AUGUSTA — Proposed rules that would change the way services are delivered to adults with disabilities will be subject to legislative approval.

The Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services voted 9-4 Thursday to review the proposed rule change put forth by the Department of Health and Human Services.

This means there will be a public hearing, followed by a recommendation by the committee. The rule will ultimately require approval from the full Legislature to go into effect.

Parents and others say the proposed change in assessment that determines levels of service for those with developmental disabilities could result in fewer hours of service for severely disabled clients.

Although there is a mechanism under the new rule proposed by DHHS that could provide supplemental services to those clients, providers say staff qualifications can’t be met because of the turnover in direct support workers.

The proposal is a routine technical rule change that does not typically require legislative review and approval, according to a news release from the House Majority Office. However, families made use of an option to petition the Legislature for review. The petition submitted by the organization Community Partners had 268 signatures.

“In my 16 years in the Legislature, I have never seen Maine citizens take this step. We would not be worthy of representing our constituents if we didn’t listen when so many of them come together like this,” said Sen. Anne Haskell of Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the committee. “Maine families who would be affected by these rules are demanding we give the department’s proposed changes the thoughtful review they deserve, and I intend to listen to those families.”

DHHS proposed the rule change based on a process than began in 2011 as a way to increase choice and enhance the planning process for people with disabilities.

Neal Meltzer, director of Waban Projects, a Sanford agency that provides an array of services for children and adults with disabilities, said there are some positive aspects to the proposed rule change, but there are also problems.

“The premise of the initiative is that the individual who has services would have a pool of services they could draw on, a very positive thing,” Meltzer said in a recent interview. “For many individuals, that is indeed what can happen.”

However, he added, the mechanism DHHS has built into the proposal for those with more significant needs is problematic.

“The staff qualifications being required to provide those services can’t realistically be achieved by providers,” said Meltzer. “The core threshold for those extra services is that the direct support professional have a minimum of three years experience.

“Having more experience is good, but it is not aligned with the workforce we have. The average turnover nationally, state and locally is 50 percent.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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