RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Thousands of Virginians with developmental disabilities are in need of state support but stuck on a waiting list. Governor Glenn Youngkin wants to eliminate the highest priority backlog by the end of his term and make a big dent this budget cycle. At least one Senate Democrat thinks Youngkin’s goals are realistic.
According to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, there are 14,433 individuals on the waiting list for a Medicaid Development Disability Waiver. Of those, 3,199 are “priority one,” which means they are expected to need services in a year or less.
As part of a broader plan to transform Virginia’s behavioral health system, Youngkin is proposing funding for another 500 DD waiver slots. That’s on top of 600 additional slots that the General Assembly already approved in the budget for fiscal year 2024.
“With the increased funding in this proposal, we will clear one third of the backlog. In my next budget, I will propose additional funding with the goal, and I hit my goals, of totally eliminating the priority one waiting list by the end of my term,” Youngkin said at an event earlier this month. “We must make this system work better.”
Lisa Smith’s 22-year-old daughter, Haley, finally qualified for a waiver earlier this year. Smith said they signed up 14 years ago and spent at least three to four years on the priority one wait list.
“It does take a toll,” Smith said. “It takes a toll financially. It takes a toll emotionally,”
Haley has Dravet Syndrome, which causes uncontrollable seizures that can occur multiple times per day. Smith said caring for her is a full-time job, but before the DD waiver they were only being compensated for four hours of supervision daily.
“It was ridiculous,” Smith said. “You can’t tell her, ‘okay, can you schedule your seizures in this four hour window.'”
Now, the state is paying for 16 hours of in-home care each day, relieving stress and uncertainty about the future, according to Smith.
“We don’t want to put her in an institution. We want to keep her with us, but in order to do that, there needs to be some funding for the family and that is what we’re getting now, is the ability to take care of her,” Smith said. “We hope she doesn’t outlive us but, if she does, we know she is taken care of through this waiver.”
But Smith still thinks lawmakers should go further. She said the position funded by Haley’s waiver pays $12.70 per hour without benefits.
“It is very hard to find someone who is willing to work at that wage and have the skills you need,” Smith said.
State Senator George Barker, a Democrat who has been focused on this issue for years, said Youngkin’s goals to add another 500 slots during the 2023 session are realistic.
“We’ll do that and we may be able to do more,” Barker said. “It depends on the provider’s capacity. So we’re going to work on that to make sure we don’t give people false hope.”
Barker said a shortage of providers has prevented lawmakers from funding more slots in the past. For instance, the budget that came out of the Senate earlier this year included funding for 1,200 additional slots, but it was cut down to 600 in a compromise.
Instead of adding more slots, Barker said lawmakers focused on increasing compensation to grow the pool of providers. He said it’s starting to pay off.
“I haven’t seen the numbers but I have been told in talking with people that they are making progress and getting more staff,” Barker said.
Barker said he is not sure if there will be another effort to raise rates in the 2023 session.