By Bob Liston — President, Summit ILC Board of Directors
As I sit here thinking back to 2009, I can’t help but think about the good things that have been accomplished by Summit Independent Living Center and the disability community across the state and country. It seemed to all start prior to the beginning of the year, trying to find someone to be the lobbyist for Independent Living and the disability community, then figuring out the logistics for Travis Hoffman to fill that role. Between Travis, all the CIL directors and advocates, other organizations like Disability Rights Montana, AARP, the Mental Health Association, provider agencies and many more we saw a pretty good legislative session. Travis not only did a great job in Helena, but was able to get our community across the state involved in the process by contacting their legislators.
At the same time, there was a national effort to get the Community Choice Act introduced, acted upon and/or included in the Health Care Reform efforts. Since Senator Baucus made it quite clear from the beginning that he would not hear the Community Choice Act (it had to get through the Finance Committee first and Sen. Baucus is the Chair), efforts moved to including it in the Health Care Reform. ADAPT members from New York, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Montana and staff/advocates from Summit ILC met with Senator Baucus’ staff by phone and in person (not invited), continuing to be told that Long Term Services (i.e. CCA) would not be included. This was not acceptable. Advocates across Montana went to virtually every office of Sen. Baucus insisting on a personal meeting and expressing the importance of moving CCA forward. In Missoula, advocates finally got an appointment to meet with the senator during the August recess. We came away from this meeting “guardedly optimistic” that he “heard” what we had to say. To our surprise, when Sen. Baucus got back to Washington D.C., he included the Community First Choice Option (a demonstration project using CCA principles) as part of the “chairman’s mark” or his final bill—a major accomplishment. Way to go Summit, Montana and National Advocates and thanks for your efforts!!!
We have seen a Medicaid “buy-in” program passed through the legislature allowing persons with disabilities to obtain jobs, earn more money and still have insurance. Summit’s Self-Direct Personal Assistance Program is seeing more services to more people utilizing it, which means not only are more people in independent settings, and resulting in more personal assistants being employed and getting more hours. We have been able to pay personal assistants more in wages and provide insurance through a state program to those who want it. Summit also has a greater presence in the high schools. We made major accomplishments in 2009 and we should take pride in what we have seen done. The Board of Directors thanks the staff, peers and advocates for their efforts.
But we also need to be thinking about the future. We have to keep an eye on the Health Care Reform and what ends up happening to the Community First Choice Option—pushing Montana to apply if possible. We need to continue to fight for the passage of the Community Choice Act. Where one lives should not determine the types of supports and services they are able to receive. This should be uniform across the country and nursing homes should not be the default program—we need to end the institutional bias in Medicaid!
Summit is working with Aging Services to develop ways to ensure the aging and veterans have the opportunity to continue to live in the community, as well as improving outreach and efforts to get younger folks with disabilities out of nursing homes and back into their communities. Summit continues to partner with the Rural Institute at the University of Montana to assess and demonstrate on ways to provide new and improved services to our consumers.
As a Board, we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure for Summit staff to continue to do a great job. Do we have enough space in our offices? Do we have the technology to provide the services? Are there other partners we should be working with? We need to look at fundraising so we have “unrestricted” funds to be able to do the lobbying we need, when we need it. We have the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act coming up this summer—something to celebrate, as well as question its effectiveness of the implementation. We are seeing threats to accessible voting sites threatened. All of our communities can be more accessible to all persons with disabilities. As those of us who are baby-boomers continue to age and increase in numbers, the strain on Summit to meet the needs for services will continue to grow. We must be looking towards the future and be as proactive as possible and not get caught by surprise.
But as ’09 comes to an end and ’10 begins, let’s take time to celebrate our victories, acknowledge our accomplishments and thank the staff, peers and advocates (I would also like to thank my fellow Board Members) for their hard work. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and got rested…now the work begins anew!