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Arkansas proposes move to clear developmental disability waitlist, allow in-home family care

By: - September 6, 2022 6:29 pm
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The state moved a step closer Tuesday to eliminating the waitlist for Arkansans with intellectual and developmental disabilities who want to receive care at home, particularly from those closest to them.

The state House and Senate Committees on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor reviewed a rule on Tuesday that would allow parents and legal guardians of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be paid caregivers.

As of Tuesday, 3,204 children and adults with these disabilities were on the waitlist, which should no longer exist by December, said Melissa Weatherton, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities Services within the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

The rule will undergo final review by the Arkansas Legislative Council next week.

The state Legislature approved funding earlier this year for DHS to open more home care slots and eliminate the waitlist by June 2025, a goal Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in December.

The caregivers would have to be hired by a Medicaid provider, pass background checks and receive the same training as DHS employees. This will “alleviate the burden” on home health care providers statewide, Weatherton said.

“We knew we were going to add 3,000 people over the next three years, but we do not currently have the workforce to take on that amount, so now we are allowing those family members to be paid staff if they meet the criteria,” she said.

DHS has “received very positive feedback” from family members who want to be paid to take care of their relatives with disabilities, she said. Each individual Medicaid provider will decide how much to pay family caregivers that meet the DDS qualifications, Weatherton said.

The state Division of Children and Family Services already serves 300 children in foster care who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, and DHS will serve 200 more, Weatherton said.

The state has spent years trying to eliminate the waitlist for the program that currently serves more than 5,000 Arkansans. In 2017, the Legislature passed a law to use $8.5 million in annual tobacco settlement funds to take about 500 people off of the 3,000-person list. However, the waitlist had increased to 3,137 by 2019 and 3,500 by 2020.

The list has remained at 3,204 since the end of last year.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.

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