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BUDGET cuts are taking their toll on programs and services provided to people with special needs and the situation is likely to jeopardize the transition plan for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, according to social workers.
“The fact that there is a permanent injunction case against Mental Health is an indication that services to the people with disabilities, especially those with mental illness, are not adequate,” Public Guardian Marcelene Santos said. “We already have a shortage of services; so it’s almost cutting what is almost not there.”
While Adelup and the Legislature engage in a battle over how to cut public spending, service providers are also compelled to cut their costs by 15 percent.
“We understand the government’s financial situation; we also want to help but we also have to make sure that we don’t compromise the services that we provide to our consumers,” said Bernie Grajek, executive director of Guma Mami Inc.
DMHSA has yet to finalize its new contracts with Guma Mami and the Catholic Social Services, which both provide residential homes and related programs to people with mental disabilities.
Their previous year’s contracts, which expired on Sept. 30, have been temporarily rolled over through the governor’s administrative order pending completion of the negotiation on new contract prices.
“Other service providers are forced to cut their staff, work hours and services,” Grajek said. “At Guma Mani, we are likely to suspend some of our programs including the Creative Spirits art workshops.”
Grajek said Guma Mami has received this year’s grant for Creative Spirits from the Council of the Arts and Humanities Agency. However, she said, Guma Mami might have to hold off on the fund due to uncertainty on whether her organization could raise the matching fund.
Residential home services are mandated by the amended permanent injunction imposed on DMHSA as a result of a 2001 class action, which also led to federal receivership.
“It’s taking a long time to sign the final contract [for residential homes] either because of administrative red tape or because they are unable to say there is a source of funding,” Santos said, adding that even the contracts for psychologists are awaiting signatures.
The Office of the Public Guardian attends to the needs of 80 wards – ranging from 14 to 94 years old – who live in residential homes run by DMHSA, Guma Mami, the Skilled Nursing Unit, and St. Dominic.
The Office of Public Guardian, which receives its appropriation from the Supreme Court, is run by only four employees, including the public guardian, a secretary, an office manager and one social worker.
“I have been having a hard time finding appropriate services to meet the needs of my clients,” Santos said. “Some of my clients are in foster homes, but sometimes the foster parents don’t get paid on time.”
“There is money available to the federal management team and they are trying to use it in a way they think appropriate,” Santos said. “Whether the services they set up can be sustained when [the federal receivership] ends in December is uncertain.”
On Aug. 22, U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo Marshal lifted the federal receivership and ordered the termination of federal manager Dr. James Kiffer’s services by Dec. 3.
In the status report submitted to the District Court of Guam, Kiffer said budget constraints are likely to pose a stumbling block to the implementation of the government of Guam’s transition plan for DMHSA, especially if hiring restrictions are extended to the agency.