Monday, April 7, 2003

State to mediate Warren agency flap

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON - State officials will meet with Warren County department heads today to try to resolve funding issues with a social service program that faces reduced aid for more than 200 families with disabled babies.

Last week, the director of Help Me Grow of Warren County, Carolyn Tepe, and her boss, Larry Sergeant, sent letters to the 238 families in the program, warning services might be cut soon because the county is denying Help Me Grow access to its state funding.

Warren County Administrator Bob Price and Doris Bishop, director of Warren County Human Services, will meet with two officials from the Ohio Department of Health's Early Intervention Program and other state agencies.

Warren County Commissioners have objected to funding for Help Me Grow, a program that provides experts who visit families in their homes to provideindividual aid in caring for disabled children up to 3 years old. Some commissioners have said the program duplicates services other county agencies already offer, so now the county is evaluating all social service programs.

In January, commissioners approved a $356,867 purchase change order for Help Me Grow. But the program has not been able to access that money, according to the letter to families.

Help Me Grow of Warren County has funding of more than $400,000 from various state, federal and local sources. But without access to the money, the program has a more than $134,000 revenue shortfall, the letter stated.

Some families who depend on Help Me Grow say Warren County leaders may not understand how valuable the program is for parents raising disabled children. "If we didn't have Help Me Grow, I don't know where else we would turn," said Michelle Calvert, whose 18-month-old son, Colby, was born with Tracheal Esophageal Fistula, a birth defect that causes an abnormal opening or connection between the trachea and esophagus.

Colby has a tracheotomy, wears a feeding tube and has difficulty eating."You are expecting a normal child and when things don't turn out that, where do you go? You have no idea where to start," Calvert, 28, said. "This program is definitely not a handout. I don't understand why the county is downing this program so much. It has helped our son. He would not be where he is today without it."

If the allocated money for Help Me Grow is not used by June 30, the money goes back to the state to be doled out in other Ohio counties for the same program.

"On Friday, Sergeant wrote in an e-mail to the Enquirer that Help Me Grow's funding problem rests with the overall funding mix for the program at the state level.


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