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Monday, April 20, 2015

Hundreds to run in ‘Miles for Smiles 5K’ to raise funds to help those with disabilities



Registration deadline for the 5k May 2nd event at Independence Oaks Park is April 29. The fee to run or walk is $30. Sign up at www.morcinc.org/events/morc-miles-for-smiles or contact Jennifer Lasceski at (586) 416-2075

By JERRY WOLFFE

A 5K run/walk at the Independence Oaks County Park in Clarkston on May 2 is expected to have about 300 participants with the goal of raising at least $10,000 to provide for dental care for people with disabilities that the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, Inc. serves.
It is the fourth year for the event and about 200 people ran or walked last year along the paved path in the park.
“It’s very hard to find dentists because a lot of our individuals need to be sedated to get dental work and that’s not covered by any insurance or Medicaid,” said Kerri Pfaffenberger, a speech pathologist at MORC, based in Clinton Township.
She said it can cost $1,000 alone just to sedate someone with a severe disability so a dentist can work on their teeth.
Too many times people with disabilities do not receive proper dental care and hygiene and end up in hospitals with systemic infections that result from an abscessed tooth, costing as much as $100,000, when early treatment could have prevented hospitalization.
The deadline to register for the event is April 29. Check-in for participants will be at Twin Chimneys Shelter beginning at 8:30 a.m. The 5k, or 3.1 mile race, begins at 10 a.m. There also is a one-quarter mile walk that begins shortly after the runners take off.
“We walk the course a couple of days ahead of time,” Pfaffenberger said, noting it is wheelchair accessible. “This year we are having the MORC Choir sing the National Anthem before the 10 a.m. start.”
“We were looking for alternative ways to raise money but the 5K seemed to be a very good fund-raising event,” said Pfaffenberger. “There are a lot of people in the community who participate because they enjoy the park, the cause and they know about MORC helping those with disabilities,” she said.
Awards will be presented to the top three male and female 5K run finishers overall and top three in each division: 14 & under, 15-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70 and over. Separate awards will be given for top three 5k overall walkers, Pfaffenberger said.
Prizes also include medals and gift certificates to different running stores. A “tin can” raffle will be on-site too that day.
“Response from the public has been wonderful,” said Pfaffenberger.

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Oakland County CMH says more cuts to be laid on providers

