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EPI looking at structural changes, enhancing community services

EPI looking at structural changes, enhancing community services

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WATERLOO | Exceptional Persons Inc. is moving forward with plans to offer additional residential options in a more independent setting and reduce the number of group homes.

The agency is taking the steps after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid recently finalized a rule related to community living.

EPI’s transition and the federal rule both follow an ongoing trend to place people with disabilities or mental illnesses in less segregated, more integrated settings within communities.

Chris Sparks, EPI executive director, said EPI has moved slower on joining the trend, because it was awaiting the CMS rule to see whether it included a specific number of people that could live in a home- or community-based setting. The final rule did not include a hard cap.

Sparks said there was also delay simply because EPI has had success in its current group settings.

“What we know is that it was a great way to deliver services, a wonderful way, up until things began to change philosophically, and it’s a service delivery model that is less and less supported by Medicaid rules,” Sparks said.

He said the rule change, finalized in January, sets a high bar for ensuring that people who receive Medicaid funding for services have full access to a range of services in a community setting.

“It’s just a transition, like we see so many of, in our services,” Sparks said.

Under current plans, four of 12 EPI group homes would be closed. The full transition is expected to take about two years. Sparks said clients will begin moving in the fall.

He said parents or guardians of group home residents  have already been notified of the changes, to help EPI determine the best setting for their child or loved one.

Sparks also stressed that residents or their families will never have to find the home- or community-based setting for themselves. Staff will work with each individual to find the right setting.

Katie Slade, communications and development director, said the individuals served will be able to identify where they would like to live and who with. Sparks added that staff support will continue.

He said about 31 percent of their residents currently live in the group setting; the rest are already living in a community-based setting. He added customer preference has moved from group homes and toward home and community settings along with the federal government’s push.

“We offer services in 120 sites in Cedar Falls, Waterloo and Evansdale,” Sparks said, which include individual residential settings. “Hopefully when you drive down the street, you cannot tell that’s a site where we offer services.”

He said EPI has offered residential living options for about the past 30 years.

Sparks said because EPI does not own the group homes, he does not know what will become of them once EPI vacates them. He said, however, the most recent building was erected 30 years ago.

Because people will move to more home-and community-based settings, there will be less oversight by the Iowa Department of Inspection and Appeals. But Sparks said the Medicaid program has an equally rigorous, if not more so, program to ensure adequate regulatory protections.

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