Jun 10, 2011

Advocates: Up lobbying efforts

Advocates: Up lobbying efforts
Agency told to do more to protect the state's citizens with disabilities
By Bill Cotterell • Florida Capital Bureau • Published: June 10. 2011 2:00AM

Read more: Advocates: Up lobbying efforts | tallahassee.com | Tallahassee Democrat http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20110610/CAPITOLNEWS/106100320/Advocates-Up-lobbying-efforts#ixzz1Ovpl96UI

Facing more spending cuts, parents and operators of businesses serving the developmentally disabled told officials of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities on Thursday to do a better lobbying job and make legislators see the real needs of Florida's most vulnerable citizens.

The math was simple and severe during a two-hour public forum held by Agency for Persons with Disabilities Director Byran Vaughan.

The state spent $930 million on the Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid waiver in the current fiscal year, but the Legislature has budgeted $810 million for it in the year that starts July 1.

A 4-percent reimbursement reduction for service providers, Vaughn said, would lower costs to about $894 million for the coming fiscal year, leaving about $84 million more to be trimmed by administrative cuts, consolidating or streamlining services and staff efficiencies. Providers suggested a wide range of cost-cutting steps, including reducing the frequency of paperwork filings, re-inspection of facilities with good records and mandatory training in some little-used areas.

"We need to improve our advocacy efforts," said Tre' Littlefield, chief policy and project officer for St. Petersburg-based PARC, a nonprofit serving developmentally disabled people. "The legislators don't understand the devastation that is still there, with $70-plus million in cuts still to be made."

Littlefield and Aaron Nangle, operator of Waiverprovider.com in Pinellas County, suggested that APD employees take a 4 percent pay cut, if providers are going to see their payments reduced that much.

Gov. Rick Scott touched off protests when he issued an emergency order early this year that would have cut payments to providers an average 15 percent, but that was withdrawn when the Legislature agreed to cover a budget gap. But for the coming year, APD must find ways to stay within the pared-down resources.

Thomas Shea, a behavioral analyst and director at Carlton Palms Educational Center in Mount Dora, said it is not APD's fault. But he said those with disabilities need to get the Legislature's attention.

Read more: Advocates: Up lobbying efforts | tallahassee.com | Tallahassee Democrat http://www.tallahassee.com/a"What are you guys doing to open the eyes of the people who hold the purse strings?" he asked.

Patricia Madden of Orlando, whose adult son is developmentally disabled, said APD failed in a March 26 conference call to warn of impending cuts. Six days later, she said, Scott's short-lived executive order caused chaos among service providers and families.

"Your credibility out in the community for giving information is about minus-five," she said.

Vaughan said APD will listen to families and service providers to find ways to reduce spending. He said the agency has lobbyists and does all it can to make legislators realize the plight of Floridians with such disabilities as autism, cerebral palsy, intellectual problems, spina bifida and Prader-Willi syndrome.

Some parents and professionals at the meeting said the state is headed back toward more costly and ineffective hospital care, rather than in-home treatment that can help people reach their greatest potential.

"If we focus only on health and safety, we run the risk of becoming only a custodial-care service," Kingsley Ross of Sunrise Community in Miami. "We've all worked very hard to get away from that."