Thursday, July 19, 2018
Health

Conference panel raises awareness of developmentally disabled care issues

TAMPA — More than 20,000 disabled persons remain on Florida's overall wait list for a home-and community-based Medicaid waiver.

Efforts to reduce that number, minimum wage and overtime protections for home-care workers were among the topics discussed at the opening session of the Empower Florida seminar last week.

About 600 health care professionals from throughout the state — including providers, coordinators and assisted-living center staffers and owners — convened at the Tampa Convention Center to hear from a mix of state legislators and disability advocates on May 20.

Hosted by Serenity Village Insurance and Consulting, the seminar provided attendees the chance to not only hear from legislators but also share their experiences and concerns, said Gary Hartfield, principal with Serenity Village.

As a provider, Hartfield says he's familiar with the issues that engulf those who offer services and facilities for disabled persons.

Having that conversation with legislators and policymakers in the room "puts these things on their radar," he said.

Efforts to reduce the wait list number can begin with establishing consistent communications with local and state lawmakers, said State Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa.

Revenues are up, which means the budget has more money to allot those seeking waivers.

But funding is based on sales tax and prone to shifts in the economy, so it's important that supporters continuously keep their focus on reducing the wait list in front of their legislators, he said.

"Continue to be an advocate," he said.

There have been some gains.

Last year, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities received enough money to remove 2,500 people with critical needs from the wait list. That number was 1,200 in 2014.

According to the Scott administration, critical-needs persons include those who are at risk of losing a caregiver, children in the welfare system, and those who are 70 years old or older who require a caregiver but none is available.

About 700 persons are expected to be enrolled in the waiver program this year.

While not a staggering amount, "it's still an awesome thing," said Denise Arnold, the agency's deputy director.

"It will change many families but we still have a ways to go," she said.

Other panelists included State Rep. John Cortes, D-Kissimmee, State Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-St. Petersburg, and State Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole; Debra Linton of The ARC of Florida; Suzanne Sewell of the Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities; and Margaret Hooper of the Florida Development Disabilities Council.

Empower Florida will "go on the road" in the coming months and hold seminars in other regions of the state, said Valerie Goodard, the seminar's vice president.

Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]

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