Clark County agency to privatize transportation for disabled

Developmental Disabilities of Clark County will eliminate its transportation service for more than 360 individuals with disabilities who receive Medicaid waivers by 2020 and eventually move its QUEST work program.

Developmental Disabilities currently provides non-medical transportation for day services for 58 percent of people with developmental disabilities who receive Medicaid waivers, Superintendent Jennifer Rousculp-Miller said. But this year that amount will be reduced to 50 percent as riders are transitioned to private transportation providers to meet benchmarks approved by the state.

“It will continue to go down. Basically we’ll no longer be serving individuals transportation that receive waivered services or Medicaid funds by 2020,” Rousculp-Miller said.

The changes are coming as a result of March 2014 federal mandates meant to increase community integration for people with disabilities and eliminate perceived conflicts of interests caused when county Development Disability organizations recommend a set of services for its clients and then provide those services using Medicaid dollars, which could be seen as short changing private businesses.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services mandates impact Developmental Disability organizations throughout Ohio.

“County boards across the state are all required to be doing the things that Clark County is doing,” said Adam Herman, Ohio Association of County Boards of Developmental Disabilities.

Developmental Disabilities of Clark County leaders said they are ahead of other agencies in meeting the mandates as they have been working to cut $4.2 million from its budget due to the mandates and since voters twice rejected an eight-year, 1.75-mill property tax levy in 2012 and 2013.

Officials recently cut two-thirds of its clients in the QUEST program, moving many of them to private providers. QUEST had provided vocational services to 170 individuals with developmental disabilities.

QUEST eliminated its adult day services and reduced many of its employees through attrition. Plans are in the works to eventually leave the building that houses QUEST at 110 Leffel Lane.

“Our Leffel Lane building at some point will be empty. It doesn’t have much in it now. I don’t know if that will happen this year. That’s at the board’s pleasure,” Rousculp-Miller said.

The county owns the building, she said, but DD will receive the proceeds after it’s sold.

Ravi Shankar, Developmental Disabilities comptroller, said the county agency has already cut about $3.5 million from its budget.

Its transportation budget is about $1.98 million. But transitioning transportation to private businesses won’t have an impact on the budget as the agency is still required to fund transportation for those affected by the change.

Riders will be transitioned to local private businesses and organizations that operate transportation services, such as those offered by Johnson’s Residential Facility, Choices, Goodwill and CLW, she said.

Rousculp-Miller said as part of the benchmarks approved by the state, Developmental Disability officials will assist local businesses and organizations get certified and obtain the vehicles needed to provide the service.

Sixteen union drivers and six safety aides will be affected by the move, but layoffs aren’t anticipated because people with commercial driver’s licenses are in demand, officials said.

Although county boards won’t directly provide the transportation service, Herman said they are obligated by law and under the Medicaid waiver to ensure the service is provided.

“Every effort is being taken to ensure services are not negatively impacted by this transition,” he said.

Herman added that the purpose of the funds hasn’t changed, only the entity providing the service is changing.

“The services always have and always will go toward providing services for people with disabilities. The budget won’t necessarily go down. The money is just going to be used in a different way,” Herman said.

Rousculp-Miller disagreed with the notion that there’s a conflict of interest with how the county agency provided the recommendations for a set of services for its clients and then offered those services, such as transportation, with Medicaid dollars.

“We’ve shown here that that’s not true. We’ve always offered every person that has a plan who do you want to be your transportation provider. Well most people do want the county board because we’ve got the assets to do it and its convenient,” Rousculp-Miller said,

She said currently one bus transports 30 people in Enon to and from where they need to go, for example. After the changes are made, five different companies could drive up to five people each from that area, which Rousculp-Miller said was inefficient.

“It may be a little chaotic for a while until we get it moving and until we get everybody set on what works for them,” Rousculp-Miller said.

Peggy Connolly, a parent advocate, said the changes to how transportation is provided is “big,” but she said it will be manageable locally because the providers in Clark County will work with Developmental Disabilities.

However, she said some of the other mandated changes concern parents of children with disabilities.

Connolly said she and others are concerned about the elimination of sheltered workshops and a federal challenge opposed to paying people with disabilities sub-minimum wage.

People with disabilities should be allowed to choose if they want to continue receiving services from Developmental Disabilities, she said, or go into the community.

“Keep their choices out there. Don’t tell them they have to go to the community,” Connolly said.

Advocates have been successful in slowing some of the changes in the state budget, Connolly said, but continue to “get hit all the time in new ways.”

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