Legal Aid of Arkansas
is cheering a recent ruling by federal Judge Price Marshall
that it says will protect in-home care, as opposed to institutionalization, for some 7,000 elderly and disabled people.
Jan. 1, the state Department of Human Services
began a new system for setting the number of hours of service provided in the ARChoices
program. Hours were to be determined by a computer algorithm rather than nurse discretion.
In a case tried in Helena-West Helena, lawyers for Ethel Jacobs
, 90, argued against the cut of her services from 46 to 35 hours a week. The hours cover aides who bathe, clean, dress, feed and care for Jacobs, who has advanced dementia, is bed-ridden and uses a feeding tube, while her son works. She was among 47 percent of program participants who had hours cut.
After a trial, Legal Aid said in a release, Judge Marshall ruled that Jacobs' hours must be restored until it explains in writing specific reasons for the changes.
Legal Aid said the ruling applied specifically only to Jacobs, but it said DHS had promised to fix the system. Clients will know, if given more information, what they must demonstrate to keep existing hours of care.
Said Legal Aid:
During the trial, Dr. Brant Fries of the University of Michigan, the inventor of the algorithms, found that the software DHS uses to sort program participants into groups is faulty. The software mistakenly placed Jacobs into a category less severe than what she actually should have been placed into.
This is not the first time DHS has had problems with software relating to the assessment system for programs like ARChoices. The agency came under scrutiny from legislators in 2015 for payments made to CH Mack for similar software that did not work.
Participants in the program who have questions can call Legal Aid of Arkansas at 800-952-9243 on Monday through Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.