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Md. has a long way to go to support the developmentally disabled

Maryland's Developmental Disabilities Administration provides a coordinated service delivery system so that individuals with developmental disabilities receive appropriate services oriented toward the goal of integration into the community and with the support to lead personally defined and fulfilling lives. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland's health secretary, detailed his efforts to correct the agency's shortcomings in an op-ed in Monday's Sun ("A stronger disabilities agency for Maryland," Sept. 30).

Our families rely on support from the state for the quality of lives of individuals with developmental disabilities. We acknowledge and thank the administration for:

•Funding community living for 8,000 Marylanders with developmental disabilities;

•Providing employment assistance for 4,700 individuals with developmental disabilities and daily support services for 7,200 individuals;

•Alcohol tax funding that helped hundreds of individuals get off the waiting lists and into services;

•Transitioning youth funding for hundreds of individuals with developmental disabilities departing the school system and moving into the adult service system.

The measure of success should be based on outcomes. Unfortunately, there are very concerning realities present:

•Despite funding from the alcohol tax, there are still 7,700 individuals on the developmental disabilities waiting list, and 1,374 individuals are in crisis categories (for example, at a high risk situation including risk of homelessness, abuse or neglect).

•Low Intensity Supports Services funds (a program that provides less than $3,000 in funding for individuals with developmental disabilities not currently receiving DDA funding for full residential services for things like ramps or other housing adaptations, assistive technology, medical equipment, etc.) were expended within one day in some counties and within two weeks for the entire state.

•The department has made repeated financial errors, including those disclosed in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services audit requiring the state to pay more than $20 million to the federal government and others that forced a $25 million reversion back to the state's general fund in 2011.

Maryland can and must do more to strengthen the Developmental Disabilities Administration. While we applaud Dr. Sharfstein's appointment of a new acting director for the agency, the engagement of expertise through a consulting firm, and the review of IT and financial systems and supports, we expect and require even more of our administration charged with providing services and support for a vulnerable population. The Developmental Disabilities Administration requires a comprehensive plan of reform. We have to understand, accommodate, adequately fund and appropriately manage a system that:

•Reflects actual needs and costs required by the individual as identified in his or her support plan.

•Accommodates the actual cost of labor, including employee benefits and a fair/living wage for the individuals providing the day to day supports and services.

•Supports the full life span of an individual — for example, state funding does not cover transportation, life-long education support, job transition support, or medical costs associated with aging. We must recognize that individuals with developmental disabilities progress through natural life stages, each with various transitions and support requirements needed to achieve maximum independence.

•Supports individuals who are receiving services at home.

•Does not require a waiting list for individuals in immediate crisis.

•Supports children and youth in need (including infants and toddlers and those up to age 21 in school and out of school).

•Supports 100 percent of eligible children on the on the Autism Waiver Waiting List.

•Supports and finds placements for 100 percent of the "transitioning youth" entering the adult delivery system for developmental disabilities.

In order to execute this level of reform to support the lifespan of individuals with developmental disabilities, we must strengthen (adequately fund, staff and effectively manage) all agencies supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including the Developmental Disabilities Administration, Maryland Department of Disabilities, Maryland Department of Human Resources and Maryland State Department of Education's special education resources.

It's imperative we do more to stabilize services for our state's most vulnerable citizens. We have to create a robust reform plan for today and tomorrow. Yes, we need a stronger disabilities agency in Maryland.

—Carol Fried and Kate Fialkowski

The writers are the president and executive director of The Arc Maryland, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring equal rights and opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For information: thearcmd.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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