Friday, October 14, 2011

Money Follows the Person

Imagine having to ask permission to change your address, go to a movie, or take a walk outside alone. For thousands of people with disabilities living in a nursing facility, this is the reality. But new home and community-based programs across the country are changing these systems that have made it nearly impossible for people to avoid long-term stays in care facilities like nursing homes once they’ve entered.

In a nationwide effort to help states remove barriers to community living for people with disabilities, President George W. Bush’s 2001 ‘New Freedom Initiative’, is putting funding where it needs to be. One initiative, the “Money Follows the Person Demonstration Grant” (MFP) allows states to use Medicaid funding intelligently, by helping people voluntarily move out of institutions and move back into their communities. MFP outreach staff work with facility staff and nursing home residents who want to explore community re-entry, in order to identify cost-effective alternatives to institutional care and help facilitate connections to specific programs that will meet the residents’ care needs within their community. By helping to move individuals from institutional settings to the community, states receive enhanced Medicaid funding while at the same time allowing individuals to achieve an improved quality of life.

According to Lisa Mastracco, the MFP Outreach Specialist for the Resource Center for Independent Living, one of the biggest boosts for residents is “learning that there are community care options and independent living programs they never knew about.” Lisa notes that many nursing home residents she meets with wish that they had known about these community programs before they were admitted to nursing facilities.

When institutional discharge planning is attempted, physical barriers that prevent individuals from returning to the community become apparent. When leaving facilities, many nursing home residents must consider what types of services they may need. Some individuals will need personal care and shopping assistance, others may need ramps to regain access to their homes, or other more complicated modifications to allow bathroom and kitchen access. For many individuals with disabilities, the lack of affordable and accessible housing is an additional barrier to community living that can lead to institutional placement. If families, social workers, and discharge planners are unaware of all the programs available that can collectively work together to enable a safe return home, institutional placement becomes the only health care approach. Institutions can be unnecessarily expensive and they remove people from family, and friends, and from participating in the mainstream of life, simply because disabled individuals need some home based assistance within their communities.

Since the start of the MFP program statewide in 2008, hundreds of nursing home residents, facility care staff, and long-term care ombudsmen have been given information and advocacy assistance to enable transitions back to the community. One lesson taken from New York State’s MFP outreach program is that the earlier individuals can be identified, the better. The federal Affordable Care Act offers states that choose to continue to use this grant an extended round of MFP funding to reach even more eligible residents. Making the decision to leave a home or apartment, pack up household treasures and enter a nursing facility is traumatic for most people. Additionally, once the decision has been made to enter a facility, the prospect of transitioning back home is often too overwhelming for many residents even if they could be assisted safely in their homes. Nursing facility diversion is a crucial step in assuring that individuals not needing a nursing level of care get the support services and advocacy they need when they need them.

It has been noted that as of July 2010, 9,000 individuals across the United States have returned to their communities as the result of the MFP Outreach Programs. On average, community-based care is one third the cost of nursing facility care and with the Medicaid program serving even more needy individuals during the current economic downturn, spending tax dollars wisely couldn’t be more important. Providing the appropriate care setting is not only a legal mandate for individuals with disabilities, it is a constructive public policy approach to healthcare.

- Kate F.

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