One year ago, today, I started as the Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities at the Illinois Department of Human Services. I knew the year ahead would be rewarding and challenging but nothing could have prepared me for COVID-19 and the impact on our service system. And yet, despite this, the Division has, and continues, to push forward with advancing the service system for individuals with I/DD. Our accomplishments are simply outstanding:
- We re-established communication with our communities through regular DDD emails, live webinars and direct engagement with our many, and varied, associations, trades, parents' groups, self-advocacy groups and other stakeholders. I also find myself personally responding to many, a family or provider inquiry or question. I've also been able to visit all our SODCs, as well as several our community-based organizations, including a recent visit with Governor Pritzker!
- We navigated three rate increases, and soon to be fourth, to support the service system, as well as identified, and corrected, an issue with the "overnight asleep rate" in the CILA rate model. I'm so happy to be part of an administration committed to investing in our community system.
- We revised (again) Rule 115, that governs CILA operations, to reflect current law, practices and the Settings rule (that hasn't been formally updated since 1999!). It should be published through JCAR for 30-day comment VERY soon! Additionally, we're halfway through Rule 119 which has not been updated since 2003. I'm very much looking forward to tackling all remaining rules in the coming year.
- We established the DD Advisory Committee to provide needed stakeholder feedback on our HCBS waiver programs, the Statewide Transition Plan, and to advise on Division operations and the Illinois service system. This is a phenomenal group of providers, advocates and individuals who serve within the DD system.
- We worked with HFS to revise our Statewide Transition Plan, provided stakeholder presentations and feedback sessions and have started training our staff and stakeholders on the Settings rule. The DD Advisory Committee is helping us review our individual and provider assessments this month. Cross-agency collaboration!
- We entered into agreements to double the number of Short-Term Stabilization homes from four 4-person homes to eight 4-person homes. The SSHs impact is impressive. 93% of individuals that stabilize through the SSH program return to their community-based setting.
- We expanded our Support Service Team (SST) contracts to provide pre and post SODC transition placement support in the community. We also provided new guidance and flexibilities to community-based providers to encourage them to "take a chance" on individuals leaving an SODC. We have also established new mechanisms and review for admissions.
- We submitted and received, in partnership with the Department on Aging and the Division of Rehabilitation Services, an ACL grant for $1.7M to provide tablets to approximately 1200 individuals with I/DD the technology to help them relieve social isolation. We had an outstanding response!
- We worked with the Division of Rehabilitation Services, to finalize and sign, our DDD & DRS Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which will help us achieve a coordinated service planning system and greater employment related outcomes for individuals with I/DD.
- We also engaged the State Employment Leadership Network and brought in needed staff expertise on employment supports. Employment First!
- We continued to shepherd projects started prior to my tenure, including working towards compliance with the Ligas Implementation Plan and Consent Decree, as well as forward movement of the Rates Oversight Committee and Guidehouse Consultants rates work.
And of course, in these unprecedented times, we have shown commitment and resiliency during our response to the COVID-19 global pandemic:
- We provided almost a full 6 months of Retainer/Reinvention payments to support CDS capacity, increases for residential providers to cover additional staff and costs and additional funding and flexibilities for the children's waiver to assist families during the Shelter in Place order.
- We created a brand-new service, Virtual Day Services, with associated definition and rate to support individuals with I/DD, and CDS providers, in a very short period.
- We infused additional flexibility into the waiver funded residential system with the service expansion associated with At-Home Day Program (37U) so that individuals can choose the day setting that best meets their needs during the pandemic. Choice!
- We provided additional flexibility in our policies for all waivers, provided regulatory relief, as well as more remote and virtual capabilities during the Stay at Home order through our Appendix K.
- We partnered with IDPH, to write guidance for healthcare settings to allow for support persons to accompany individuals with I/DD when in a healthcare setting. The Division continues to work directly with hospitals on correct implementation. This policy was so important to our families and individuals with I/DD. I am so proud to be a part of it.
As I think through all that was accomplished, I am struck with what a year of incredibly hard work and dedication can create. There have been many people both within and outside of the Division that have helped make this list of activities a reality. I would be remiss if I did not thank Secretary Hou for her vision, unwavering dedication to the "help is here" motto and her belief in me. A big thank you to my executive team that finds ways to get to YES, even when they might not want to. And finally, a huge thank you to all of you that are doing the hard work in the field. The Division is here to help you, help all individuals with I/DD across the State of Illinois, to live self-determined lives in their communities.
With much gratitude,