SHERIDAN — A group of 20 Sheridan residents gathered in front of the county courthouse Thursday morning to raise awareness about the state’s plan to restructure funding for programs for people with developmental and acquired disabilities.
Family members and advocates of the mentally disabled say the plan to serve a larger quantity of people at a lower level is unacceptable.
The local gathering in Sheridan was an event designed to mirror larger efforts going on in the Cheyenne over proposed legislation that would require professionals who work with disabled individuals to render services to a much larger group of people without providing additional funding to complete the task. A state legislative committee was meeting concerning the bill at the same time.
Easter Seals Case Manager Brandy Nielsen organized Sheridan’s demonstration, and she said she believes Senate File 60 will leave the population underserved. She said the group of people who need 24-hour living assistance, which may include help with home life and job coaching, are at the greatest risk of having their lives shaken.
“Nothing is set in stone right now, but some of the projections are severe cuts that would mean people currently being helped would lose services,” Nielsen said.
Senior Director of Adult and Community Services at Easter Seals Kim Schweikert said there are presently about 2,300 adults with disabilities in Wyoming who afford assistance via a Medicaid waiver program. She said there are 584 people on a waiting list to receive services.
The legislation calls for “elimination of the caps on the number of clients admitted to the long-term care and assisted living facility waiver programs. The objective shall be to serve all persons currently on waiting lists for waiver services within the current budget.”
The state’s plan also provides that each disabled adult currently receiving assisted living services have their level of need be re-assessed by the state and transfer to regional, instead of local, case managers.
If a person’s eligibility for assistance declines, the step-down in services would happen in phases over the course of two years.
Wyoming Department of Health Spokesperson Kim Deti said in a press release the planned disability program changes address the fact some of the nearly 600 people on the waiting list have been there for years.
“In order to take them off of the waiting list, they have to reduce the allowance for people currently getting services,” Schweikert said. “You can’t treat an additional five or six hundred more people at the appropriate level without more funding.”
Deti also said the state plans to implement regional, rather than local, case managers for individuals within the program. She said doing so will eliminate the conflicts of interest that often arise when a client’s caseworkers are employed by the same agency providing services to the client.
In addition to a compromised level of care for the disabled, Neilsen said the budget cuts would have a significant impact on the local economy.
“Sheridan has a large population of the disabled,” she said. “Their agencies employ hundreds. All of those people are in a position of potentially losing their jobs.”
Schweikert said the three major care providers for the disabled in Sheridan, who are Rehabilitation Enterprises of North Eastern Wyoming, Easter Seals and Eagle Ridge, serve a combined total of about 300 clients. She said there are also hundreds of private caretakers.
Demonstrators said they’re hoping to raise public awareness and encourage the community to contact local legislators to formulate a plan with more compromise.
“We want them to slow the process down and look more deliberately at it,” Schweikert said.
“That’s not to say there can’t be cuts to help out, but they shouldn’t be this radical,” Nielsen agreed. “Not 30-70 percent of the entire budget.”
“They’re a very vulnerable community, socially and medically,” Schweikert said.
Nielsen indicated some people with disabilities do not presently use the full extent of the assistance they’re entitled to, and she suggested the state could look at historical use to arrange a more practical solution to the lengthy waiting list.
Schweikert said that if the waiting list is to be eliminated, extra funding must be provided, even via the state’s general funds, if necessary.
She said simply cutting services for those in need will ultimately create more problems in the long run.
“I don’t know if that’s good enough for the state of Wyoming. I think they can do better,” she said.
The joint agencies of Sheridan who serve the disabled also sent a group of 20 to Cheyenne to participate in the statewide demonstration.