Booneville Human Development Center superintendent Jeff Gonyea said he left Little Rock hopefully optimistic after a meeting last week.
At the meeting human services officials and advocates for the state’s five human development centers emphasized the need for the facilities before lawmakers Wednesday, noting some federal programs and mandates are designed to push patients to community settings.
"I think it brought more awareness to our needs in Booneville to get money for capital improvements," Gonyea said. "We seem to have the support of a lot of folks in the legislautre, but they are probably a little more aware now."
The idea isn’t exactly new. The Developmental Disabilities Services board met in Booneville in November Gonyea and local BHDC supporters learned the center is slated for three projects totalling just under $500,000.
That was a far cry from the $6 million request that was made in the last legislative session. That request was in response to a $20 million capital expenditure program from the center that was crafted in 2010.
Items on the plan include construction of 10 new living quarters and renovation of 10 Curtis Circle cottages.
The idea behind the new living quarters, Green said at the time, was so that clients at the facility could move from a dorm to a smaller, more home-like atmosphere.
The recommendation about the living quarters came from the physical management subcommittee, of which DDS board member Sally Hardin of Booneville is a member.
"At the federal level they sometimes do use funding incentives to help drive policy," Charlie Green, director of the Developmental Disability Services, to members of the Legislative Council’s Hospital and Medicaid Study Subcommittee.
One incentive now available offers states higher Medicaid match rates to move more patients from centers to community services.
Green and state Department of Human Services Director John Selig later assured members that the state will continue to do everything it can to keep the human development centers open.
Parents of several patients in the centers spoke of their importance and how most of them are in need of maintenance and repairs.
The future of the centers was in jeopardy when the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state in May 2010, alleging Arkansas centers that care for the developmentally disabled were needlessly institutionalizing people in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Justice Department had filed a similar lawsuit in 2009 against the state alleging the Conway Human Development Center violated the ADA and needlessly institutionalized people.
A five-week trial over the Conway Human Development Center was held in the fall of 2010. In June 2011, U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes ruled the facility complied with federal law. Later that year, Holmes dismissed the other lawsuit.
On Wednesday, Gonyea, Calvin Price, superintendent of the Conway Human Development Center, and the superintendents of centers in Arkadelphia, Jonesboro and Warren, briefed the lawmakers on their facilities, how many patients they serve and their budgets.
"I think we offer just excellent services at all of our human development centers," said Price, noting the Conway facility has about 485 residents and is the only center that takes school-age children. "We offer some pretty extensive and comprehensive services to our folks."
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, co-chairman of the subcommittee, praised Price and employees for the work they do and said he was pleased the state won the 2010 lawsuit to keep the Conway facility open.
Price said the goal of the facility and its employees is for residents "to live in the least restrictive environment possible, they truly do."
"We do everything we can to try and make that happen for them and their guardians, if that is what they want to do ," he said. "But, we do make referrals out and take in admissions."
Darrell Pickney, president of Families and Friends of Care Facility Residents, urged the committee to support the centers and to make sure there is enough funding to maintain them.
"The human development centers are a life line," Pickney told reporters outside the committee room, adding his 48-year-old daughter has been at the Conway facility for about 40 years.
"Arkansas does a job of taking care of that population," he said, adding that he hopes the state can continue to resist federal pressure to reduce and ultimately eliminate the centers.
Pickney said maintenance and improvements are needed at all five facilities and the Booneville Human Development Center probably needs to be replaced.
Green told the panel DDS has a budget of about $2 million annually for maintenance and upkeep of the buildings and grounds on the five center campuses.
At the request of committee members, Green agreed to develop a list of capital improvement needs at the five campuses and present it to the panel.