About three dozen people demonstrate near Soldotna City Hall at noon Wednesday in hopes of convincing state legislators not to cut funding to programs for Alaska's developmentally disabled citizens. Similar rallies were held around the state as elected representatives begin considering their annual budget.
Photo by Phil Hermanek
Three dozen central Kenai Peninsula friends of developmentally disabled people rallied near Soldotna City Hall on Wednesday afternoon calling for the state to forestall budget cuts that would adversely affect agencies that help the disabled.
Similar rallies were conducted simultaneously in Homer, Juneau, Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley Borough and Fairbanks to bring to state legislators' attention the plight of those who cannot adequately care for themselves.
Budget cuts already made by the Murkowski administration have resulted in about 1,500 people being placed on a waiting list to receive services, according to demonstrators.
"Some have been on the wait list for as long as eight years," said Shauna McBride, the network director for Hope Community Resources, which has offices in the Red Diamond Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
The nonprofit agency serves people who are mentally retarded, have cerebral palsy, suffer from seizure disorders, have communications or mobility deficits or have birth defects resulting in disabilities that occurred before they turned 22.
Demonstrating alongside McBride was Amanda Faulkner, the Infant Learning Program coordinator at Frontier Community Services, also in Red Diamond Center.
The infants' program is a special education program for kids ages 0 to 3 years, according to Faulkner, and serves those children who experience "a 50 percent delay in any developmental domain."
"It can be gross motor skills, speech-language skills, motivational behavior," she said.
"Right now, the Kenai Peninsula has a population of 2,000 kids that age. Thirty-four kids are enrolled in the Infant Learning Program, and we have five kids on the waiting list.
"That's a big percentage for an enrollment that size," she said.
Kenai-based Independent Care Advantage also was represented at the noon rally on the Kenai Spur Highway at Birch Street.
"We do personal care for anyone on Medicaid who needs personal care," said Carletta Gemmell, a personal care attendant.
"It can be anything from making beds to cooking to reminding the consumers to take their medications," she said.
Consumer-directed Personal Care Attendants Program Manager Rhonda Crawford said the caregivers primarily help people with personal care such as bathing, brushing their teeth, shaving and any other grooming tasks they are no longer able to do themselves.
"We've noticed it's become harder to get the number of hours of care justified (for funding)," Crawford said.
"It's not so much that a particular kind of service is being cut, but the amount of service," she said.
As an example of how the cuts become a problem, Gemmell said personal care attendants can change bedding for one of their clients, but only once a day.
"If the consumer has incontinence problems, and the bedding needs to be changed at a time other than when the attendant is there, it isn't covered," Gemmell said.
Crawford also said the state has changed the manner in which a person is assessed to determine personal care needs.
In the past, local care coordinators did the assessing and determined whether a person qualified for the Choice Waiver Program, meaning they could have a personal care attendant help them at home, so they would not need to move into an assisted-living facility or nursing home.
"Now the state has only a couple people doing the assessing," Crawford said.
"They don't have the time to get to know the people and know their needs," she said.
"People should know that the cost of giving care at the home with a personal care attendant is about $54 a day versus several hundred dollars a day in a nursing home," Crawford said.
Instead of making cuts in funding, the state is being asked to add $6.2 million to its appropriations budget for developmentally disabled programs, according to Kris Jez, administrator of public relations for Hope Community Resources in Anchorage.
The adjustment "is crucial to reducing the wait list for both adults and the 72 infants currently in line for support," Jez said.
Other priorities listed by the Key Coalition of Alaska the umbrella organization for the rallying agencies include:
Implementing reforms to the Division of Senior and Disabilities Services system to assure timely reimbursements to providers so beneficiaries remain healthy and safe;
Supporting the addition of adult dental coverage under Medicaid; and
Supporting early hearing screening for newborns.
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