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Archive for Saturday, July 22, 2000

Family waiting for state help

July 22, 2000

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— When Gov. Bill Graves announced recently that state receipts were $41.2 million over estimates, Michael and Amy Haught did not celebrate.

They continue to be on a waiting list for services for a state-run program to provide help for 6-month-old daughter Maya, who requires round-the-clock medical attention.

"To me, it's like a slap in the face," said Michael Haught, who, along with his wife, teaches in the Wichita public schools.

"Just because she was born with a disability and just because we're middle class, the state of Kansas says, 'Hey, we're just going to make you wait,"' he added.

In the past five years, the state has more than doubled the amount of money spent and the number of people served by programs that help care for the elderly and disabled.

But nearly 400 physically or mentally disabled Kansans are on waiting lists for in-home care because lawmakers and Graves did not appropriate enough money.

"We are able to upgrade and build new roads, new prisons, and yet we're unable to take care of the kids," Michael Haught said.

Waiting lists for residential care -- as opposed to nursing home care -- are nothing new in Kansas and many other states.

For instance, in Oregon, where thousands of people are on waiting lists for services, a lawsuit has been filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act to force the state to pay for residential in-home care.

In Kansas, advocates for the elderly and disabled say placing people on waiting lists has become frustrating in light of record tax cuts during the 1990s and the state's commitment to a $13 billion highway building program over the next 10 years.

The drain on revenue is "affecting the ability of the state to care for people with disabilities and people who are aging," said Gina McDonald, president of the Kansas Association of Centers for Independent Living.

The Graves administration notes funding has gone from $120 million in fiscal year 1997 to a current $295 million. The number of people served has gone from about 6,400 to 13,900, according to state figures.

McDonald concedes that funding has increased for these programs, but it is simply not enough.

Advocates for the handicapped and elderly say the quality of life for their clients is better if they are able to stay in the community instead of a nursing home. The residential treatment programs are designed to keep people out of nursing homes.

As for the $41.2 million surplus of general revenue from the last fiscal year, Graves has said the funds essentially have been spent in other budget commitments made by state lawmakers.

He said his administration is closely monitoring the issue of waiting lists but added that even though people are on a waiting list for one kind of program from the state does not mean they are not getting help from another program.

"We want everyone to be taken care of," Graves said.

But eliminating waiting lists would cost money and the money would have to come from somewhere.

"It would take tough decisions" that Republicans are not willing to make, said House Minority Leader Jim Garner, D-Coffeyville.

The Haughts are third on a five-person waiting list for a program that will help pay for medical equipment for Maya. The family moved up one spot in two months.

Their private insurer foots much of the bill for Maya's care, but Michael Haught said they were nearing the maximum of what the insurer would pay.

Maya suffered brain damage because she lacked oxygen during birth. She is fed through a tube and requires constant monitoring, even when she is sleeping, because she has breathing problems.

"It's not like we're asking for a handout," Michael Haught said. "We're just asking for all the help we can get to make her better off in the long run."

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