In 2018, Merakey Intellectual and Development Disabilities (IDD) services in Western Pennsylvania launched an initiative funded by the Polk Foundation to transform its traditional day program into a true person-centered approach. The first phase concluded with a celebration and planning for next steps with 60+ stakeholders at Heinz Field on November 7 and 8.
“Individuals with IDD and their families are seeking different services. People want to be valued members of the community,” explained Carol Erzen, Staff Development Executive and Program Transformation Project Lead.
The Merakey IDD Transformation Team identified 30 individuals - called Pathfinders - to begin an intensive process of person-centered planning (PCP) to move them away from human service settings to typical community places through self-determined choices. At PCP sessions, the individual and support team uncover qualities, passions and skills that help create a sense of belonging, respect and sharing of ordinary places.
Implementation required diligence but the stories told by several Pathfinders illustrated the effectiveness of person-centered planning.
Floyd’s team discovered his passion for fast cars, a desire to “pay his own way” on dates, go on a beach vacation, and get a dog! The owner of a race car that has a four-point harness made Floyd’s dream possible. On an Erie beach vacation, he was able to use his own debit card.
Eric’s broadcasting interest led to a WBUT Radio tour. When radio frequency changes blocked the public from listening to police and EMS calls on scanners – another of his hobbies – Eric wanted to know why. Soon he was attending County Commissioners meetings to keep abreast of community issues and advocate for direct service professionals.
Ann seeks to bond with friends with like interests – swimming, shopping, country music, spa days, and dates. Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean are among her idols. Ann now has a swim club membership and her team is working on accommodations. She “doesn’t like to sit home,” she said.
Liz, like others, was skeptical at first. “I have been to a lot of meetings . . . I didn’t get to say a word,” she said. “This approach was different.” She spoke up about frustration in finding “a real job.”
An opportunity was identified and she was chosen for a fellowship with the University of Pittsburgh LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) Center, a program of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC that strives to understand factors that help all individuals attain optimal health and developmental trajectories over a lifetime. Liz’s “dream job” is to be a receptionist.
Kayla also wanted to work. “I tried college but found that it was not for me,” she explained. She was connected to a job coach and is now employed by Chick-Fil-A. “I wanted a real job and I got it,” she exclaimed proudly. Her next goals are her driver’s license, debit card, vacation on her own, and continue using her video phone to reconnect with friends who are deaf.
Project consultant John O’Brien observed, ”Where we see people impacts how we see people. To ask ‘where’s the place that this person comes alive’ takes courage. At some point the system has to take on a new structure because it won’t hold for people like the Pathfinders we met today.”
Carol Erzen thanked participants for their hard work, urged all to apply PCP to daily supports, and to participate in next steps identified at the meeting. Visit www.facebook.com/MerakeyIDD/ to follow progress.