Over the nearly seven years I have written these monthly columns, I have written numerous times about two very significant issues impacting people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (IDD).

The first impacts people statewide, and the second impacts Community Options and the other rural service providers across the state, but the good news is that Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee, the General Assembly, and the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing are about to provide significant help on both.

As I have reported, there are 3,000 plus people with IDD in Colorado who are on a waiting list for what we refer to as “comprehensive,” or a full package of services including residential placement, day program/employment services, and case management.

During last year’s legislative session, our “End the Wait” campaign had broad bipartisan support and we were on the verge of finally accomplishing that feat. Then came the pandemic and the collapse of the economy, and our plan was put on hold, probably for the foreseeable future.

Much to our surprise however, the recovery of the economy and the infusion of stimulus dollars have resurrected our efforts much sooner than expected. Although the full-on effort to end the wait is not yet coming to fruition, the current budget working its way through the legislature includes enrollments for 667 people, and that number will probably end up being well over 700 as people come and go from services. To be able to enroll nearly 25% of the people waiting in one year is remarkable and exciting, and will have a profound impact on the lives of those people and their families.

The second issue has had a huge negative impact on our agency and all of rural Colorado, and involves the fact that since 2008, the afore-mentioned waiting list has been managed on a statewide basis.

Before that, when a person in our service area passed away or left services, we could fill that enrollment with someone on our local waiting list. Since then, however, those open enrollments have reverted to the state, and inevitably ended up allocated to someone on the Front Range. This attrition of enrollments has not only decreased service availability in rural areas, it also has decreased revenues to agencies like Community Options by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I am very excited that a proposal I submitted to the state to begin allocating enrollments based on an area’s percentage of the state’s population was finally approved and will be triggered for the first time by this large number of new enrollments, helping all providers across rural Colorado. Community Options stands to receive enrollments for 12 people, so indeed, help is on the way!

Tom Turner is the executive director of Community Options.

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