Medically Complex and Turning 21: Rhode Island Families Struggle to Access Home Care

Brandon Stone (center, seated) has been able to grow up at home among his parents and siblings due to home care nursing. Turning 21 has threatened his ability to continue with that care.

For most people, turning 21 is a milestone to celebrate. But the State of Rhode Island is putting undue pressure on medically complex Rhode Islanders who are turning 21. For those who receive home care services under Medicaid, such as the Katie Beckett waiver, their medical coverage changes on their 21st birthday, which affects who pays for their services, the types of services available to them, and their state-authorized hours and funding levels. Without proper planning and communication, these changes can result in uncertainly of continuity of care and access to home care services.

For young adults like Zach, Corinna, Brandon, and their families, turning 21 has been a source of significant stress and uncertainty rather than the celebration it deserves to be. Upon “aging out” of Medicaid, they have received word from the state that their care would be changing without much warning. Parents of medically complex individuals tend to be lifelong advocates on behalf of their children, and so all three have been able to retain their services on a month-to-month basis. “This is just a band-aid that covers the issue,” says BAYADA Home Health Care’s Government Affairs Director Ashley Sadlier. “Each month, they don’t know whether that band-aid will stay on or get ripped off. Everyone deserves to stay at home if it’s their wish to do so, and it’s arbitrary that a birthday is basically a penalization in Rhode Island.”

The interesting fact is that the State has already created a policy stating that home care children and their families are to be educated on their options by the age of 17. But Rhode Island has not upheld its end of the bargain: Families find that they receive little to no communication from the State, and that when they reach out to find out their children’s care options, the State is slow to respond and typically unable to provide proactive guidance to help families navigate this change . “Modern medicine and advances in home care have allowed for many children to live past the age of 21. That should be a reason to celebrate, not a reason to cut an individual’s services off suddenly,” says Corinna’s mother Michelle. “Home care saves the state money, and it keeps families together. Why would you put a child in danger when it’s clear that home care has enabled them to live their best life?”

Families, home care providers, and and other organizations across the state are currently working with the State to identify a solution. Without home care, clients stand a greater risk of infection, hospitalization, or even a permanent move to a skilled nursing facility. Parents know that a child doesn’t stop being your child when they reach adulthood, but it’s time that Rhode Island recognize this as well.

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