HUDSON — New Medicaid rules have put the Angelus, a highly regarded agency of five group homes and a training center serving the profoundly disabled for 37 years, on a state watch list for "isolating individuals from the broader community.''
Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration, enforcing federal rules adopted in 2014, hung the same designation on 55 group homes, assisted living facilities and adult training or day care centers across the state in an Aug. 26 draft report.
The rules, part of the Affordable Care Act, are intended to ensure that the disabled and elderly receiving Medicare and Medicaid have full access to community living. The nonprofit operators can make changes to their facilities to comply over the next three years. But, under a worst-case scenario, clients eventually could be forced to leave the Angelus for other homes or training sites to remain eligible for federal aid.
"Maybe their goals are admirable,'' said New Port Richey attorney Steve Booth, chairman of the Angelus board of directors, "but they don't take into consideration the severe disabilities those kids have.''
The Angelus serves 32 profoundly disabled children and adults who have cerebral palsy or other medical conditions restricting them to wheelchairs. They live in five homes, one of which is named after the non-profits' most famous benefactor, musician Charlie Daniels, on 18 acres in northwest Pasco County.
The close proximity of the houses, the on-site training center and a security gate on the property spurred the state notification that the Angelus acted as an institution, isolating clients from the community.
"The individuals ... do not leave the grounds of the gated community often to access activities or services in the broader community,'' the report states.
"I've always been amazed at the things the kids can do'' in the community, Booth countered, mentioning fishing trips and outings to watch professional wrestling matches.
Additionally, the Angelus runs a highly popular haunted house at Halloween, puts on an annual Christmas pageant for the public and is host to a free community picnic each spring. The clients also are involved in its chief fundraising event, a golf tournament, concert and sporting clay shooting event headlined by Daniels.
"I don't think they really see what we do,'' said Joe Neri, CEO of the Angelus. "I don't think we are an institution. We are group homes, but we're all at one property as opposed to being in a subdivision.''
Also on the watch list are two group homes and a training center in Seffner operated by Human Development Center Inc. Executive director James Bell did not respond to requests for comment. In addition, the report includes sites in Lecanto, Crystal River and Sarasota.
There are 696 residential facilities and 318 training or adult day care centers under Florida's home and community-based settings program.
Inclusion of the Angelus on the state report has triggered community push-back in Pasco County, including promised assistance from, among others, county Commissioner Mike Wells Jr.; U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, and incoming state House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.
''We will do all we can to protect the Angelus home, and we're very optimistic we'll be able to do so,'' said Corcoran.