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MAR-C future in jeopardy?

Will Phillips/Minden Press-Herald | Hayden Finley, Ryan Gatti, Terry Gardner observe Jared Johnston, Ivy Curry, and Casey Lacasse putting together keychains at MAR-C Industries.

Broad regulations on segregation, pay rate detrimental to local agency

The staff of MAR-C along with community members such as Minden Mayor Terry Gardner, State Senator Ryan Gatti, and members of the Webster Parish Police Jury met Wednesday morning in order to discuss new regulations coming from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). 

“We want to stay viable as a part of this community, but with the changes that are going on it’s going to be tough for us to do that. The federal government has mandated that they can’t provide funding for our programs in a segregated setting,” said Angelita Hudson, Executive Director of MAR-C Industries. 

For those that don’t know, Mar-C Industries is a non-profit corporation that was, “Originally founded in 1956 for the purpose of providing appropriate services for persons who are developmentally disabled. (They) believe in the fundamental dignity of all disable persons as a human being endowed with basic rights, which should not be abrogated because of their handicap. (They) pledge (themselves) to provide the best care possible in the least restrictive environment to ensure the continued growth and functioning of all skills necessary to promote an independent or semi-independent lifestyle,” according to materials from the meeting. 

The CMS issued regulations that “define the settings in which it is permissible to pay for Medicaid home and community-based services (HCBS). The purpose of these CMS regulations is to “ensure that individuals receive Medicaid HCBS in settings that are integrated and support full access to the greater community. This includes opportunities to seek employment and work in competitive and integrated settings, engage in community life, control personal resources, and receive services in the community, to the same degree as individuals who do not receive HCBS.” 

Most of the regulations are targeting places that individuals receiving HCBS would live. However, due to the broad wording of what the CMS considers a “setting,” MAR-C would not be in line with these regulations. “Any other setting that has the effect of isolating individuals receiving Medicaid HCBS from the broader community of individuals not receiving Medicaid HCBS.”

“They don’t give us more money to make these changes, we just have to figure it out,” said Hudson. 

The reason community figures gathered to MAR-C Wednesday morning was to try to find a solution for either getting MAR-C in line with the regulations or finding a way to possibly be exempt. The simplest solution presented was to move MAR-C somewhere else in town, but something like that isn’t feasible in the city of Minden.

“Throughout the state, there are folks like y’all, but who have multi-million dollar donors. So they can just say ‘let’s move 500 feet down the street’ and do it,” Gatti said. “We don’t have that, so there has to be a way that we can try and get an exemption. I still think we should try and look for a new spot, but come on, they’re asking you to move a mountain!”

Another big issue that’s coming from these regulations is the fact that they would no longer be able to pay their “employees” sub-minimum wages. “We’re going to have to pay minimum wage to everyone who does minimum wage work here, and that’s wonderful for the few we may have who can do minimum wage work, but what about the other 90-95%?” Hudson asked.

This will leave many of the clients of MAR-C industries without any pay whatsoever, given that at the moment only so few can take on the responsibilities of a full minimum wage position. 

“Our philosophy for 20-plus years has been whatever work you do is important. Do what you can do. But now we’re having to turn around and say, ‘If you can’t do minimum wage work, it doesn’t count,’” said Hudson.

Regarding the meeting and her thoughts towards those that came to help solve this problem, Hudson said, “I do appreciate that Minden has always been supportive of MAR-C Industries. In every endeavour we’ve had, Minden has always been there for us. We’re looking at some difficult times and some changes that are supposed to be for the betterment of our people, but we’re glad that we’re going to have a group effort to get these things sorted out.”