Independent Living Centers - Matchmakers Making A Big Difference

Dec 17, 2013, 14:08 ET from California State Independent Living Council (SILC)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 17, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- To live a more independent life and remain in their homes, many individuals with disabilities require assistance to tackle daily activities such as bathing, dressing, transportation to medical appointments, preparing meals, etc. According to the Personal Assistance Services (PAS) Center website, the estimated number of California adults age 18 years and older who will need help with daily living activities is projected to grow as high as 980,000 by 2015. This is reflected in the increasing number of individuals providing PAS; however, finding the right individual for someone living with disabilities can be challenging, which is where Independent Living Centers (ILCs) play a critical role.

According to State Independent Living Council Executive Director Liz Pazdral, "Because California's ILCs are a significant hub for information and referral services, many of them serve as critical intermediaries by screening personal assistants to find the right match for individuals living with disabilities."

One example of serving as a "matchmaker" can be seen in the work of Jackie Greene, one of the Independent Living Specialists at the Rolling Start, Inc., Resource Center for Independent Living (RSRCIL) in San Bernardino. RSRCIL works regularly with approximately 250 or more consumers. Greene spends a significant amount of her time matching the right individual to provide PAS for RSRCIL's consumers to ensure both the personal care provider and the consumer have a satisfactory experience. Ultimately, the consumer chooses and hires the worker, but Greene's screening makes both the connection and a long-term relationship more likely.

"At RSRCIL, we don't have many requirements because personal care providers often are self-employed; however, we believe in background and experience," stated Greene. "A person really needs to know what he or she is doing and getting into to be successful. I review each application carefully and match it to our consumers' needs; if there is no match, I don't refer."

RSRCIL provides services for residents in the largest county in the U.S., San Bernardino, as well as in Mono and Inyo counties. Greene and two other Independent Living Specialists cover all three counties in searching for and placing the right personal assistant with their consumers.

Shannon McCroskey, RSRCIL's Program Manager, has worked with Greene for 12 years and views the ILC as an intermediary.

"The way I see it, we are almost a 'middleman' fielding calls and making referrals while identifying cost-effective services for people contacting us for all reasons," said McCroskey. "When it comes to PAS, we get quite a few calls ranging from individuals whose parents have been in the hospital with injuries and they aren't sure what to do when they get home to far more complicated situations such as a person with a spinal cord injury. Sometimes, individuals call needing help taking a shower, but after talking with them, we learn it doesn't require personal assistance; rather we just need to provide them with a shower chair and grab bars."

McCroskey continued, "Oftentimes, the calls are more about making the person's home more accessible and, in these cases, we refer them to our Assistive Technology Coordinator for an assessment to determine their real needs and how the needs can best be met."

Funding is the biggest barrier to individuals trying to obtain PAS. If they don't have the means to pay privately for PAS, they have to rely on family members or qualify for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), which can be challenging. Not all individuals receiving Social Security will qualify for IHSS. Individuals may have a share of cost depending on the household income. To increase the likelihood of qualifying for IHSS funding, Greene and McCroskey coach RSRCIL consumers and put them through mock interviews to ensure they accurately describe their situation.

"People living with disabilities want to remain as independent as possible, and we fully support them in this," stated Greene. "But to do so, they need to understand the importance of correctly describing their situations to ensure IHSS gets an accurate picture to qualify them for the right funding levels."

Once it's clear a consumer's needs can be met, Greene works on matching the "chemistry" of the personal assistance provider and the individual to ensure attitude clashes can be kept at a minimum.

"We are like a big family at RSRCIL and it's important to us that our consumers are happy and satisfied with the personal assistance provider," explained Greene. "I check in with the parties to make sure both sides are happy, and I make a point of trying to follow up within a couple weeks after the personal assistance care begins and again a month later."

Greene and McCroskey described a situation where the match made was "perfect!" 

A woman fighting lupus had been coming to the Center for many years. She had taken care of her own needs most of her life with family members assisting as much as possible. But, when the lupus flared up and she couldn't walk, it became too difficult. Other RSRCIL consumers became aware of this and rallied to find a personal assistance provider among them who matched the woman's needs. She got the care she needed in the short run and stayed out of a rehabilitation facility while RSRCIL worked with her to get IHSS approval.

RSRCIL recognized Personal Assistance Services Awareness Month and celebrated International Disability Day in December by holding a personal attendant workshop and inviting consumers to a potluck event named "Disable the Label."  During the event, consumers shared resources and stories and visited with old friends while making new ones.

The California State Independent Living Council (SILC) is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living.

The SILC Mission: To Create Policy and System Change for Independent Living

SOURCE California State Independent Living Council (SILC)