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January 30, 2013

Staff File Photo

DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Gov. Paul LePage, two of the three targets of a lawsuit filed on behalf of mentally impaired Mainers.

LePage budget includes some of funds demanded by lawsuit

By Kelley Bouchard
kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The LePage administration has included $6.7 million in its proposed state budget to provide placements in group homes and other services to some of the 176 mentally disabled Mainers represented in a pending class-action lawsuit.

But advocates for the mentally disabled say the Department of Health and Human Services plans to fund the effort by cutting other programs that serve the same group of people.

Gov. Paul LePage's biennial budget proposal, released Jan. 11, calls for filling 85 of 115 available Medicaid service slots that are required under a federally approved plan, according to a written budget overview by Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, asks the court to force the state to fund and fill all 115 slots from a priority waiting list of 176 men and women, some of whom have been waiting for group-home placement and other services since 2009.

The LePage administration declined to comment on the lawsuit or related budget matters.

Advocates for the mentally disabled question LePage's intention to fund 85 additional slots in the two years that start July 1 because he cut the program by more than $3.2 million for the fiscal year ending June 30. He also plans to cut $24 million from related programs in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

"It's a bit of a shell game," said Bruce McGlauflin, a Portland lawyer who is representing 18 plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit filed in Kennebec County Superior Court.

McGlauflin called LePage's decision to fund 85 slots "a step in the right direction," but said it addresses only part of the need. He said it will be disappointing if DHHS cuts other programs that serve mentally disabled people.

The lawsuit names as defendants LePage, Mayhew and Ricker Hamilton, acting director of the Office of Adults with Cognitive and Physical Disabilities Services.

The state began restricting access to group homes and other services for mentally impaired adults in 2008, three years before LePage became governor.

The lawsuit was filed by parents, family members and guardians of 18 men and women, who are representing 176 Mainers on a priority waiting list for placement in group homes, financial assistance for supportive home environments and other services. In all, more than 1,200 people are waiting for those services.

A federally approved Medicaid plan directs the state to provide services to 2,935 mentally disabled Mainers, but the program now serves only 2,820, according to the lawsuit. The services are provided through MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program.

The lack of services has put dozens of mentally impaired Mainers at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation because they cannot live on their own or need assistance to do so, said Mary Lou Dyer, managing director of the Maine Association for Community Service Providers.

Turmoil over funding for the mentally disabled comes as LePage and the Legislature face a $90 million shortfall in the current DHHS budget, which ends June 30.

The program for mentally disabled services sustained a 5 percent budget cut this year, eliminating $3.6 million in state funding and about $7.2 million in matching federal reimbursements, said Dyer, who represents 70 group-home operators and other providers across the state.

The program may lose an additional $850,000 in the supplemental budget for January through June that's now before the Legislature, Dyer said.

LePage's proposed $6.2 billion budget for the next two fiscal years calls for $52 million in cuts to health care and human services programs.

Among the cuts are $2 million in medical care for mentally disabled people and $22.1 million that would be saved by "intensive care management" of high-cost users, including mentally disabled people.

"You can't cut services to people currently being served and claim to be worried about people on a waiting list," Dyer said. "They have no coherent plan. The system is being shredded."

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com





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