Disabilities Agency Tries To Whittle Backlog

July 27, 2009|By Olivia Bobrowsky | Olivia Bobrowsky,olivia.bobrowsky@baltsun.com

A state agency is sorting through its waiting list of 19,000 developmentally disabled people to see if they still need services, a step that highlights a decades-old backlog of families seeking scarce state funding.

Starting with those in the highest need category, the Developmental Disabilities Administration is working its way through the list, a process that is estimated to take six months.

"It will help us with planning for services," Executive Director Michael Chapman said. Those services range from behavioral support services to medical day care, but Chapman said most people are seeking home support services or funding for a day care program. Developmental disabilities are an array of chronic conditions that start early in life, including mental retardation, autism and cerebral palsy.

The clogged list has kept families from help for more than two decades, said Cristine Marchand, executive director of The Arc of Maryland. The first legislation concerning the waiting list funded services for 250 people in the late 1970s. In 1998, with 6,000 people on the list, then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening poured $68.4 million into a five-year initiative.

But since that boost, help has been scarce. Funding dropped from about $18 million in fiscal 2003 to about $700,000 in 2005, according to General Assembly records. After 2005, the pool slowly increased, to about $2.8 million for fiscal 2010.

In the meantime, 1,000 people are added to the list every year, Marchand estimates.

Chapman stressed that no one who deserves a spot on the list will be kicked off. Instead, they're looking to weed out applicants who have moved, no longer need assistance or need different services.

Michele Hill, a Dundalk resident who's coordinating an End the Wait Now campaign, put her 12-year-old autistic son on the list five years ago, but since then, his needs have changed.

"Before, we were dealing with a child who was 7," she said. "He's aggressive. He's now 5 foot 2 and 105 pounds, and I'm not getting any younger and he's not getting any weaker."

So far, the DDA has sent letters to about 6,000 people. Chapman said they've already covered those most in need of help, a status called "crisis resolution," and moved on to the next category, called "crisis prevention."

Larissa Creed is a 24-year-old Rockville woman who falls into that crisis resolution group. Her parents, who are in their 60s, have been waiting 10 years for in-home support - someone to feed Larissa, change her diaper and keep her company while they work.

But Larissa won't qualify for state-funded assistance until one of her parents is dead and the other one is dying, said her mother, Diane Creed.

"I can understand that they [the DDA] would want to update their records, however I don't feel encouraged that it's going to make a difference as far as getting people the services that they need," Creed said. "It's a money issue."

Chapman could not specify how many people have been culled from the list. He is putting together a report for the legislature.

Even though the DDA is significantly underfunded, Marchand said neither Maryland legislators nor the governor have helped the situation. Del. William A. Bronrott, a Montgomery County Democrat, proposed an alcohol tax increase of 5 cents per drink to raise about $80 million each year for the waiting list, but the legislation died during the 2009 session.

"We feel like pingpong balls between the administration who says they don't have the money and the legislature that says they're not raising taxes - 'go back to the governor,' " Marchand said. "And meanwhile, people continue to wait."

Diane Creed, a full-time tax analyst who's actively involved in the End the Wait Now campaign despite her demanding schedule, said she's working as hard as possible to bring the issue to the attention of the governor. She is thinking about organizing a march on the governor's office.

"We would take our sons and daughters to the governor's office and just say, 'You know, here they are. ... Here's the diapers, here's the food. They all like to be pushed around outside, and they need arts and crafts. We'll be back after work to pick them up,' " Creed said. "The intention is to make it real. People are not asking for the moon. They're just asking for help."

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