650 OUT: A Celebration of Community
by: Dan Wilkins, Director of Special Projects
“The Ability Center has built bridges for all of those who choose to live the life they want, where they want.”
So began Barbara Riley’s comments at the “650 OUT” event, held April 2 to honor and celebrate the people and program that has helped 650 Ohioans better their lives. The former Director of Ohio’s Department of Aging, Barbara has been aware of the program and its successes for years.
“The Ability Center was ahead of its time when it began to move individuals from nursing facilities to the community, and it has proven that not only do those with disabilities want to live in the community, they are capable of living in the community.”
From Nothing, Something
In 2000, Congress was still contemplating the implications of the 1999 landmark Supreme Court decision now known as “Olmstead.” How best could people be transitioned and supported as they moved from existing in institutional settings to living independently in community? With no programs developed to answer this question, The Ability Center (ACT) took the lead, dedicating its own resources to launch the first Nursing Home Transition program in Ohio.
Early on, it was understood the ground travelled would be uncharted. The program’s success would hinge on partnerships and their support. It would require the right person to develop such a program; to create, nurture, and maintain those partnerships. The Ability Center hired Don Smith, a humble, soft-spoken advocate with a large presence and gentle demeanor.
Don came to The Ability Center from the Ohio Correctional system. He had spent a number of years helping young people reintegrate into their communities after incarceration, and noticed parallels. “I saw early on there were similarities in these two populations with regard to their acceptance in community,” Don recounts, “the biggest being the stigmas held by the community. People were fearful of ‘disability,’ of what disabled people living next to them could or might do. There was a lot of misinformation I had to deal with and set straight. I also knew we couldn’t just move people out. We needed to ensure these good people would receive the on-going supports necessary for them to succeed.”
Don hit the ground running. In less than six months, the program had its first successful transition. In less than three years, Don celebrated his one hundredth success story. At the time, people could not believe one program at one organization had accomplished so much. This program would later become the model for the state’s Dept. of Medicaid.
During these early years the program had a dilemma. Typically, for those considering transitioning out of a care facility, all they owned was what would fit in the cupboard in their room. Moving into a new home or apartment required the search for and purchase of household goods, the necessities of independence. It was the Auxiliary to The Ability Center that stepped up to fill this need. They raised money. They helped to shop, to find bargains, and to decorate these homes and apartments. It was and continues to be an amazing partnership.
Susan Zemla, President of the Auxiliary at the time, recalls the excitement the challenge brought. “It really gave the ladies a purpose. Diane Churdar, our Vice President, and her husband took the project on as a personal challenge. It was all hands on deck. We all rallied around the collection of household items, from paper goods to bedding to furniture, the stuff that made it a real home. To see these people out of institutions and into homes of their own gave us a real sense of making a difference. It was an amazing experience for all of us.”
Ohio Creates “HOME Choice”
Until January 2009, it was mostly Don running the Nursing Home Transition program with ad hoc support of various ACT staff. In that time, he helped over 300 get out or stay out of institutional settings. Beginning in 2009, Ohio became one of a few states to be awarded money to develop community placement programs. They created the Money Follows the Person Demonstration Project known as HOME Choice. This allowed the Center to expand Don’s program, add new staff dedicated to the endeavor and, since then, the Ability Center has effectively transitioned over 340 more northwest Ohio citizens via HOME Choice.
One of these 340, Timmy Brown, attended the 650 OUT event, and summed up the benefits of living independently. “Living in my own home is everything to me. I was too young to be in a nursing home,” shares Mr. Brown. “Now, I can eat when and what I want, watch what I want on TV. I can come and go as I please. I am able to be very involved in my church. I have a life again.”
While the benefits to these 650 individuals of living in and interacting with one’s community are myriad and priceless, the financial benefits to the state and taxpayers are also worth noting:
According to current research, the annual cost savings for an individual receiving Medicaid support through Home and C
ommunity Based Services vs. Institutional Living is $52,482.71. Given this, the monies saved the state and taxpayer for meeting the needs of 650 Ohioans for one year equals $34,113,761.00.
Multiply this by 15 years and we’re talking big dollars. Additionally, The Ability Center’s Nursing Home Transition program, collaborating with the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, has provided its consumers a one-year rent savings of $250,560.00. This was done by connecting eligible HOME Choice consumers with critically needed housing voucher assistance.
This speaks to the talent and effectiveness of this team of professionals. They pay attention to details. They understand what grants and financial support programs are available, and work creatively to connect individuals to those resources.
Beyond the financial support, the Nursing Home Transition team is quick to match these newly independent citizens with other programs and opportunities offered by The Ability Center. Perhaps their independence might be improved by the addition of a ramp or an assistance dog. They might ask about a membership to the YMCA, or need help understanding and using TARPS or TARTA. The team knows the transition is much more than just getting out and into a home. There needs to be a reconnection with one’s community. This can take time. The transition team and the Center are in for the long haul.
“All of us share the need for the 4 C’s:” Barbara Riley reminded the listeners, “the need to be connected, in some level of control of our lives, contributing to the community, and cared about, not just cared for, cared ABOUT.”
650 People Cared About
These are 650 Ohioans whose lives have been changed for the better because someone cared about them. These great successes, which The Ability Center chose to honor on April 2, highlight the communication and collaboration that comes from working closely with our community partners, including Ohio’s Department of Health Transformation, Department of Medicaid, and Department of Aging, (through the Area Offices on Aging and the Association of the Area Offices on Aging).
These successes also reflect the leadership role Toledo and Ohio have taken in meeting the housing needs of citizens who are aging and living with disabilities. They are part of the reason Ohio’s HOME Choice program currently ranks first nationally in transitioning individuals with mental illness into home-based settings and second in overall transitions completed.
But our job isn’t done yet. By 2020 there will be 348,000 Ohioans with significant disabilities requiring long term services and supports – and while the number of people over 60 in nursing facilities is going down, the number under 60 years of age is going up.
Again, Barbara Riley states, “When I was at the Ohio Department of Aging and trying to learn more about the disability community, I heard some things that have stayed with me, and have helped guide my thinking, including: ‘Build on an Independence Model, not a Medical Model,’ and ‘Focus on people’s contributions, not their deficiencies,’ and ‘This isn’t about age and diagnosis, it is about ability and providing what is necessary to improve a person’s quality of life.”
We couldn’t agree more, Barbara. These exact points are at the very heart of everything we do. Living and working by such a philosophy is why our programming, including our Nursing Home Transition program, is so successful and so important to our community. So, here’s to the next 650, and the next. May we continue to develop and share best practices; to care about and make a difference in the lives of people living with disabilities and in the communities we all live, work, and play in for years to come.