Kansas lawmakers fume over state official’s refusal to answer questions about waiting lists

09/12/2012 4:54 PM

08/08/2014 10:12 AM

TOPEKA – Lawmakers bristled Wednesday over a top state official’s refusal to answer questions about Kansas’ growing list of people with disabilities waiting for in-home or community-based services.

Gary Haulmark, commissioner of community services and programs in the state’s Department for Aging and Disability Services, said a state lawyer told him not to discuss the waiting lists because of pending litigation.

The waiting lists have been the subject of intense scrutiny that has led to a federal civil rights investigation and the potential for the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas City to sue the state.

The list of people with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities waiting for services has grown from 2,075 in 2008 to 7,518 this month, state figures show. That includes people who have no services and those who are underserved.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said Haulmark’s refusal to answer questions was unprecedented.

“Never once has anyone been instructed not to answer questions that the Legislature asks about the waivers, which we are in a position of needing to do,” she said. “What’s the secrecy about it?”

Haulmark said he couldn’t respond.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, pressed Haulmark to answer questions.

“I can understand not being willing to answer questions about pending litigation,” he said during a meeting of the Legislative Budget Committee in the Capitol. “But what makes you think we’re going to ask about litigation?”

Vratil said he understands not talking about pending litigation, but he said he was shocked that Haulmark couldn’t respond to the Legislature at all. “That I find hard to believe,” he said.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, asked Haulmark to bring the state lawyer with him to a meeting Thursday to explain why lawmakers can’t get answers to basic questions.

Haulmark indicated he would bring the lawyer to the meeting.

The state provides in-home and community-based services to qualifying Kansans to reduce the number of people who turn to more expensive institutional care.

In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Olmstead case that people are entitled to services in a community setting. In 2009, President Obama called for federal agencies to aggressively enforce the civil rights of people with disabilities.

In a letter to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services last April, Gov. Sam Brownback blamed the waiting lists on the economic downturn and policies of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who went on to head the Health and Human Services department.

Brownback said the state has taken steps, such as broadening the criteria for crisis-level services, to ensure Kansans in need get help.

But advocates for people on the waiting lists say more needs to be done.

Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, a statewide association of developmental disability service providers, said the waiting lists represent unmet needs and the undiminished hopes of families who need help.

“The growth of the waiting lists represents the insufficient state response to those hopes and needs,” he said.

Laing said everyone wants the waiting lists to be reduced and eventually eliminated.

“We suggest that resources be appropriated to meet the needs of persons on the list,” he said. “Pretending the numbers don’t exist is not the right approach.”

Lawmakers bristled Wednesday over a top state official’s refusal to answer questions about Kansas’ growing list of people with disabilities waiting for services.

Gary Haulmark, commissioner of community services and programs in the state’s Department for Aging and Disability Services, said a state lawyer told him not to discuss the waiting lists because of pending litigation.

The waiting lists include people with physical and developmental disabilities. The lists have been the subject of intense scrutiny for at least a year, including a federal investigation.

The list of people waiting for services has grown from 2,075 people in 2008 to 7,518 as of September, state figures show. That includes people who have no services and those who are underserved.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said Haulmark’s refusal to answer questions was unprecedented.

“Never once has anyone been instructed not to answer questions that the Legislature asks about the waivers, which we are in a position of needing to do,” she said. “What’s the secrecy about it?”

Haulmark said he couldn’t respond.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, pressed Haulmark to answer questions.

“I can understand not being willing to answer questions about pending litigation,” he said during a meeting of the Legislative Budget Committee in the Capitol. “But what makes you think we’re going to ask about litigation?”

Vratil said he understands not talking about pending litigation, but he said he was shocked that Haulmark couldn’t respond to the Legislature at all. “That I find hard to believe,” he said.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, asked Haulmark to bring the state lawyer with him to a meeting Thursday to explain why lawmakers can’t get answers to basic questions.

Haulmark indicated he would bring the lawyer to the meeting.

Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, a statewide association of developmental disability service providers, said the waiting lists represent unmet needs and the undiminished hopes of families who need help.

“The growth of the waiting lists represents the insufficient state response to those hopes and needs,” he said.

Join the Discussion

The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service