By JOHN TURK
Of The Oakland Press
A projected $11 million deficit at the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority has officials admitting that cuts to service providers, programs and layoffs are distinct possibilities to mitigate the shortfall.
After recently releasing some budget numbers on the projected deficit, Oakland’s authority said it is working with its provider agencies to look at reductions that could be necessary before Oct. 1, which is the beginning of the entity’s 2015-16 fiscal year.
Executive Director and CEO Willie Brooks said since 2013, a $14 million reduction in Medicaid dollars from the state, combined with an $8 million decrease in the general fund and a $7 million increase in service demand, left the agency with a $29 million budget shortfall.
After reserve money was used to reduce the deficit to $11 million, in 2015 “what happens is that the budget does not go away — it carries over into the next year. We still have that $11 million that we have to make up,” said Brooks.
Layoffs, the consolidation of providers and reductions to improve efficiency could all be on the table, Brooks said, adding he’s meeting with providers later this week to discuss the impact to those the entity serves. Some providers could potentially go out of business, he added.
Effects to residents
Tom Kendziorski, executive director at mental health advocacy group The Arc of Oakland County, said the deficit is “yet another low point” for people with mental health care issues, and for those who serve them.
The Arc, which has hosted three packed town hall meetings on the issue and has reached out to the community for action in other ways, has more than 1,000 dues paying members whose family members have some type of disability.
“With another decrease in funds, it’s going to mean less services for people with disabilities ... staff people for these service providers are essentially at minimum wage, maybe a little higher, with very little benefits,” said Kendziorski.
“If cuts continue, who wants to work for close to $8 an hour? They could make more working at their local WalMart or McDonald’s.”
Kendziorski added that the state’s Medicaid cuts are not proportional to the number of people served — and benefits provided — in Oakland County, which is about 27,000, by the mental health authority’s count. Less and less are individuals seeing community living support services, vocational training programs, transportation to those programs and residential services, he explained.
“Parents may have to shoulder more responsibility for caring for their adult children. But parents do get older, too, you know. They become 60 and 70 and can’t do what they used to do in their 30s and 40s.”
Jerry Wolffe, writer in residence and advocate at large at the Macomb Oakland Regional Center (MORC) in Clinton Township, said although he isn’t speaking on behalf of MORC, he personally believes society will regress if adequate funds aren’t seen for mental health statewide.
“You can’t cut millions of dollars and expect to provide services where the person has an optimal life,” said Wolffe.
“In these last 10 years, the rate of inflation has increased 30 percent, and funding had been chopped by millions of dollars. It leaves providers with the only option of cutting the salaries of the caregivers, who make an average of $9.06 an hour. There’s no more room to cut.”
Kendziorski agrees.
“We’re leading toward a collapse,” Kendziorski said.
“If we don’t have enough money to maintain the level of services that this generation expects ... it could mean that only the most severely disabled could be served, and the moderately impaired wouldn’t see much help, if any. That’s not a good situation.”
Kendziorski added that there is no cap on how much in reserve money the Community Mental Health Authority can use to stave off the deficit.
But Brooks said: “We can’t continue to use reserves — we’ll be out of Medicaid reserves next year at this time, at this rate.
We have to balance what’s going out to what’s coming in.”
More state cuts?
Last year, Medicaid cuts came to Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties mental health authorities to the tune of $48 million. The three regional mental health authorities cover more than 60 percent of the state’s Medicaid recipients.
The cuts came after years of assessment from the state’s Department of Community Health to reshuffle, or rebase, a new Medicaid rate across Michigan.
On top of the $14 million Medicaid dollars cut in Oakland alone, a worst-case scenario would be more cuts handed down from the state in 2016, Brooks said.
The county’s mental health authority has been working with legislators and the Department of Community Health to help the statewide division “develop a statewide solution, and understand their goal,” Brooks said.
“But at the same time, we want to maintain the infrastructure that we have here.”
Vicki Suder, the mental health authority’s director of rights and advocacy, said in 2010, the state closed the last institution for people with developmental disabilities. She said state funding is needed “to show people that they are valued members of the community, and we need to be able to support them.
“They are getting some of the basic care, not way above and beyond.”
In Macomb and Wayne, budgets seem to be balanced, barring any more state cuts, directors of each regional mental health authority recently told Crain’s Detroit.
The Detroit Wayne County Community Health Authority serves about 75,000 people, and has made reductions that have led to no projected cuts in services necessary in fiscal year 2015-16 fiscal.
The Macomb County Community Mental Health Authority said although it saw $23 million in cuts the past two years, it doesn’t expect reductions in 2016, either. It serves about 30,000 people.

DOJ: Girl can bring service dog to school



The U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a Letter of Findings regarding civil rights violations by the Gates-Chili Central School District in Rochester, N.Y. The DOJ found the District has violated title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by its refusal to permit a student to bring her service dog to school unless the student's mother also provides a full-time handler. The Letter of Findings is available on DOJ's ADA website.

 For more general information on the ADA visit www.ADA.gov or call the toll-free ADA Information Line at (800)-514-0301 (voice) or (800) 514-0383 (TTY). 
-- By JERRY WOLFFE

Monday, April 6, 2015

MORC Lights it up Blue to boost awareness of autism

More than 120 blue balloons with lights inside were placed on the property of the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center in Clinton Township to highlight the Eighth Worldwide Autism Awareness Day.

By JERRY WOLFFE

Blue lights shone into the night sky as “Light It Up Blue” was celebrated worldwide, including at MORC in Clinton Township, to increase awareness of autism, a developmental disability affecting more children every year.

At the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center along 19 Mile Road between Hayes and Garfield there were 120 large balloons with lights inside on the lawn Thursday night to garner the attention of passersby to mark the Eighth Annual Worldwide Autism Awareness Day. April is also autism awareness month.

Project Director Patricia Sims Sunisloe and several other workers at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center set up the balloons in windy and rainy conditions to catch the attention of the public.

The MORC cafeteria in Clinton Township served chilled blueberry soup and gave workers and visitors Blue Moon ice cream until the supply was exhausted. At the nonprofit’s Auburn Hills office blue candy was given to help people realize the impact autism is having on America as well as the world.

There are 3.5 million people in the United States and 70 million worldwide who have autism, a term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. The disorder is characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behavior, according to the nonprofit Autism Speaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1 in 68 children being born today have autism. The number for newborn boys is higher with the rate being being 1 in 42 births. It costs about $60,000 a year to provide treatment for each child with autism, the Website Autism Speaks noted.

“We put up all the blue balloons to try and increase awareness and support those with the lifelong disability,” said Sims Sunisloe. MORC has two autism treatment center, one in Clinton Township and the other in Troy. “Therefore I felt we had an obligation to join with people around the world to ‘Light It Up Blue,’” said Sims Sunisloe.

