Visiting Nurses Assn. faces cuts

A program that helps low-income ill or disabled patients remain in their homes is about to get poorer itself, perhaps forcing the agency to curtail services.

Douglas County Visiting Nurses Assn. is bracing for a $72,843 cut in state Medicaid payments brought on by the state’s budget crunch. The yearlong cuts will take effect July 1.

Helping handsDouglas County Visiting Nurses Assn. uses county funds to provide care to low-income ill, disabled and frail elderly people who are unable to afford all or part of the cost of their care.Last year, the agency cared for 1,220 patients, up 11.5 percent from a year earlier. Agency staffers made 53,112 individual visits, up 4.7 percent.

Visiting Nurses uses Medicaid payments to defray costs of serving clients who otherwise could not afford in-home help for a variety of needs, ranging from laundry and personal bathing to speech therapy and intravenous-drug delivery.

Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, which had its own budget squeezed as the state grappled with a record revenue shortfall, told Visiting Nurses and other agencies about the cuts last week.

Now, Visiting Nurses is asking Douglas County to pick up the slack. The agency has asked for up to $85,200 to cover both the unexpected reduction in Medicaid reimbursements and a resulting $12,358 drain from other insurance companies.

Without help, the agency’s new executive director said she fears she could be facing some especially tough decisions after less than a month on the job.

“We’ll look at every resource we can, but worst-case scenario we wouldn’t be able to take anyone new, we would have to discontinue service to others, and we would probably have to reduce staff,” said Jan Jenkins, who took over June 1 for Marceil Lauppe, who retired.

Visiting Nurses isn’t the only agency lining up for county assistance.

The Lawrence school district wants $360,000 to finance continuation of a counseling program that helps troubled students get through difficult times. The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department fears that it will need $63,500 to retain a case-management program for teen mothers. Headquarters Inc. has put in a request for $10,000 to defray losses in revenue.

Douglas County commissioners will hear Visiting Nurses’ request July 1, the first day of formal budget hearings. Commissioners have pledged not to increase the county’s property-tax rate, and outside agencies have been advised not to seek any more than a 2 percent revenue increase from their 2002 budgets.

“Nobody likes cuts in services, particularly when they involve basic, local government responsibilities such as health and public safety,” said Craig Weinaug, county administrator. “Nobody likes taxes, especially increases in taxes, and everybody believes in fiscal responsibility.

“But a fiscally responsible budget that does not increase taxes, in a year like this, will cut critical services. Something has to give somewhere to get the job done.”

In April, Visiting Nurses had complied by asking the county for $160,771 the same amount it received in 2001 and 2002. But add in the latest request, and the agency seeks a 53 percent increase.

Jenkins remains both optimistic and realistic.

“We’re hoping the county can do some more for us,” Jenkins said, “but we recognize that their funds are very short, too.”