Last week, the state’s disability ombudsman Paul Aronsohn released an annual report that highlighted more losses than wins in the way New Jersey cares for people with disabilities.
The annual report called the state programs for people with disabilities “a tale of two systems.” On one hand, dedicated people achieved a couple of wins last year when they managed to secure additional education and therapy for disabled students thrown off course by the pandemic. They also managed to get a bill passed that did away with age and income limits placed on people with disabilities in the workforce that were tied to Medicaid benefits.
But the same report also showed the toll an inflexible system plagued with ineffective policies can have on people’s lives. “For many people, the system remains too complex, too rigid, and too inaccessible. Daily, our office is contacted by people falling through the cracks. People going without much needed care. People in crisis,” ombudsman Paul Aronsohn stated in the report.
The ombudsman’s office, where the disability community goes for help, said “significant” challenges persist for many, and some of the people who most need help aren’t getting it.
The report focused on four areas where the state keeps getting it wrong, said Aronsohn:
– A workforce shortage among the people who care for some of the state’s most medically fragile residents
– The abuse and neglect these residents suffer in their homes as a result of that shortage
– The need for better care for people on the autism spectrum
– The state’s shortcomings in caring for people with complex medical needs.
“This is due, in part, to policies and practices that continue to make it difficult, if not impossible, for their families to gain access to the right mix of assessments, treatments, supports, and services,” the report states.
Aronsohn highlights the need for ongoing efforts to address these challenges and offers a number of recommendations for improvement:
– Increasing wages for support staff
– Strengthening oversight of state-licensed residential settings
– Expanding access to services and supports for individuals with autism
– Increasing funding for services
“I definitely think there have been improvements − positive developments − and I think having these conversations and our report are helpful,” said Aronsohn. “The more we talk in an honest, thoughtful way, the better. We need to all speak truth to power to improve the system.”