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Change could be coming to Alabamians with developmental disabilities. Representatives from the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program were in Tuscumbia on Monday with Haylee Cain and her family — Judson, Donna and Nadia Emens — to kick off their campaign for Haylee's Law.

“This state is in dire need of legislative change, regarding those disabled as I,” Haylee told those gathered on the lawn of the Colbert County Courthouse. “Twenty-one-year-olds do not need to be in a nursing home, and there are too many in this state who are.”

Cain, who has cerebral palsy, lived in a Colbert County nursing home for six months because there was no one in her family able to care for her and no state agency charged with ensuring the care of those like her who have developmental disabilities. It was the Emens family who brought her home to live with them after reading her story in the TimesDaily.

That was in April 2010. Since then, the family and others have made it their mission to see that there aren't others who find a nursing home is their only option.

Most recently, state Sen. Tammy Irons, D-Florence, introduced a bill in the Health Committee that would change the Code of Alabama to include people with developmental disabilities and thus provide state assistance for them.

Irons was not at the event, but earlier she said her goal with the bill is to “broaden the definition of those entitled to receive Medicaid waivers. This means that more people can receive services at home rather than being forced into a nursing home to receive the services,” she said.

Irons also said it's a quality-of-life issue for those affected by the lack of money to care for them in a community-based setting.

“There are times and places for nursing homes,” she said. “But no one should be forced into a nursing home in order to receive the services they require if they can receive the services at home.”

Ellen Gillespie, executive director of the Tuscaloosa-based advocacy program, said the event was an opportunity for Haylee to tell her story as well as “to call attention to the bill that would serve Haylee as well as those like her.”

“Hers is a story that speaks to us all about how we need to take care of one another,” Gillespie said. “And it's fitting we would choose this town, Tuscumbia, to start this as it was here that another woman with disabilities contributed so much to the cause for which we're fighting,” she added, referring to Tuscumbia native Helen Keller.

Still, the fight is just beginning, cautioned ADAP's associate director and attorney, James Tucker.

“Although there is broad support for the bill, there is some opposition, especially from organizations that support the state's nursing homes who depend on these Medicaid dollars coming from the state,” he said. “But we know that in most cases, it costs less to care for a person in the community and outside the nursing home.”

Twice, the state has failed to apply for Money Follows the Person federal grant dollars, and, both times state officials said this method of allowing money to be used for institutional or community-based services would be financially unsustainable in the long run. Tucker said he believes the current administration, headed by Gov. Robert Bentley, will be more amenable to this type of funding if given the opportunity to apply in the future.

Having Money Follows the Person dollars, he said, would make Haylee's Law that much more feasible.

The legislative session will end June 9 and reconvene this fall. Tucker said momentum must continue to build in order to see the bill through the process.

In the meantime, Donna Emens said the family is ready to travel to Montgomery and meet with lawmakers.

“We're going to push as hard as we can because this is something we're all passionate about,” she said. “When Haylee decided to do this, it wasn't just for her. She wanted to make sure no one else would end up in a nursing home like she did.”