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NNY nonprofits fight to have Medicaid money restored

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North country agencies that receive Medicaid funding through the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities may have to change the way they do business if $4 million in cuts goes through.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is proposing a 6 percent cut from the office’s budget, which will affect nonprofits through the aid-to-localities portion of the state budget, according to Jefferson Rehabilitation Center Executive Director Howard W. Ganter. This means JRC, Watertown, will lose $1,125,000; the Oneida-Lewis NYSARC, Utica, will lose $1.5 million; and the St. Lawrence NYSARC, Canton, will lose $1,317,825 in the proposed state budget. The Disabled Persons Action Organization, Watertown, has yet to calculate its projected loss, according to Executive Director Cynthia L. FitzPatrick.

“We have nothing firmed now,” she said. “Our goal is to not let any services be affected at all. We may have to pare down a bit. We’ve been having to cut back here and there.”

Mr. Ganter said a 6 percent cut to JRC’s Medicaid programs could affect residential, day habilitation, work waiver, Medicaid service coordination, supported employment, hourly respite, community habilitation and workshop contract services. The agency receives about $17 million in Medicaid funding for those programs.

The bulk of the St. Lawrence NYSARC budget also comes from Medicaid, as does that of the Oneida-Lewis NYSARC. Aida A. Mariani, director of public relations and development at Oneida-Lewis NYSARC, said 82 percent, or about $25 million, of its $31 million budget comes from Medicaid.

Cuts are nothing new to any of those agencies, as they all have lost millions of dollars in funding throughout the past few years. Mr. Ganter said JRC lost $1.5 million in 2010-11, and has continuously worked on collaborative efforts to reduce costs so programs and services would not change.

“We know change is inevitable, but you can’t change a system in crisis with another crisis,” he said. “We’re pretty lean here. We don’t have much more room to cut. It’ll be cutting the bone now.”

The agency serves about 900 people and has 625 employees.

JRC potentially could lose even more if its dining contracts on Fort Drum are changed as a result of federal sequestration. Unfunded mandates and possibly having to pay some staff members more money as result of an hourly minimum-wage increase also are worrying, but the biggest concern now is the Medicaid cuts, Mr. Ganter said.

“We’re pushing back hard,” he said. “I’ve contacted every legislator, and asked them to sign off on letters of restoration.”

Ms. Mariani said the same process is happening in Lewis County. The public is invited to an 8:30 a.m. March 15 meet-and-greet at the Oneida-Lewis NYSARC office, 245 Genesee St., Utica, with politicians in the nonprofit’s coverage area.

The agency was able to avoid any major changes to programs and services when it experienced cuts in past years, but that won’t be the case if these Medicaid cuts occur.

The agency serves 2,000 people in Oneida and Lewis counties through its residential, employment, children’s, seniors, work site and day habilitation programs.

Mrs. FitzPatrick said about 90 percent of DPAO’s programs and services are funded by Medicaid. The agency is looking at other funding options, such as grants, in order to keep client services unchanged. DPAO serves 500 people in Jefferson and Lewis counties through one-on-one services, day habilitation, recreation, and short-term and overnight respite.

Mr. Ganter said the large cuts boil down to a $1.1 billion reduction of funding to the state from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As the health care system moves toward managed care, the state is pushing agencies, such as JRC, to move its clients into the community instead of residence homes.

“It’s trying to manage outcomes for people in the most effective manner — saving money,” Mr. Ganter said. “They have a nice philosophy, but don’t have the support system there.”

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