Soon people with disabilities in Florida will be able to have tax-free savings accounts to help pay for services needed in the future, through the Florida ABLE Savings Program. This would be in addition to services the individual might be receiving through the Medicaid program, including iBudget Florida, the supplemental security income program, insurance coverage, the beneficiary’s employment, and other sources. An ABLE account can fund a variety of essential expenses including medical and dental care, education, transportation, community-based supports, employment training, assistive technology, and housing. Money saved in an ABLE account will not count against an individual’s eligibility for any federal benefits program. The Florida ABLE Savings Program starts on July 1, 2016. Visit myablesavings.com for more information.
Exciting ride is inclusive to people with a variety of mobility challenges
(ORLANDO, Fl.)–Gatorland, the “Alligator Capital of the World,” is officially launching its newest zip line ride, the Gator Gauntlet, an attraction accessible to park patrons with mobility challenges or other disabilities. The ride, which is wheelchair accessible, allows participants to travel 350 feet down a zip line, soaring over the park and its lake of giant alligators.
To help kick off the launch, the 110-acre park is offering the Gator Gauntlet ride free for several groups during a special three-day promotion. On Thursday, Feb. 4, military veterans with mobility challenges can reserve a free ride on the zip line. On Friday, Feb. 5, FREE rides are available to Florida Disabled Outdoors Association (FDOA) members with mobility challenges. Middle- to high-school age children from Orange and Osceola schools who have mobility challenges can ride free on Saturday Feb 6.
During this three-day launch event, Gatorland will provide each Gator Gauntlet participant with a thumb drive that contains digital images of their ride. In addition, a free lunch will be available for each zip line rider and up to three members of his or her party. Admission into the park is complimentary to these riders and up to three members of their party as well.
Interested Gator Gauntlet riders must meet certain strength, coordination and size requirements to ride the accessible zip line. For more information and to reserve a spot during this special promotion, contact Gatorland at 407-855-5496, ext. 0. Space is limited.
“We’re very excited about the launch of the Gator Gauntlet accessible zip line—we’re not aware of any other place in the Southeast that’s offering this type of experience,” said Gatorland president and CEO, Mark McHugh. “One of the primary objectives at Gatorland is to make our attractions accessible to as many people as possible.”
Gatorland worked closely with the FDOA, which provided consultation on the design and construction of the Gator Gauntlet. The Tallahassee-based nonprofit organization promotes recreational opportunities for people with disabilities.
“It is so important that we allow families to participate in all of our park experiences without anyone being excluded,” said McHugh. “In addition to accessible viewing stations in all of our shows, the park’s very first ride that began tours in 1971, the Gatorland Express Train Ride, was upgraded to allow wheelchair access and security on the train cars in 2001. We are constantly looking for ways to make our park a safe and enjoyable experience for all of our guests regardless of their unique needs.”
In areas inaccessible to wheelchairs, such as a sand pit where patrons can get close to the gators, McHugh said they accommodate people who use wheelchairs by bringing the animals to them for an up-close encounter. “You should see the looks of excitement on their faces,” he said.
“It was a great pleasure to partner with Gatorland on this project,” said David Jones, CEO of the FDOA. “They share our enthusiasm that family and friends of all abilities should recreate together. We were happy to assist them and we hope a lot of people take advantage of this ride.”
For more information, visit www.gatorland.com.
Gatorland is a 110-acre theme park and wildlife preserve, combining “Old Florida” charm with exciting new exhibits and entertainment. The park opened as a roadside attraction in 1949. Today, it provides affordable-priced family fun featuring thousands of alligators, crocodiles, a free flight aviary, breeding marsh with observation tower, petting zoo, nature walk, educational wildlife programs, Gatorland award-winning gift shop, Florida’s best train-ride, restaurant, Gator Gully Splash Park and one-of-a-kind shows including the Gator Wrestlin’ Show, Gator Jumparoo and the Up-close Encounters Show. And, don’t miss the world’s largest collection of giant white alligators in the White Gator Swamp and the all new Screamin’ Gator Zip Line featuring over 1,200 feet of high flying thrills, five intense zip lines and a massive 150 ft. suspension bridge. To find out more about “Orlando’s only Theme Park with Bite and Attitude,” visit www.gatorland.com or call 1-800-393-JAWS.
Historic $1.2 Billion Investment will Support Floridians with Disabilities
TALLAHASSEE, FL— Governor Rick Scott is recommending $1.2 billion in total funding for APD, an increase of 23.6 million. This historic investment will eliminate the critical needs waiting list for the third year in a row, and help Floridians with disabilities live, learn and work in their communities.
Governor Scott said, “Florida has made significant investments in supporting individuals with disabilities, and I am excited to announce that we will continue on that path by eliminating the critical needs waiting list for the third year in a row. This historic investment will provide opportunities for Floridians with disabilities to receive the services and assistance they need to live more independently, find a great job, and achieve their dreams in our state.”
The “Florida First” proposed budget includes:
- $15 million to enroll more than 700 individuals with developmental disabilities on the critical needs waiting list to the APD Home and Community-Based Services Medicaid waiver. This is the fourth year the Governor has recommended money to serve those on the waiver waiting list.
- $10 million to reinstate Department of Education funding for the Adults with Disabilities program.
- $1 million for the Employment Enhancement Project to serve people on the waiting list who want to go to work. This funding will pay for supported employment and supported internship services for people with developmental disabilities.
- $2.6 million for staff to perform customer needs assessments using the Questionnaire for Situational Information.
- $400,000 for a Medicaid waiver Provider Rate Study.
APD Director Barbara Palmer said, “I deeply thank Governor Scott for his ongoing support of individuals with disabilities. For the fourth year, Governor Scott is recommending funding to move people off the waiting list. This money will allow everyone with critical needs to enroll onto the Medicaid waiver in the coming year. I sincerely appreciate Governor Scott’s confidence in APD and compassion for those we serve.”
Family Care Council Florida Chairperson Pauline Lipps said, “We are excited about Governor Scott’s Florida First budget that moves 700 people with developmental disabilities from the waiver waiting list to being provided a full array of community services through the waiver. This is very important to our families, and I am so pleased. Additionally, funding for continued employment efforts are vital to individuals with disabilities so they can go to work just like everyone else.”
Betty Kay Clements, parent and past chairperson of the Family Care Council Florida, said, “The additional money being recommended by Governor Scott in his Florida First budget to reduce the number of people on the waiver waiting list is greatly appreciated.”
The Association of Support Coordination Agencies of Florida Chairperson Janice Phillips said, “We want to extend our ongoing appreciation to Governor Scott who has embraced the challenges people with developmental disabilities face every day. Recommending funding for the fourth year to move individuals off the waiting list is great news. Also, money to help individuals achieve their employment goals is extremely important because it allows them to increase their independence.”
Area 2 Family Care Council Chairperson Lou Ogburn said, “The Family Care Council is always pleased that folks are being moved from the Medicaid waiver waiting list to the waiver. This is important to our families. And additional funds for the new client data base will be helpful to all.”
Support Coordination Association of Florida Chairman David Alexander said, “On behalf of our association, I want to thank Governor Scott for financially supporting the needs of people with disabilities. Resources are in high demand for those with developmental disabilities, and we are pleased that more people will be able to receive community support through APD with this budget recommendation.”
Special Olympics Florida President/CEO Sherry Wheelock said, “Special Olympics Florida applauds Governor Scott for recognizing the needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Florida by dedicating critical funds that ensure their well-being. The Governor’s leadership and support in this area directly impacts the work of Special Olympics Florida by improving access to health care services, promoting inclusion at schools, and helping us build communities where all people are valued for their contributions.”
To view the complete list of Governor Scott’s budget recommendations, visit http://www.floridafirstbudget.com/HomeFY17.htm.
APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities. The agency annually serves more than 50,000 Floridians with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. For more information about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit APDcares.org or call toll-free 1‑866‑APD‑CARES (1‑866‑273‑2273).
by Jeff Smith, Suncoast Regional Operations Manager
In part, the Suncoast Region’s success can be attributed to working in concert with state office. The last three years, the regions have all experienced a better level of communication and support between them and state office.
I have always stated, and believe, that we are in this together with the individuals, their families, guardians and providers. We have worked to open up communications locally with providers and it is enhancing our partnerships. The communication allows everyone to look at things objectively, and we can become more proactive than reactive. I believe that we have developed more trust and synergy in the interest of the people we all serve. This is proven by the fact that providers are coming to us first when an issue arises, and together we are able to be proactive.
Full Staff by January
The Suncoast Region is the largest region in numbers of individuals served, which means more work. Last year’s legislative session gave us the ability to fill 17 vacant positions. We were able to promote within, along with hiring new people with fresh ideas. The Suncoast Region is on point to have the original 17 positions filled by January 1, 2016.
