Editorials

Disabled services face funding crisis

Providers of services to Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities are struggling to pay bills and keep employees.
Providers of services to Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities are struggling to pay bills and keep employees.

Here is another reason the Legislature needs to revisit its tax cuts: Providers of community-based services to Kansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities are struggling to pay bills and keep employees.

It’s been eight years since the state has increased reimbursement rates to I/DD service providers. Yet costs continue to increase.

What’s more, organizations that provide case-management services, such as Starkey in Wichita, were hit with a 4 percent reimbursement cut for those services as part of Gov. Sam Brownback’s move to balance the state budget.

State cuts to a birth-to-5 program cost Rainbows United Inc. of Wichita more than $120,000.

One of the biggest consequences of the flat or reduced reimbursements is that providers have trouble paying enough to attract and retain staff. Often, people can earn as much or more working at a fast-food restaurant than doing the difficult work of providing I/DD care.

Starkey has 48 full-time and 26 part-time staff vacancies in its residential program alone.

“We’re scrambling to fill shifts,” Colin McKenney, CEO of Starkey, told the Eagle editorial board.

McKenney noted that the state recently recognized that low pay was a problem at its psychiatric hospitals and raised wages. But it has yet to address the same problem at the local level.

When asked whether the expansion of Medicaid would benefit Starkey, McKenney said the main beneficiaries would be his employees, who could qualify for the insurance coverage.

In addition to the funding challenge, providers are facing higher costs from increased federal requirements and changes in billing practices.

Meanwhile, the demand for services continues to grow.

Deb Voth, president of Rainbows, said her organization is serving 200 more children now than two years ago.

“We’re all serving more kids, but the pot never gets larger,” she said.

And there are even more Kansans waiting for services. Though the state recently eliminated its waiting list for services for physically disabled Kansans, the I/DD waiting list in July was 3,450 – the same as it was a year earlier.

Providers are often forced to seek private donations to help cover their costs. Voth said Rainbows raised $1 million for general operating expenses.

The funding problem has reached a crisis point, said Christopher Gunn, general counsel for InterHab, a statewide association of service providers.

“It’s gone beyond the idea of doing more with less,” he said.

There will be a lot of funding pressures during next year’s legislative session, including a likely Kansas Supreme Court order to increase education funding. But lawmakers shouldn’t keep leaving the I/DD population behind – especially while protecting tax cuts for the wealthy.

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