It’s one thing to come up with a good idea. It’s quite another to execute it.
New Mexicans got another look at the unfortunate disconnect between concept and follow-through last week as officials revealed that fewer than 100 individuals – out of more than 2,000 invited – were receiving services through a scaled-down support plan to help people who have lingered on the waiting list for the state’s comprehensive developmental disabilities program. An estimated 4,000 families are on the waiting list, some for as long as 13 years.
In an effort to help bridge the gap, the Legislature authorized $7 million last year for the new program, which can pay for things like respite care, day programs and environmental modifications including items such as widened doorways to accommodate wheelchairs. “This is an opportunity to really improve the quality of life for their loved one and their family,” Jason Cornwell, director of the Developmental Disabilities Supports Division of the state Department of Health, said of the new program.
So why so few takers?
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino said the launch hit some snags, including a lengthy application process that dampened participation. The Albuquerque Democrat said he was “terribly disappointed” in the number of people enrolled and added “I think it’s a classic example of how a bureaucracy really has a hard time picking up on something new.” To people who struggled to get their unemployment benefit issues resolved during the pandemic, he’s preaching to the choir.
And COVID-19 complicated matters for those who needed to leave home for doctor visits or other steps required to qualify.
Tim Gardner, legal director of nonprofit Disability Rights New Mexico, said letters from the state might not be the best way to reach people on the list. He said some have a “history of disappointment” in their interactions with state agencies, adding that, “There is a natural distrust certain people have.”
Cornwell said the Department of Health admitted the agency has met with skepticism from families who fear they will lose their spot on the waiting list if they enroll in the new program. He emphasized that won’t happen and said the new services being offered were crafted in response to surveys asking families on the waiting list what they needed. “This is not a bait-and-switch,” Cornwell said.
And he said DOH is looking at ways to better reach families on the list. “We’ve got a lot of work to do so people understand what a value this is to their family,” he said. “We can help. We can really, really help.”
Fair enough. And acknowledging the effort has fallen far short of expectations is a good starting point. As part of the ramped-up outreach, Cornwell is asking people on the waiting list to call the telephone number on the letter they received or even reach out to him directly at email@example.com.
This program can make a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities and their families. Now, it’s up to the state to help make that happen through clear explanations and a simple, streamlined application process.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.