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No new group homes coming to local area

Observer-Dispatch - 12/26/2017

Dec. 26--Patty Femia was happy to hear that the state has given out $58.9 million in grants to establish more group homes for the developmentally disabled.

Then she heard that none of the new homes will be in Oneida or Herkimer counties.

"You've got to be kidding me!" she said.

A shortage of group home beds has meant that aging parents haven't been able to place their adult children in homes while they're still young and healthy enough to assist with the transition. Instead, available beds have mostly gone to residents of institutions or to people without a safe place to live.

In awarding the grants to 53 agencies for 459 beds in 83 group homes, the state said the expansion was primarily geared for adult children living with their aging parents. Oneida and Herkimer counties weren't included because only one agency from Oneida County applied and it did not win in the competitive Request for Service process, a spokeswoman for the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities said.

This year's grants are the first round of a multi-year initiative, however, so local agencies could try again for funds in the future.

Although Femia, of New Hartford, isn't looking to place her son Vincent yet, she will want to eventually and she knows other parents who want, but have been unable to place their own children.

"I'm happy for the people who will get the homes," she said. "I'm a little disappointed for our area that's not going to get anything. It's really needed."

The problem, according to local agency officials, is staffing.

"If you create a whole new residence, you've got to be able to staff that 24/7," said Karen Korotzer, CEO of The Arc, Oneida-Lewis Chapter. "And for us, we feel it wasn't the right time to apply."

Her agency needs to focus on the recruitment and retention of staff to make sure residents of its existing homes are well cared for, she said.

Human service agencies across the state have struggled to recruit and retain enough direct support workers. The jobs are rewarding, advocates say, but also difficult and the pay is not high. The last state budget included an increase in Medicaid reimbursements so agencies can give workers a 24 cent wage increase, but agency officials have said that's not enough to turn the tide.

Louis Tehan, president and CEO of Upstate Cerebral Palsy, agreed that staffing new homes would be a problem.

"Locally, no one's stepping up. No one can get staff and the rates have been cut dramatically. So there's not a lot of agencies that do reply to the state's request for proposals," he said.

Upstate Cerebral Palsy is using state money to open two new group homes, but not ones that will increase capacity for people living at home. One with six beds will open in Vernon in July for kids in the agency's residential educational program who have turned 21 and have to leave, Tehan said.

The other, opening in Westmoreland, is part of a plan to downsize a 12-bed home into two, six-bed homes, he said.

Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth).

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(c)2017 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.

Visit Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. at www.uticaod.com

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