Perdue to offer plan to protect NC group home residents

lbonner@newsobserver.comDecember 10, 2012 

PERDUE10-NE-062612-RTW

Gov. Bev Perdue

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

Gov. Bev Perdue said Monday her administration will announce a plan by the end of the week that will seek to prevent the potential widespread closure of group homes that serve more than 2,000 people with mental disabilities.

Residents of the homes face losing Medicaid money at the end of the year – money that their homes use to cover expenses. How to prevent the potential closures has been debated for months.

“We are evaluating every single option,” Perdue said. “Obviously, a special session is one of them.”

Mentally ill people, their advocates, and House Speaker Thom Tillis have asked Perdue to call a special session so the legislature could deal with the issue. Senate leader Phil Berger’s office said Monday he wouldn’t comment.

Purdue said there may be other ways to handle the group home funding problem.

“Two or three other options are viable options,” she said, not elaborating further.

Under pressure from the federal government, the state changed its rules on how people qualify for paid help eating, bathing and moving – types of assistance called “personal care services” – under the government health insurance program. Rules effective Jan. 1 will make it harder for people living in group homes and adult care homes to qualify. The legislature set aside $39.7 million to spend through June to help adult care homes compensate for the loss of federal money, but group homes were not part of the plan. Some legislators are now willing to change the law to allow group homes to share in the money.

So far, advocates and state officials have presented clogging the state administrative court with appeals as the best option for keeping Medicaid money flowing. The theory is that legislators will come up with a remedy when they return in late January before administrative judges can wade through appeals from individuals losing services.

A company working for the state is evaluating the adult care home and group home residents and has begun notifying those who will no longer qualify for personal care services, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

So far, evaluations of 1,781 group home residents have determined that 63 percent of those with developmental disabilities won’t qualify for personal care, and 85 percent with mental illnesses won’t qualify.

“We’re getting very nervous about it,” said Deby Dihoff, executive director of NAMI North Carolina, a mental health advocacy group. Of 81 group homes that responded to a survey NAMI distributed, 19 said they would have to close immediately if their residents lose Medicaid support, Dihoff said, and 38 said they may be able to stay open for three months.

“The clock is definitely ticking,” she said. “We’re very, very concerned.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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