Cooperative program creates care continuity for persons with developmental disabilities

April 9, 2010 | Features, UToday



There are more than 4,000 people in Lucas County with some form of developmental disability, and each of those people, from infants to seniors, has families, loved ones or caretakers who are an integral part of his or her life.

But with medical care improving, many with development disabilities are outliving their parents or caregivers.

To reduce the anxiety this new reality creates, the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the Ability Center of Greater Toledo and the Center for Successful Aging at The University of Toledo have created a family care planning program called Options for Tomorrow. Dr. Barbara Kopp Miller is the director for the Center for Successful Aging and the Options for Tomorrow Program, and Dr. Victoria Steiner, assistant director for the center, serves as the evaluation consultant for the program.

Debbie Keller, a planning specialist with Options for Tomorrow, already has engaged 17 families in this process, with six having completed a finished plan.

“We try to cover everything — financial security, guardianship, legal concerns, medical history and ongoing medical needs to what are their favorite TV programs, what do they like to eat, what makes them happy or scared or sad,” Keller said. “Losing a caretaker can be particularly traumatic for someone with a developmental disability, and we can reduce some of that anxiety by talking through the steps that will take place when caretakers are unable to continue giving care.”

Tim Harrington, executive director of the Ability Center, said the program was set up following a number of community meetings.

“It was increasingly apparent as we met with people with developmental disabilities, their families, their siblings and their friends that most did not have a plan in place and that was causing them a great deal of stress,” Harrington said.

John Trunk, superintendent of the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said the goal is to end up with a model that creates a framework for speaking with caretakers about these issues.

“While we need to address these concerns for everyone, each family’s situation is unique and our planning needs to also be unique.”

Keller said the planning process takes place over roughly six months, depending on the client’s availability and complexity of the planning, and consists of four or five meetings. The first few are about gathering information and assessing needs, and the last few present the family with a finished plan for their review.

“We also follow up with the family every three months for two years to reflect changes and adjustments in the goals we’ve established,” she said. While the service is offered free of charge, Keller said donations are welcome.

The initiative is in its second year of a three-year commitment from the Ability Center and Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, which each pledged $150,000 over those three years to fund the effort.

“I know how appreciative those who have worked with Debbie and UT, the Ability Center and this board have been, but we eventually need to have these conversations with all 4,000 families in the county,” Trunk said.

According to Harrington, “It’s a matter of changing our mindset so that it is understood that this sort of family care plan is the standard for all.”

A free, public forum on Options for Tomorrow will be held Wednesday, April 28, at 5 p.m. in the Faculty Club at the Toledo Hilton. RSVP to 419.383.3645 as seating is limited.