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County prepares for changes in home-based care assistance

Some Washington County residents enrolled in a home-based care assistance program may see changes to those services, or could lose eligibility altogether.

County public health officials say they are responding to reforms to the state personal care assistance program. Those changes could result in some people being dropped from the program in 2010 and another group of residents having to change services a year later.

The personal care assistance program provides help to low-income citizens who live independently or with parents and suffer from physical ailments or behavioral conditions that restrict their ability to complete daily living tasks, such as bathing and eating.

An estimated 440 people from throughout Washington County were enrolled in the program in 2007, according to state data.

A legislative audit released earlier this year found problems with the state program -- including inadequate supervision of personal care attendants and inconsistencies in who was deemed eligible -- and recommended changes.

State and local health officials say those changes will improve the program but also will result in new eligibility requirements, prohibiting some people from taking part.

"I think that's where it's going to cause concern," said Connie Waldera, who administers Washington County's participation in the program. The program will continue for people with physical problems or behavioral conditions that threaten their own safety or the safety of others. But beginning in January about 500 people statewide with behavioral problems that do not meet certain criteria will be ineligible, said Alex Bartolic of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

It is not yet clear whether any Washington County residents will fall in that category.

Another group of about 1,500 people statewide will not qualify for the program after July 2011, Bartolic said, but alternative services may be available for most of them.

"That is the goal, to get people on the appropriate program with the services they need," Waldera said.

County nurses conduct assessments of residents to determine whether they qualify for services provided by the personal care assistance program. The assessments typically are conducted over a year, but for 2010 must be completed by the end of June because of state budget reasons.

Private health-care providers are paid to provide personal care assistance.