By David McGrath Schwartz, Las Vegas Sun and U.S. News Agency / Asian
In an effort to stretch limited dollars, state officials have decided to rely more on nonprofit organizations to provide therapy services to young children with autism, Down syndrome or other developmental conditions.
But although relying on nonprofit groups is less expensive, the state will still have children who can’t be served because of a lack of money, state officials said Wednesday.
To serve all the newborns to 3-year-olds waiting for services from the state, Nevada Early Intervention Services would need from $7 million to $8.3 million next year, according to an estimate prepared by the state’s Health Division. But that money likely won’t come until next year at the earliest.
“I believe there isn’t enough money in the system right now, regardless of whether it’s the public sector or private sector providing the services,” said Mary Wherry, a deputy administrator for the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The bottom line is that it’s about money. It will take more funding to serve more families and eliminate the wait list,” said Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, chairwoman of the Interim Finance Committee, which is the legislative body meeting today to hear the issue.
Nevada Early Intervention Services came under scrutiny this year after it cut services for children with special needs because of budget constraints.
At a May meeting of the Interim Finance Committee, lawmakers expressed dismay with the state of the program and asked staff to come back with a plan.
Wherry said the pilot program, which will be discussed today, will direct new children to community service providers — nonprofits such as Easter Seals Nevada — which a state study found can provide services more cheaply on average than the state.
State officials had already begun moving this direction, diverting some children to nonprofits while keeping others under state care. But proposed legislation to more formally shift services to nonprofits has been opposed by the state employees union and defeated.
Brian Patchett, president of Easter Seals Nevada, said his group can take more children.
“This can’t be about politics or parties or unions,” he said. “This has to be about the kids right now. I think we’re all aware of the problems we’re facing.”
Under the pilot program, Wherry said state employees will act as service coordinators and case managers rather than treatment providers. Some children will still receive services through the state and other children through therapists contracted by the state.
But, she said, the program is still limited by the fiscal reality of its budget.
The item on the agenda today is informational only, which means no additional money could be allocated by the Interim Finance Committee.
Although almost all money is appropriated during legislative sessions, lawmakers keep a contingency fund. At today’s meeting, for example, lawmakers will be asked to transfer almost $5.5 million to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and another $64 million to pay off federal unemployment insurance debt.
Wherry said she isn’t authorized to ask for more money.
Requests to dip into the contingency fund have to come from the executive branch, lawmakers said.
Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said Early Intervention Services will be revisited in 2013, when the Legislature next meets.
“These are kids who need services, period. They’re at critical moments in their lives,” he said. “The better, more comprehensive services they receive now, the better they will be the rest of their lives.”