JEFFERSON CITY - The legislature's only wheelchair user introduced a bill Thursday to keep persons with disabilities at home and out of nursing homes.
Rep. Chuck Graham was joined in the Capitol rotunda by fellow representatives and disability advocates to announce his measure.
The proposed bill, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, would give individuals the option to live at home with Medicaid funds rather than being forced to live in a nursing homes.
Graham said the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation told him in-home services range between $1,600 and $16,000 per person each year, whereas the average cost for someone in mid-Missouri to live in a nursing home is $35,000.
Currently, the state awards people with severe disabilities entitlements to live in nursing homes. But, most say they would prefer to be at home.
Graham said in the 1990 census, 85,000 people indicated they were looking for some sort of home care.
"I've seen the need," Graham said as he explained why he proposed the legislation. "I have had a disability since '81. This state has been behind other states for many years."
The federal government grants states waivers to allocate money to individuals for in-home care. Missouri, however, has not applied for the waivers. Graham's bill would require the state to apply for the waivers.
Executives from Columbia's Services for Independent Living traveled to the Capitol to voice support of Graham's bill.
"I think sometimes people don't understand the real needs. It's not someone who comes in and cooks and cleans," said Tarzi Hart, Services for Independent Living administrative manager. "To some people it's not an option. They need help to get out of bed in the morning or they lie there all day in a wet bed, it's dehumanizing."
Federal and state money could create more slots for disabled individuals seeking home care in Missouri.
Columbia has 39 people waiting for home care at Services for Independent Living, and only three slots open every year, said Rich Blakley, executive director.
Proponents fear opposition could come from nursing home associations, but Shawn Bloom, executive director for the not-for-profit Missouri Association for Homes for the Aging, said his organization could support Graham's bill.
"Homes for the aging were built for older individuals without regards to individuals with disabilities," Bloom said.
Even though Graham's bill could take business away from nursing homes, Bloom said persons with disabilities are such a small percentage of their total residents, the measure would not have a significant impact on their business.