Gaps in help for those with intellectual disabilities
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, staterun 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 staterun 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 time-limited 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.”
Soby and Banzhaf said they were hopeful Connecticut would score higher in the 2020 report.
“The report I’d guess is affected because we still operate state-run facilities and public programs.”
Jordan Scheff, commissioner, state Department of Developmental Services
STAR resident Jimmy Natale Friday at his group home in Norwalk. A new report by ANCOR Foundation ranks Connecticut 31st in the nation in serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
STAR resident Evan Lieb at the Stoler House group home in Norwalk Friday.
STAR client Arty St. Armand on Friday in Norwalk.