The Department of Human Services seems to be in the news on a pretty regular basis lately. Most recently, the Department is getting nailed for overpayment of Medicaid funds to tribal governments; this was in addition to news last summer that DHS had overpaid about $48 million for drug treatment services throughout the state. Since last spring, there have been investigations on the department’s ability to prevent child care fraud. DHS also faces ongoing criticism of the management of group home facilities. Their own website shows that they receive about 500 complaints of maltreatment every month in the 10,000 or more licensed programs in the state. Just last week, a TV news channel ran pictures of a mistreated client with blood all over his face and lacerations on his forehead. They reported that initially the caregiver was not disciplined, but he was later dismissed.
After all of these allegations and misappropriations, I’m very concerned about what the Legislature is going to do as far as funding DHS programs. I would be very hesitant to be budgeting more money for DHS if I was a legislator. We and the legislators have to put our confidence in the new commissioner, Jodi Harpstead, and hope that she can get the major problems ironed out and recover any misappropriated money. I don’t know how you can overpay about $77 million from your accounts without knowing it. I did once pay my credit card bill twice in one month without realizing it, but the company sent the money back to me. I guess things just aren’t that simple when you’re talking millions. These overpayments include federal Medicaid funds, though. I don’t think the feds will say, oh sure, just keep the change.
In the middle of what’s going to be a very difficult session for DHS, I worry that the state’s PCA program and other positive, working programs funded by DHS are going to continue to be underfunded. We all know there’s a huge shortage of caregivers. (That’s probably why the caregiver in the group home mistreatment incident was not dismissed immediately.) But without increased wages and benefits for PCAs and other direct support professionals doing home care, there’s going to be a lot more people moving into group homes and nursing homes. For the first time in my memory, I know people who are moving to nursing homes and rationalizing it as an easier, less stressful way. They would rather give up their rights to home-based care than not have a PCA or direct support professional available to put them to bed, get them up in the morning, and do their daily cares.
Although I may sound critical of DHS, I also recognize that it is the funding source for all our independent living programs, and over the years it has done a very good job of developing programs to promote and sustain independence. To join in with public criticism of DHS is only shooting ourselves in the foot. It’s an agency we need, and maybe the only state agency that comes close to understanding our needs. We need to find ways to support DHS while it works to stop fraud and demand the return of any overpayments that have happened. We need to help each legislator we talk to realize that DHS is not just a huge portion of the state budget. It is, for the most part, spending that money wisely to serve Minnesota’s families to get medical care, support services, and care for our elderly and people with disabilities.
There is good legislation on PCA funding, already written last session and with strong support from multiple lawmakers. We just need the Legislature to prioritize this financial need before it takes on other more controversial, time-consuming and expensive issues like the assisted suicide legislation. They should spend their time on fraud prevention but not forget that they still need to focus on the real needs in the community and fund those needs.
I hope everyone has a safe and filling Thanksgiving holiday with lots of family and friends.