MHRH offering providers shared living incentives
Erica Veshosky met Arnold Conover about 14 years ago when he was a participant in a program operated by the Frank Olean Center and she was an instructor. When she found out that Arnold who lived in a group home was scheduled to be moved to a nursing home she thought "no way, he's not moving" and decided to become a shared living provider bringing Arnold into her own home.
There are 146 people like Erica who have opened their homes to a person with a developmental disability through Rhode Island's shared living program. That number is expected to grow in the months and years ahead as agencies providing services for people with developmental disabilities begin to more fully participate.
The Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals which funds these services considers shared living an important alternative to group homes since in the last analysis those who participate seem to thrive and the cost is half of that of a group home placement.
Shared Living participant David Cicerone and Shaelynn Crooks, recruiter for Mentor Inc. working to create homes for people with disabilities.
There are currently 18 agencies that are involved in the shared living program, 15 of which have been authorized in the last year or so. To encourage these agencies to develop shared living arrangements more rapidly, Department director Craig Stenning recently announced that he is willing to share half the savings realized with a shared living placement with the agencies involved for six months. Eighty percent of this incentive will be paid to the agencies that are moving the people out of group homes and into a shared living as long as the move is from more expensive to less expensive settings. The remaining 20 percent of the incentive will be paid to the agencies that provide new homes for the people being supported. This portion of the incentive is designed to assist agencies with some of the start up and development costs of new shared living homes.
Shared living providers are advocates, friends and mentors who not only share their home with people with developmental disabilities, but help them engage in community life, teach them new skills, help them make friends and good life choices that will to lead to satisfying, safe and productive lives.
Indeed, shared living is about love, acceptance, approval, understanding, compassion, kindness, and loyalty say participants and providers alike. During two sessions at a recent conference sponsored by Advocates in Action, their testimony demonstrated that these human relationships are the basis for the personal growth. It turns out that when people with and without disabilities come together and fully share their lives, they discover the most important thing they have in common is their basic humanity.
According to David McMahon who coordinates the shared living program for the state, there are currently 30 people with disabilities who want to find a shared living placement and 25 families or individuals undergoing training to become hosts.
For some people its just a matter of changing the funding stream. Young people with disabilities who live with foster parents funded through the Department of Children and Families, for instance, can continue in that home under shared living when they turn 21.
"If you're a person with a disability you get to choose the family and the community you want to live in. You meet with the family and if you like them, great. You start to build a relationship. We want these situations to be real and we want them to improve people's lives," said McMahon.
The relationship between the person providing the home and the person with a disability provides the structure and support for development, growth, and change. Eligible providers are men and women 21 or older who are willing to provide specialized services in a family environment. Preferably they will have had some experience like teaching or nursing that would be helpful as their relationship with the new family member unfolds. Under the program's guidelines mentors receive a tax-free stipend and up to 66 percent of the individual's Social Security payment for room and board along with support from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals. Families are visited by personnel from the sponsoring agency on a regular basis. In addition, families have access to any needed support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the event of emergency.
The complexity of the needs of the person with disabilities determines the amount of the stipend the host families receive. For families hosting those with the most complex needs or level 4, the stipend is $32,000, level 3 is $27,000, level 2 is $18,000, and level 1 is $15,000. These levels are pre determined by the social workers and the Division of Developmental Disabilities through a comprehensive evaluation and are usually in place at the time a person is found eligible for services.
People who want to become providers must undergo a rigorous screening process along with pre-service training. Initial telephone interviews are followed by a home visit. Personal and professional references are interviewed, a criminal background check is performed and there are interviews and medical screenings of everyone in the household.
Providers must be CPR and first aid certified. A potential home must be clean, the plumbing and electrical systems must be modern and it must have smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and fire exits. Any deficiencies must be corrected before a dwelling can be certified.Everyone involved the person who might join the family, all the existing members of the household, the sponsoring agency professionals and the person's social worker from the Division of Developmental Disabilities must want to proceed. That's something that is carefully worked out during preliminary get-togethers that might include a luncheon meeting at a restaurant followed by a visit to the home and an overnight stay.