Some 1,700 Nebraskans with developmental disabilities are on the waiting list for services. State legislators are considering spending $41-million dollars over two years, along with $46-million in federal funds for targeted programs for the developmentally disabled.
Senator Steve Lathrop, of Omaha, says he’s concerned about staffing levels.
Senator Lathrop says, “We know from our experience at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, if you don’t make sure the ratio or the staffing is right, you’re going to burn people out and then you’re going to have turnover, and then the people who you want to do the work, people who feel like they have a calling to do the work, get burned out and leave.”
Lathrop says any allocation to reduce the waiting list should go for clients on that list. If not spent for that, he says the money should not go for another purpose already funded by separate appropriation.
There is a move to reduce client population at BSDC, moving residents into community-based care, where possible. Many on the waiting list are waiting for residential assistance.
One speaker at this week’s hearing said the timelines and dates to fully fund and eliminate the waiting list have been pushed back, repeatedly, in past legislative sessions. That means the list continues to grow, according to Brad Meurrens, public policy specialist for Disabilities Rights, Nebraska.
“People with development disabilities have been waiting on average for several years to receive services,” Meurrens says. “Now is the time to fulfill the legislature’s promise to these individuals. It is the right thing to do.”
Also appearing before legislators, Terry Kruse, the father of a man who was among 47 persons moved out of BSDC in 2009.
“The last time I was here, I asked you to go after this situation and to deal with it,” Kruse says. “Now, you’re doing that. This is probably the first time you’ve seen me up here with a smile on my face.
Kruse said he watched for three decades as administrations cut back funding.
Julie Dake-Abel, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees, heads the union that represents front-line staff who care for the developmentally disabled. She says as residents are moved into the community, the state has to ensure they are being put in a better place. She urged funding for more service coordinators, who are facing increased caseloads and other duties.
By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice