MERIDEN — MidState Arc, celebrating 65 years working with adults and children with disabilities, is embracing change and providing adults in the program with the skills to live more independently by integrating them into the community, either through housing or volunteer opportunities for those whose disabilities prevent them from working.
”To me, it’s almost like a Civil Rights movement” for those with disabilities, said Pam Fields, the agency’s CEO. “They are the only subculture in our group who has been held down for such a long period of time without the right to be free like everyone else does and they are really getting very vocal about it, which is exciting to watch and be part of and it’s scary for all of us too because you want to make sure everyone is safe.”
MidState Arc, formerly known as the Arc of Meriden-Wallingford, celebrated 65 years in the community in October. Founded in 1952 by a group of parents of children with disabilities in Meriden, the organization has evolved to incorporate a variety of services, including day programs, employment opportunities and residential services.
In 2014, the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a mandate that funding would only be provided to facilities supporting home and community-based services as an alternative to institutional care, prompting a change in the culture of caregivers. Organizations such as MidState Arc must implement integration programs by 2022 to retain funding.
In order to achieve a more independent-care model, MidState Arc is utilizing technology to help transition higher-functioning adults into their own apartments. Technology includes sensors that can track movement throughout the apartment and monitor behavior, emergency buttons, a Skype system to contact MidState Arc staff, GPS monitoring bracelets so individuals don’t get lost while traveling alone, devices to shut off appliances if left unattended and a system to ensure medication is taken on time. One former group home resident has already moved into his new apartment. While it had cost $110,000 a year to house that person in a group home, outfitting an apartment with technology for his care needs has dropped his annual expenses to $47,000, Fields said.
“When we projected the people that we are thinking might be ready to move into their own apartment or with a roommate, one peer they want to be with, the projections are almost a half a million in annual savings,” she said.
Services to promote independence begins with integrated childhood play groups, which pair children with disablilities with other children in a free play setting.
“I think it helps the children with disabilities to play with their typical peers because they expect more out of them,” Fields said.
Michelle Bell, 43, receives services through MidState Arc and lives on her own with her four-year-old son. She said phone apps, such as Uber, help her lead a more independent life.
“I love it because it gives me freedom,” Bell said.
Living on her own in the community and learning how to care for her son has been an empowering process for Bell. She said those with mental disabilities deserve rights and freedom, “because everyone else does, why can’t they?”
“We all have feelings,” she added. “We have rights. We have strengths and weaknesses.”
In one of MidState Arc’s health and wellness classes, 29-year-old Sarah Putterman hopes to learn how to cook healthy foods for herself.
“It seems better because you can make your own food, have your own choices on what you want to eat,” Putterman said.
At MidState Arc’s eatery, where individuals are put to work cooking, cleaning and running the front desk of a sandwich shop, Shenequa James, 33, said she hopes to one day get a job bagging groceries at a store.
“I like to be more independent with my coworkers and staff to do stuff on my own,” James said.
Her coworker, Josh Belzo, 29, likes to clean tables at the end of the day. He aspires to work at a pet shop.
“It helps us to get a job out in the community,” Belzo said.
For those with mobility issues or who are unable to communicate, Fields said, the organization will facilitate opportunities to have them volunteer in the community and gain social experience..