Nevada's aging, disabled shortchanged by state division's $4 million in overpayments

Nevada's aging, disabled shortchanged by state division's $4 million in overpayments (SBG)

Scott Sutliff is 24 years old, and he's doing pretty well for himself. He landed his first job at Wal-Mart two years ago, starting out as a door greeter. Now he works in the toy department.

"It makes me just happy to say hi to everyone that comes through the Wal-Mart doors," Scott said. "It makes me feel happy that they feel welcome."

He was prepared for the real wold thanks to state programs, making him one of thousands of Nevadans who have thrived thanks in part to Nevada's Aging and Disability Services Division.

That same division was found to be overpaying service providers anywhere from $3.5 million to $4.3 million in 2015, according to a recently released audit.

State Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said throwing away taxpayer money is unacceptable.

"It's disheartening whenever you see a state agency that's not spending its money appropriately or is being overbilled by providers, who we trust to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves," Kieckhefer said.

Most of the overbilling in 2015 came from 24-hour care providers, which totaled between $2.2 million and $3 million. Providers of supported living arrangements were overpaid an additional $504,000.

Lavonne Brooks runs High Sierra Industries in Reno, an organization that is partially funded by the Aging and Disability Services Division. She had a mixed reaction to the audit results.

"It makes me mad, it makes me sad... y'know, what's probably the worst response is that I'm not surprised," said Brooks, who added that she's been working with the aging and disabled population in Nevada for 17 years.

"Its great that we found fraud after the fact, but how many resources do we put into finding a problem rather than preventing one?" she asked.

The only answer from lawmakers was to budget for more auditors, rather than allocate more funding to the programs that benefit people like Scott Sutliff.

"Perhaps we weren't born with a disability, but we can certainly acquire one," Brooks said. "And that's when you are going to ask yourself, 'Where the heck are the services in the state of Nevada, 'cause there's none here for me."

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