Since 2000, the number of children born with autism has increased 119.4 percent, or more than double, according to the CDC. Costs of treatment in the United States are estimated at between $236 billion to $262 billion a year.

“Given the rise in the increase of autism, it is important for the public to be welcoming and accepting of those with differing abilities, including autism, and to have some knowledge of autism,” said Diane Lindsay, the Director of Select and Clinical Supports at MORC, which serves 4,300 people with disabilities in southeastern Michigan.

“It’s good to increase awareness,” said Julia Whitcher, the Supports Intensity Scale Assessment Coordinator at MORC. The SIS is a tool to evaluate the type of supports an individual with a disability needs to live to his or her optimum level.

“If more people knew about autism, they’d contribute more toward research and better support for the families who have children with the disorder.”

One of the treatments for those with autism is Applied Behavioral Analysis, said Maddie Wedyke, an ABA technician who works at the Clinton Township Autism Center.

Last April, the federal government decided to pay for treatment for children from newborns to age 6. It is hoped the program will be expanded to those who are older than six.

“We try to reduce behaviors and prepare the children we are working with for school so they can be mainstreamed into regular classrooms,” said Wedyke. “We currently have 17 children receiving treatment at the Clinton center which has been open for two years.

“I’ve seen improvement in some of the children we’ve helped.

“We work on daily living skills such as brushing teeth, zipping up jackets and teaching the children to feed themselves.”

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence and advocate-at-large at MORC. He can be reached at 586 263 8950.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rochester man shows that people with disabilities can live normal lives


Michael Johnston, who has a developmental disability and lives in a Rochester home with two other men, stands between two of his caregivers, Christina Fields (left) and Amanda Atkins. Photo by Jerry Wolffe
Michael Johnston, an energetic young man who loves people and is generous with hugs and sharing smiles, is living a life many would envy.
He loves his job at the Kroger store in Rochester where he works 16 hours a week doing maintenance.
Johnston also likes going to the malls and spends time in his room at the Rochester home where he lives with two other men who have developmental disabilities.
“I like working at Kroger’s,” Johnston said. “I work from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday and can spend the money on the things I like.”
He has a job coach at the grocery store where he works near Silver Bell and Adams. He cleans bathrooms, a worker rest area and vacuums in the store. He hardly ever calls in sick and has worked at Kroger’s for seven years.
Johnston has been living in the Rochester home for 14 years and previous to that at a home in Ortonville for four years since he was born with a cognitive impairment.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and Mary Malone, a Macomb-Oakland Regional Center’s support coordinator, suggested Johnston’s life illustrates how things have changed for the better for those born with disabilities who used to be placed in state institutions instead of living in the community with proper supports.
“I like movies,” Johnston said. He said he has a 32-inch TV, boom box with a CD player and old-fashioned tape player in his bedroom and is a country music fan. He named Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire and Toby Keith as his favorite artists.
“I am a pretty happy guy,” Johnston said as he reached to give a hug during an interview. “I love going into the community. I like to visit and help others.”
He has “one-on-one” with a caregiver when he can go and do whatever he likes. Often, he said he visits Wal-Mart or visits Yates Cider Mill.
“He’s very friendly,” said Malone. “He loves to give hugs. He always makes people feel good and gives compliments. When someone is having a bad day, he helps lift his or her spirit with his sense or humor or inquisitiveness,” she said.
“Other people tell me I’m funny,” said Johnston who smiled when he spoke of attending a recent dance.
After work, Johnston takes a nap since he wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to get to work on time. After work, he showers and helps prepare dinner.
“He’s known for his neatness and being organized,” said Malone as Johnston tidied up some scattered paperclips on a desk.
“Some day, somehow it’s going to happen that people with disabilities are going to be able to work,” Johnston said. “Just because you have a disability and use a wheelchair, you can work and have friends and enjoy things.”’

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Microbusinesses show creativity, drive to succeed of those with disabilities

 Jonathan Kuhn, CEO of JTK Custom Creations of Farmington Hills, shows off his hand-made pens that were for sale at the Champions of Achievement Event in Troy.

By JERRY WOLFFE

The Fourth Annual Champions for Achievement Event met with great success as some 20 microbusiness owners displayed their hand-made products ranging from classy ink pens to jewelry, artwork and greeting cards.
The two-hour event was held at the Troy Community Center on Friday with Ron Savage, the co-anchor of Fox 2 News, being the emcee. Sponsors include the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, Community Living Services and the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority.

“This event is great,” said Amy Kopovits, of Walled Lake, known as the Avon lady who has recruited 43 others to sell Avon products. “We need more of this to encourage people with disabilities to create their own business, ” she added, noting March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month.

