CDS faces financial crisis;loss of program a possibility

CDS faces financial crisis;loss of program a possibility

By: Heather Scarano, Special to the Messenger

By HEATHER SCARANO Special to The Messenger They look forward to it every year, but this year, for the first time in three decades, the clients of Community Developmental Services were unable to attend the annual West Tennessee Spring Dance held recently in Jackson. At least 1,100 people attended the dance, held at the West Tennessee Fairgrounds, but 150 clients and staff of CDS — a community-based, nonprofit organization in Martin serving the needs of developmentally disabled adults in northwest Tennessee — were conspicuously absent. “The dance is the social event of the year,” said CDS executive director Cathy Cate. “Our folks anticipate it all year long, and this is the first time we’ve ever not been able to take them.” CDS also skipped out on its annual participation in the state’s Special Olympics, held recently in Nashville, and has made the decision to reduce its upcoming summer camp from four nights to one — all because of recent financial pressures. “We can no longer afford to pay for the overtime of our staff and for all the gas it takes to participate in these events,” Ms. Cate said. In January, Tennessee’s Di-vision of Mental Retardation Services enacted a 6.1 percent payment reduction to community providers caring for some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens. The cuts, intended to last through the end of June, have translated into a $13,000 per month loss for CDS. “To get itself out of debt, DMRS is putting the agencies in debt and the people we serve at risk,” Ms. Cate said. CDS and other community mental retardation providers were already coping with rising costs of food, fuel and health insurance, without corresponding increases in funding from DMRS, when the 6.1 percent payment reduction was announced last December. “We already operate on a pretty lean budget, so there truly are not a lot of areas where we can cut back to save money,” Ms. Cate said. “Even with the new measures we have put in place, we are still operating at a significant deficit. The cuts are putting our agency into a debt so large we wonder if we’ll ever be able to dig out of it.” Compounding the problem for CDS has been a drop-off in donations from local community members and organizations. Civic and faith-based support has declined over the years, said Ms. Cate, as has the money CDS has been able to raise through its annual fundraising campaign, the Telethon of the Stars. Taking all things into account, CDS’s deficit in March alone was $26,131. The precarious financial situation of CDS is not a reflection of its management, said Steve Singleton of DMRS’s office of finance, who spent two days recently with Ms. Cate and other CDS staff reviewing the financial situation and organizational structure of the agency. In a May 9 report, Singleton calls CDS a “lean and well-organized agency,” with administrative costs “well under the established limits.” Singleton concludes, “It appears that the 6.1 percent cut in January has been a major contributing factor leading to the current financial status (of CDS).” Singleton also names the “dramatic increase in transportation costs” as a contributing factor. “Until now we have been reluctant to let people know about the catastrophic situation of our finances,” Ms. Cate said. “But we’ve decided that it’s time to inform people of the plight we are in. I think most people think we’re doing OK, because we’ve been around such a long time. But we’re not,” she added. State Rep. Mark Maddox, a longtime board member of CDS, has taken up the fight to recoup the losses imposed on community providers by DMRS. Maddox, whose sister Janet is also a CDS client, sponsored an amendment to the appropriations bill that would have returned the 6.1 percent that has been taken away since January. One positive development is that CDS and other agencies, who were expecting a 6.1 percent rate reduction for May and June, will now be getting 100 percent of the funds due to them for services rendered during these months. But even if Amendment 175 had passed and the remaining funds were returned, CDS faces an uncertain future. DMRS informed providers that, beginning July 1, there will be permanent average daily rate reductions for all service reimbursements, but has not told the agencies how much. If things don’t improve, this time next year, CDS clients could be missing more than just the annual West Tennessee Spring Dance or the Special Olympics. “It’s really hurtful to face potentially losing a program that we have worked so hard for 37 years to build up. To know that we’re in such jeopardy, facing closure and not knowing what would happen to the clients we serve, especially the 60 of those who live with us because they have nowhere else to go,” Ms. Cate said. Editor’s note: Heather Scarano is an employee of Community Developmental Services. Published in The Messenger 5.27.08

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