Fed could put Opportunity Center programs in danger

Opportunity Center Superintendent Lew Hurst informed Seneca County Board of Developmental Disabilities members Tuesday afternoon of the results of a recent budget symposium he attended.

A PowerPoint presentation showed that nationally the emphasis is on integrated employment and a de-emphasis on sheltered workshops such as the Tiffin and Fostoria Re-ads programs. The “integration mandate” came about after a lawsuit in 1999 by two individuals in Georgia stating they were being unnecessarily segregated in a residential institution owned by the state. This has created a series of trends, including the employment first policies Ohio initiated a year ago. The U.S. Department of Justice has continued to make clear that integration regulation prohibits the unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities by public entities in non-residential settings, including segregated sheltered workshops.

The DOJ continues to work with state and local governments in enforcing the integration mandate, but Hurst feels they are trying to “cookie-cutter” clients when each individual is different in their needs. Forty actions in 25 states have been brought with some producing a settlement agreement, others are in litigation and have received findings letters.

The concern comes because Ohio is high on the list of people in state institutions and the highest with individuals in intermediate care facilities. Twenty states have less than 100 people living in state institutions with more than 16 beds, and 13 states no longer operate facilities. Fifteen states have no one living in a private facility larger than 16 beds. Nationally, the number of people living in private facilities larger than 16 beds has decreased by 33 percent, but in Ohio, the number has increased by six percent.

Money spent also was discussed at the symposium. There are more people receiving services in sheltered workshops in Ohio than any other state utilizing 93 percent of adult service funds. As a result of the recently passed budget, money and language changes will continue to support employment efforts and support downsizing of developmental centers by 90 clients per year.

Ohio’s efforts to support downsizing and employment are based on more than the fear of litigation. They feel choice by the individual is important. Board member Amy Kirkpatrick said the families are making the best choices.

Hurst said families need to become advocates at the state level to make it clear making choices is important. He fears the federal government may step in to pressure the sheltered workshop program. He said a client may be placed into integrated employment for five hours weekly with nothing for the other 35.

Hurst said the management team has been brainstorming to address the issue and recommended the management team retreat with board members to formulate a five-year plan to deal with coming events.

Adult Services Director Rod Biggert explained some ways he is addressing the issue. He is seeking ways to use the media for advertising an overview of the services provided at the Opportunity Center. Children’s Services Director Rick Gagnon and Biggert are collaborating to produce a video of the school art projects and the happenings in the sensory stimulation area for habilitation clients.

Another part of his program is geared toward the transition of graduating students with the Ohio Employment First Initiative. Families have been invited to participate in that process.

They plan to go to the classrooms and offer simulated work time and environment to prepare students for workshop. They then will join others in the actual workshop to acclimate to that environment.

The graduates’ luncheon, usually held in February, will be Nov. 7 this year where graduates and families will hear of all the programs offered at the Opportunity Center. This will give families an earlier opportunity to consider options for transitioning before a final conference where their questions can be answered.

Biggert said the Ohio Employment First Initiative does not meet all clients’ needs and the Opportunity Center wants to be prepared to offer programs to meet those needs.

He plans to start reaching out to the 2015 class next month.

Community Advocacy and Support Services Director Cynthia Morrison reported 41 individuals graduated in the Project STIRS program. The Steps Toward Independence and Responsibility program had 12 individuals vying for eight paid positions as teachers for the younger students, speaking in public schools and to community groups as part of their self-advocates participation

Transportation Director Ron Davidson said he has been looking at a 26-passenger/one wheelchair van that can be converted to a 16-passenger/four wheelchair vehicle for a future purchase.

Business manager Dick Williams reported the board received $1.47 million from property taxes. When asked if clients in sheltered workshops were going to be exempted under the Affordable Care Act, he said he received no information about that.

In other business, the board:

Approved the ethics council report renewing services for several clients.

Terminated the contract with Nicole Masella as investigative agent effective Sept. 29 due to her accepting the behavior support specialist job effective Sept. 30.

Resolved to create six coaching positions as needed for sports as determined by individuals’ interests and eliminating two volleyball coach positions, three track and field coach positions and one bowling coach. Each are to be paid $565 for the season and pep squad/band advisor is to receive $439.

Tabled approval to rehire a retiree at this time. The board previously determined not to rehire retirees.

Heard North Central Ohio Regional Council of Governments annual board training is 5 p.m. Oct. 23 at Camden Falls.

The 169 Board meets next at 5 p.m. Oct. 8.