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March 9, 2013

Providers for disabled fight cuts

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — Three voluntary providers of services to more than 1,300 people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities face budget cuts in a recent state budget proposal.

The proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would cut $120 million in Medicaid funds to the state Office of People with Developmental Disabilities.

If that is included in the final state budget, due April 1, it will signal a 6 percent across-the-board cut in Medicaid reimbursements to ARC Otsego, Pathfinder Village and Springbrook, officials from those providers recently said.

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, who was among legislators who met with the officials last week to discuss the cuts, said action to restore the funds will be started next week, with the Assembly considering similar action in its budget. He said he was hopeful Cuomo would agree.

These cuts are sudden because of Medicaid overpayments to state facilities, he said.

“We are talking about services to the most vulnerable in our society,” he said.

Not only is restoring the cuts manageable in a $136 billion budget, but it’s very important for economic reasons as well, he added. 

The three providers employ more than 1,500 people, with Springbrook employing more than 1,000.

Paul C. Landers, president and chief executive officer at Pathfinder Village, said the cuts and unfunded mandates will cost his organization $300,000. Pathfinder provides services to people with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities. Most live on its Edmeston campus.

Landers said he was still

analyzing the possible effects but said it 110 individuals would feel them. He said he was hopeful the cuts could be avoided.

Advocates for the residents say they, too, have spoken with elected representatives, who have been very supportive as well.

“The state gets a good deal by working with us,” Landers said. Steps have been taken to improve efficiencies to meet cuts during the last several years.

“This is not the right way for the state to meet its budget challenges,” he said. “Hopefully they will come up with a better way.”

Springbrook Chief Executive Officer Patricia Kennedy said it’s the responsibility of the providers’ leadership to make everyone aware of the cuts.

Springbrook has “a heartfelt commitment to serve people with special needs” through family-centered programs, according to its mission statement.

“We are responsible for people who need a lot of help and support,” Kennedy said.

The lawmakers she has met with have been very supportive, she said, and more meetings are scheduled.

If Springbrook has to deal with the $1.2 million in proposed cuts on top of other cuts in recent years, it will have a ripple effect in the economy as well as in the communities served, Kennedy said.

“We have come up with a contingency plan that will support the people we serve and our employees,” she said.  However, she said she was not prepared to be more specific at this point.

Springbrook is organizing its employees and board of directors to contact legislators and others to express their concerns, she said.

ARC Otsego employs about 300 people and provides services to 500 people with developmental disabilities and their families in a variety of settings, community relations director Lynne Sessions said. It stands to lose $700,000-$800,000 if the cuts go through. She was hoping people would contact their elected representatives to restore the funds  

Although many agencies are being cut during difficult economic times, “we serve people who need this support to live their lives,” she said.

The alternative for some would be institutional care, which can be more expensive, she added.

“As a society, we have an obligation to take care of those who can’t take care of themselves,” she said.