Colo. slips 19 places in national ranking of inclusion

The latest results are in, and they don’t look good for Colorado. No, I don’t mean the postseason demise of Broncos’ fans dreams of the Super Bowl.

United Cerebral Palsy has released its 2012 “The Case for Inclusion” report. This report analyzes the state of services for people with intellectual disabilities across the United States. It looks at a variety of indicators that include community living vs. institutionalization, employment of people with disabilities, support of families, waiting lists for services, community involvement and state spending on people with intellectual disabilities, or ID.

Colorado did not fare well. The 2012 report lists Colorado as 28th in the nation, a significant slip from its position as ninth in the 2010 report. Comparison with our neighbors is even more dismal: Revenue-strapped New Mexico came in 14th and Arizona is No. 1.

Why did Colorado show so poorly? Several factors seem to have contributed to the decline. During the last few years, the percentage of people with ID dropped more than half, from 35 percent to 17 percent. Though many job losses were likely the direct result of a struggling economy, decreasing support for employment programs certainly was a factor. Colorado numbers in supported employment fell while U.S. averages stayed relatively stable.

By 2010, 164 Coloradans with ID were still housed in large state-run facilities, which seems minimal compared with the more than 8,000 served in community settings. Yet when you factor in that the average per-person cost (more than $174,000 per year) is more than four times the cost of community living (which averaged $41,000 per person per year), it is clear that Colorado may not be serving people in the most cost-effective way.

Colorado’s failure to participate in the outcome-based national quality assurance program (National Core Indicators, or NCI) also contributed to its drop. The state’s current quality-assurance program is based on issues of compliance – timeliness of data input and use of the prescribed services – rather than looking at actual outcomes experienced by those who receive the services.

Probably the most significant factor, though, was the large waiting lists. Based on this report, more than 1,500 people currently are waiting for residential support in Colorado (although ID programs across the state have questioned the accuracy of the state’s estimates, believing the true numbers are higher). It would take more than 33 percent growth in current programs to place everyone in services. Currently, Colorado is allowing people in only the direst emergency situations to enroll in residential services. The estimate is that it could well take 15 to 20 years for someone getting on the residential waiting list today to receive those services.

Are we satisfied being No. 28? After all, we did better than 23 other states, many of which were historical poor Southern states. While United Cerebral Palsy points out that all states still have work to do, Colorado’s recent slip shows its particular need to concentrate on improving the quality of support for some of its most vulnerable residents.

For more information about Colorado services for people with intellectual disabilities, call Community Connections at 385-3445 or email cci@cci-colorado.org.

Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.