Press Release
From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
February 23, 2009
Contact: Jeremy Warren on behalf of Sen. Ellis (512-463-0113)
Mireya Zapata on behalf of Rep. Rose (512-463-0647)

Senator Ellis & Representative Rose File Legislation to Give Texans With Disabilities Greater Access to Community-Based Care

Current system recently investigated by the Department of Justice; only real choice today is care in state schools which is often times more expensive and less desirable by thousands of Texans

AUSTIN — Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Representative Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) today filed legislation that would require the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop a 10-year plan to rebalance the system that provides services for Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities in favor of community-based settings.

"The system today is unsustainable--financially, legally and morally," said Ellis and Rose. "We don't provide Texans with disabilities a real choice on where they receive services and that is a violation of their constitutional rights. Our legislation guarantees choice, reduces wait-lists and requires the state to build a system for the future while improving care in both state schools and community-based settings."

Last December, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released findings from its statewide investigation of Texas' state schools and centers, including on-site investigations in the Lubbock and Denton State Schools. The DOJ cited 450 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect, and 53 deaths from generally preventable conditions in fiscal year 2007 alone.

In its report the DOJ stated that Texans' constitutional rights are being violated in two principal ways. The first being that the state is failing to protect state school and center residents from harm and the second that we are failing to serve Texans with intellectual/developmental disabilities in the most integrated setting possible.

"It is time for a systemic overhaul of our system of caring for mentally disabled Texans," said Ellis. "The Department of Justices has shined a glaring light on our state schools, and this legislation addresses some of the very serious concerns they raised."

Rep. Rose has filed separate legislation that addresses the second concern highlighted in the DOJ report. House Bill 1317 proposes safeguards to stop widespread abuse and neglect in state schools and centers and takes strong steps towards providing a safe environment in community based settings.

"Last week, I filed emergency legislation to swiftly reform our state schools and centers to protect Texans," said Rose. "Just as critical, I also included provisions to increase oversight and accountability in the community by requiring annual inspections and investigations by the state of all reports of abuse and neglect."

The bills filed today, Senate Bill 1060 and House Bill 1589, require HHSC to develop a 10-year strategic plan by December 1, 2010 and authorize the agency to begin implementation at that time. The plan must identify timelines and define benchmarks; the Legislature must be notified of any changes and reasons for those during implementation guaranteeing appropriate oversight. The strategic plan must also include strategies to:

Texas spends $1.5 billion per year to serve Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities and has almost twice the national average institutionalization rate. Currently, 37,000 Texans are on wait lists for Home and Community-Based Services (HCS) and they will wait an estimated 8-9 years for services through this program. The Ellis/Rose legislation authorizes and directs HHSC to consolidate and close state schools and to grow capacity in the community setting, a more affordable and favorable option for many Texans. Provisions of the legislation also direct HHSC to make significant quality and capacity improvements in the community.

SEN. RODNEY ELLIS represents Senate District 13, Harris & Fort Bend counties. He is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Organization.

REP. PATRICK M. ROSE represents House District 45, Blanco, Caldwell and Hays Counties. He is Chairman of the House Committee on Human Services.