Morale soared throughout the region. Leadership had recognized that staff were overtasked with heavy workloads covering assignments outside their original position’s duties. This region processes at least 35-40 Significant Additional Need (SAN) requests monthly while working on another 100 in process regularly. Our crisis tool numbers are also enormous; with reviewing as many as 12-16 crisis packets per week. We also licenses close to 400 homes and with three vacancies this is challenging.
This crisis tool process was recently changed, and regions now approve / deny the crisis packets without having to go to State Office for review and approval. The re-engineered process expedites the approval / denial procedure of the crisis tools. For quality assurance, there is the ability of state office to randomly select tools for their review. Again this points to better communication and trust.
Remarkable Leadership Team
I’m so fortunate to have followed Ms. Williams as the Regional Operations Manager, and also to know that Director Palmer and Deputy Director for Operations Tom Rankin had confidence that I could continue the successful path of the Suncoast Region. I am also fortunate and appreciative of my leadership team.
I have recently promoted two people from within for the clinical workstream lead and quality assurance workstream lead positions.
Cynthia Wilcher is the clinical workstream lead, and hit the ground running. Cynthia worked as a licensing liaison prior to this appointment. She has a very analytical mind and her first activity was to meet with each Questionnaire for Situational Information (QSI) assessor. Cynthia is working her way through her units to ensure they know she is there for support and leadership as she is learning what it is they do.
The new quality assurance lead is Tracy Craver-Brickley. She was appointed to this position with experience as a QSI assessor, a waiver liaison, an APD trainer and training lead, and her work with the Delmarva remediation process in her previous positions. Tracy too hit the ground running and is working to ensure quality results meet expectations.
I can’t say enough about what Michael Taylor brings to the leadership team. Michael took on the challenge of a waitlist general revenue (GR) process re-engineering project. The project soon turned into a reality in the Suncoast Region. Having the individual’s case files now in an electronic format was the most labor intensive part of the project. Other regions have started to follow our lead and are scanning their files.
Another part of this project was the creation of an annualized status letter that replaced our short form support plan. The letter is sent to the family / customer and provides demographic information, the waitlist category, possible links to community resources and offers the family / customer opportunities to respond and update their information. This also gives people an opportunity to let APD know what unmet need(s) they might have. It is my understanding that all regions are using the annual survey letter at this time.
Suncoast Region’s general revenue support coordinators now work a round robin system, which creates a more equitable distribution of cases and workload. It is a more balanced process and any one of the coordinators can now assist any given family because of their access to the electronic files. Michael’s leadership made this happen.
Michael is also the lead for community-based care (CBC) organizations working with children involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Dependency Program. Together with Deputy Regional Operations Manager Shelia Mott they have fostered communications with DCF and the CBC organizations. They created a training module to present to the CBC case managers to enhance and educate them on APD and how to get these children services they may need. This assignment also requires Michael to participate in many formal and informal conference calls throughout the month. Michael also is the point person representing the region on the quarterly calls that involve the DCF and APD state offices.
Sheila recently started overseeing the forensics unit. She has improved processes, systems within the region, imitated a comprehensive database and developed better communications with the Judicial Circuits in the Suncoast Region. Again, having improved communication with the courts; we now have an opportunity to be proactive in the interest of those individuals involved with the judicial system. Part of the success that Shelia has been able to develop is having a direct line contact person to communicate within the Pinellas County’s Public Defenders office. She has personally met with judges and public defenders, participated in a judicial seminar with representatives from state office and people involved in the judicial system statewide and attended the Annual Guardian Ad Litem Conference representing APD in doing so. The hope is that Shelia’s efforts will represent a systems process that other regions will be able to adopt and use.
Sheila was also selected to participate in two break-out sessions during this year’s DCF Children’s Summit in Orlando. It goes without saying that Shelia represented APD and the Suncoast Region with excellence.
Rhonda Sloan is the waiver workstream lead for the Suncoast Region. She is respected statewide for her knowledge and work ethic. Rhonda definitely has the health, welfare and safety of the individuals we serve on the top of her priority list. Rhonda has proven more successful than others when communicating with the individuals and their families. The region often times will rely on her to handle some of the more difficult situations because of her ability to connect with parents and providers. Rhonda is probably best recognized as having played a major role in the Consumer Directed Care Plus (CDC+) program, now a waiver of itself. The trainings and many of the systems and tools currently in use were created when she was the statewide CDC+ representative. She’s also the only regional representative that is working on the development of a new statewide pre-service training curriculum modular for waiver support coordinators. Rhonda is the pinnacle for the delivery of Medicaid waiver services in the Suncoast Region.
Karen Hartlieb, Suncoast’s administrative workstream lead, has an abundance of knowledge and experience with the budget and finance processes of a state agency. I have relied on her for interpretation and direction when it comes to that part of the region’s operation. She is coordinating the closure of our St. Petersburg office. It was impossible to anticipate what would be involved. She has facilitated every aspect of the closure from soliciting moving bids, working with both Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg, overseeing the movement of staff to the Tampa Office, and working closely with state office’s general services staff.
Answering the Intake Phone
I went to the support staff who answered the in-coming phone lines to find out how we could decrease their frustration of having to break from their assigned duties to take their shift of answering one of the three in-coming lines for the region. Working with the support staff has allowed the region to use one support staff for all in-coming calls. Dorann Kimble now answers all the in-coming calls, and does what 10 other people were doing in three-hour shifts at least two days a week. Dorann is knowledgeable about APD, our service array and available community resources. I am thankful for the staff’s input and ideas to streamline this process. Support staff now focus on their assigned duties every day, all day. We are very close to eliminating three phones lines and using a single toll-free phone number.
The success of this project exceeded my expectations.
We are Successful
The agency’s successes, in my opinion, are in large part because of Director Palmer’s leadership and commitment to the people we serve, their families and guardians, the providers, and the agency’s staff. The consistency of having the same director for three plus years has also been an asset to our success. Initiatives brought forth during the Town Hall meetings are still alive; better serving of and compensation for our forensic individuals; better care for individuals as they age; and assisting our waiver providers to grow their businesses are only three such initiatives. She’s keeping these goals alive.
Working in partnership with families, guardians, providers, Family Care Council, and state office is working for the Suncoast Region!
We are in this together.
For more information about the Suncoast Region, please visit: http://apd.myflorida.com/region/suncoast/ .
GAINESVILLE, FL—Tacachale Center in Gainesville is hosting two community events to celebrate the Holidays and is inviting the public to come and enjoy the fun. Tacachale is located at 1621 Northeast Waldo Road and is home to 383 people with developmental disabilities.
On December 8, the center will host its annual Holiday Parade beginning at 10 a.m. School bands, ROTC units, law enforcement agencies, antique cars, and floats will participate.
Two days later on December 10, Tacachale will host its 31st annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at 6:45 p.m. The tree lighting ceremony is a festive event with tree trimming and holiday songs. There is a strong chance that Santa Claus may make a surprise appearance. The festivities are free and open to the public. Community members are encouraged to attend and participate in the fun activities including the tree trimming. Local television celebrity David Snyder will serve as this year’s Master of Ceremonies. Performers include the Howard Bishop and Lincoln Middle Schools’ Choirs and the Tacachale Carolers.
Tacachale is seeking sponsors for its Christmas Home Adoption. Individuals or groups who would like to sponsor a home are asked to provide a gift for each person living there and to throw a small party with light refreshments. For more details, contact Erin Saunders at (352) 955-5973.
Additionally, the generosity of the Gainesville community is sought to help meet the Holiday wish list of Tacachale residents. Tax deductible donations can be made to Tacachale Christmas 2015 and mailed to:
Tacachale Volunteer Services
1621 NE Waldo Road
Gainesville, FL 32609
For more information about the tree lighting ceremony activities, contact Jennifer Bokariza at (352) 955-5829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For details about the parade or donations, contact Volunteer Services Coordinator Paula Hawkins at (352) 955-5958 or email@example.com.
Tacachale is operated by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). APD annually serves more than 50,000 Floridians with the developmental disabilities of autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, intellectual disabilities, spina bifida, and Prader-Willi syndrome. To learn more about the agency, call 1-866-APD-CARES (1-866-273-2273) or visit APDcares.org.
TALLAHASSEE, FL— Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will introduce a resolution at the Tuesday, September 29, Cabinet meeting declaring October as Disability Employment Awareness Month in Florida.
Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) employee Stacia Woolverton will address Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on the importance of including people with disabilities in the workforce.
The Cabinet meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the Cabinet meeting room on the lower level of the Capitol Building.
Along with Woolverton, leaders from APD, Department of Economic Opportunity, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Arc of Florida, Able Trust, Florida Developmental Disabilities Council, and Florida Association of Rehabilitation Facilities will be there to accept the resolution.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities. The agency annually serves more than 50,000 Floridians with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. For more information about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit APDcares.org or call toll-free 1‑866‑APD‑CARES (1‑866‑273‑2273).