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Disability Advocacy Groups Host Workshop, Fight Cuts

After millions of dollars in cuts to Idaho’s Medicaid budget, two disability advocate groups are teaming up to educate the public.

The goal: To restore services for the disabled and mentally ill in 2012.

Lorie Swisher shared a few moments of down time with her daughter, Natalie, on Saturday afternoon.

“And she’s like a bright little spot,” said Swisher.

“Little” because the 29-year-old is 4 ft. 8 among family members pushing 6 foot. Swisher said the daughter she adopted from Korea is developmentally disabled.

“Maybe intellect is not considered by many as valuable, but their hearts are valuable and we can’t just toss them aside,” said Swisher.

Many say that’s exactly what the 2011 Idaho State Legislature has done with $34 million in cuts to Medicaid.

{kelly keele/idaho falls coordinator} and last year they became permanent in statute,” said Kelly Keele who works with the Consortium of Idahoans with Disabilities.

It’s why the Consortium is teaming up with Medicaid Matters in Idaho to offer four statewide advocacy workshops. The first was held all day Saturday in Idaho Falls.

“The purpose of the workshop is to train people on what the impacts are and how to discuss the issues with legislators,” said Keele.

Keele has worked with people who have disabilities since the 1970s and said society is moving backward. Crucial support services have been drastically reduced. For example, psycho-social rehabilitation, or PSR, which gets individuals out into the community.

“We’ve seen huge effects,” said Keele.

Effects include wandering the streets and filling up jail cells since some have less therapy time.

“It gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” said Brenda Emery, who works at an Idaho Falls mental health services provider.

Organizers said suicide rates are up, along with hospitalizations.

“These cuts have not saved money,” said Emery. “It has cost more.”

Keele described a presentation from the workshop’s morning session, in which a mother expressed concern over whether she should continue caring for her daughters at home or institutionalize them.

That’s something Swisher just can’t imagine. She was told Natalie would never read, or write, or hold a job. But her daughter does all of those things today.

“Because of these services, she’s an example of someone who has so benefited,” said Swisher.

The groups will be hosting Disability Advocacy Day at the state capital in Boise on Jan. 26.

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