As the Brownback administration takes pride in fiscal-year-ending reserves, another number looms large and shamefully – the more than 7,000 Kansans with physical or developmental disabilities who are awaiting home- and community-based services.
With such services, individuals can live independently or in homelike residential settings. Without them, they may be forced to move into nursing homes – not only sacrificing quality of life but costing taxpayers far more.
Neither Gov. Sam Brownback nor the Legislature has demonstrated much urgency to better fund disability services and whittle down these lists, although the budget surplus would have made that possible.
The Brownback administration has argued that it inherited the waiting lists from former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, now U.S. secretary of health and human services, and “that merely increasing funding for such services will not solve the problem,” as Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, wrote in a May commentary.
Officials also point to reforms coming with the reinvention of Medicaid as KanCare in January 2013, and with the addition to KanCare of the management of long-term care services for the developmentally disabled a year later.
But state leaders soon may be unable to set their own timetable for addressing the lists.
That’s because the U.S. Justice Department has been conducting an investigation into whether the waiting list for individuals with physical disabilities violates the Americans With Disabilities Act and court decisions including the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead case, which ruled that a disabled person has a right to live in the “least restrictive environment.”
That investigation could lead to a lawsuit, and eventually a costly remedy being forced on Kansas. Georgia has had to spend $100 million on disability services since 2009 as part of a settlement agreement with the federal government.
“Wisdom would tell you we should handle this waiting-list issue on our own terms, proactively,” Tim Wood, manager of the Topeka-based Disability Rights Center of Kansas’ “End the Wait” campaign, told The Eagle editorial board.
Wood and other advocates plan to ramp up their campaign in time for the 2013 legislative session, looking to a long-neglected legislative blueprint for guidance on how to not only reduce waiting lists but expand and strengthen the home- and community-based services system. Another meeting is planned in Sedgwick County for Aug. 14 or 16 (for more information, call 785-273-9661).
The campaign aims to reduce the waiting list for services for the developmentally disabled, which includes more than 3,200 people without services and another nearly 1,700 awaiting additional services.
The wait averages 30 months but can stretch on for years.
Looking the other way won’t make these lists disappear, nor do anything to help the people languishing on them.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman