Questioned raised over reduction in funding
by Ali Drake
A group of Union County families is considering a class action lawsuit against Piedmont Behavior Health, due to the reduction in funding for their disabled children.
“If you hire a lawyer you seem to get somewhere, lets just say that,” saida Valerie Ferland, the mother of 17-year-old Randy, who is autistic. “You’re always fighting with PBH to get your plan approved.”
Piedmont Behavioral Health is a North Carolina authorized local management entity. According to their website, www.pbhsolutions.org, their mission is to “create and manage solutions for people who depend on the public system for their care.” PBH serves Union, Cabarrus, Stanly, Davidson and Rowan counties, with more than 600 adults and children under its care. While the company does not directly work with clients, it does assign case workers and distributes funds through Medicaid.
In fact, the company serves as one of a very few in the state to operate the Medicaid waiver program, part of a cutback designed to save North Carolina $45 million. The goal is to reduce the number of local management entities from the current number of 23 to seven by July 1, 2013. State officials argue that by combining management groups, it will reduce cost and add consistency to mental-health reform, by placing fewer restrictions on how local groups manage the services and funds they oversee.
The problem for some families is that part of the savings comes from trimming the budget and changing the way funds are given out. This marks the second straight year funds were cut from the program budget.
“Now, each (child) is given a budget, it used to be more person based,” said Kim Gates, whose 18-year-old daughter, Brianna, was born with Spina Bifida.
Brianna’s budget used to be around $80,000 a year. This allowed her to have about six hours a day of personal care. She was involved in volunteer programs and job skill training in addition to the assistance she required to meet her basic needs. Her new evaluation has led to funding being significantly lowered to around $18,000 a year.
“If I don’t have help, if I don’t [work on] my goals over and over then I forget,” Brianna said.
For Randy Ferland and his family, the situation is similar.
“Developmentally, Rand is a 5 or 6 year old,” said Valerie Ferland.
The Ferlands were given a budget of $63,000 a year which is now being dropped to $21,000. This drop will reduce the amount of time Randy gets with specialized help from 35 hours to 21 hours per week, but, “its not something you can do in just three hours a day,” said Valerie Ferland, “its devastating to families.”
According Ferland, more programs are being cut, such as the summer camps that encourage socialization and provide safe environments for the patients. Gates said that the job skills training programs are being cut back on as well.
“PBH has taken a judgment call from a piece of paper,” Valerie Ferland said. “Without these services I would not be able to work.”
Ferland said no decision has been made, if the group plans to move forward with their class-action suit. If filed, it would be the third lawsuit against the state concerning the issue.
In December 2010, a lawsuit was filed concerning treatment of patients by the Beacon Center, the local management entity for Edgecombe, Greene, Nash and Wilson counties. Earlier this year, a separate class-action lawsuit was brought against Piedmont. A hearing on both of the previous cases has not yet been set.
PBH was unavailable for comment by presstime on the changes affecting Union County families.