mentally and physically disabled children left with feeling bullied, advocates for the disabled said Monday.

The head of the state Department of Health, which administers the program, said the agency is trying to balance changes required by state and federal law as well as bring more disabled people into a program that costs $250 million over two years.

Some 2,200 Wyoming residents with disabilities receive care through the Home and Community-Based Waivers program, which is administered as part of Medicaid. The program helps pay for services such as day programs and home-based assistance from mostly private contractors.

Home-based

Parents like the program because their disabled children can remain at home instead of going to an institution.

But members of the group Wyoming Parents Empowering Parents, or Wyopep, say they are seeing payments on some services reduced, jeopardizing the future of those services.

They say their attempts to work with Gov. Matt Mead and department officials have been for naught, and they say the state could face a lawsuit.

"We've been to the governor many times, we went to the Department of Health, we tell them the problems that we see and what's going to come from this, and we do not get anywhere with them," Toni Wilder, president of Wyopep, said. "It's like when you go there and you walk out the door, the door closes and that's it."

Annie McLaughlin, vice president of Wyopep, said parents have felt intimidated or bullied by agency officials for speaking out.

Lander facility

Parents fear the agency is trying to force their children into the Wyoming Life Resource Center, a state institution in Lander that provides care to severely disabled people, McLaughlin said.

"As a parent of a severely disabled adult man, it is his right to stay in a community setting and near his family who loves him," she said. "It's his right as a human being to be taken care of and looked after as part of a beautiful man with a disability."

Renny MacKay, spokesman for Mead, said the governor has "worked on behalf of people with developmental disabilities and acquired brain injuries since he first took office."

Funding worries

That includes recommending funding to reduce the wait list for those seeking help and supporting other programs designed to promote work freedom for people with disabilities, MacKay said in a statement.

State Health Department Director Tom Forslund said the agency is implementing a new system that meets state and federal mandates and that seeks to get more disabled people into the program quicker.

"We're trying to support as many people in need as we can with the funds that have been made available to us, and we're trying to do this in the most compassionate way," Forslund said.

Currently, there are about 600 disabled people waiting to get into the program, and some have been on the list for years, he said. The state Legislature added more money earlier this year to reduce that waiting list by about half, Forslund said.

He noted that the program for the disabled accounts for 2.8 percent of all Medicaid recipients but takes up 18.8 percent of the Medicaid budget.

State schools Superintendent Cindy Hill, who is challenging Mead in this year's Republican primary, helped arrange the news conference to bring the issue to the public's attention.

However, Wilder said Hill's involvement didn't mean Wyopep was endorsing her bid for governor.

The group plans to give all the candidates for governor a questionnaire on their stance regarding care for the disabled.

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