We are parents of a developmentally disabled daughter. Yael was born with Williams Syndrome which is a rare genetic disorder characterized by medical problems, developmental delays and learning disabilities. Even though Yael is 32 years old, she functions and thinks like a third grade student. She needs supportive employment as well as ongoing skill development training to live to her fullest potential.
Yael is very happy and content with her current services. She works mornings at her community job (with a trained job coach) and afternoons at Northwoods in Portage. Northwoods is a premier community rehabilitation program (CRP) that has offered jobs and job training for 39 years to individuals with developmental disabilities. She receives prevocational services at Northwoods and feels safe and supported there. This training helps her maintain her skills and learn new skills so she can be more appropriate at her community job. In addition, Yael’s time at Northwoods provides a place for her to do meaningful work when she is not at her community job. She does not feel isolated or segregated at Northwoods. In fact, she feels accepted by and equal to those around her. She loves both of her jobs and feels successful. They give her a reason to get up every morning. Yael wants to work. She does not want to stay home and do nothing.
It is Yael’s choice to work at both jobs and this choice needs to be protected. She likes working 30 hrs a week and takes great pride in earning a paycheck and contributing to our household expenses. This is what works for her. However, one size does not fit all. There are many disabled individuals who choose to only work at Northwoods, or have more severe disabilities that prevent them from working in the community. It is unrealistic to think that every disabled individual will thrive in competitive employment or that employers will make adaptations for them. We want the full array of employment and residential services to be kept intact. Facility-based vocational services must be protected.
We are concerned about the new DHS Medicare Medicaid Waiver Application due to be submitted to the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services. The waiver calls for limiting and eventually eliminating facility-based prevocational training and day center services for adults with disabilities. This proposed regulation can cause only bad outcomes.
The DHS plan is incomplete because CMS hasn’t provided states with the sub-regulatory guidelines for employment settings. When the guidelines from CMS arrive, the public should have another 30 days to review and comment.
I.R.I.S. and managed care organizations who receive Family Care funding must also be supportive of CRPs and not be allowed to deny funding to their clients who have been receiving services. This is already happening. It is important that disabled individuals have a place to go that provides dignity and purpose. The current proposed plan doesn’t clarify facility-based prevocational services and it concerns us that the program will be eliminated as a choice in the future.
The states that closed facility-based programs like Northwoods have dismal employment rates. Six years after the closures, only 36% of disabled individuals in Vermont found employment for an average of only 10 hours per week. That leaves 64% with no jobs whatsoever and no place to go during the day. Maine was even worse at 23% employment. What type of a plan does Wisconsin have so this does not happen here?
Mississippi, Massachusetts and New Jersey have listened to the voices of disabled individuals, parents, guardians, friends and community members. These states have kept the full array of employment and residential services intact. Please add Wisconsin to this list by allowing Medicaid funding to be used for prevocational and day services provided in facility-based settings.
Dallas and John Kerzan