Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Channeling Mike Singletary

Today, I’d like to channel my inner Mike Singletary.

For those of you who don’t know, Mike Singletary is the coach of football’s San Francisco 49ers. After an opening season loss three weeks ago, Singletary actually thanked his opponents for beating his team. Here’s the quote: "We played into Seattle's hands today and, once again, they got us. And I do want to say thank you. I wanted very much so, to tell Pete Carroll thank you very much for kicking our tails. It was good medicine and we are going to take it and we will go from there."

It is an interesting concept – I feel like he is acknowledging that Seattle’s victory exposed some weaknesses in the 49ers, weaknesses that otherwise most of the 49er players would have preferred to have kept hidden.

In that same spirit, I think I need to thank our new neighbors at our Family Care Group Home at 1503 Juniper Street. For those of you who don’t know the story, our proposed home there has met with some resistance from some neighbors. Rather than give you a detailed explanation, it might be easier if you take a look at a couple of news articles about the situation:

A story following a meeting we held with the neighbors on September 13.

An editorial piece about our proposed move.

Now, I want to make clear that I respect and understand our neighbor’s concerns. Our home on McClure Street had undue police contacts and the resolution was late in coming. At this point, our job is to rebuild the trust of our Juniper neighbors. It won’t be easy, but we are committed to the process.

In addition to changing the types of kids served in the Juniper home to individuals who do not have the significant mental health issues that some of the McClure residents had, we have set up a hotline for neighbors to use for issues around the home, we will be hosting monthly neighborhood meetings, and we are working with a Longmont city mediator to develop a "memorandum of understanding" with the neighbors.

Back to my initial point, I think I need to thank neighbors because their vocal opposition to the home has shed some light on a weakness that many would rather not have exposed: these kids, the ones who were responsible for the majority of police calls at our McClure home, are teenagers with dual diagnosis of a developmental disability and significant mental heath issues, and they exist in a kind of service limbo in the Colorado DD system. The options for serving them, and other kids with similar diagnoses, are limited and not very promising.

Without homes like our McClure home, these boys are likely to end up incarcerated or sent to Tennessee to institutions where they are "served" (at the considerable Colorado taxpayer expense of $450/day as opposed to the less-than-$300 Imagine! was getting to serve each individual) with little skill-building or hope of eventually becoming integrated members of society. Either way, at age 21 they are likely to return to Colorado, where they will continue to need to be served for the rest of their lives. In that scenario, no one wins – not the State, not the taxpayers, not the local communities, and certainly not the kids.

For the past several years, Imagine! has been trying to draw attention to this problem, asking why, for example, services for these particular individuals were under the direction of the State Division of Child Welfare and not the State Division for Developmental Disabilities. The Governor created a commission to study Child Welfare after recognizing design shortfalls and has implemented some recommendations from the Commission. Yet, the system still has shortcomings. The system of rules, regulations, and payment for limited services is extremely complex causing many advocates and potential providers to avoid addressing the needs of these kids

Imagine! made a commitment to serve these kids to the best of our ability. But our commitment isn’t unlimited and our mission is not a one way street – we need support and resources from our State and our community in order to succeed. Without that support, we can’t serve the kids, or the community, properly. And in the end, it is the State and the communities that will pay the price for not serving the kids – not Imagine!.

So I hope the outcry among our neighbors at Juniper St. will open up a dialogue about the bigger issue that few seem to want to address – there simply aren’t good service options for these kids. Now, there are newspaper stories and legislators asking questions. Imagine! has taken a bit of a beating, and that’s OK. We are not above accepting critical advice, and we admit we should have done a better job communicating with neighbors in the first place. But we hope that the discussion can grow from there to address the heart of the matter – how are we, as a State and a community, going to serve some of these kids with significant needs in the future?

It is unfortunate for both Imagine! and the Juniper St. neighborhood that the issue had to come to light this way, but in the end, maybe the whole community will be better for it.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Good News Friday!

Today, rather than writing a lengthy post, I thought I would share a video we made at Imagine! a couple of years back, highlighting a young lady who receives services from us. The video is only three and a half minutes long and I think you will find it well worth your time to take a look.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not Paying Attention

Before you read anything else in this post, please take a look at the video below and take the test.

