By Ben Rogers
I believe an important function of government is ensuring people with mental illnesses and disabilities receive services that help them improve their quality of life, achieve greater independence and opportunities to contribute to society. Over the past several years, Linn County has experienced sharp reductions in state and federal funding that has adversely impacted our ability to provide these services to our community’s most vulnerable residents.
I hear frequently from my constituents and the residents of Linn County their concerns about the closing of the Abbe Center for Community Care and potential future funding issues with a Linn County department that provides services for people with disabilities called Options of Linn County. These programs, while providing services to different populations, have experienced reductions in funding that have impacted their ability to provide services to people with mental illnesses and disabilities. On Sept. 30, the Abbe Center, a residential facility that provided transitional and long-term services to adults with mental illness and developmental disabilities, closed. About 75 residents received services there and have moved to other community facilities in and around Linn County. It should be noted the Abbe Center is not a department of Linn County government.
Although the Abbe Center, Linn County Community Services and the Linn County Board of Supervisors worked diligently to maintain operations at the Abbe Center for as long as possible, it was ultimately the decision of the board of directors of the Abbe Center to close down.
The 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision Olmstead v. L.C. has made funding large residential service providers, such as the Abbe Center, increasingly difficult. The Olmstead ruling requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities and to ensure people with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.
This ruling also eliminated the ability of Medicaid to pay these types of providers for their services in large residential facilities. The alternative to the large placement facilities such as the Abbe Center, outlined by federal regulations, is smaller, community-based facilities no larger than 15 beds.
I am saddened and deeply concerned about the closing of the Abbe Center and remain committed to ensuring the former residents, and other Linn County residents with mental illness or developmental disabilities, continue to receive these important services.
As we continue our work on behalf of people with mental illness, we also are focused on people with intellectual and physical disabilities. One program Linn County provides for people with disabilities is called Options of Linn County.
Options provides services to more than 200 Linn County residents that include employment opportunities for people with disabilities, day habilitation and social interaction. Families, consumers and disability advocates praise Options for improving the quality of life for adults with disabilities.
Like many other similar services, the Options program relies on funding from the federal and state government. Further reductions in funding are anticipated in the near future, so the Linn County Board of Supervisors proactively established a task force consisting of residents with disabilities, family members of people with disabilities, disability advocates, non-profit providers and other community representation. Their charge is to study the issues impacting service delivery for people with disabilities at Options and to submit recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.
The focus of the supervisors has been, and will continue to be, providing the best services available for our most vulnerable residents. Some of the best providers of mental health and disability services anywhere in the country are in Linn County. We are working closely with legislators, providers, families and consumers to ensure the people who need these services get the quality care they deserve.
Ben Rogers is a Linn County supervisor. Comments: Ben.Rogers@linncounty.org