Parents Of Mentally Retarded Upset By Budget Cuts

July 24, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — They agreed about one thing -- the Carroll County Association for Retarded Citizens needs more money.

But a group of parents and the agency's board of directors differed on whether a registered nurse position should have been cut to balance the budget.

The board voted unanimously last night to support an earlier decision by Executive Director Timothy Atkinson to cut the coordinator ofhealth services. Atkinson had asked the board to discuss the matter after the families of about eight clients complained that the position was needed.

Parents say having a nurse in the residential program helped their adult children, many of whom have medical complications in addition to being mentally handicapped.

Parent Zadie Brehm ofWestminster, whose son, John, is in an ARC residential program, saidthe agency needs that nurse -- and more.

"This board should pull itself up by its bootstraps and find better funding sources," Brehm said. "They're so badly in need of a good public relations person -- someone who can let people know what the ARC is about and that it's a good organization.

"There are very few retarded people in the county whose parents should not say a heavy prayer to the ARC," said Brehm, a past board president.

She said the board and administrators have tried to serve Carroll residents even when the state was slow to provide money.

"I think the board is made up of well-intentioned people, and they have a big heart. But you must be a little aggressive," Brehm said. "So far, they just have not been able to cull the expertise to do that."

Board member Scott Markle of Taneytown said parents are beating at the wrong door by complaining to the board.

"They should call the commissioners, they should call the legislators, they should call the governor," said Markle.

Although he supportedhaving a registered nurse in the program if the agency could afford it, board member George Connor and others said they weren't convincedthe agency needed a nurse to carry out the duties of that job.

Other residential programs don't have nurses, and the state doesn't require it, Atkinson said.

The board had decided last spring to cut $50,000 from the agency's $2.13 million budget for fiscal 1992, which began July 1.

Cutting the coordinator of health services, a job held by Arlene Bowers, a registered nurse, saved $25,000. Bowers left July 5, Atkinson said.

"Our plan is to have several staff members in the residential program pick up those duties," Atkinson said. "She was not providing treatment to the residents. That's one thing that weighed heavily in my decision. I avoided looking at any direct-care staff."

Bowers' main job was to coordinate care, prescriptions and doctor appointments. But parent Olivia Schrodetzki said Bowers was the only person her son Robert would allow to draw blood for tests.

She said Bowers' medical training enabled her to notice a pattern to Robert's seizures that led to preventive techniques and no seizures for about a year now.

Michael Smith, a member of the ARC Executive Committee, said he felt parents were mostly upset because Bowers happened to be very good at her job, not because a nurse was necessary for that position.

Smith said parents should not rely on an ARC staff person to communicate with their children's doctors, as many parents had come to rely on Bowers.

But Schrodetzki said she works full time and can't always reach her son's doctor, who comes to the countyonce or twice a month.

Atkinson said the elimination of Bowers' position is the only cut to the residential program, even though it has suffered from deficits since 1988. Also, programs throughout the agency have weathered cuts over the past year.

The other $25,000 cutfrom this year's budget was through making one program coordinator part-time and not filling Atkinson's old job as director of Summer Enterprises, the association's employment workshop, until January. It has not been filled since he became acting executive director in November. He was permanently appointed in April.

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