Brunswick adult-care provider racing to address DHHS cuts
BRUNSWICK — A care provider for the developmentally disabled is getting creative with ways to address more than $300,000 in state budget cuts.
On Sunday, May 26, Independence Association will hold its first Sea Dog Dash for Independence, a 10-kilometer, 5-kilometer and 1-mile running event at Brunswick Junior High School.
"Most races don't target people who have developmental disabilities," Ray Nagel, IA's executive director, said. "We're trying to get people with developmental disabilities involved, and they're very excited about it."
Nagel said the idea came about last summer when IA was trying to think of a signature event that would promote wellness and raise awareness about its programs and services.
But budget cuts by the state Department of Health and Human Services also played a major role in the event's inception. "The state has become far less collaborative and far more dictatorial," Nagel said.
"We've been really hit hard this past fiscal year 2012," he said. "The future doesn't look very bright going forward."
Nagel said the cuts began last year when he learned IA would receive $300,000 less in the current budget from the Section 21 Medicaid waiver, the state's funding mechanism for developmentally disabled adults living in group homes and other residences.
One of IA's primary services is group homes for developmentally disabled adults, Nagel said. He said group home operations account for 70 percent of IA's annual average budget of $9 million.
"(The group home budget) covers all the clinical and therapeutic supports necessary for people to live in a group home," Nagel said.
IA also faced a curtailment of $25,000 in January for its supplemental room and board revenue from DHHS, Nagel said, which helps cover residential expenses for individuals who may not get other benefits. He said IA learned of the cuts in a last-minute emergency meeting in Augusta.
To mitigate budget cuts from the state, Nagel said he decided to cut health insurance and paid time-off benefits for his 230 employees who work across 21 locations in the Mid-Coast area.
"It wasn't received well," Nagel said, "but by being transparent and talking to the staff ... they realized there were no other options. They have suffered through it."
Nagel, who has been executive director for nearly four years, said his complaints about DHHS are not a result of the cuts, but "because of the lack of collaboration."
Nagel said DHHS is not including the agency in the solution process when it comes to making future budgetary decisions. He said he also takes issue with a new assessment system mandated by DHHS that will force IA to double its data entry duties.
"(The relationship) has now become adversarial," Nagel said. "In my first two years, it was an extremely complimentary relationship."
Responding to Nagel's complaints on Wednesday, DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew acknowledged his frustrations and said that some changes in the budget happen so fast, it's sometimes hard to keep everyone aware of the most current situation.
"I recognize that communications are critical to our relationship and we truly have that as our priority," Mayhew said. "... Sometimes the pace at which changes need to occur doesn't always afford us the longer term roll-out that everyone would prefer."
Mayhew said DHHS holds town hall meetings every other month for providers, along with many ad hoc meetings that occur in between. She said DHHS is willing to help providers improve administrative efficiency with the new assessment system.
"We are instituting performance-based measurements that are certainly requiring more data analysis and record sharing between the department and providers," Mayhew said, "and we are certainly working closely with providers to make these necessary changes in the system but in a collaborative fashion."
Speaking about the budget challenges DHHS faces, Mayhew said "we are both challenged by the needs to balance the budget and create some financial stability for the Medicaid program, but at the same time working (to ensure) that these critical services are provided to those most vulnerable and that there is accountability within that system."