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County frets as state fails to pay early-intervention providers

LOCKPORT – The state’s takeover of payments to providers in the program that provides help to slow-developing toddlers has so far prevented any of the providers from being paid, Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton told the county Board of Health this week. The early intervention program, as the program for children ages 2 and under is called, is state-mandated.

Until this year, providers of services to children sent their bills to the county, which paid them and then applied to Albany for 50 percent reimbursement.

Under the new plan, which took effect this month, the counties never see the bills. Stapleton said the counties pay the state the estimated 50 percent share, based on previous years’ experiences, and the state adds the other half and pays the providers.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Stapleton said that since April 1, the county has sent about $200,000 to Albany for early intervention payments, but none of the providers have been paid yet. That’s not just in Niagara County, but all over the state.

“The state has $20 million in a kitty from all the counties, and they’re not paying any bills. That’s just wrong,” Stapleton said.

Lisa Chester, the county’s early intervention director, predicted cash flow crunches for many providers. For many, the state payments are their only source of business income, she said.

“Our main concern is getting these providers paid, because we’re out of it,” Stapleton said.

He added, “I do believe this will work itself out.”

County Legislator and Board of Health member W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, told Stapleton that he should report to the Legislature at its May 7 meeting if the problem hasn’t cleared up by then. He said sometimes a timely resolution or letter can break an Albany logjam.

“For kids with special needs not to be treated because the state is dragging its feet on paying bills is wrong,” McNall said.

“They were getting their payments when we were in charge,” Stapleton said. “We’re responsible for making sure children have access to providers.”

In another matter, the board learned that a new handicapped-access ramp will be built by county crews after Memorial Day at the Shaw Building, the Lockport headquarters of the county’s Health and Mental Health departments.

The ramp will be placed on Mental Health’s side of the three-story building.

Efforts to improve security also will include doors secured either by keypad or swipe-card access within the building. Stapleton said a swipe card system is more secure, but also more expensive.