ATLANTA – Thousands of complex and contradictory regulations, constant inspections and uncompromising audits were among the complaints legislators heard Monday from executives with local organizations that provide services to people with developmental disabilities.
The agencies provide life skills and job training for adults with developmental disabilities, what used to be known as mental retardation.
One executive, Lisa Sassaman of the Griffin Area Resource Center, recounted how missing signatures on documents is costing the nonprofit $452,000 that auditors said must be repaid to the government even though services were properly delivered.
“I don’t know what the future of our organization will be. We don’t have $452,000. We don’t,” she said, adding that employees and the 75 people they serve in Central Georgia could be crushed if the agency folds.
Other executives said the Griffin episode is a common one and part of the burdensome oversight that the state imposes on organizations contracted with the state to serve people.
Other entities are only audited when there is suspicion, and only a small sample of their transactions if nothing is amiss, so why do providers for the disabled have to submit to audits every other year of 100 percent of their activities, asked the executives of the House Study Committee on Community Based Intellectual and Developmental Disability Services. And paperwork technicalities usually only trigger a warning or a possible fine in other fields, not having to repay the entire contract fee for a year, they said.
“One of our biggest concerns as providers is the amount of regulatory oversight,” said Mike Walker, this year’s president of the Service Providers Association for Developmental Disabilities and executive director of Hope Haven of Northeast Georgia in Athens.
He said providers must submit to regular inspections from seven agencies, many reviewing the same issues and looking for slipups in complying with an estimated 28,000 rules in 57 pounds of manuals.
Charles Harper, vice president of the Georgia Association of Community Care Providers, said when he opened two, for-profit group homes in Doulas, there were 119 visits from state inspectors, social workers and auditors in the space of 12 months.
“Every time someone walks through our door, you have to identify what agency they are with, what they want, and you have to answer their questions,” he said. “All of that costs money.”
The committee chairman, Rep. Dusty Hightower who has a cousin with Downs Syndrome, said the purpose of the committee is to look for ways to streamline oversight to save money for both the providers and the state that can go to funding additional services.
Committee member Rep. Jesse Petrea agreed.
“There are so many things we don’t have, like adult dental care. It is upsetting to me to see our young adults who don’t have good teeth,” said Petrea, a Savannah Republican whose company provides some services through state programs.
Like Petrea, Hightower has a personal interest.
“When we got notice that these individuals (with disabilities) were having trouble, that they were not really getting the services that they need, that’s where this came from,” said Hightower, R-Carrollton. “This focus is to try to make sure those folks are taken care of.”
Also on the committee is Tena Blakely of the Soto Assisted Living Group in Augusta, Tonya Allen, director of the Mineral Springs Center in Blue Ridge and Rep. Buddy Harden, R-Cordele, who is a druggist subject to similar state regulations.
Hightower said the committee will likely consider legislation at future meetings to recommend to the General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.
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