AT THE GROUP HOME:
Mac Olive had been on a waiting list since 2000 but moved into a Home and Community-based Services program house in Austin after a few months at the state school, his sister Missy Olive said.
AT THE GROUP HOME:
When Missy Olive moved her brother Mac to Austin State School, an institution for Texans with mental retardation, it wasn’t because she wanted him to live there. It was a way to avoid a very long waiting list.
Since 2000, Mac Olive, 29, had been on the list for the Home and Community-based Services program (HCS), which helps people live at home or in group homes.
Nearly 40,000 people are waiting for that program. But state school residents who want to leave the institutions can transfer directly into community care.
“While I wanted him to get off the waiting list, the thought of putting him in the state school petrified me,” Missy Olive said. “I had sworn I would never put him in an institution.”
Debate has raged for years over how best to serve Texans with mental retardation. Now, because of scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice, which found lapses of care throughout the state school system, the Legislature appears poised to make significant changes.
Lawmakers are considering a broad range of proposals, from creating an ombudsman to monitor state schools, to capping the number of residents to closing some state schools and putting more money into community services.
The issue took on new urgency this week when Gov. Rick Perry declared state schools a legislative emergency.
Some state officials, including Perry, say the current system of care for Texans with mental retardation provides an array of choices, from the 13 state institutions to smaller state-licensed facilities to community-based services.
But the Justice Department cited neglect and chronic staff turnover (the turnover rate among direct-care workers last year was 52 percent statewide — and 74 percent at Austin State School).
And some lawmakers worry about lax oversight of certain community facilities. Meanwhile, some say that the long waiting list for community care amounts to no choice at all. “If you want to be served at a state school, you walk right in the door,” said state Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs. “If individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities choose to be served in the community, we ought to afford them that option, and we are not doing that today.”
Rose and state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, plan to file legislation that would reform the entire system. It would close some state schools — now home to nearly 5,000 Texans — and create a long-term plan for institutions and programs like HCS, which provides minor home modifications, nursing care and supervision to more than 13,000 Texans.
The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services spent $458 million in state and federal Medicaid dollars on state schools in 2007, and roughly the same amount to serve thousands more people in HCS.
“My view is that it’s politically impossible to close a state school, but we can manage the size of the state schools,” Ogden said. “There’s always a constituency out there in support of each individual state school, and they can usually muster enough political firepower to prevent us from closing any state school.”
“I do think there is a role for state schools, I do think there is a role for community homes, and I’m going to continue to support those options, because I think Texans should have the choice about where their loved ones should be cared for,” the governor said last month.