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Jan. 23, 2012
TOPEKA A state senator today criticized the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services for the way it launched a new electronic verification system intended to track the working hours of those providing in-home services to the disabled and frail elderly.
“This has been a disaster to say the least,” said Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican and a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The new system, she said, has been fraught with administrative errors and false starts.
Schmidt said the agency's recent efforts to explain and correct the system’s shortcomings were “woefully inadequate.”
No one from SRS showed up for the Ways and Means committee hearing. Instead, the department was represented by Sara Arif, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Department on Aging.
“I am representing SRS,” Arif said.
“I think that’s sad,” Schmidt replied.
The senator said SRS should have been represented at the meeting by Pedro Moreno, deputy secretary in charge of disability and behavioral health services at SRS.
“It’s my understanding that he’s out of town until Thursday,” Schmidt said.
Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, the committee chair, said she would arrange for Moreno to meet with the committee later this week.
The new system is designed to prevent attendant care workers from billing the state’s Medicaid program for services they didn’t provide.
With the new system, workers are expected to use their cell phones to call a computerized tracking system, signaling when they arrive and leave a residence where they have provided care.
Officials at the Kansas Department on Aging have said they expect the system will save the agency $1.6 million a year and another $7 million for SRS.
Arif told the committee that SRS and KDoA have had to “resolve a bunch of issues” since September when a contractor, First Data, began installing the system.
KDoA’s portion of the system, she said, has been up and running for a week. She said she wasn’t sure about the SRS portion.
Ami Hyten, assistant director at the Topeka Independent Living and Resource Center, said the SRS-run portion of the system has had many setbacks.
“Back in December we got an email that said the system couldn’t accommodate decimals in the plans of care,” Hyten said. “Everything had to be a flat hour. So, if the plan of care was for 1.25 hours, we had to go in and round everything up or down. We did that.
“Then, we got an email that said, no, everything had to be converted to quarter-hour units,” she said. “So we had to go back in and change every single plan of care. For us, that’s like 400 cases.”
And some workers continue to use paper time sheets rather than reveal a client's Medicaid number due to confidentiality concerns.
“We were told to just have the worker call the contractor with the consumer’s Medicaid number,” Hyten said. “But we’re refusing to do that because a person’s Medicaid number is second only to their Social Security number in terms of being a reservoir of personal information. For these people we continue to use the paper time sheets,” she said.
The new system, Hyten said, took effect Jan. 16, which was a state holiday.
“That was Martin Luther King Day,” she said. “So there wasn’t anybody at SRS to answer the phones when people couldn’t get it to work.”
Hyten said she decided to work despite the holiday.
“The phone rang constantly,” she said. “At the end of four hours, I had 10 pages in messages from people calling to say the system wasn’t working. It was a total train wreck.”
In recent months, KDoA and SRS also have changed the way they pay for attendant care services. The average worker, Arif said, is now paid $8.98 an hour.
“You can really hire people who will do a decent job for $8.98 an hour?” asked Sen. Mark Taddiken, a Clifton Republican.
“People have been able to,” Arif said. “We have direct-service workers who work for that rate, yes.”
Taddiken said his constituents have told him they’re “really struggling to find someone, and then if they do, they can’t keep them.”