ROOM FOR IM­PROVE­MENT

State 31st in serv­ing those with in­tel­lec­tual, de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - NEWS - By Ta­tiana Flow­ers

NOR­WALK — A new re­port re­leased by two so­cial ser­vices or­ga­ni­za­tions ranks Con­necti­cut 31st na­tion­wide in its ef­forts to serve peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. Ari­zona ranked 1st na­tion­ally and Mis­sis­sippi came in at 51st.

The 2019 Case for In­clu­sion re­port com­piled an­nu­ally by the ANCOR Foun­da­tion and United Cere­bral Palsy ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia on how well state pro­grams, pri­mar­ily Med­i­caid, serve peo­ple liv­ing with IDD.

Since 2006, UCP has ranked states in five key ar­eas crit­i­cal to the “in­clu­sion, sup­port and em­pow­er­ment” of peo­ple liv­ing with IDD and their fam­i­lies. The five ar­eas are pro­mot­ing in­de­pen­dence, pro­mot­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, keep­ing fam­i­lies to­gether, serv­ing those in need and track­ing health, safety and qual­ity of life, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease by the two or­ga­ni­za­tions.

The big­gest fac­tors af­fect­ing Con­necti­cut’s score in­clude poor marks in two cat­e­gories: pro­mot­ing in­de­pen­dence, where the state ranks 43rd, and serv­ing those in need, where it ranks 46th.

Jor­dan Sch­eff, com­mis­sioner of the state Depart­ment of De­vel­op­men­tal Ser­vices, said re­ports like the Case for In­clu­sion are help­ful and give the pub­lic some per­spec­tive. How­ever, he said the state has made progress and scores well in the ar­eas of health and safety and op­por­tu­ni­ties for em­ploy­ment and in­te­gra­tion, which the re­port con­firmed.

“De­spite the re­port and what it sug­gests, we are con­sid­ered a leader in the coun­try in lots of dif­fer­ent ways and the (re­port) points to some things we are cur­rently work­ing on,” Sch­eff said.

He ac­knowl­edged the re­port’s claim that Con­necti­cut’s low mark in pro­mot­ing in­de­pen­dence is partly due to its high per­cent­age of peo­ple liv­ing in large, state-run in­sti­tu­tions.

“The re­port I’d guess is af­fected be­cause we still op­er­ate state-run fa­cil­i­ties and pub­lic pro­grams,” Sch­eff said. “We have, over a num­ber of years, con­tin­ued to shrink our ser­vices in the pub­lic sec­tor.”

For ex­am­ple, he said, South­bury Train­ing School, a state-run res­i­den­tial fa­cil­ity, had 450 in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing there in 2010. That num­ber dropped to 197 res­i­dents at the end of 2018, Sch­eff said. “To­day, it has 186.”

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, only six other states ex­ceed Con­necti­cut’s 5.6 per­cent­age of res­i­dents liv­ing in state-run in­sti­tu­tions. On the na­tional level, other fac­tors af­fect­ing states’ stag­nated or down­ward scores in­clude for­go­ing Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion — and the short­age of work­ers who help peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in­te­grate into the com­mu­nity.

Katie Banzhaf, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of STAR Inc., Light­ing the Way, a Nor­walk non­profit that of­fers ser­vices to peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties, said she agreed the lack of di­rect sup­port pro­fes­sion­als is one of the big­gest chal­lenges states face in im­prov­ing tracked out­comes in the re­port.

“I be­lieve the Con­necti­cut Leg­is­la­ture clearly iden­ti­fied this prob­lem when they re­cently passed and funded the min­i­mum wage bill, ef­fec­tive Jan. 1, 2019, (which) has brought the (di­rect sup­port pro­fes­sion­als) min­i­mum wage to $14.75 per hour,” she said. “Af­ter nearly 12 years with­out in­creases, this has been a wel­come re­lief to our staff and we are hope­ful it will help to both at­tract and re­tain staff in the field.”

Stag­nant or de­clin­ing in­vest­ments in state pro­grams that help peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties live more in­de­pen­dent and pro­duc­tive lives has re­sulted in Con­necti­cut drop­ping from sixth place in the 2007 Case for In­clu­sion re­port to 31st in 2019.

Sch­eff, reap­pointed by Gov. Ned La­mont, said two of his fu­ture goals for bet­ter serv­ing peo­ple this year in­clude col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Depart­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies and the Depart­ment of Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tion Ser­vices to in­crease the state’s abil­ity to re­spond to emer­gency be­hav­ioral health needs in homes when peo­ple need a mo­bile cri­sis re­sponse team.

An­other ini­tia­tive in­cludes pi­lot­ing a six-bed “step down unit” in the greater Hart­ford area that would help peo­ple with be­hav­ioral health needs who get stuck in the hos­pi­tal sys­tem move to­ward suc­cess­fully tran­si­tion­ing back into the com­mu­nity. Pa­tients would stay for a time­lim­ited sta­bi­liza­tion pe­riod and then tran­si­tion to on­go­ing sup­ports in the com­mu­nity.

“We’re do­ing those not in re­sponse to the re­port but be­cause it’s the right thing to do for peo­ple with in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties and the (other) peo­ple we sup­port,” Sch­eff said.

Stan Soby, vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic pol­icy and ex­ter­nal af­fairs at Hart­ford-based Oak Hill, Con­necti­cut’s largest pri­vate provider of ser­vices to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, called the Case for In­clu­sion im­por­tant.

“It gives us some re­in­force­ment for the things we’ve been do­ing that have gone well,” he said. “It puts some chal­lenges in front of us. If we can do some­thing on a proac­tive basis then it’s bet­ter in the long run, first, for peo­ple, but also for state go­ing for­ward.”

He and Banzhaf were sup­port­ive of La­mont’s de­ci­sion to keep Sch­eff in his role as com­mis­sioner, call­ing him “vi­sion­ary and re­spon­sive to fam­i­lies and providers.”

Both Soby and Banzhaf said they were hope­ful Con­necti­cut would score higher in the Case for In­clu­sion 2020 re­port.

Erik Traut­mann / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

STAR res­i­dent Jimmy Natale gets help from his aid Inez Brown on Fri­day at his group home in Nor­walk.

STAR res­i­dent Jimmy Natale is vis­ited by STAR Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Katie Banzhaf.

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