In a study where people were asked to watch the video above and take the test, half the people who watched the video didn’t notice the gorilla. It is an interesting trick of the brain. Because test takers are told to focus on the ball, their brains tend to make assumptions about everything else in the scene. The brain fills in details by itself, even if those details don’t actually match what is happening on the screen.

I was thinking about this test recently because of a Conflict of Interest Task Force report just issued by The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) and the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF).

According to the report, CDHS and HCPF:
“have been aware of potential conflicts of interest in the developmental disability services delivery system related to the multiple roles that Community Centered Boards (CCBs) hold for some time. Several Community Centered Boards and the Division for Developmental Disabilities developed and implemented various safeguards intended to mitigate the potential for conflicts of interest. However, results of the State Auditor’s Office 2009 Audit of the Home and Community Based Services Waiver for People with Developmental Disabilities indicated that the potential for conflicts of interest, examined in a December 2007 study by the University of Southern Maine (USM), Muskie School of Government titled “Addressing Potential Conflicts of Interest Arising from the Multiple Roles of Colorado’s Community Centered Boards” had not been resolved. To this end, in February 2010, the Departments solicited applications for and convened a stakeholder group to develop recommendations for resolving the conflict of interest issues inherent in the developmental disabilities system, the Conflict of Interest Task Force (COITF).”
Now, is there a potential for conflict of interest in how our system is set up? Of course. Are there some families who feel that they have not gotten the proper information on the full range of services available to them because of this conflict of interest? Again, yes.

But by all accounts, the number of families and individuals who feel that way is very small. Most families feel as if the system of selecting services works for them. That’s not just me saying that. Here’s a direct quote from the report: “A large majority of the public, both family members and self-advocates, did not want change in their current services or personnel.”

I can’t help feeling that this Conflict of Interest Task Force is simply counting the number of passes, just like in the video. So much time, energy, and focus is being spent on this one issue while the many gorillas in the room are completely ignored.

What gorillas? Well, here are some issues in the DD world that no task force has been convened to study:

• Currently 30% of adults with a developmental disability who are eligible for services in our service area are not receiving any service. This figure is projected to exceed 40% by 2020.

• Hundreds of children who have a developmental disability and are served through the Division of Child Welfare lack knowledgeable advocacy on their behalf.

• There is no single entity accountable for knowing how many children in the Child Welfare system have a developmental disability.

• Dozens of children who have a developmental disability and are served through the Division of Child Welfare are in placements in the state of Tennessee due to the lack of qualified providers and adequate rates to Colorado providers. This is a tremendous financial burden on the counties of Colorado.

• The developmental disabilities services system has endured program elimination, jobs lost, cuts in levels of service, and service rate cuts, all as a result of uncontrolled Medicaid Waiver expenses unrelated to the current recession.

A fraction of a percentage of adults with developmental disabilities enrolled in services through the Department of Human Services have encountered an acknowledged, unmitigated conflict of interest associated with case management and service provision.

In better times, it might make sense to address that issue. But not now. Not when we have so many other issues to address. Issues that have a far greater impact on the ability of our State’s service providers to deliver quality and meaningful services to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Good News Friday!

Today I’d like to put the spotlight on a young man who receives services from Imagine!. But I’d like to recognize him not because of what Imagine! has done for him, instead, I'd like to recognize him because of what he has done for Imagine!.

In the spring of 2009, Joe Hansen joined Imagine!’s Board of Directors. “One of the Board’s goals is to help find ways to improve services, and I want to be a part of that. A challenge for the Board is to balance looking out for the best interest of the client, while also considering what is best for our entire community,” he told us at the time.

As a person who receives services from Imagine!, Joe brings an invaluable insight to the Board of Directors that strengthens the Board’s ability to serve consumers and their families.

Joe’s participation and counsel on the Board would be enough reason to highlight him in this blog, but recently Joe helped Imagine! in another, and very impressive, way.

