• Center for people with disabilities in danger of closing over clerical error


    GRIFFIN, Ga. - The leader of a Spalding County center for people with disabilities says a nearly $500,000 government penalty could force the facility to close.
    Channel 2’s Matt Belanger found out the government is demanding the money because of a problem with paperwork.
    The Georgia Department of Community Health is forcing the Griffin Area Resource Center to repay the money because of incorrect signatures on a few dozen forms.
    The center's executive director told Belanger that loss would force the place to close.
    "I love everyone here and this is the best thing for me," said Emily Wallace, who is one of about 80 people with disabilities who would lose access to services if the center is forced to close.
    "I was devastated because I know we do good work," said Executive Director Lisa Sassaman.
    Sassaman told Belanger she feels personally responsible for the mistake that has the state demanding the return of $453,000 in Medicaid payments.
    "Because of a lack of my signature, they are taking it all back," Sassaman said.
    Sassaman said a recent audit found 44 reports she did not sign properly. In some cases, the only error was she wrote the wrong title after her name, writing executive director instead of "d-d-p" for "developmental disability professional."
    Sassaman calls the penalty extreme and blames the mistake on conflicting state regulations.
    "It’s stacks, and stacks and stacks of policies and procedures. And it's mind boggling," Sassaman said.
    Belanger asked the Georgia Department of Community Health to respond to the situation. A representative said the agency will not comment on ongoing cases.
    "Where's the heart over something so insignificant," said Nelson Grist, whose son Zachary, who has Down syndrome, relies on the center. "This is a place that gives them a sense of worth."
    "It's not like there was any fraud or anything. We provided the services," said Steve Wallace, Emily’s father.
    Steve Wallace serves on the center's board. He says its closure would ripple through the community.
    "All of a sudden people will be thrust back into homes and it will command a lot of attention," Steve Wallace said.
    Sassaman said the state will re-consider the penalty later this month but the center is prepared to take the issue to court if necessary.

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