LITTLE ROCK — Providing services to the developmentally disabled is less expensive overall in a home or community setting than in the state’s five human development centers, a consultant told a legislative panel Monday.


John Stephen of The Stephen Group also told the Human Development Centers Subcommittee of the Health Reform Legislative Task Force that turnover of employees is a problem at the centers.


Stephen, who has been hired by the Legislature to consult on health-care reforms, told the panel the cost to provide care to the last 100 people who transitioned from a center to a home- or community-based setting is an average of $274 per day, compared to costs at the centers that range from $320 per day at Jonesboro to $374 per day at Conway.


He cautioned that the comparison was not precise.


“When you look at the whole picture … it’s much less costly in the community setting. But what exactly is that difference? It’s too complex to really identify that in an apples-to-apples comparison.” Stephen said.


A major factor in the difference is the cost to maintain the buildings at the centers, which is increasing, he said, telling the panel “there’s definitely a need for some kind of long-term plan.”


“The longer these buildings stay open, and the longer their maintenance costs go up, you have to ask yourself, are you going build a new facility? When are you going to build a new facility? Or are you going to look at transitioning some of them to the community, which many, many other states have already done?” Stephen said.


More than 3,000 developmentally disabled Arkansans are on a waiting list for home-and community-based services, some of them since 2007. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said last week he will ask the Legislature next year to use $8.5 million from the state’s 1999 settlement with tobacco companies to reduce the waiting list by between 500 and 1,000 people.


Stephen also said Monday the turnover rates of employees who provide direct care at the human development centers were as follows in 2015: Arkadelphia, 51.9 percent; Booneville, 34.2 percent; Conway, 47.5 percent; Jonesboro 77.6 percent; and Warren, 45.7 percent.


“Turnover is impactful on the families, and especially in these environments,” Stephen said.


Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, co-chairman of the subcommittee, told reporters after the meeting that moving every developmentally disabled person to home- or community-based care would not be practical.


“There’s simply some situations where it has been proven to be not safe for that person or not safe for others,” he said.


Rapert also said turnover at the centers is a concern both because of the impact on quality of care and because of the cost to the state to train people who soon leave for other jobs.


“We have to look real close at whether or not there needs to be an increase in certain pay grades so that we can have good, quality people in place that will stay in those positions and care for people that are the least among us,” he said.