Jonathan Kuhn, CEO of JTK Custom Creations of Farmington Hills, makes and was selling custom made writing instruments. The pens start off from a block of wood which he turns on a lathe and end up being well-balanced and very colorful works of art – which include a stylus on one end – that are worth every bit of the $40 he charges. “It’s great for Jonathon’s self-esteem,” said his mother Ginny. “There’s no price on self-esteem.”

“It’s inspiring for me to see these projects come to life,” said Savage. “It’s from the heart. It’s their passion.

Some products – various sizes of First Aid kits -- were practical such as those sold during the past five years by Dorothy King of Livonia. Prices ranged from $4.50, $7 to $21. “I like my business a lot,” she said.

DJR Productions, LLC, owned by Ricky Bledsoe of Warren, a radio personality and DJ, played music for an Elvis impersonator during the event. Bledsoe has thousands of gigs of music of all types and provides music at all types of events. He will next appear 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 19 at the Kensington Community Church in Troy to play a Christian medley. Thereafter, he will appear the third Thursday of each month at the nondenominational mega church. Money Bledsoe earns is reinvested in his five-year business.

Kerry Oliver of Waterford was selling soaps and air fresheners from her two-year-old business, “Kerr’s Soap Sensations.” Oliver attends about six shows a year and said, “I like to go out.”
“It’s a great opportunity for people to try out microbusinesses in a safe environment,” said Lindsay Stokes, a MORC vocational services worker. “It gives the participants the chance to work on their salesmanship, helps with confidence and adds purpose” to their lives.

Renee Uitto of Troy was selling greeting, birthday, holiday, Easter and other type of homemade cards from her “Rene’s Creative Card” business. Prices were very reasonable ranging in price up to $2. “I really like my business,” she said. “It gives me a way to express myself.” On the back of each card it said this card was “Created Especially for You by Someone Special.”

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at (586) 263-8950.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Man with developmental disability lives full, productive life



Michael Johnston, who has a developmental disability and lives in a Rochester home with two other men, stands between two of his caregivers, Christina Fields (left) and Amanda Atkins. He is living a happy and productive life.

By JERRY WOLFFE
 
Michael Johnston, an energetic young man who loves people and is generous with hugs and sharing smiles, is living a life many would envy.
He loves his job at the Kroger store in Rochester where he works 16 hours a week doing maintenance.
Johnston also likes going to the malls and spends time in his room at the Rochester home where he lives with two other men who have developmental disabilities.
“I like working at Kroger’s,” Johnston said. “He loves his job,” said one of his caregivers Christina Fields. “I work from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday through Friday and can spend the money on the things I like,” Johnston said.
He has a job coach at the grocery store where he works near Silver Bell and Adams. He cleans bathrooms, a worker rest area, and vacuums in the store. He hardly ever calls in sick and has worked at Kroger’s for seven years.
Johnston has been living in the Rochester home for 14 years and previous to that at a home in Ortonville for four years since he was born with a cognitive impairment.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and Mary Malone, a Macomb-Oakland Regional Center’s support coordinator, suggested Johnston’s life illustrates how things have changed for the better for those born with disabilities who used to be placed in state institutions instead of living in the community with proper supports.
“I like movies,” Johnston said. He said he has a 32-inch TV, boom box with a CD player and old-fashioned tape player in his bedroom and is an obvious country music fan. He named Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, and Toby Keith as his favorite artists.
“I am a pretty happy guy,” Johnston said as he reached to give a hug during an interview and pet a writer’s service dog. “I love going into the community. I like to visit and help others.”
He has “one-on-one” with a caregiver when he can go and do whatever he likes. Often, he said he visits Wal-Mart or visits Yates Cider Mill.
“He’s very friendly,” said Malone. “He loves to give hugs. He always makes people feel good and gives compliments. When someone is having a bad day, he helps lift his or her spirit with his sense or humor or inquisitiveness,” she said.
“Other people tell me I’m funny,” said Johnston who smiled when he spoke of attending a recent dance.
After work, Johnston takes a nap since he wakes up at 6:30 a.m. to get to work on time. After work, he showers and helps prepare dinner.
“He’s known for his neatness and being organized,” said Malone as Johnston tidied up some scattered paperclips on a desk.
He plans to buy a Shamrock Shake from a fast-food giant to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
“Some day, some how it’s going to happen that people with disabilities are going to be able to work,” Johnston said. “Just because you have a disability and use a wheelchair you can work and have friends and enjoy things.”’

Jerry Wolffe is the writer-in-residence, advocate-at-large at the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.