Cabinet provides rate increase for state’s residential treatment programs

Published 3:27 pm Monday, January 31, 2022

A substantial rate increase from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has provided a boost for the state’s child-care agencies operating quality residential treatment programs, including Sunrise Children’s Services.

Knowing the need was dire, the Cabinet implemented the reimbursement increases in January instead of waiting until July for the next budget cycle. That decision, Children’s Alliance President Michelle Sanborn said, may well have saved some of the agencies from closing.

“That was necessary to keep many of the programs operational,” she said. “Some of them wouldn’t have made it until July.”

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Sunrise Children’s Services was one of the benefactors of the rate increase and President Dale Suttles said he was grateful for the consideration from the Cabinet and Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration.

“It comes at a time when all agencies, like Sunrise, have been hurting and can use these funds to do what they do,” Suttles said. “It’s huge for us. Certainly, any amount helps but this was more substantial, more in line with the true costs going on.”

The increase is for those with quality residential treatment programs (QRTP) that take care of children 24/7, Suttles said. Agencies with that certification receive a per diem rate increase per child, per day. The everyday costs were adding up quickly, he said, with inflation at almost 8%.

Sanborn said while she was appreciative of the Cabinet and Governor’s Office for providing the rate increase, and especially for starting it in January, there is a need for much more because of the workforce that was so damaged by COVID-19.

“It’s not sustainable knowing they have to increase staff salaries to keep up with the competitive market,” she said. “We’re advocating with the Senate and House to allocate $11.2 million to residential programs so they can give a $4 across-the-board salary increase for residential staff.”

Suttles said the work that Sanborn and the Children’s Alliance did in advocating for the reimbursement increase was incredible.

“Michelle is a wonderful person and they have done a yeoman’s work for all the organizations. They have been a loud voice, along with other individual lobbies, that have made this happen. There’s still a huge need to get dollars for behavioral health because the cost of therapists is going up and they’re in such high demand.”

Funding these residential programs, like Sunrise, is crucial, Suttles said.

“There was a lot of different organizations lobbying and doing advocacy work on getting these rate increases,” he said. “We were seeing organizations at the brink of bankruptcy, literally. Some have shut down because they couldn’t keep up.

“If you don’t have a place where kids can go and get treated, it can cause a real problem in the commonwealth. This was an investment – the right investment – an investment for kids. It’s for, as we say, the children who are the least of these, children who have experienced trauma.”

Sunrise Children’s Services and the Cabinet agreed to a new contract in July after a 22-month negotiation process that had its difficult moments. The contract was in jeopardy of not being renewed after a months-long disagreement over language included in the annual contract.

“For everything that has happened, and to have this kind of turnaround in a short period of time, there’s a plan (from God),” Suttles said. “When you stand up for what’s right, you’re going to be blessed. It’s another blessing. To have been at the brink of closing to now having this blessing to have some dollars to continue to do ministry, it certainly gives us hope right now.”

Sunrise Children’s Services is an agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention providing foster care, residential and therapeutic services to children and families in crisis. According to Sunrise, they have been in existence since 1869, partnering with the state for the last 50 years.

“I was pleased to hear that the state will begin reimbursing Sunrise, and other foster agencies, at a rate that helps cover the expenses of the services they provide,” said Dr. Todd Gray, executive director and treasurer of the KBC. “Sunrise Children’s Services is a gift to the state of Kentucky and Kentucky Baptists are continually grateful for their ministry to abused and neglected children.”