Friday, October 21, 2011

As a multi-faceted organization, it is not uncommon for RCIL employees to engage in a wide array of tasks. After asking Ollie Pagan, Consumer Directed Coordinator, what her job entails, she quickly says, "Everything." In essence, Ollie works to support people individually, but also connect them across the agency and the community. When a phone call comes in related to an issue or concern that a consumer if facing, Ollie is quick to offer assistance, support, and direction. In some cases that may involve trying to hire an aide, or contacting the case manager from the county level to support and assist the consumer.

The Consumer Directed Personal Care Attendant Program (CDPAP) under which Ollie works, allows to people to receive services that they, as an individual with a disability, directs. With this service, a person can hire, fire, train and direct a staff member to assist them with tasks such as personal hygeine, taking medication, or assistance in getting out of bed so that you could get in your chair to go to work.

Energetic and petite, Ollie is the epitome of an consumer advocate: eager to move things forward, shake things up, and propel RCIL forward. She is proud to remark that over the past decade that she has been working for RCIL she has noticed dramatic improvements within the organization. "They now provide more services, and do more to help break down the barriers of discrimination among the disabled community." She also notes that RCIL has become more of a unified, cohesive group that has made deeper connections with outside organizations. However, there’s always room for improvement. "Consumers should have access to more effective, time-sensitive services. They should not have to wait such a long time for services....there are resources out there for them, but they are hindered by policies and procedures." Many situations are time-sensitive, and out of respect for the unique circumstances of every consumer, especially those lacking strong family support, services should be implemented promptly.
From dealing with distraught parents of an adult child with cerebral palsy and in desperate need of staff, to trying to enroll eager college students unable to obtain the education they desire, there is no doubt that Ollie's work plays a direct hand in changing the quality of people's life.  As she recounts some of her most notable moments with vivaciousness, it is easy to see how compassionate, patient and nurturing she is. "My job is so rewarding. I only wish that I could do more because there is such desperation and need in the community and I only have a limited amount of control," she remarks.
Every individual is entitled to become a productive, contributing member of society. Immense progress has been made in equalizing rights for African-Americans, women and other typical disenfranchised groups, however the same sort of inclusion has not been extended out to individuals with disabilities. Ollie says two key differences is that they are given lower levels of care, and commonly "overlooked." She whole-heartedly stands by RCIL's mission to deinstitutionalize individuals with disabilities and allow them to exercise their right to live independently. Considering the options for appropriate support at home, there is no need to be confined to a space where others are making decisions on your behalf. Ollie continues to work to break down barriers and fight for their rights, adding "thier frustrations are my frustrations."

- Heather H.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Demise of CLASS

When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010 he also established a national voluntary insurance program that would have allowed working individuals to purchase long term health related services and supports either directly, or through their employers.

The “Community Living Assistance Services and Support” or CLASS program was initiated in order to provide working adults with a basic cash benefit that was designed to offset the costs of non-medical care for adults with long-term disabling conditions, and was also intended to reduce consumers’ use of Medicaid. Individuals who were participating in the program and wished to remain in their communities would have been assisted with a cash stipend that could help pay for non-medical services such as home care, assistive technology, home modifications and adult day services. As part of a larger health insurance program CLASS’s specific intentions seemed like a smart and affordable winner for people and would also have helped to hold down rising Medicaid costs.

Or so we thought.

This week, after careful scrutiny, Kathleen Sibelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, determined that because the CLASS program was voluntary, it was much less financially viable. To maintain program affordability, solvency and ultimately survival, the CLASS program must attract large contributions from the participation of healthy working adults in addition to working adults with disabilities. The next anticipated budget (due out in January) from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office will no longer include the CLASS program.

Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute has estimated that over 10 million Americans currently need long term health related services and supports. As the aging population increases and the number of people with disabilities rises, affordable supplemental insurance will be needed more than ever in order to sustain individuals who don’t qualify for Medicaid, can’t afford long term health insurance, and want to remain at home. Paying for long term care remains a major life expense and is often a substantial financial burden for many Americans, especially seniors on fixed incomes. Medicare only provides brief limited coverage. In the end, if the CLASS program is purged from the Affordable Care Act, advocates for the disabled must continue to press on and make every effort to help uncover practical solutions that allow more individuals the free choice to remain fully independent.

-          Kate F.