JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A joint committee of the Senate and House Committees on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor took place at the New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.
The committee discussed a number of different issues.
The topic of concern on the agenda concerned disability services provided to children and adults and whether changes to services are on the way.
Mary-Katherine Hardine of Batesville STARS Academy was one of the attendees.
"We service birth to six-year-olds in Independence and surrounding counties," Hardine said. "We serve people who have developmental delays. So, they have to qualify based on the Medicaid guidelines to come to our facility. While there they receive all the therapy and medical services they need. As well as we have a full array of preschool and infant toddler services and we have 13 classrooms that we provide."
Hardine said she wasn't concerned about the issue and felt it was a good thing.
"I've been doing this for over 20 years," Hardine said. "In that time there has always been Child Health Management Services, or CHMS, and Developmental Day Treatment Clinic Services, or DDTCS. And we do very different things. We are medically based. DDTCS is more educationally based. But both programs are wonderful programs. And I think it's very exciting to marry those programs. To take the best of both and bring them together to provide the kids and families of our state with a more consistent approach, so there's not a lot of confusion. It's there and we can provide it for those kids who are the most medically needy in our state."
Justin Black of Trumann said he has been a part the Focus program in Trumann for 15 years.
He said they work with those with disabilities and he attended the meeting because he was concerned over their center potentially closing.
"This is a very important program and we need to keep our center," Black said. "It's an adult program with adult disabilities and we help them be independent."
However, representatives with the Arkansas Department of Human Services said to legislators and audience members that the adult programs wouldn't be affected.
In fact, it was stated they would be adding services to the current adult disabilities program.
Hardine said they had worked hard at the STARS Academy to keep their parents informed.
"I think we've done a good job at our facility of educating our parents and letting them know what the change will bring," Hardine said. "For those kids who might not qualify in the new program, we've worked very hard to help them find alternative placement going forward. So that they will not have one day without any type of service provided to them."
Representatives with DHS stated that their purpose was not only to make sure every child in need continued getting help but that they got the right kind of help they needed to flourish.
They further stated they would not pass a program that was not fully funded.
"I think change is hard," Hardine said. "It's hard for everybody and I think that fear comes into change. For most of the kids that are currently getting services in either program, they are going to continue to qualify. They are going to have at least one therapy or a medical nursing situation. So, for the majority of these kids we feel confident that they will continue to qualify for our services. If not, we are all going to work so hard together to make sure that they get services elsewhere. Even if that means that service isn't available in their county or their area right now. It's just going to be incumbent on us to work together to get that to them and available to them. Because none of us want any of these kids to go without what they need or their families. Whether that's transportation, therapy or anything in between that."
Hardine recommended that people reach out to their current provider for more information.
"People need to reach out to their provider or PCP to talk to them about their concerns," Hardine said. "Work with the provider they currently have to come up with a plan to see what that plan might be. Whether that's additional testing right now to see if they are going to continue to qualify and then coming up with what we call a contingency plan. So, if they do test out, if then what. What would be next, so that they're prepared. So, they have the knowledge and the confidence that if and when they do test out, they will have a place to go and a backup plan."
Any change that occurs if this is approved will happen in July of 2019.