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DHHS: No Plans to Change Implementation 35

State officials say the new mental-health-care policy is a success and that only 20 families affected by it are still in need.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — All but 20 families have found outside providers to come into their homes to care for mentally disabled loved ones – as required under a new state mental health care policy.

That's according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which told a state legislative oversight committee Wednesday that it considers Implementation 35 a success and does not plan to change the policy.

"If it becomes a situation where it is absolutely impossible to identify an alternative caregiver – certainly, we'll look at what other options there may be," DHHS Deputy Director Leza Wainwright said. "At this point, we have no information that that will be the case."

Implementation 35 cuts the number of hours to 50 per week, or 217 per month, that the state will pay some family members to care for relatives who otherwise would be placed in an institution.

Outside providers are to cover the remaining hours for which the state has been paying relatives.

Those affected by the policy initially had until Feb. 22 to find a provider. But last week – at the request of DHHS following a WRAL News report – the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services granted an extension to Oct. 31 for those families who have not found providers.

"I don't know how many people were transitioned into that when there are no care-providers out there," said Paula Cox Fishman, whose sister is mentally disabled.

Fishman said she does not understand why the state is limiting the number of hours parents are paid to care for a loved one.

"Why are we more concerned about clocks than clients?" Fishman asked.

The state says the measure offers relief to family members who have provided around-the-clock care.

Some families who have been transitioned say they consider Implementation 35 a failure because the outside provider does not show up or is not able to cover all the hours needed.

For those who haven't transitioned, they are concerned a shortage of health-care providers, especially in rural areas, will force them to place their relatives in institutions.

"I think the regulation is very insensitive and does not take into consideration that there are parents and loved ones that will do a much better job – even when they're very tired – than someone who doesn't love the youngster would do," said Sen. Vernon Malone, D-Wake, who wants to see Implementation 35 changed.

He plans to seek exceptions to the policy. Otherwise, he said, he will consider introducing a bill to require DHHS to write them.