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Labor policy change prompts concern

8/20/2014

By KALEY CONNER

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

During a quick visit to Hays last week, two state health officials expressed concern with a new ruling coming from the federal department of labor that would affect home-care workers.

A decades-old overtime exemption for companion employees who provide home-based services to those with physical or intellectual disabilities no longer would apply. Officials are concerned that could have negative ramifications for consumers and providers, said Kari Bruffett, acting secretary for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

The changes would be most pronounced for individuals or caregivers who direct their own at-home support services. The change would take effect Jan. 1.

"Most of our consumers have an average of one to 1.5 workers in their homes," Bruffett said. "More than 20 percent of those workers regularly work over 40 hours, and they may work for more than one consumer, too."

The changes could make it difficult for providers to continue providing services for multiple consumers, and it could mean people with disabilities would have more support staff in their homes on a regular basis.

That could be concerning for some consumers, as this particular area of health care traditionally involves a great deal of trust and establishing personal relationships, Bruffett said.

"Traditionally, that's kind of the reason for the exemption, was these are people that become very important parts of the household," she said. "That many people would have a key to somebody's house. So that's a concern."

That also could create workforce shortages, especially in rural areas, said Dr. Robert Moser, secretary of Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Moser also was in town Thursday as part of a tour.

"In some areas, like out west here, just finding enough folks willing to go into the homes to provide those services is challenging enough," he said. "So if we have to have about three times that ... it's going to be a real challenge."

The change also likely would come with a hefty price tag. For example, the increased Medicaid costs for sleep cycle support have been estimated at $30 million if the overtime exemption is removed. That area of care involves support staff staying the night at a consumer's home to assist with overnight needs.

"That's huge, and particularly when we're trying to reduce the waiting lists for developmental disability and physical disability services," Bruffett said. "To have to put that sort of funding into a very critical but traditionally cost-effective service that helps people stay out of institutions would be a difficult choice."

Officials still are trying to determine an overall price tag, she said.

There is a federal lawsuit attempting to block implementation of the new federal labor rule.

Bruffet encourages Kansas residents to make their opinions heard by contacting the federal Department of Labor at (866) 487-9243.