Under the Dome

Blue ribbon panel begins figuring out how to move mentally ill, disabled care

A panel of state legislators, mental health and developmental disability experts and advocates, adult care home representatives, housing officials and others met Wednesday to begin working on plans to move patients out of large facilities and into communities for treatment specially tailored to them.

The 32-member Blue Ribbon Commission on Transitions to Community Living met for the first time and spent the day at the Legislative Office Building in Raleigh getting up to speed on several pressing issues.

The state is working toward that goal in an agreement with the federal Department of Justice in order to avoid being sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A federal investigation alleged that the state wrongly confined thousands of people in adult care homes and institutions.

Over the next eight years, the state will work to provide 3,000 places for those people to move into. The Legislature has budgeted $50 million toward the goal, with $10.3 million set aside to establish 100 to 300 slots in the first year. The state Department of Health and Human Services estimates housing, jobs and treatment will cost $287 million over eight years.

The state is also under pressure to reduce the percentage of mentally ill residents in adult care homes,  and it has placed new limits on reimbursement for “personal care services,” such as for bathing, eating, and dressing.

Owners of adult care homes are concerned about losing a substantial number of patients. Others are concerned that mentally ill people will become homeless.

Next week, the commission will begin meeting in subcommittees and spend the rest of the year digging into the various issues. Co-chairman Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary, said a final report will go to the General Assembly in January.

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