Shifting human services to private sector is good for everyone

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As our state faces continued budget difficulties, Connecticut’s nonprofit community providers can help by delivering high-quality social services at a lower cost than the same services provided in state-run government facilities.

Today, community-based providers deliver vital services to more than half a million residents each year.  Some of these agencies are small arts or cultural organizations that improve the quality of our communities.  Others are partners with state and local governments in caring for at-risk individuals who need it most.

It is difficult work. Community nonprofits feed the hungry, provide therapy for people with disabilities, treat those afflicted with mental illness or addiction, provide respite care for families and much more.  Without community-based agencies, these services would have to be provided at significantly higher cost by the state and local governments – or not at all.

Shifting services from government-run institutions into the community is not a new concept, nor is it simply about saving money. For more than a century, providers of services to individuals with behavioral and developmental disabilities have believed that integrating individuals into the communities where they live is a far more effective way of delivering services and fosters a better quality of life.

But basing services in the community has the additional advantage of being significantly more cost effective. The legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee (PRI) found in 2012 that the price tag for state-operated residential services for disabled adults is $338,000 per year, while the cost for the average community-based residential facility is $129,000.  The same study found that 17 group homes that had been converted from public operation to private in 2009 had up to 40 percent fewer regulatory citations or “deficiencies” since the conversion. This means residents of nonprofit community homes are receiving excellent, high quality care.

Connecticut’s system of continuing to run both state and private human service programs is unusual. Most states have shifted to fully private programs, with the state government providing regulations and oversight. Connecticut’s system is an outdated model that we can no longer afford.

By moving services from state facilities to nonprofits, Connecticut can ensure quality, efficient care at a lower cost.  It’s not new – the state has had both private and public facilities for years. Through an expanded partnership with nonprofits the state can continue, and even improve, services for mental health and developmentally disabled people in a time of fiscal crisis.

The state Department of Developmental Services’ recent announcement that the state will convert 40 state-operated group homes into community-based and privately operated facilities is a shift in the right direction. Providers across the state are ready to begin discussions on how to make that happen with the proper funding that supports quality care.

We should all want better care for individuals most in need. Getting better care for fewer state dollars is an even better outcome that we can and should embrace.

Gian-Carl Casa is President and CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance.

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