NC DHHS plans to move hundreds of mentally ill residents into supported housing

The NC Department of Health and Human Services is moving forward with a plan to transition thousands of residents with mental health diagnoses from adult care homes to independent-living settings over the next eight years, Chrissy Pearson, senior advisor to Secretary Al Delia, tells YES! Weekly today.

The plan is a response to concerns expressed by the US Justice Department following a complaint filed by Disability Rights NC. The state and federal government remain in negotiations, Pearson said, adding that the two sides have reached agreement on what needs to be done but are still trying to resolve differences on the matter of enforcement.

“DHHS is committed to putting this plan in place,” Pearson said. “Whether we sign some kind of agreement or move forward with close supervision, that’s yet to be agreed upon.”  

As reported in YES! Weekly earlier this week, Forsyth Village Assisted Living in Winston-Salem was one of a number of adult care homes across the state that was flagged by the Department of Health and Human Services, or DHHS, for having too high a concentration of resident with mental illness diagnoses and facing the loss of Medicaid reimbursement for all residents. The notification came about because of a separate but related regulation handed down by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

State lawmakers appropriated $10.3 million in this year’s budget to help transition at least 100 and as many as 300 people with mental illness diagnoses out of adult care homes, Pearson said. DHHS has identified 5,792 people with mental illness diagnoses as living in 287 facilities across the state. 

 “The goal is 3,000 slots over eight years,” Pearson said. “They will have tenancy support, transition support and rental support. It does wrap in a number of services such as job training and job coaching to help folks find meaningful, paid employment. There will be crisis teams and a 24-7 telephone line for support. We’re basically trying to expand the support for these citizens inside their communities.” 

Pearson cautioned against a figure of $67 million that was cited by the Associated Press and widely reported in daily newspapers across the state yesterday as the cost of carrying out the transition over the next eight years. 

“That’s an estimate that very well may creep up,” she said. 

Disability Rights NC, which brought the complaint to the US Justice Department, lamented yesterday that the state has so far sidestepped any agreement to give the federal government formal oversight. 

“We are disappointed that the state was unable to come to an agreement to resolve our complaint with USDOJ,” Executive Director Vicki Smith said in a prepared statement. “It is reassuring to hear the state acknowledge the enormity of the unmet needs of people with mental illness and their plan to increase supported housing, supported employment and other services. However, the plan outlined by the state lacks a binding agreement which once and for all commits the state to fulfill the promises we’ve heard today. The time for unenforceable promises has passed.”

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