Oakland Co. crowd protests disability cuts

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Residents attend an Oakland County Community Health Board meeting in Auburn Hills on Tuesday.
  • State aid and Medicaid cuts are cascading down to agencies that provide respite care, other services
  • Authority officials said they've warned for months the board could not absorb revenue losses
  • Board pledges to meet next month with parents to brainstorm for ways to ease the cuts' impact

Auburn Hills – — Parents of people with disabilities and service providers pleaded Tuesday night for relief from funding cuts as they jammed a meeting of the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority.

With all 140 seats in the board's meeting room filled, some people who showed up for the session were turned away. State aid and Medicaid cuts are cascading down to agencies that provide respite care, therapy and other services to people with mental and developmental disabilities.

Authority officials said they've warned for months that unlike a year ago, the board could not absorb more than $20 million in revenue losses and would have to pass on cuts to providers. The board pledged Tuesday to hold meetings next month with parents to brainstorm ways to ease the impact of the funding cuts, which take effect with the new fiscal year Oct. 1.

General fund cuts from the state and reductions due to Medicaid are occurring across Michigan for agencies that serve people with disabilities in the wake of changes to the health care system under the Affordable Care Act.

Celeste Chippero of West Bloomfield speaks during the Oakland County Community Health Authority meeting with her son, Peter, beside her.

"We have to place more emphasis on adequate funding," authority Executive Director Willie Brooks said at the start of the meeting. "Taking from one county to another county is not the way to correct the system."

Parents who addressed the board said they're desperate for solutions. Bob Corey of Royal Oak said he and his wife will lose respite care for their daughter Rachel on Nov. 1, when the Lahser Respite Home in Beverly Hills is scheduled to close because of the cuts.

Corey said the couple have cared for their daughter, who has health issues and is deaf, blind and developmentally delayed, every day for 21 years.

"Lahser Respite Home means that we can get away once in a while," Corey said, his voice faltering with emotion. "We can have her in a safe, reliable place, even overnight."

Dennis Bandy of Highland Township spoke about his daughter Carey, 38, who has a mental disability, works 40 hours a week at the Hartland Meijer and has managed to live on her own with care. When her benefits are cut at the end of the month, she will no longer be able to have the independence she has worked so hard for, her father said.

"You are dashing my daughter's hopes, enslaving her to the system and not allowing her to be part of the community," said Bandy. "It's going about everything backwards."

Suzanne Flanders of Bloomfield Township was one of more than 50 people turned away from the meeting.

She has been trying to get her 23-year-old son, Joshua, moved to another group home for years. "If you are going to have a meeting like this that is highly emotional, then to turn people away, that is a shame," she said.

Jerry Provencal, director of the provider Macomb Oakland Regional Center, asked the board to continue using reserves to offset cuts to providers. He said the system's funding has been declining for the last 12 years so that direct care staffers now make $9.06 per hour.

"Our providers simply can't attract people to provide the care necessary. We can't even be sure they are going to be safe with the inadequacy in staffing," Provencal said. "You can't keep people if you can't pay them."

Brooks said it's not feasible for the Community Mental Health Authority to draw down the rest of its reserves this year to avoid program cuts.

The authority has about $19 million left in reserves, or what he says amounts to about one month's worth of payroll.

"Spending reserves is just like using a credit card, it gives you a false hope," said Brooks. "Our goal is to live within our means."

Parent Liz Bauer of Ferndale urged the board to find a way to ease the burden on families.

"The anxiety you hear is real," Bauer said. "It's a scary, scary time. You have the power, you can make the decisions and you can make a difference."


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