House Appropriations – Human Resources Division Committee
Testimony on House Bill 1072/House Bill 1012
Representative Chet Pollert – Chairman
January 24, 2017

Chairman Pollert and members of the House Appropriations – Human Resources Division Committee, my name is Donna Byzewski and I am the Program Director of the corporate guardianship program at Catholic Charities North Dakota. I am testifying in support of the Department’s budget for corporate guardianship services for people with intellectual disabilities.

Corporate guardianship is an essential and fundamental core service for individuals with intellectual disabilities – just as we need residential and vocational services, we need guardianship services. The court appoints a guardian when a person’s capacity to make decisions is compromised and he or she is at risk of neglect, abuse and exploitation.

The most critical issue that is facing the corporate guardianship program is the extensive waiting list. Through our contract with the Developmental Disabilities Division, we are funded to serve as guardians for 449 individuals. As of 1/23/17, we were providing guardianship services on behalf of 450 people. The current waiting list includes the names of 99 individuals who have been referred by Developmental Disabilities (DD) Program Managers. Every week, we receive calls from DD Program Managers who are referring individuals because family members or friends are not available or appropriate to serve as the person’s guardian. We are considered the guardian of last resort.

It is very worrisome to us as well as the individual’s DD Program Manager that a person must remain on a waiting list, sometimes up to two (2) or even three (3) years, when he or she is in crucial need of a corporate guardian. In addition to the primary diagnosis of an intellectual disability, more than 72% of our current wards have a mental health diagnosis and receive the services of a psychiatrist. A diagnosis of an intellectual disability plus one or more psychiatric diagnoses have the potential to greatly increase the person’s vulnerability to harm or danger.

The focus of the budget request centers on meeting the needs of current wards and preventing the waiting list for services from getting even longer. In an effort to reduce the number of people on the waiting list, the Department’s proposal funds twenty (20) additional openings.

It is important to note that the 20 additional wards will create an added workload for our guardianship workers, the cost of which is not included in our contract. For this reason, we respectfully request an adjustment to the daily rate to fund an additional half-time guardianship worker. An increase of $0.33 per ward/per day provides for a half-time worker and funding to bring us a bit closer to our actual cost of service.

The breakdown for the next biennium is as follows:

Catholic Charities ND has been providing corporate guardianship services since 1987. We have always strived to be frugal and good stewards of the funding that we receive from the Developmental Disabilities Division and legislature. With your help, the good and necessary work of the corporate guardianship program can continue to provide persons with intellectual disabilities the appropriate level of protection while fostering the highest degree of independence and self-growth possible. Thank you for the opportunity to stand before you today and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.