ANNAPOLIS – The first 100 disabled people are being processed for moves from nursing homes to community-based programs now that funding has come through for a relocation program that began April 1.
But since Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s supplemental budget released March 30 allocated just an additional $1 million, for a total of $10 million, the program can only serve about 8 percent of the thousands of disabled individuals advocates say are “warehoused” in nursing homes.
This funding level could still leave the state in violation of a 1999 Supreme Court decision requiring states to fund at-home care programs for the disabled. Forcing disabled individuals into institutions is discriminatory and thus illegal, advocates say, based on the ruling.
“Everyone who wants to leave a state institution or nursing home has a civil right to be served in the community,” said Philip Fornaci, director of the Maryland Disability Law Center.
Glendening’s $10 million will serve a total of 300 disabled individuals by 2002, leaving more than 3,000 disabled Marylanders in nursing homes, advocates say.
Mark Leeds of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, however, said those numbers are unreliable.
“Nobody really knows without going into the institutions and counting how many of them want to return to the community and how many don’t,” he said.
Despite debate over the exact numbers, Fornaci said he knows Glendening’s budget will help fewer people, and at a slower pace than what he had hoped.
Fornaci and other advocates had asked Glendening for $25 million in the supplemental budget.
“(Glendening) scaled it back and put it off for future years,” Fornaci said.
But Glendening hasn’t committed to ever funding the full amount, leaving advocates with enough uncertainty to consider moving the fight to the courts.
“We still might sue,” said Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, the legislator leading the fight.
“They’re filing lawsuits all across the country over this very issue,” he said. “And a lawsuit would take four to five times more taxpayer dollars.”
Still, advocates have mixed feelings.
We may not be happy, they say, but we’re content for now because at least the budget is a step in the right direction.
“It’s good he was willing to fund half of what we requested,” Hubbard said. But then again, he said. “Promissory notes don’t carry a lot of water.”
What does matter is policy, said Cristine Marchand, director of The Arc of Maryland Inc., an advocacy group for the disabled.
“It’s not just a funding bill, it’s a policy support bill,” she said. “The legislation makes substantial policy changes.”
She’s referring to the bill Hubbard introduced this session to set up a statewide transition program. While the department has already begun the transition program, the bill would set that program into law. The legislation is called MiCASSA, or “my house” and is modeled on legislation Congress passed in 1999.
The Maryland House of Delegates passed the measure March 25 and now advocates are racing to get Senate passage before the Maryland General Assembly ends Monday.