‘Andy’s smiling down on us’: Late senator’s goal for serving residents with developmental disabilities is well within reach

The late state Sen. Andy Hill wanted to eliminate the backlog of Washington residents with developmental disabilities who had requested but weren’t receiving state services. Just four months after Hill’s untimely death, that goal will almost certainly be achieved by June – just as the Redmond lawmaker had hoped.

A new report from the Department of Social and Health Services reveals the near-elimination of the massive backlog Hill targeted in Senate Bill 6387, the Vulnerable Individuals Priority (“VIP”) Act.

When Hill proposed the reform in 2014, an estimated 4,500 Washingtonians with disabilities were waiting for services. The list of unserved individuals now stands at just 185 people, according to DSHS. Hill’s legislation expanded available funding for 4,000 families in need of respite care and 1,000 individuals in need of employment or employment services. His goal was to eliminate the waiting list by June 2017.

As Senate budget leader, Hill funded the VIP Act by using the federal “Community First Choice Option,” which allows states to receive a 6 percent-higher federal match for certain Medicaid services provided in a community setting.

“Andy had a passion for the vulnerable and a drive to make the system work for them,” said Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, chair of the Senate Human Services, Mental Health & Housing Committee. “I fully supported his efforts to prioritize the most vulnerable. He didn’t just look at how much things cost, he looked at whether they could be done better.”

Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, was appointed to succeed Hill as the 45th Legislative District senator until a special election is held in November. Like Hill, Rossi is known as an advocate for those with disabilities, having served nine years on the board of Special Olympics, Washington.  He called Hill an inspiration for other lawmakers seeking to protect the state’s most vulnerable.

“Andy’s smiling down at us on this one,” said Rossi. “He cared about kids and he cared about the vulnerable, and he’s still helping.

“We have to make sure that we don’t lose sight of what is important. The greatest gift we are all given is the gift of life, and how people get to live it to their fullest really matters. It matters to me, and it mattered to Andy. We have to make sure that we provide support for those with disabilities and their caregivers. We have to be there, and the state of Washington has to be there, and Andy reminded us of that. His leadership continues to impact this place and his legacy of caring for people will never be forgotten.”

Hill, a non-smoker who survived an initial bout with lung cancer before his 2010 election to the Senate, died at age 54 on Oct. 31 after the cancer returned.