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Washington State Study Finds Community Costs Less
by Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
This article is reproduced here under special arrangement with Inclusion Daily Express Email News Service.

OLYMPIA, WA, Sept. 28, 2004 --It is a lot less expensive to support people with developmental disabilities in the community than in state-run institutions, Washington's Department of Social and Health Services has learned.

A study conducted by the department's Research and Data Analysis Division found that the cost of community supports is about 26 percent less, according to a DSHS press statement.

The results are good news for advocates of community living who have been pushing for several decades for the closure of Washington's institutions, here called "residential habilitation centers".

Previous studies have been criticized for not comparing "apples to apples" in that they did not measure the costs of supporting the same people in both community and institutional settings. This study, however, tracked a group of 37 people who moved from state-run RHCs to community supports from February 1999 to June 2003.

Researchers found that the state spent an average of $12,304 per month on each person housed in institutions for the four months prior to moving out. The cost for the same 37 people dropped to $9,127 per month per person after they began living in the community.

In other words, the savings per month for each person who left the institutions was an average of $3,177, or 26 percent less in the community.

Linda Rolfe, director of the DSHS' Division of Developmental Disabilities, said the results of the study will be used for DDD's own planning and to provide information for the Legislature, Office of Financial Management and other interested parties.

"This study answers a question for which our division has been seeking an answer for a long time: what are the differences in costs between institutional and community residential services," Rolfe said in the statement.

Some costs, such as transportation, public housing subsidies, state employee pensions, and capital expenditures were not included in the study. The study did not measure individual costs, but averaged the costs for the entire group.

The state of Washington serves 33,000 people with developmental disabilities. Last year, one-third of the state's DDD budget -- $305 million -- was spent to house about 1,000 of those people in the five RHCs.

Forty-three percent, or $399 million, went to community-based services, while 24 percent, or $234 million, went to people receiving services in their homes.

The last considerable shift from institutions to community supports in Washington occurred with the 1993 closure of Interlake School in Medical Lake. Since then, attempts to down-size or close other RHCs has been met by strong resistance from family members of those housed at the institutions, along with the union that employs several thousand state employees.

In 2003, the Legislature did order the state to close some cottages at Fircrest School, an RHC just north of Seattle, and consolidate services by moving the individuals housed there into "empty beds" at the other facilities or to the community. Most have been transferred to Rainier School, an RHC southwest of Seattle.

Cost Comparison Outline: RHC Compared to Community Care (DSHS Research & Data Analysis Division)
Carrying out the Legislature's direction to downsize Fircrest residential center in Shoreline (DSHS) "Institutions in Washington State" (Inclusion Daily Express)

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