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State runs out of money for nursing homes

Care providers may need to wait a couple of weeks for Legislature to approve supplemental budget

Posted: Friday, April 30, 2004

Judy Urquhart and her husband Jay expected a check in the mail Monday from the state for their services running a small assisted-living home in Juneau.

Instead they got an invoice from First Health, the state contractor that doles out Medicaid payments to personal care providers, showing how much the couple should have received and a single line stating: "Explanation - budget."

Urquhart said her husband contacted the state Department of Health and Social Services after receiving the letter. "That's when they told my husband that they had run out of money and that we might get paid in two weeks but it was stuck in the Legislature."

Hundreds of assisted-living homes, nursing homes and community-based care providers across the state that care for seniors and the disabled are still waiting for the Legislature to approve a supplemental budget to fund their services.

Janet Clarke, administrative services director for the Department of Health and Social Services, said the department in February requested an additional $31 million in state and federal funds from the Legislature to cover the runaway cost of personal care services.

The request was put in a fast-track supplemental bill that has not been approved by the Legislature. This week Health and Social Services returned with an additional request of $14.7 million, Clarke said.

About $11.7 million of the two funding requests would come from the state general fund. The rest would be provided through federal matching funds.

The supplemental bill was approved by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday but still awaits approval by the full Senate and House before the money can be distributed.

Clarke said she was assured by lawmakers that the funding request will be approved, but care providers may need to wait a couple of weeks.

"It's just a matter of time," Clarke said.

House Finance Co-chairman Bill Williams, R-Saxman, said the supplemental budget probably will pass as part of the state capital budget, which is typically used for various state and local projects.

"The fast-track supplemental we really wanted to get through right away and we didn't, for whatever reason," he said.

When asked when the capital budget would be passed, Williams said: "Your guess is as good as mine. ... Hopefully by the end of next week."

Urquhart said her business and many others like it can't afford to wait for the Legislature to take action.

"This is our whole income," she said. "One hundred percent of what we need to keep our business running we make through this business. When things don't come through that's really bad news for us."

Steve Ashman, director of senior and disability services, said Alaska has about 16 skilled nursing facilities, 154 assisted living homes and 255 home and community-based care providers. Some have been paid in full, some have received partial payment and others have gotten nothing.

Ashman said he instructed First Health to pay small care providers before larger nursing homes, which are more capable of dealing with the funding shortfall.

"Apparently that didn't occur," he said, and the company paid large care providers first, leaving the smaller providers to wait.

"(Large care providers) were provided with a letter of explanation," Urquhart said, who has run her small assisted living home for about a year and a half. "We were provided with nothing."

• Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothy.inklebarger@juneauempire.com.



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