From the Desk of Pamela Bisceglia
When the Stay at Home orders were issued all persons, including AdvocacyDenver and community centered board staff transitioned from in-person to a remote workforce. We learned that for the day-to-day business or staff meetings we did not need to travel into the office, rather business could be conducted virtually. We became experts learning to access and the new social norms when meeting via Zoom, Google Meets, etc. We also learned lessons in relation to access and equity.
We learned that there is a large community of adults with I/DD that does not have internet or technology. We learned how much you miss when you call into a meeting; it is not easy to distinguish who is speaking, when it is appropriate to ask questions or provide input. When people turn their camera off to save “bandwidth” you miss the body language and facial expressions. We observed adult client’s expressions as they scan the screen and try to distinguish who is speaking; when participating by phone they listen in silence, or slam the phone down in frustration.
Over the course of the pandemic, Health Care Policy and Financing (“HCPF”) has issued different orders in relation to programs and agencies that enjoy public funding/bill for Medicaid services. When the Stay at Home Orders were issued and day programs shut their doors, host home providers, parents and others who provide in-home care to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (“I/DD”) provided 24/7 care. In time, the orders were lifted and some adults with I/DD returned to work and as day programs began to open again, other adults were excited to return and be with familiar staff and friends. Staffing was and continues to be an issue and some programs can only offer adults programming for a few days a week. The hope and the promise is as new staff is hired, additional days of programming will be added.
Beginning in March 2021 HCPF gave community centered boards permission to return to business/define a plan to bring staff back to the workplace. Rocky Mountain Human Services (“RMHS”) surveyed staff, defined policy, and in the end made the decision that RMHS is a remote workplace. What RMHS failed to do is survey, or consider the needs of the clients they serve. RMHS established policy that strives for equity in their workforce, but not the clients they are entrusted with. RMHS fails to provide individuals with disabilities a level playing field, let alone address the obvious issues of equity or lack thereof.
The first barrier for adults with I/DD is sometimes making it through the door, applications are completed virtually/over the phone and materials are shared electronically. Well over 90% of adults with I/DD live below poverty level; RMHS procedures assume that persons applying enjoy internet and telephone services. If you make it through the door, don’t expect to connect face to face with a Case Manager (also known as a Service Coordinator). AdvocacyDenver would assert that many of the essential duties of a Case Manager cannot be performed from the living room or study of a home or apartment. Case Managers are expected to visit or meet with their client four times a year. The Service Plan counts as one meeting but they are also expected to travel to the client’s home and walk through and confirm safety and other needs; this has not happened over the past two years. Once a year, the same Case Manager is also expected to visit the client at their place of work or day program or other community setting and again assess safety and needs. RMHS suggests that going forward, safety concerns should be reported to Adult Protective Services. A Case Management duty is to facilitate Individual Service Plan meetings; the barriers for clients and sometimes the family members who support them include lack of technology, accessibility and whether a remote meeting offers meaningful participation. RMHS Leadership asserts that they can and will make an exception, and, when appropriate, will meet with a client in-person. To date, Leadership has not shared this message with their staff; to date, no exception has been made.
AdvocacyDenver will continue to meet clients that we share with RMHS in the community and in our office, and remotely, as appropriate; we individualize according to the needs of the client. AdvocacyDenver recommends that RMHS revisit their workplace policy and define practices that focus on, and meet the needs of the community they are charged with serving.