State finds $1 million to help group homes stay open through January

lbonner@newsobserver.com December 18, 2012 

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Gov. Beverly Perdue speaks to the media about appointing a N.C. Supreme Court Justice and the acquiring of the Dix Hospital site after attending a function at Biogen Idec, who were marking the opening of its new, 190,000-square-foot building at its RTP campus.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

Mentally disabled group home residents facing eviction at the end of the year will be able to stay in those homes through the end of January with the help of $1 million from a rental assistance fund, state officials said Tuesday.

About 1,400 residents of group homes who have mental illnesses or developmental disabilities will no longer be eligible next year for Medicaid reimbursements for personal care services, such as help bathing, eating, dressing, or taking medicine. Medicaid money pays for about one-third of their expenses in group homes, and some operators said they cannot afford to keep the residences open without the government insurance money.

The $1 million Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration is making available is a short-term solution.

“It does what needs to be done until the legislature can come back and decide affirmatively or negatively what they intend to do with group homes for special people,” she said.

Under federal pressure, the legislature rewrote rules for how Medicaid recipients qualify for personal care services. As a result, it will be harder for people living in adult care homes and group homes to meet eligibility requirements next year.

The legislature set up a $39.7 million fund for adult care homes whose residents are losing Medicaid personal care money, to help them through June 30. But group homes were excluded from sharing money from that fund. Some legislators have said they are willing to change the law to allow group homes to receive some of that money.

The legislature would have a short time to act. Legislators return to Raleigh on Jan. 9 to elect officers and organize, then get back to work making laws on Jan. 30.

A similar problem faces Medicaid patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia who live in special units in adult care homes. Medicaid will put new limits on their personal care payments starting Jan. 1.

The $1 million won’t address Alzheimer’s patient funding. Al Delia, acting director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the state would ask federal Medicaid officials Tuesday to continue current levels of services and payment while recipients appeal reductions.

For weeks, Perdue and Delia maintained that they could not make budget changes to address the group home problem. Delia said Perdue was able to act to address an unforeseen circumstance – the group home residents’ risk of homelessness.

Group home residents losing Medicaid support can appeal in state administrative court. Connie Cochran, CEO of Easter Seals/UCP, said it’s still best for residents to appeal because services will continue for two or three months while cases are decided. Cochran’s group operates 35 group homes, each with three to six beds, for people with illnesses or developmental disabilities.

“This basically picks up people who don’t appeal for some reason,” Cochran said. “It moves it to the legislature, as the secretary said, to deal with it by the end of January.”

Robert Bullock, a Cary group home resident, said he was glad Perdue acted, “but you still need a long-term solution. I hope the legislature will take it up when they come back in January and fix it for good.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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