Joe has worked at the Safeway in Louisville for eight years. A couple of months back, Joe and his mother both wrote letters of support for a grant request made by the Imagine! Foundation to Safeway. Joe and his mom must be some writers, because Safeway recently presented the Imagine! Foundation with a check for $10,000!

In the picture to the right, Kris Staaf (left), Safeway's Regional Director of Public Affairs & Government Relations, is presenting the check. That’s Joe in the middle and I’m on the right.
Joe’s efforts on behalf of Imagine! demonstrate perfectly the contributions the individuals we serve can bring to their community if given the opportunity.

On behalf of all of Imagine!, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Joe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vote No On Amendments 60 and 61 and Prop. 101

You may have heard about a few initiatives that will be on the ballot in Colorado in this November’s election that are causing quite a stir: Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101. Imagine! is opposed to all three measures.

I could provide a lengthy explanation, but our friends at the the Bell Policy Center and ProgressNow Colorado have teamed up to create a video to explain how the initiatives would work and what they would do -- in plain English. Take a look.

I normally end my posts with “then again, what do I know?” But in this case, I am certain. Amendments 60 and 61 and Proposition 101 are bad for our State. Vote no on all three this November.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Good News Friday!

The week beginning September 12 has been designated as “National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week” by the U.S. Senate. The designation recognizes the invaluable supports Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide and the difference this workforce makes in the lives of Americans with disabilities.

Direct Support Professionals, often referred to as caregivers, personal assistants, or home care aides, are the lynchpin to the ultimate success or failure of community-based long-term supports. DSP workers build close, trusted relationships with the millions of seniors and people with disabilities they assist each day. They work in community settings assisting people with disabilities with medications, preparing and eating meals, dressing, mobility, and handling daily affairs.

Unfortunately, these critical supports are being threatened by a growing workforce crisis. The U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that the average U.S. worker makes about $16.75 an hour, while the average DSP makes about $9.26 an hour for the close, nurturing, and intimate critical support they provide. Many DSPs work two jobs to make ends meet for their own families. The daily challenges these front-line workers face are both physically and emotionally demanding. Inadequate wages have led to high turnover (as high as 86% in some residential settings) and ongoing vacancies in the direct support workforce.

Despite these significant challenges, we are so fortunate here at Imagine! to have so many dedicated, talented, and passionate people who are willing not only to take on this difficult job, but to excel at it.

In anticipation of DSP Recognition Week, I’d like to use this space to acknowledge all of the DSPs that work here at Imagine! or at one of the many provider organizations we partner with.

To all of our local DSPs: Thank you for your commitment to some of our community’s most vulnerable citizens. I am humbled by your work ethic, compassion, and creativity. You inspire me every day.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Good News Friday!

I enjoy and take great pride in recognizing the successes of Imagine!’s departments. I also think it is necessary to acknowledge the successes of other organizations that provide services to people with one or more developmental disabilities. When that organization also happens to support individuals who receive services from Imagine!, it is icing on the cake.

Please join me in congratulating Employment Link and its Executive Director Bob Lawhead as they celebrate 50 years of service to the Boulder and Denver community. Employment Link was begun in 1960 by Boulder County families with children and young adults with disabilities who desired a better life for their sons and daughters. The focus of Employment Link over the past fifty years has been assisting Boulder County employers in locating qualified employees with disabilities, along with employee screening, workforce training, and ongoing employee support.

I recall in the early years of Imagine!’s vocational program Labor Source how Employment Link and Labor Source pooled resources and shared quite a few endeavors that resulted in a variety of employment opportunities for the individuals we served. Although in some regards it could be interpreted that Employment Link and Labor Source were competitors, it was a far cry from “Coke versus Pepsi.” We recognized that we were on the same team, and I have no doubt that the individuals we served, the employees in both organizations, and our business community all benefited from our collaborative efforts.

Employment Link will be celebrating their 50th anniversary on September 15, from 4:30 to 7:30 PM, at CU's Koenig Alumni Center, 1202 University Avenue (on the Southeast corner of Broadway and University in Boulder). In conjunction with the open house event will be the formal announcement of a corporate name change to Community Link.

To attend Employment Link’s free open house celebration, please RSVP at (303) 527-0627 or info@emplink.org.