Funding needed to responsibly care for people with developmental disabilities

by Helena Industries

  • Posted on October 17, 2016

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The US Census reports that over 3 percent of the population experiences a severe developmental or intellectual disability. These disabilities are characterized by significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior, which impacts the ability of these individuals to perform conceptual, social, and practical skills necessary for everyday life. The disability may be a result of a congenital birth defect, a traumatic brain injury, or any number of psychological, behavioral, or physical conditions that limit functioning. A person’s level of life functioning will improve if appropriate personalized support is provided over a sustained period. That support is normally provided by nonprofit organizations. Unfortunately, the nonprofits that provide direct care to this vulnerable population need assistance too.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) administers a variety of programs funded by state and federal appropriations to pay for the services provided by the nonprofit direct care providers. Sadly, the funding levels for disability services have lagged over the past decade and failed to meet the rising costs of providing essential services to this special population. Consequently, hiring and retaining qualified, experienced direct care providers has become a near crisis situation. Vacancies, high turnover rates, and inadequately experienced caregivers plague human service nonprofits obstructing the mission to enhance our clients’ quality of life. Nonprofits need an adequate number of qualified staff to responsibly care for eligible individuals. Further, the laws regulating support services for people with disabilities mandate staff-to-client ratios to ensure safe and effective client care.

However, those staffing challenges are getting worse as inflation, mandated government regulations, and rising standards of care all keep driving up the cost of providing services. Those of us who belong to the Montana Association of Community Disability Services (MACDS) wish to highlight this issue on behalf of those with developmental and intellectual disabilities whom we serve. For us it is unconscionable to watch our nonprofit agencies slip farther behind and sacrifice quality care for those who are severely disabled. We believe we must educate the public and lawmakers to the plight of these nonprofit agencies that represent an otherwise voiceless community for whom we advocate.

It is our wish that those who care about the quality of life and safety of individuals who experience disabilities will join us in calling for a review of the current funding mechanisms for supporting our clients and the level of funding for direct care. Agencies offer a range of services including housing, transportation, counseling services, case management services, job coaching, job placement, and employment. Clients and their families depend on us to keep them safe and we are determined to offer them the best quality of life we can.

The funding deficit is not limited to direct care staff but also, with such complex billing and reporting obligations that go along with state and federal programs, there is a crucial need for sophisticated financial management and internal controls. The level of expertise and experience needed to track, control, report, and manage the range of different government-financed programs that fund the services nonprofits provide is expensive. Thus, we need adequate funding for both direct care services and for the required financial management and accountability that nonprofits seek.

We hope our campaign over the coming months will help inform the public and lawmakers of the importance of providing funding to reverse the decade-long decline in real dollars going to nonprofits serving those with significant disabilities. Please join us in getting this message out on behalf of those who do not have a voice in the public policy process.
Russ Cargo, President and CEO, Helena Industries, Helena
Diane Reidelbach, Director, Job Connection, Inc., Billings
Jesse Dunn, CEO, Opportunities Resources, Inc., Missoula
Kerry Dattilo, CEO, Quality Life Concepts, Inc., Great Falls
Rob Tallon, Director, Reach, Inc., Bozeman
Sherman Weimar, Director, Eastern Montana Industries, Miles City

View this opinion piece in the Helena Independent Record.

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Helena Industries