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Arizona again earns No. 1 ranking for services for developmentally disabled

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WASHINGTON – Arizona was ranked No. 1 in the nation for its delivery of Medicaid services to developmentally disabled residents, the fourth time in six years the state has come out on top, according to a new report.

“Individuals who need services in Arizona are receiving them,” said Tarren Bragdon, author of the United Cerebral Palsy report. “There are very few people on the waiting lists and individuals are getting services just in time.”

The report goes up to 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available. Subsequent budget cuts could affect the state’s standing in future reports.

But the report, released Wednesday, is still good news for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, given recent state struggles to balance the budget without sacrificing disability programs.

“UCP has found that Arizona provides top-of-the-line services when it comes to promoting their (disabled individuals) independence and their safety in terms of keeping families together and helping individuals in need,” said Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson. “That is great in terms of quality of life.”

Bill Parker, director of operations at Chandler-Gilbert Arc, agrees that Arizona excels in creating “home-like” living situations for the developmentally disabled, but said there is always room for improvement.

“Arizona has a strong lean towards families and retaining families,” said Parker. “You and I get to choose where we want to live. People with disabilities get to choose among a group of options, but it’s not purely their choice.”

Arizona continues to operate one hospital where it houses developmentally disabled residents, but the state is “making progress by moving people from state institutions into the community,” Bragdon said.

The closing of such state hospitals was a major factor in ranking state Medicaid programs, said Bragdon.

On other criteria, Arizona had one of the lowest waiting lists for Medicaid services, despite a steadily rising number of families in need since 2006. Financial assistance to those approximately 21,000 families also rose steadily from 2006 to 2010.

Benson said the UCP report is valuable because it measures more than just dollars and cents.

“A lot of reports focus purely on spending,” said Benson. “This report is … actually looking at the outcomes that Arizona provides.”

Despite the state’s first-place ranking, all states need to focus on areas they can improve, Bragdon said.

Arizona was 47th in the nation for productivity, meaning that only 6 percent of developmentally disabled residents in the state were competitively employed in 2010. Bragdon attributed that, in part, to the increase in the number of people requesting services in the state.

“Because there’s such a dramatic increase in total people being served, the number of people being served is growing faster than the number involved in competitive employment,” Bragdon said.

“We want to see states protect the bright spots, but we want to see policy makers and government administrations work on areas that need improvement,” he said.