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Policy Change May Send More Disabled People to State Hospitals

Family members who care for disabled loved ones at home say a change in the mental-health policy will force some to move their relatives to state hospitals.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Bill Hancock and his son, Wayne, have been practically inseparable since the day he was born.

"He's 80 percent brain dead from birth," Hancock said."The blood vessel from his heart to his lung didn't open up like it was supposed to."

As a result, Wayne is prone to violent seizures and requires 24-hour care. Deemed qualified by the state, Hancock cares for his son at their Bailey home, and the state pays him to do it.

"It would take my life away from me to tell me I can't care for him," Hancock said.

Hancock said he fears that is likely to happen soon due to a new state policy called Implementation 35.

"To not be able to see my son everyday, I'd die. It would kill me," he said.

Effective Feb. 22, the state will limit the number of hours parents, like Hancock, are paid to care for a disabled loved one.

Hancock is currently paid for 105 hours a week. Under the new policy, he will be paid for 50 hours. Provider agencies will pay someone who lives outside the home to cover the remaining hours. The idea is to give family members a break so they do not burn out.

"We think that it's very appropriate to have another provider come in and relieve the family member," said Michael Moseley, director of the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services.

Hancock said Wayne has not yet been assigned a nurse. With the shortage of nurses statewide, Hancock is concerned he might not get one.

The state is at the beginning of a nursing shortage that will continue to grow over the next 14 years, according to the North Carolina Center for Nursing.

With his pay cut by more than half, Hancock said, he can no longer care for Wayne at home. Hancock may have to put him in a state hospital.

"I'm being forced to hand him over to the state," he said.

"Well, that doesn't make much sense to me," said Sen. Larry Shaw, D-Cumberland. "I think we're doing the wrong things for all the wrong reasons."

Shaw opposed Implementation 35. He said he is considering whether to introduce a bill during the next legislative session to stop Implementation 35.

"It doesn't sound like the humane thing to do," he said.

The session starts in three months, however, and the policy takes effect in less than three weeks.

Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, chairs the Legislative Oversight Committee for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities. She is also concerned about the availability of nurses to care for the disabled in rural areas.

"We have parts of the state where we just don't have providers," she said. "They just aren't there."

Insko said she believes decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

"I'm confident that if families will work with the system, then, I think, certainly the system will work with the families to make sure those arrangements are made," Moseley said.

For Hancock, he prefers to care for his son himself. After 25 years of doing so, he is not ready to be separated.

"I can't give it up," he said. "I can't let nobody else take my baby."


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