Group homes for disabled told to expect slashed budget

| Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

HARRISBURG -- Service providers for people with mental disabilities will see funding cuts of $60 million statewide, the Department of Public Welfare said.

In testimony on Wednesday before the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, providers said they were braced for much higher cuts, $100 million to $200 million.

Last month, DPW officials identified what they said were wasteful expenditures in some private, state-paid homes that each house from one to three residents -- about 16,000 Pennsylvanians total. Those costs included a bowling alley at one home, as well as chandeliers and luxury cars, officials said.

But Keith Peterson, CEO of Penn-Mar Human Services, which provides services in York County, told senators the cuts will be "devastating" for "an already fragile system of supports for one of the most vulnerable populations in the state." He said the result would be layoffs and difficulty maintaining the level of service.

"Almost all of the people we have served in these 20 years have histories of being victimized physically, emotionally and/or sexually," said Ruth Siegfried, president and CEO of InVision Human Services.

Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland County, a committee member, said the key is effective assessments of patients' needs.

"We can't afford to give services that are unnecessary," Ward said.

One problem is that the state has 17,000 rates for providers, said Ed Picchiarini, of Greensburg, director of the Provider Alliance, a trade organization of provider groups.

"Obviously (the cuts) will have a negative effect," he said. Because of the thousands of different rates, "they won't have the same effect on providers."

The department is working on a more uniform rate schedule, said Kevin Friel, a DPW deputy secretary.

Friel testified that "a dollar not spent appropriately is a dollar that could have helped to bring an individual with intellectual disabilities off the waiting list."

"We also have a responsibility to the taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania," Friel said.

About 16,000 people are on waiting lists, the agency says.

Transitional Services, Inc., in Homestead, serves 60 intellectually disabled people in Allegheny County who live in a group homes, three supervised apartments or on their own. CEO Sharon A. Alberts said her group gets $1.3 million a year for serving these clients. The cut means about $100,000 less and could result in a deficit.

"By making these kinds of cuts, they'll eliminate providers, and they'll eliminate services," Alberts said during a phone interview.

"That's one way of reducing the (state) deficit, but it will be to the detriment of a group of people who have disabilities and can't speak for themselves," Alberts said.

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