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Originally published: 2012-12-18 16:49:26
Last modified: 2012-12-18 16:49:26

Governor authorizes stopgap funding for group homes

by Anna Oakes

North Carolina group homes facing a budget shortfall due to Medicaid payment changes enacted during the 2012 legislative session will receive a one-time allocation of $1 million for the month of January while legislators work to find a long-term solution.


N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue on Tuesday announced that she has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to identify $1 million from the department's budget that can be transferred "for the purpose of keeping group home residents in their homes."


"The governor has been assured by staff and agency employees that this amount of money will be sufficient to accomplish this objective," a news release from the governor's office stated.


Effective Jan. 1, changes to Medicaid enacted by the General Assembly this year increase the eligibility requirements for persons receiving the Medicaid personal care services subsidy -- a significant source of operating income for residential facilities such as group homes and adult care homes in which persons with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses are placed.


The General Assembly raised the bar on eligibility for Medicaid-funded personal care services, requiring persons to need limited hands-on assistance with three daily living activities -- including eating, dressing, bathing, toileting and mobility -- or two daily living activities in which one requires extensive assistance.


Until now, personal care services funding accounted for about one-third of a group home's budget, Michael Maybee, director of Watauga Opportunities, told the Watauga Democrat earlier this year. Watauga Opportunities operates two group homes in the county for developmentally disabled adults, and Maybee said the majority of them would not qualify for personal care services under the new standards.


The General Assembly allocated $39.7 million to assist the adult care home industry with funding losses from the personal care services change, but group homes were excluded from the financial assistance. 


The General Assembly will reconvene in January, and "Perdue urges them to immediately revisit this issue and pass legislation that will provide a long-term solution to this problem," the statement said.


"We have been promised by numerous (General Assembly) leaders that the PCS problem will be addressed first thing once the session begins," Maybee said Tuesday. "They might kick it down the road for another month or two using Band-aids before the final fix."


Additionally, the governor's statement said, some group home residents may be able to avoid eviction in the short term by filing appeals in the Office of Administrative Hearings.


Maybee said his residents have not yet received any notices of ineligibility for Medicaid personal care services, but that "we are appealing any and all ineligibility decisions."


The governor's statement also addressed Special Care Unit residents with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Under the new state law, those residents in SCUs who are eligible for personal care services will receive fewer hours of service. Therefore, SCUs stand to lose millions of dollars, putting their residents at risk of being homeless as well.


It's expected that many recipients will appeal these decisions, and DHHS will contact the federal government in the coming days to ask the federal government to allow recipients to current levels of service and reimbursement during the appeal periods.