HELENA — For struggling nonprofit companies like Glenwood Inc. that care for the disabled in Montana, all eyes are on the Montana Legislature, which they hope will find a way to prevent a cut in their funding for the next two years.
“I understand there is only so much money,” said Candy Marsh, executive director of Glenwood, located in Plentywood. “But I wish (legislators) would just take the time to come and visit the facilities before they make a judgment call. Just take the time and see what we’re doing.”
Glenwood and two dozen other private organizations like it provide services to 2,500 developmentally disabled people across the state. Most of their income is state and federal Medicaid funds.
Last week, the Montana Senate voted to increase the state Medicaid budget by nearly $16 million over the next two years, to maintain pay for “direct-care” workers at nursing homes and other programs for the elderly.
Without that change, funding for the workers would have dropped back to 2009 levels, putting their already low pay scales in further jeopardy.
Yet the Senate action did nothing to maintain Medicaid rates paid to organizations that care for the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, foster children or adopted children.
“If they’re going to do it for one provider service area, to make them whole for the next (two years), I don’t know why they won’t do it for all providers,” said Jan Cahill, head of the Montana Association of Community Disability Services. “I don’t think it’s right that others are excluded.”
A key budget panel at the Legislature may consider whether to increase the state budget to fill this gap, by keeping Medicaid rates at 2010 levels for some or all of these other programs, including for the developmentally disabled.
Sen. Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek, a member of the House-Senate Conference Committee on House Bill 2, the session’s main budget bill, said Wednesday that he’s looking for ways to find the money.
“I’m hoping that (the programs) can stay at the status quo and get us through these lean times,” he said. “I think everybody agrees that we need to address this.”
The conference committee is scheduled to meet Thursday and Friday to complete its work on HB2, which would then go to the House and Senate floors for a final vote.
Maintaining funds for the providers of developmentally disabled programs would cost about $4.3 million over the next two years, including about $1.5 million in state funds. Restoring the funds for all providers would cost nearly $16 million, including $6 million in state money.
Cahill said providers of services for the developmentally disabled in 10 Montana communities are using reserves to keep their programs going, because they’re losing money on the rates paid by the state now. Cutting those funds back to 2009 levels will make it worse, he said.
“They’re not getting enough money; the rate are inadequate,” he said.
Marsh, the director at Glenwood in Plentywood, said she’s having trouble recruiting or keeping employees to care for the 20 developmentally disabled clients at Glenwood, because they often can leave for much higher-paying jobs in the booming oil industry or at local stores and restaurants. Caregivers at Glenwood start at $8.50 an hour.
“Right now, we’re already in a crisis situation,” she says. “We’re very short-staffed. The existing staff we have are having to work a lot of overtime. ... This is already very stressful work; it’s a tough field.”
She also said Glenwood does more than just care for the developmentally disabled; it provides free public transportation in Plentywood, recycles newsprint and has contracts to clean churches, rest stops and the Post Office, employing its clients.
“We’re an asset to this community,” Marsh said. “If we close, it would really affect our community. ... We’re praying and hoping for the best in the legislation.”