Friday, September 14, 2012

Secretary says no formal investigation under way from feds on social service waiting lists

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

The administration of Gov. Sam Brownback has been under fire for not providing help for thousands of poor Kansans with physical disabilities, but on Thursday a high-ranking administration official questioned "the integrity" of the waiting list for those services.

Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Shawn Sullivan said the agency had doubts about how many of the 3,462 people on the physically disabled waiting list for home and community-based assistance really needed that help.

He said KDADS recently contracted with a call center to contact those people and were only able to reach 377, or 11 percent of the people on the list.

More than 1,100 people had contact numbers that either had been disconnected, the person didn't live at that address, or it was an incorrect number, he said.

"That made us question even more the integrity of that waiting list," Sullivan said.

Of the 377 that were contacted, 63 said they no longer needed the services or had moved out of state, he said.

But the leader of the Topeka Independent Resource Center said that organization had a different experience when contacting people on the waiting list after KDAD told advocates to review their lists.

Of the 177 names given to the Topeka group, half were contacted within two weeks, said Ami Hyten, assistant executive director.

"The majority of people with whom we have connected give a resounding `Yes' when asked if they still need in-home services and supports," Hyten said. "Some of these people have been waiting for services since April 2009," she said.

She said about a dozen declined services including those who had received assistance through another program, had moved out of state, or had passed away.

The home and community-based program, called HCBS, is designed to provide assistance to those with disabilities in their homes or communities as an alternative to more expensive and confining nursing home care.

The federal government has been investigating complaints that the state is violating the civil rights of people who are waiting for help, some of whom have been waiting for years.

Advocates for people with physical disabilities have been filing Olmstead complaints, based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says states must provide services to people with disabilities to enable them to be more integrated in the community.

Earlier this year, negotiations between the Brownback administration and officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services broke down.

HHS then forwarded the waiting list complaints to the U.S. Justice Department, which has said enforcement of the Olmstead ruling is a top priority of the agency.

On Thursday, Secretary Sullivan said there was no formal investigation by the Justice Department under way into Kansas' growing waiting lists.

But because of the potential for litigation, he said he could not talk about the state's discussions with the Justice Department or specific complaints.

Sullivan's testimony came one day after another high-ranking Brownback administration official refused to answer questions from legislators about the HCBS program, citing potential litigation. That brought criticism from several legislators.

Sullivan then came to the committee meeting on Thursday and said officials decided they could talk to the committee about the program but not about any potential legal issues.

"There are reasons for us to be cautious in our approach," he said. He said he was confident the state is in compliance with federal law.

Committee Chair State Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said she hoped state officials wouldn't use pending or possible litigation as a reason not to talk to legislators who are responsible for funding and policy decisions.