05/26/05 — Families ask if laws will hurt services offered for disabled

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Families ask if laws will hurt services offered for disabled

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on May 26, 2005 1:45 PM

Relatives of developmentally disabled people crowded the Eastpointe conference room Wednesday trying to find out if the new state mental health laws would help or hinder their loved ones.

James Hinnant has a developmentally disabled brother and said he was suspicious of the new laws.

"Watch these people," he warned the others. "People are looking to line their own pockets, and make money for personal gain."

Eastpointe is the organization that provides public services for people with mental health problems, substance abuse problems and developmental disabilities in Wayne, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties.

Under the new laws, Eastpointe will no longer be a service provider, but will be placed in an oversight role as a "local management entity."

Disabled and mentally ill people will have to depend on community-based resources and less on institutionalized care. State law requires the local agencies to stop providing direct services by 2007.

Dr. Jack St. Clair, director of Eastpointe, said that he thought the conversion to private contracts could provide better services for consumers.

"Historically we couldn't provide a full array of services, such as an adult day care," he said. "A lot of consumers getting older and don't need to work, but still need a place to socialize."

St. Clair said that a lot of young developmentally disabled people graduating high school had no place to go, and that the private providers might be able to fill this gap too.

Eastpointe has no direct control over the laws passed in Raleigh, he said, but they will select the private providers.

There are two local organizations that have expressed interest in taking over the vocational rehabilitation programs, and each should be submitting a proposal soon.

The services should be contracted out by fall, he said.

St. Clair said Eastpointe would monitor the providers, and the places would still have to meet state guidelines.

"We're not going away. We'll just be wearing a different hat," he said.

Kris Brewer, a parent of a disabled child, urged other parents to stay involved in the process.

"Whatever providers we have, we'll still need the backing of parents and guardians," Ms. Brewer said. "These are your children. You also need to monitor the process."

Hinnant said families will have to fight to keep control over the programs.

"Our loved ones can't express themselves, and that's why they need us," he said.