Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Sometimes being part of the latest trend isn’t a great idea.

More than 50 years ago, families and educators in Colorado began to form organizations designed to offer opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to become fully participating members of their communities. Some of those organizations became Community Centered Boards, such as Imagine! here in Boulder, and some became advocacy organizations, such as the ACL (also here in Boulder).

A key consideration in the development of these organizations was the idea that the organizations would represent and reflect the local communities they served. Communities, like individuals, were (and are) unique, and the range of services and opportunities were designed to mirror the distinctive nature and natural resources of each community.

That system worked, and continues to work, extremely well. As I have pointed out before, the current system of I/DD services in Colorado offers remarkable outcomes despite an inadequate (at best) fiscal effort on the part of the state.

Notwithstanding that success, we are seeing a rapidly increasing move away from the trend of local control. As more federal funding and state requirements creep into service delivery, services have become more homogenized, and fewer controls are in the hands of families.

Furthermore, as funding for services remains flat or even shrinks in respect to a community’s cost of living, the trend we will see is only organizations with economies of scale and controls built to respond to funding regulations will remain viable options to provide services where financial margins can be realized … and not at all where financial margins cannot be realized.

This means multi-state corporations are more and more likely to become the only available providers of services in Colorado. These organizations, some for-profit, some not-for-profit, and some which provide a variety of human services with I/DD being a relatively small portion of their services, may have little need or incentive to pay much attention to any unique characteristics or natural resources of an individual community.

I’m not suggesting in any way that the quality of these larger organizations’ services is in question. Not at all.

I do think, however, it is worth asking some other questions about this trend, such as:

Will this trending away from local control of services mean less choice and customization for people in services?

What will it mean for the long-term support services in communities with higher costs of living? 

Will local funds (mil levies, charitable donations) stay local? 

I don’t have all the answers to these questions. At the same time, I don’t hear enough dialog about the questions as the federal and state restrictions and regulations continue on a certain path. That disturbs me greatly as we continue to careen toward homogenization and consolidation without pausing to reflect on some of the unintended consequences.

Then again, what do I know?

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