Utah disabled feeling sting of budget cuts

The recent recession and budget cuts in Utah have effected nearly all state agencies. Even vital programs and departments that most people don’t mind paying taxes for have taken huge cut.

The Utah State Developmental Center in American Fork is one such facility that faced a nearly $2 million cut in its state budget in addition to losing nearly $4 million in federal match funding. The shortage of capital has lead to some significant changes in order to maintain the proper care facilities for over 200 individuals with cognitive disabilities that reside and receive care at the Developmental Center.

One of the hits that the developmental center has taken is to its recreation therapy programs. These range from therapy pools and horseback riding that can help strengthen an individual’s range of motion and balance to a pet therapy program that helps individuals develop communication skills and social connections. These are some pretty amazing programs that have been cut, whether permanently or temporarily.

“At the present time they are permanent,” Karen Clarke, superintendent at the Developmental Center, said of the recreational therapy cuts. “They may be permanent right now or at least the next year or two. I don’t see them coming back in the foreseeable future.”

“We will continue to provide treatment according to U.S. Medicaid regulations,” Clarke said about alternative routes for therapy.

The changes have brought up the possibility of moving some of the services  for the residence,  like social work and recreational therapy, to private providers. This, in effect, would remove the costs associated with employee benefits at a state run institution, but would likely shorten the amount of time the individual would spend doing the therapy and would require transportation. All of this adjusting has, however, been done with those being cared for in mind.

“Our priorities are the people of Utah and being accountable,” said Liz Solis, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services, the organization that oversees state institutions like the Developmental Center. “We’re always looking at the best ways to provide the best service for the tax payers’ dollar[s]. It’s definitely a thought-out process.”

One bright spot from this major change is that community involvement has remained largely unchanged by the program cuts.
“We have a strong volunteer program,” Clarke said. “Volunteers haven’t really been decreasing and are still welcome.”

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