If proposed cuts at the state level are fully instituted, the Burnt Mountain Center in Jasper, which provides work training to adults with developmental disabilities, would “dwindle away over the next couple of years,” according to statements from the center director Tuesday.
Executive Director Debbie Rooker said that up to $270,000 of the center’s $900,000 yearly revenue coming from the state Medicaid program could be cut under current state budget proposals.
“The new budget will rip us apart,” she said. “There is no way we can provide services.”
Rooker said if the state’s new funding model is enacted, the Burnt Mountain Center would eventually have to close the doors on its 39-year-old program, located on Pioneer Road. She estimated that would not happen at once, but by two years out, “we would dwindle away.”
The Burnt Mountain Center, which has served the mentally handicapped of north Georgia since 1973, is not alone on the chopping block.
A press release from the Service Providers Association for Developmental Disabilities (SPADD), stated “The Georgia Department of Community Health via its Medicaid program and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities have released a new funding model and rates which will leave individuals with developmental disabilities and their families in peril, risking a reduction of services and the potential closure of programs which support this group of people.”
SPADD, a lobbying group for operations like the Burnt Mountain Center, projects that 11,000 adults with disabilities will be affected across the state.
“This new funding model and the resulting proposed rates of reimbursement, will severely impact services for a fragile and vulnerable population where current funding levels are already grossly inadequate,” said SPADD President Diane Wilush. “Organizations providing these services have not received a rate increase since 2004; as a result, it is a continuous challenge to deliver the quality supports people with disabilities and their families need.”
Wilush went on to say in the press release that it is difficult to imagine how these groups could continue to operate with further cuts.
Rooker said she had already told the staff at the Burnt Mountain Center to brace for some cuts this year, but she didn’t expect the new formula for funding to lower Medicaid payments nearly to the extent that it does. “I wish they would stop and look at what it would do the clients and their families in the long run,” she said.
The Burnt Mountain Center provides a host of services to 74 clients. Of these, 35 clients from Pickens County receive the Medicaid funds now in jeopardy. Another 20 clients from Gilmer receive these funds to help offset the costs for training and life skills they are provided.
The Burnt Mountain Center has a total budget of $1.5 million this year, with $900,000 of that coming through the state Medicaid program.
Rooker said the center operates on Medicaid funding and on revenue generated when Burnt Mountain clients work at local job sites. [Editor’s note: the Pickens Progress employs the largest number of the clients and has had a business relationship with the center for more than 30 years.]
Currently, aside from the Progress, the Burnt Mountain Center places its disabled clients at work sites in the county that have included Royston, Lexington Components, Precision Packaging, the hospitals in both Jasper and Ellijay, and Engineered Watering Solutions.
At job sites, clients under the supervision of Burnt Mountain Center staff perform job skills and are paid for their work. When clients are not working at job sites, the center staff trains them for work and on how to get along in a work environment. Rooker said a benefit of the program is it gets clients out into a real work environment with the goal that some clients can go on to hold regular jobs.
The center also offers “Community Living Services,” where staff work with disabled adults to train them to be able to live independently in their own homes. For this the center is also paid under the Medicaid program, but Rooker said they do far more than they can be compensated for, as “no one is turned away.”
If cuts do come, Rooker said the center could earn additional revenue from the private sector, but it will never be enough to cover the Medicaid loss, particularly when much center spending goes for additional training of living skills and other services regularly provided to disabled adults.
“Nobody sits home,” Rooker says of center efforts to see that disabled adults are provided some job or activities. She said the Burnt Mountain Center regularly assists mentally disabled adults who, for whatever reasons, are not eligible for or have already exhausted their yearly Medicaid support.
“The state allocates funds for each client [depending on their needs and functioning ability],” she said. “But a lot of times that isn’t enough to really meet their needs. We aren’t going to let anyone sit home.”
Rooker is asking center supporters to send letters to state legislators on the center’s behalf. For more information on the center,
A public hearing will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, January 26, at the Department of Community Health, 2 Peachtree Street, 5th Floor in Atlanta. Rooker said a group of clients, parents and staff will be there to join others from around the state in voicing opposition to proposed funding changes.
State Rep. Rick Jasperse of Pickens County said he is absolutely supporting the Burnt Mountain Center and other groups like them. “They provide a significant service for our community,” he said.
He said the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, who sets the budget for these services, did a study which focused too heavily on programs in the metro Atlanta area and was not representative of programs offered around the state in places like Pickens County.
Jasperse said the department is under a lot of scrutiny on how to fund services. He said he intends to be at the Thursday hearing to voice support for the program to find out more about the budget and to see if they can get things “in line.”
Jasperse said as legislators hear of the proposed cuts, they are getting involved. “I believe they [department personnel] are going to get a little more input than they are anticipating,” he said.