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Monday, January 9, 2012 - 5:45am

Disabled Georgians Fear Losing Services

Advocates for the mentality disabled say, many people are falling through cracks with changes to a state program.

A Georgia service provides transportation, housekeeping and other benefits under Medicaid.

It's called SOURCE and advocates called it ground-breaking when it debuted in 1997.

The program offered those with schizophrenia and other mental health problems services aimed at keeping them functional and out of nursing homes, saving state and federal dollars.

But, ten years after it started, the state changed eligibility, excluding some mentally disabled.

Talley Wells of Atlanta's Legal Aid Society says, SOURCE eligibility has limited options for those with developmental disabilities.

"We certainly have run into a number of people who were in the psychiatric hospitals and were able to get out of the hospitals because of SOURCE and had been really doing well and then this is pulled out from under them," Wells says.

Hunter Hurst of St.Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah oversaw the pilot program that became SOURCE.

"There's a recognition that services have to be fully integrated -- mental health services with medical services with community-based services," Hurst says. "The funding mechanisms available to do that, however, often are very restrictive about which services are paid for under which program and which diagnoses are eligible for which program."

State officials blame federal mandates.

"The Georgia Medicaid program was required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that regulates Medicaid, to move SOURCE into an existing approved Medicaid Waiver program," says Pamela Keene, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community Health. "The Elderly and Disabled Medicaid Waiver was the most similar and best-suited to those needing applicable SOURCE services."

About 19,000 Georgians receive services from SOURCE.