Paul Smith, long-time West Virginia advocate for the rights of people with disabilities, has worked closely with WV Together for Medicaid to protect the program from federal and state attacks and funding cuts.
His OpEd today in the Charleston Gazette addresses the right of people with disabilities to live independently and productively. Medicaid pays for critical supports that help people with disabilities stay in their homes and live in the community. West Virginia has made progress eliminating and shortening waiting lists for these services - but more funds are still needed. And remember - for every $1 the state invests in Medicaid, the federal government provides $2.9 in matching funds.
"....Who of us without a disability would ever choose to live our adult life in a segregated group setting where we make no choices about where we live, who lives with us, or what our own daily activities will be?
For West Virginia to regress to any form of institutional care, whether it be in a large group home or a segregated community, is inhumane treatment of vulnerable individuals.
Institutional care is, ironically, often proposed by well-intentioned individuals as the safest option possible; but, in fact, it has always eventually resulted in being the worst and most dangerous option. West Virginia should work harder to see that supports to succeed at home or on the job are appropriate and meet the individual needs of people with disabilities....
To take any steps backward in this day and age is unimaginable and would be a tragic loss for all West Virginians. With waiting lists for Waiver services, no new funding to address them and increased funding for institutional services, we must change direction. We must move forward, not backward.
We must ensure that the civil rights of individuals with disabilities are protected; that people are not placed in settings that isolate them from the broader community; that individuals have choices, have control over their own lives, are integrated in and have full access to the greater community...."