Commission urges better funding to aid disabled

The report released Monday by the governor’s commission studying agencies for the developmentally disabled warns that the quality of care in this $142 million industry has eroded in five years for lack of funding.

According to the report, the average direct-care employee starts at $8.56 per hour, a major case behind the industry’s 50 percent yearly job turnover rate and 36 percent vacancy rate. The national turnover rate is 28 percent with a 6 percent vacancy rate, the report says.

The result: “Too many individuals remain isolated and not nearly as active and engaged as they could or should be,” the report says.

Attorney Richard Cohen of the Disabilities Rights Center chaired the group, drafted the report, and said the system is under-funded and eroding. Earlier drafts of the report used much stronger language, and members advised Cohen to tone it down.

“We need to re-establish the infrastructure,” Cohen said. “The staff aren’t getting the training and support they need. We’d like to see more employment for people with disabilities and recommend a stronger partnership with the business community to give people jobs.”

Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Commissioner John Stephen called the report a one-sided affront to the Legislature. He said he refused to support the report’s findings, and said the governor deserves better too.

“The hard work of the Legislature in providing services to the citizens of New Hampshire has been overshadowed by the negative theme of this report that characterizes the system on the brink of further deterioration,” Stephen said. He noted the state serves 500 more people than in 2001.

The state spends $142 million per year to serve 10,000 people, but fewer than a third receive substantial services, and half of that group get no residential care. The report says spending per client, after inflation, decreased from $58,000 to $41,000 in the last eight years, and the state fell from 10th to 35th in so-called fiscal effort for people with developmental disabilities. The study urges lawmakers to increase the poverty pay scale.

The report also calls the merger of four northern service programs into two a “hostile takeover” and says the downsizing might cost $225,000 to $350,000 without saving $800,000 Stephen has projected.

Stephen said those expenses are one-time costs. The savings, meant to reduce the waiting list, would come by 2007 as originally planned and every year after that.

“I reached out to all the boards involved to work out a plan for the mergers,” Stephen said. “When they didn’t do anything, I brought the matter to the Legislature. The idea is to eliminate some top positions and use that money to serve people better.” — CHRIS DORNIN/GOLDEN DOME NEWS SERVICE

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