Hundreds rally in support of services for Maryland's developmentally disabled
Budget cuts will add to state waiting list, advocates say
Blind, nonverbal and wheelchair-bound, Larissa Creed needs constant attention.
Her parents, Diane and Donald Creed of Rockville, must feed her and change her diaper.
Larissa is 24 years old; her parents are in their 60s. Both still work full time. Larissa's sleep disorder means neither she nor her parents get much rest at night.
Approaching retirement age, the Creeds are worn out. They wonder how much longer they can care for their daughter, who is among the 19,000 people on a state Developmental Disabilities Administration waiting list for services.
"We would like to believe that we will live forever, but we can't," Diane Creed said in a video message shown during a town hall meeting in Rockville on Monday that highlighted the impact of state budget cuts on the developmentally disabled.
The Creeds hope for state support that would allow Larissa to move to a residential placement that would meet her needs and give them some needed respite by the time they enter their 70s.
"We need DDA help, and we need it now," Donald Creed said.
The Creeds' timing couldn't be worse, say parents and care providers among about 300 people who attended the forum.
Since August, two rounds of cuts have slashed $735 million from the state's fiscal 2010 budget, including about $29 million in services for the disabled. Cuts to local health departments include $627,000 from programs for the developmentally disabled in Montgomery County.
A $23 million cut to community service programs that serve about 22,000 people statewide means no cost-of-living raise for workers and fewer services for programs that advocates say are chronically underfunded.
The state reduced funding for staff from $9.12 an hour to less than $9 an hour, said Ian Paregol, executive director of Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children Inc. in Montgomery Village.
The cuts have forced employees of some service providers to look for work elsewhere, advocates say.
For Community Services, cuts mean reducing community outings and recreational opportunities, decreasing occupational and speech therapy services and consolidating group homes that housed two individuals to make room for three or more to a home, Paregol said.
"It's starting to sound like institutionalization within a community," said Paregol, who predicted a longer waiting list for services.
Under Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), Maryland has taken steps to increasingly serve the developmentally disabled in the community rather than in state institutions. That included the closure in June of the Rosewood Center in Owings Mills, which housed 156 residents.
"The state was so focused on closing Rosewood that they forgot that the idea was to replace that paradigm with an adequately funded community support system," Paregol said, drawing applause from the audience.
State officials defended the cuts as unpleasant but necessary measures taken during trying economic times.
More reductions lie ahead.
O'Malley must recommend $290 million in additional cuts to balance the fiscal 2010 budget. Another $1 billion is needed to close a fiscal 2011 gap.
"There are no more easy cuts for us to make that will not impact services," said Renata J. Henry, deputy secretary for behavioral health and disabilities with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
But lawmakers cautioned that new taxes would be a tough sell to their colleagues in Annapolis.
"We will work as hard as we can to put that funding back there as soon as we can," said Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village. "That is the only promise I can make."
Additional town hall meetings are planned around the state. Go to www.endthewaitnow.com.