Local Horizons staff member works to raise awareness for people facing developmental challenges | CraigDailyPress.com

Local Horizons staff member works to raise awareness for people facing developmental challenges

State budget raises concerns for people devoted to those with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Michael Neary

Brittany Smale, of Horizons Specialized Services, was among those who gathered in Denver last month to raise awareness about people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

— When Brittany Smale talks about her work with Horizons Specialized Services, her thoughts move quickly to all that her clients are able to do — especially when they have support.

"They're looking, just like any of us, for some sort of acceptance or support," said Smale. "We've all had our own goals in mind, and we want someone to say, 'Go get 'em, Tiger. You can do it.'"

Horizons provides services to people with developmental disabilities in Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Grand and Jackson counties.

Smale, a direct support professional for Horizons, attended a gathering at the State Capitol Building on Feb. 17 to celebrate an awareness day devoted to people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, often referred to as IDD. The people who trekked to the Capitol acknowledged the work and the lives of many people living with disabilities throughout the state — along with the people who serve them.

The gathering was hosted by the organization Alliance, a "nonprofit, statewide association … dedicated to strengthening services and supports for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD)," according to the organization's website. More than 40 providers in the state — including Horizons — belong to Alliance.

Smale was among about 30 nominees for the Alliance Direct Support Professional of the Year.

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Deirdre Pepin, resource development and public relations coordinator for Horizons Specialized Services, noted that the gathering was designed both as a celebration and also as a way to shine light on the state budget.

"It is where it is for a reason," she said of the gathering. "It brings awareness to people who are creating the budget … and if the budget doesn't step up, we're not going to have these qualified direct support professionals."

In a written statement devoted to state budget priorities for the coming year, members of Alliance noted a problem with waiting lists for IDD services and declared that "IDD rates continually fail to keep pace with inflation, while the cost of providing quality services continues to rise each year."

Susan Mizen, executive director of Horizons Specialized Services, noted that the governor's budget proposal this year includes a 1 percent Medicaid provider rate decrease. Mizen said the Joint Budget Committee has voted to try to hold the funding at its current level.

"They've expressed their goal to keep it steady, but I'm not sure if it will be successful," Mizen said in a telephone interview.

The committee may return to that recommendation, said Eric Kurtz, legislative analyst for The Joint Budget Committee.

"The budget committee made an initial decision to not adopt the governor's proposed 1 percent reduction (in the Medicaid provider rate)," Kurtz said. "They did so with the understanding that they may need to revisit that decision."

Kurtz said the decrease applies to people who work with IDD clients, along with other Medicaid providers. He said the Joint Budget committee will be looking closely at the issue during the week of March 14.

Mizen said Horizons is already close to the bone when it comes to spending, with starting wages for direct support professionals standing $10.40 an hour.

"It's already challenging to pay our counselors enough for them to can live on," she said. "They do challenging jobs, and a lot of people work overnight shifts."

But Mizen also described the work as rewarding, and she said people who work 30 hours or more are eligible for benefits. She and Smale noted a strong network of support for the people who work there.

Mizen said Horizons is frequently looking to hire these professionals.

Smale, one of 36 Horizons employees in Craig, works from Friday night until Monday morning with five clients who live in a group home.

"I get up in the mornings and assist them to take the proper medication and have a decent meal and get themselves ready for the day — if they need it," she said. "A lot of the people are pretty independent, but I'm there for support."

Smale also said she takes her clients to the river, to stores, to Special Olympics events and to other activities. She also brings her dog along, who makes a big hit with the clients.

"They're all really like family to me," Smale said. "They want to go places, and they want to do things, and they want … to be able to talk about even the smallest successes in a day."

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