OKLAHOMA CITY — State officials say they are making progress toward eliminating a 13-year wait for developmentally disabled Oklahomans to receive government-funded services.
Oklahoma Department of Human Services representatives say they are poised to eliminate the waiting list by next spring despite a shortage of providers and difficulties getting in contact with some of the 4,993 families awaiting services.
“We’re learning a lot as we go about what families need and how to improve our processes, and we’re still right on track to end the wait,” DHS Director Deb Shropshire said in a Monday news conference at the state Capitol.
The goal is to connect as many families to services as quickly as possible, she added.
DHS is working to rapidly approve thousands of Oklahomans with intellectual or developmental disabilities for in-home and community waiver services funded through Medicaid.
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Lori Wieder of Stillwater said coming off the waiting list and being approved for government services will have an immediate impact on her family.
She has two children diagnosed with rare genetic disorders who have been on the list for 10 years. Now, she hopes they can get physical, occupational and speech therapy in addition to other assistance that can help them become more independent as they get older.
“I’m really excited about the future for my children and for the rest of the people of Oklahoma,” she said. “The more services that we provide to people with disabilities, the better our great state will be.”
DHS is working through the developmental disability services waiting list that has been divided into seven groups based on when people signed up for services.
Of the 340 applicants in the first group, which includes families who have been waiting for services since 2010, roughly half are now receiving services or their application is in process or has been approved.
Of the other 50%, 44 applicants declined services, 12 did not qualify, seven moved out of state and four died. DHS has been unable to locate about 60 people and received no response from another 22 people after multiple contact attempts.
DHS officials urged families on the waiting list to update their contact information with the agency to ensure they are notified about when they could qualify for services.
“There are some (people) that after really diligent searches, we can’t find them,” said Beth Scrutchins, DHS director of developmental disability services. “If you’re on the DDS waiting list, please reach out.”
The Oklahoma Legislature last year appropriated $32.5 million in new funding for DHS to eliminate the waiting list and increase provider rates by 25%.
Even with the rate increases, Shropshire acknowledged the state needs more providers to care for all of the Oklahomans coming off the waiting list. But every industry is struggling to meet workforce demands, she said.
The agency has held a series of regional meetings across the state to inform families of the process of clearing the waiting list and answer questions about the services for which they might be eligible.
As DHS works to clear the waiting list, more people are signing up for services. Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, said the Legislature will continue to prioritize Oklahomans with developmental disabilities even after the 13-year backlog is eliminated.
“Eliminating the waiting list is truly one of the only things in this building where there is a consensus and a strong will to continue to fund the elimination of the waiting list,” he said.