The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing complaints about possible civil rights violations arising from long waits for physically disabled Kansans seeking state services.


     The U.S. Department of Justice is reviewing complaints about possible civil rights violations arising from long waits for physically disabled Kansans seeking state services.
     The Lawrence Journal World reported that the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unsuccessfully tried to negotiate a voluntary settlement with Gov. Sam Brownback's administration.
     The Republican governor's office issued a statement Wednesday accusing HHS of cutting off negotiations and blaming the problems on former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who now serves as HHS secretary.
     Brownback said the complaints arise from decisions Sebelius' administration made late in 2008, when the state was facing budget problems. Brownback said under his administration, the state is "in full compliance" with federal requirements.
     "We will continue to seek out Kansas solutions and implement them responsibly in a sustainable way," he said.
     At issue is whether Kansas is doing enough to provide services to disabled residents who in some cases have been on waiting lists for three years. A U.S. Supreme Court decision requires states to provide services to people with disabilities.
     Officials with the U.S. attorney's office for Kansas are meeting with the Department of Justice to consider further action.
     Frank Campbell, regional manager for the HHS Office of Civil Rights, sent a letter to advocates who filed the complaints for the disabled to inform them that negotiations with the state failed to produce a voluntary resolution of the complaints.
     "Based on that determination, we have decided to refer our ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliance review to the Department of Justice for further investigation and proceedings," Campbell wrote.
     U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom's office said in a statement that an agreement sought to provide assurances that Kansas residents with physical disabilities would have access to services to stay in their communities and not wind up in state hospitals.
     "The government's goal was to protect the rights of the physically disabled and at the same time to seek a cost-effective solution and to avoid litigation," Grissom said. "Unfortunately those negotiations were not successful."
     Advocates for the disabled said Kansas would be better served to put money into services instead of legal fees to contest the federal government.
     "It just makes me sick to my stomach," said Shannon Jones, executive director of the Statewide Independent Living Council of Kansas.
     She said the waiting list could be eliminated by increasing state spending by $33 million, though advocates are willing to compromise and cut the waiting list down to no more than a year's wait.
     Approximately 3,500 people with physical disabilities are waiting for services, while another 3,900 developmentally disabled on another list for other services.
     Democratic legislators said the state should tap its cash reserves to finance services.
     "At a time when we have $500 million in the bank, it is very difficult for us to look at people who are on a waiting list and say, we don't have the ability to help you," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence.
     Meanwhile, the secretary of the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services told legislators Wednesday that recently conducted audits on centers for independent living found significant problems with record keeping.
     Secretary Phyllis Gilmore told the House Appropriations Committee that the preliminary findings show Kansas may be able to recover more than $2 million in state funds and $6 million in Medicaid funds that were overpaid to the centers.
     Gilmore said an examination of the centers' reports from independent auditors suggested greater oversight was necessary. She said the department's Office of Audit has not labeled the findings as fraud because the centers' record keeping was "so poor it is difficult to establish intent."
     Michael Donnelly, the department's director of rehabilitation services, said the audits were initiated to bring the state in compliance with federal law. He said the agency is working with the centers to develop protocols for tracking funds and how the dollars are spent providing what he called critical services to Kansas residents. A new cycle of audits begins this year.
     "None of us are trying to push them out of business. We just want to make sure that the money that we allocate is accounted for," Donnelly said.