FRANKFORT — More than 100 people with disabilities, their parents and providers packed a Frankfort hearing room Friday to protest changes to state rules that many fear could result in the loss of sheltered jobs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Gladys Hall of Fort Mitchell has been working at a sheltered workshop run by Redwood School and Rehabilitation Center for people with disabilities for more than 20 years. Under new regulations proposed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, she might not be able to attend that workshop.
"I tried to work in the community and it didn't work," Hall told the packed crowd in an auditorium at the cabinet's headquarters.
Redwood helped the disabled woman find a job at a local cafeteria, but as soon as her job coach left, "They weren't nice to me," Hall said. She returned to Redwood's sheltered workshop.
Under proposed regulations, the state is not likely to reimburse costs associated with sheltered workshops, which are typically run and housed by organizations that serve people with disabilities. Sheltered workshops generally hold contracts with other businesses to provide minor assembly or other services. Hall and others like her receive a paycheck but often earn less than minimum wage.
There are about 50 such workshops around the state.
Friday's hearing was to receive public comment on the new regulations. Much of the concerns raised Friday were about changes in the way the state reimburses providers for day-treatment of adults with disabilities.
Steve Shannon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Regional Mental Health and Mental Retardation providers, said the proposed reimbursement rates would push providers to offer more supportive employment — employment in the community that comes with additional job training from a provider. The proposal would reduce reimbursement rates for day training, which is not considered employment.
"A lot of people are really worried that they are going to lose adult day training," Shannon said.
Critics have argued that there is too much variance in adult day programs. Some offer a variety of engaging activities, but others function as warehouses for people with disabilities and offer few or no activities.
Adult day training is the most widely used service in the state's community-based program for people with mental and developmental disabilities, known as the Supports for Community Living program, said Stephen Zaricki, president of the Kentucky Association of Private Providers, which represents more than 50 providers of community-based programs.
Many participants in that program can not work, or are of retirement age and do not wish to work. Community-based employment is not a good fit for all clients, Zaricki said.
Gladys Hall said the thought of losing her sheltered workshop job has made her anxious. "I've been scratching my arms every night," Hall said.
Advocates and providers also decried other changes in the regulations that would alter the way care is delivered to a population that can include people with both mental illness and mental retardation.
As the state has moved more people out of institutions, most have been moved into the Supports for Community Living program. Those people need psychiatric services and behavioral supports. Accessing those more intensive out-patient services will be more difficult under the new regulations, psychologists said on Friday.
Stephen Hall, the Commissioner of the Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, sent a letter to Zaricki and others Thursday addressing some of the concerns raised by people in the disability community. Hall said the cabinet is not trying to shutter sheltered workshops but encourage more people with disabilities to be engaged in the community.
Hall, in his letter, said the cabinet's intent is "not and will never be to close sheltered workshops but to offer informed choice to waiver participants and the opportunity to work in an integrated setting making wages comparable to the general population."
The cabinet will continue to take written comments on the changes to the regulation until Oct. 1. The cabinet will have the opportunity to amend the regulations before they come to a legislative committee for a vote sometime this fall.