The story of Charles is not uncommon and it can be repeated throughout the state with other providers but the continued high level of quality care is in danger.

My story concerning Special Needs Individuals began in 1975. My son Charles who was totally normal and healthy was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at four years of age. St Jude Children’s Research Hospital cured Charles of the leukemia but as a result of the experimental treatment and his disease Charles became severely and profoundly retarded – a special needs individual.

Charles lived with my wife Gracie and I until he was 22 years of age. His life revolved around his movies, CDs, and our adult friends and there were many hours of the day he was just plain bored. Evergreen Life Services, a private non-profit provider, then entered our life. It was truly the most difficult decision of my life to allow Charles to go to live in a community home at Evergreen, but it became the best decision of my life.

Charles developed his own personality at Evergreen. He now has his own friends, a peer group of other special needs individuals, and he has a job at the Evergreen Day Hab from which he receives a small salary. Evergreen provides social functions such as Valentine parties, trips to the Dallas Cowboy games, and a talent show. Charles even has a girlfriend that he dances with at social functions. Charles has his own life even though he requires 24 hour staff supervision 7 days a week. Charles comes home a weekend each month to his room and Gracie and I treat him like his brother and sister who have gone away to college.

The quality staff at Evergreen treats their residents as if they are one of their own and Evergreen carefully monitors potential for any type of abuse. I know because I served on the Board of Evergreen for 18 years. The goal of Evergreen for these individuals is to make them the very best that they can be.

In the nine parishes of Northwest Louisiana, there are 590 special needs individuals who occupy community homes, and there are another 1,460 individuals in the Waiver Services, “Assisted Living,” according to the Northwest Louisiana Human Services which is a part of the Louisiana Department of Health. This is a total of 2,050 individuals in Northwest Louisiana who are served by providers such as Evergreen, Holy Angels, ARC of Caddo-Bossier, and other providers. There are approximately 27,000 individuals served by providers throughout the State of Louisiana.

In the 1950’s, special needs individuals were in institutions or they were living with their families. These institutions were owned by the State in most cases. This was a huge expense to the State and we have all heard about the severe abuse at these institutions. Certainly whether at a State institution or at home with family, the individuals had difficulty living life to the fullest. As time evolved, the Federal and State Governments realized the poor care special needs individuals received and they mandated that the institutions be abolished. With the evolution of Medicaid, the providers such as Evergreen, Holy Angels, etc. answered the Government’s call to provide better care for special needs individuals.

The story of Charles is not uncommon and it can be repeated throughout the state with other providers but the continued high level of quality care is in danger. The providers in Louisiana are attempting to continue providing quality care despite being reimbursed on a 2007 fee schedule which has been cut by 2% in 2009 and 3.5% in 2012 by the State. The quality staff that makes the care so precious has a yearly turnover in excess of 30% and in some cases up to 60%.

Can any of you run your business on 2007 reimbursement minus 5.5% and 30% employee turnover and still maintain 2018 quality?

This year, the State of Louisiana once again has a budget shortfall which is estimated to be $900,000,000.00 and we all know that budget cuts can only come from health and higher education. The other method of closing the budget gap is raising taxes. I understand there is not an easy solution for the Governor and the Legislature, but I feel the special needs individuals have taken more than their share of the cuts since 2007. The providers cannot continue to provide the same quality of care unless the State allows reimbursements to begin approaching a 2018 level and if reimbursement is decreased it is likely that some of the providers will go out of business.

Charles has achieved a status in life that I never believed would happen. He recently told me “Daddy, I am so happy.”

Please contact your Legislators so that the providers can continue their high level of care for special needs individuals.

Clinton G. McAlister, M.D.

Shreveport, La.