More than 1,500 people with disabilities and their families are on waiting lists for residential services, supported employment, day training and supported living. Of those, 281 are considered high priority by the Division of Services to People With Disabilities.
But the director of the division disputes claims from some parents who fear a handful of people who require very expensive services are taking a disproportionate share of the budget that could be used to provide help to large numbers of families in crisis."One of the unfortunate conclusions people are reaching is if you stop serving one of (the very expensive clients), there'll be more money for services for everyone else," said Ric Zaharia, division director. "That tradeoff is so much fantasy. The right to treatment is something the court is going to enforce. We must provide it."
Several parents have contacted the Deseret News recently with reports of a young disabled client who is being cared for by the state at a cost of $700 a day.
"The thing that wrenches me is there are people who sit out there on waiting lists and are desperate and cannot get services," said one mother. "Why is this OK?"
An examination of division policy shows the division has capped care at $425 a day and limited the number of such clients to 12 or 13 who in Zaharia's words "must be served and cannot be served for less. We absolutely won't pay more than $425 and haven't had anyone hit the maximum in the current group."
The cost of care for some clients is much higher because they require more supervision, behavioral intervention and management time, he said. Several years ago, people who "challenged the system" were sent to specialized and very expensive placements in other states. "These kinds of situations were never an issue because they were out of sight and out of mind. We still paid for them. Then we decided that we could take care of our own expensive challenges. We have repatriated all those Utahns who were very expensive out of state."
The problem, he said, stems not from a few costly clients, but from the decision the state has made to provide inadequate funding to meet the needs of clients with disabilities.
"The whole pot isn't big enough. But I see this issue as cannibalism. If I can't get these services, I'm going to turn on my friends who can get services. In fact, we've chosen the dilemma we're in. Rhode Island, which has about the same size population to serve, has twice the money and no waiting lists. Utah chooses to have unserved people."
As of June 1, 813 people were on waiting lists to get into residential programs. Another 217 were waiting for slots in day training, with 370 hoping for supported employment opportunities. And 116 are waiting for supported living.
The only solution, according to Zaharia, is for state legislators to allocate enough money to the division to serve the people on waiting lists.