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Mentally ill advocates rally for group home money

Associated Press Modified: November 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm •  Published: November 14, 2012
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Mentally disabled people who live in group homes and their advocates called on the governor and legislators Wednesday to find enough money so that those residents still have a place to live come January.

"We're asking you, please make the decision to not take away our homes. We need your help," Mary A. Crandell, who owns eight group homes in Raleigh, said during a rally outside the Legislature.

For years, North Carolina used different standards for personal care services such as eating and bathing, depending on the individuals' living situation. Standards varied for those who lived at home compared to those in lived in adult-care or group homes.

A federal judge ordered an end to the practice last year and ordered the state use the same standard for everyone to qualify for those services through Medicaid. The state chose the tougher standards used for people living at home.

Lawmakers budgeted $39 million for people living in adult-care facilities so they didn't go out of business. But group homes weren't included, meaning they could close their doors because of the loss of money.

Legislators seem willing to help, but the General Assembly doesn't resume its work until the end of January. These new rules take effect Jan. 1, leaving at least a month where about 1,400 group home residents wouldn't be eligible for Medicaid payments for personal care services.

Robert Bullock, 56, who lives in a group home in Cary, urged legislators to keep the doors open. "In my group home, I find peace, joy, comfort and contentment," he told the scores of people at the rally who chanted "save our homes."

Deby Dihoff, director of NAMI-North Carolina, said the cost to keep the group homes operation is $7 million, "which is chump change at the Legislature. But for us, it's housing for 1,400 people."

If government doesn't act, the group home residents could end up on the streets or in hospitals, she said. "It costs far more not to solve this problem," she said. "So let's spend the money, and let's solve the problem."

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a budget writer, said legislators weren't aware when they earmarked money for adult-care homes that group homes would face the same problem. He suggested that Gov. Beverly Perdue find the money in another part of the budget or that residents appeal the denial of benefits through the Office of Administrative Hearings.

The money for personal care services would keep flowing through the appeals process, giving lawmakers time to act, he said.

"We have an immediate issue with the group homes that we need to make sure their funding stays there on a temporary basis," said Dollar, co-chair of a legislative panel on adult-care homes. "Mainly we're worried about January and into February until we can act either to include them in on the $39 million or provide other funding."

Perdue is working to correct the situation, a spokeswoman said.

"The governor is concerned about the potential impact to services for North Carolinians residing in group homes, some our state's most vulnerable citizens," spokeswoman Chris Mackey said in an email. "She continues to review her options and will consult with legislative leaders to remedy the situation."

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Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc