State gets funds to return disabled, aging to community

$94 million coming from Washington over five years

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Pennsylvania officials trying to move more aging and disabled people from institutions to community settings received federal funding yesterday to strengthen that effort.

The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced $94 million would be allocated to Pennsylvania over the next five years to help it shift more institutionalized individuals and enhance the services they can receive. Pennsylvania was one of 14 states receiving such grants.

Primarily, the funds will increase the share of costs picked up by the federal government for care of such individuals, from 54 percent to 72 percent.

The Rendell administration last July intensified its efforts to bring capable people out of nursing homes, mental health hospitals and mental retardation centers. Officials have assumed that by offering those individuals greater assistance than they realized was available, they can live with more satisfaction and at less cost to the government in their own apartments or in residences with relatives or peers.

Michael Hall, the state's deputy secretary of long-term living, said 1,100 people have made the transition from nursing homes since July 1, and hundreds more from state-run centers. The federal funding is expected to help with similar moves by 2,600 more people over five years, about three-fourths of those coming from nursing homes, he said.

He said the funds are part of the state's "money follows the person" initiative, which is administered by county Area Agencies on Aging, in the case of people 60 and older, and through Department of Public Welfare programs for those with developmental disabilities.

Former nursing home residents can receive wide-ranging in-home services and other help in setting up new households, so long as they lived in institutions for at least six months beforehand. The state uses other Medicaid waiver programs to try to keep individuals from moving out of their homes and into nursing homes or state centers in the first place.

Allegheny County's transition program for adults 60 and older has brought about 110 individuals out of nursing homes since July 1, with the pace accelerating in recent months, said Darlene Burlazzi, deputy administrator of the county's Area Aging on Aging. A staff of seven full-time care managers works specifically with nursing homes and other agencies to identify and relocate willing individuals, she said.

"They try to identify early on [if] this person has a strong desire to come back out," she said, observing that the nursing homes have not been resistant to those efforts.


Gary Rotstein can be reached at grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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