We’ve finally kept our word

In 1991, New Hampshire made history by becoming the first state to close its institution for individuals with developmental disabilities.It signaled the promise of a better day and a bright future for our most challenged citizens. Unfortunately, our state leaders did not live up to the commitment made nearly a generation ago. For 15 years, the Legislature failed to adequately fund the community services needed to serve these individuals.Without the needed funding, families were left to struggle desperately to cobble together an existence for their sons and daughters with disabilities.
Over the years, New Hampshire’s infrastructure of services and supports for individuals with developmental disabilities and acquired brain disorders became degraded. There were more people needing services than could be provided with the budget allocations, and a wait list was instituted. The wonderful promise made in 1991 to the most severely disabled among us was broken over and over again.In 2006, the new Democratic majority in Concord pledged to keep the promise to individuals with developmental disabilities as a top legislative priority. We understood the value of the sacrifices and struggles of these families and agreed to finally be their partners in helping their sons and daughters with disabilities live successfully in the community. The Democratic majority in the House and Senate committed to fully funding needed services, effectively ending what had become known as the “DD Wait List.”We passed Senate Bill 138 in 2006. This legislation recognized the result of chronic under-funding on the community infrastructure, but we also knew that just throwing money at the system wasn’t enough. Responsible governing required systemic change to ensure that qualified staff was available to work with the clients, some of whom are incredibly compromised medically in addition to their developmental disability.
Over the past three years, we have leveraged increased state and federal funding to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to live up to the pledge we made in 2006.The first quarter of fiscal year 2010 marked the beginning of a new era for people with disabilities. We achieved our goal of eliminating the wait list backlog. What had been a waiting period of almost a year and a half in 2005 now averages 47 days. In 2007, there were as many as 270 people waiting desperately for help; now there are 37.One of the most satisfying aspects of finally living up to our commitment is the fact that the program’s success is not just due to the increased budget allocation. Our developmental disability system is a true partnership of the Department of Health and Human Services, the 10 area agencies, and the families. Indeed, the families are the real heroes of the story.It has often been said that the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. We are proud of how New Hampshire is finally including people with developmental disabilities as members of our communities. It took too long, but we have finally made good on the promise made in 1991 to help families take care of their sons and daughters.
Sen. Kathleen Sgambati of Tilton chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. Rep. Cindy Rosenwald of Nashua chairs the House Committee on Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs.