The state health department is cutting ties at the end of March with private contractors who help people with developmental disabilities.
That’s a result of cuts to Medicaid due to the state’s budget cuts, enacted by Governor Steve Bullock because of the state bringing in lower than expected revenue.
The cuts mean that in the coming months, 2,700 people with developmental disabilities who get help from case managers will move from private organizations overseeing their care to the state health department.
The department says it was forced to make this change because of budget cuts in the 2017 legislative session and the recent special legislative session.
Joshua Kendrick is chief executive officer of Opportunity Resources, Inc. in Missoula, one of the contractors that’s losing its roughly $2 million annual contract with the state.
Kendrick says that means 27 employees at his organization will lose their jobs. Statewide, he says close to 70 people will likely lose their jobs.
“In the bigger cities, the impacts will not be as bad," Kendrick says. "Where we’re more concerned are the individuals with disabilities in smaller communities. Those individuals are going to have far less contact with a case manager than they have in the past.”
Opportunity Resources is one of four private contractors that provides case management services for people with disabilities in Montana.
Those services encourage independent living, help with medical troubles, education needs and navigating social hoops that some people with developmental disabilities need help jumping through.
Other organizations impacted by this cut to targeted case management include Helena Industries, Anaconda-based AWARE, and Lewistown-based Central Montana Medical Center.
Pat Noonan, public and government relations director for AWARE, says the health department’s announcement blindsided many organizations like his. They first learned of these cuts on a conference call with department a few days before Christmas.
“Providers would have liked an opportunity to get the information and then be able to evaluate and tell their staff," Noonan says. "In that phone call were people who are at stake of losing their job, on the phone call hearing that information for the first time. So it has caused panic among all of the providers' staff.”
Noonan says he learned Thursday of what he called another "crushing blow:" That the state health department is also moving forward with additional cuts to all Medicaid providers. As of January 1, the state health department is reducing its Medicaid provider reimbursement rate by about three percent.
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Sheila Hogan sent an emailed statement in response to MTPR’s requests for an interview Thursday.
In the statement, Hogan said, "DPHHS is committed to serving developmentally disabled clients who receive targeted case management services. This is an integral part of ensuring these individuals receive the services they need to remain in the community. DPHHS will be able to continue to deliver targeted case management to 2700 individuals at a minimum. For those who will be impacted, we are currently working on a transition plan for those individuals.”
The statement went on to say that DPHHS will continue to deliver targeted case management for all 2,700 individuals currently receiving the service.
The state health department plans to announce more details of its transition plan for those individuals in the coming weeks.
Some private Medicaid contractors are skeptical of the state’s promise to keep these services going after their contracts end in March.
“Services are going to be drastically reduced to individuals in case management," says Opportunity Resources’ Joshua Kendrick.
Kendrick says removing private provider contracts will send a wave of people needing help back to the state, and the state, at its current level of staffing and funding, isn’t up for the task.