Tri-Valley suffers with cuts

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories examining the impact of state budget cuts on public health agencies serving the Allen County area.

Register Reporter

Tim Cunningham

Pinching pennies is nothing new for Tim Cunningham.
As executive director of Tri-Valley Developmental Services, Cunningham notes that state funding for programs such as his has been inadequate for at least 15 years.
And that’s not just opinion.
“I’m basing this on the state’s own rate studies that indicate we’re under-funded — by a lot,” Cunningham said.
But his protests, and even pending litigation, have done little to convince lawmakers to loosen the state’s purse strings. Instead, the cutbacks are growing deeper.
State funding for Tri-Valley was lopped by $337,022 this year, putting the organization’s funding back to 2000 levels; more than $100,000 below where it was in 2004. If preliminary forecasts hold true for 2011, Tri-Valley’s budget could shrink another $431,000, Cunningham said.
The budget cuts have forced Tri-Valley to drop services to 41 clients and eliminate 23 paid employees over the past 18 months. The Tri-Valley staff, at 155, is down 67 from eight years ago.
Tri-Valley provides a number of residential- and employment-based services to developmentally disabled adults — a keystone to making the clients productive members of society — in Allen, Neosho, Bourbon and Woodson counties. Tri-Valley also provides transportation services and oversees the local Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

WITH FEWER TVDS ty taxes,” Cunningham said. “They’re people who shop in our stores, live in our communities.
Just as important, fewer staff members means a lower level of service to TVDS clients, Cunningham said.
Many programs, which sported a 3-to-1 ratio of clients to support staff just a few years ago, now may have five clients per employee. That leads to a litany of other potential hazards, Cunningham said.
“It’s harder for one employee to keep a handle on a group of clients than it is for two (employees),” he said. Having only one employee in a group home also puts extra-curricular activities in jeopardy.
For example, a trip to the park would be canceled if even one of the five clients doesn’t want to go, Cunningham explained. “With two employees, the others still could go, with one employee staying behind with the fifth client,” he said.
Reduced supervision also means greater potential for disrupting or challenging behavior that could result in increased hospitalization or trips to mental health centers for clients accustomed to individualized care.
With its current list of 240 clients are another 70 on waiting lists “that we’d love to serve but can’t afford to,” Cunningham said. That backlog is certain to grow in coming months.
The cuts have hurt morale for both staff — which typically receive little more than minimum wage — and clients and their families, said Anna Methvin, Tri-Valley’s director of public relations.
“The families are in a panic right now,” she said. “All of these cuts fall back on them.”
Tri-Valley also has been forced to make ends meet in other ways, such as postponing capital improvements to residential centers and retaining vehicles well longer than they should — the group’s transportation van sports more than 200,000 miles on its odometer, Cunningham noted.
“It has good tires,” he said. “The rest of it is being held together with duct tape.”

SINCE 2002, Tri-Valley has been part of a lawsuit against the state, contending that the Kansas Constitution and its Development Disabilities Reform Act of 1995 require the state to provide a “system of adequate and reasonable funding or reimbursement for the delivery of community services.”
The reform act also calls for biennial rate reviews of provider funding. Those have indicated shortfalls in 2002-03, 2005-06 and 2007-08.
Cunningham dismisses the state’s contention that state revenue shortfalls have made it impossible to fully meet its obligations in a number of areas.
“The Legislature was aware that problems were on the horizon but did nothing about it,” Cunningham said.
And still, Cunningham is not calling for a tax hike.
“If all they would do is close some of those tax loopholes — abatements, refunds, exemptions — they’ve been providing over the last 10 years, we’d be OK,” he said.
Instead, Cunningham learned in December that further funding cuts are likely for the upcoming year.
“We were expecting a 3 percent cut,” he said. “We planned for a 3 percent cut. Then in November, the governor comes out and says we’re going to get a 10 percent cut. It was like a blow to the gut.”
What’s more, Tri-Valley also receives a portion of its funding from the federal government, but that reimbursement is based on a percentage of the state aid it receives, Cunningham said. That means any state cuts are exacerbated by lost federal funding, too.
“We’ve tried explaining that to (legislators) repeatedly, but what are you going to do,” Cunningham asked.
“They’ve got their own rate studies that provide we’re being under-funded. They just don’t care.”
Cunningham said Tri-Valley receives support from a pair of local lawmakers — Reps. Bill Otto (R-Le Roy) and Jerry Williams (D-Chanute) — but that support is not enough.
As for Sen. Derek Schmidt, his actions aren’t in line with his words, Cunningham said.