Matt Fletcher points with pride to improvements in availability of community services that lengthen lives of Kansans with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Fletcher, executive director of the advocacy group Interhab, said evidence included rising demand in cities and towns for I/DD care for older people reaching a point in their lives when they grapple with Alzheimer's or dementia.

"Until this generation with persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the lifespan was maybe into your mid-40s or early 50s," he said on the Capitol Insider podcast. "We are helping individuals live longer."

 

Interhab's modest beginning traces back 50 years to a small group of disability service providers who sensed the need for a politically unified voice in the Capitol. The organization represents people and businesses providing 24-hour, seven-day-a-week care for 9,000 people receiving benefits through Medicaid.

Men and women who came before them were warehoused in state hospitals. A philosophical transition to community-based services in the past 40 years meant Kansans with intellectual or developmental disabilities are commonly found in group homes with four or five people. Infrastructure and services once concentrated in five counties with hospitals are scattered across all 105 counties.

"I like to say it's our best-kept secrets in our communities across the state. It contributes significantly to the quality of the communities in our state that we have such a strong network," Fletcher said.

He said state and federal government shared in the cost of Medicaid services to the I/DD population, but cracks in Kansas' system are visible. There I/DD population is growing while the number of service providers, especially smaller operators, is declining, he said.

About 4,000 people in Kansas who qualify for I/DD services are on a waiting list that has existed for decades, Fletcher said.

He said the average salary of direct-support professionals working with I/DD clients is $10 per hour. It is a modest salary for people responsible for administering medication, bathing or feeding, preparing meals and taking clients into the community. 

"It really is an issue of capacity," Fletcher said. "We have some data that shows that."

Kansas lawmakers increased reimbursement rates to community-based providers 3 percent in 2017 and 4 percent in 2018. Interhab recommended the state authorize a 7 percent increase in 2020.

"We're not even keeping pace with simple inflation over the last 20 years," Fletcher said. "When you do that, it makes it incredibly difficult for providers to just keep their doors open."