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Help for the disabled: bad to worse?



Rachel Morgan has cerebral palsy, is legally blind and suffers from a seizure disorder. She only recently began to sit up on her own.

"We are hoping for her to be as independent as possible," Stefanie Morgan says of her 9-year-old, "but with her being legally blind, she will always have to have some assistance."

The family is helped by the Resource Exchange, which channels state funds into services for people with developmental disabilities. It pays for weekly horse therapy, which inspired Rachel to speak her first words: "Walk on." The family's van was fitted with a lift for her wheelchair, and TRE hooked up the Morgans with advisers to get Rachel into a Falcon School District 49 classroom.

Now, all those services and more are threatened, thanks to a new round of state cuts claiming more than $500,000 from TRE's $10.6 million annual budget. That, on top of a 5 percent cut last year to Medicaid services, which helps fund TRE, and another 2.5 percent reduction as of July 1.

"We can't get off this downhill slide," says Resource Exchange executive director David Ervin.

He predicts that when the cuts kick in Oct. 1, family support, including services like those provided to the Morgans, will be hard hit, as will Cheyenne Village, which provides housing for adults with disabilities. [Disclosure: Executive editor Ralph Routon sits on the Cheyenne Village board of directors.] Employment services also could suffer, as could respite, which provides caregivers with breaks.

"I don't think cuts of this magnitude won't be felt," he says. "I don't think we can spin that kind of magic."

Ervin realizes that needs of the developmentally disabled are easily overlooked. TRE serves roughly 2,300 people, with another 1,500 on a waiting list. Almost all of TRE's money comes from the state, including federal Medicaid money; private donations and grants account for only 6 percent of its budget.

Ervin says TRE doesn't fund services subject to reimbursement by insurance or Medicaid but does pay for expenses that have been denied by other payers, such as Rachel's horse therapy, when funds are available. As funding dries up, the state could consider changing policy to no longer offer services to people of all income levels, as it does now.

State Rep. Bob Gardner, known as a legislative champion for developmentally disabled, says he has no thoughts on whether such services should be offered on a means-related basis. He notes, though, that government may have to consider that option.

"We're going to have to make some very hard decisions this year," Gardner says. But he adds, "I will tell you this, and this is very important: Whatever the financial situation of those with a child with developmental disabilities, the challenges and burdens on them are so incalculable I would not want to trade places with them. Anything we as a state can do for those children, and adults, we should try to do."

Ervin says giving developmentally disabled people a job, assistance in the home and behavioral counseling is more beneficial than ignoring their needs, which can lead to more costly incarceration or institutionalization.

"Developmental disabilities is something we'll never be able to cure," Ervin says. "But ... we've got this many thousands of people living in our community for whom these services are the difference between life and death."

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