One way Access Living accomplishes this goal is through the Deinstitutionalization Program. Aimee Potter is a Senior Community Reintegration Coordinator at Access Living and it is her job to help people with disabilities transition into the community. After majoring in Social Work at the University of Illinois Chicago, completing her Masters in Child Welfare at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, and becoming certified as a licensed clinical social worker, Aimee now part of Access Living’s Long-Term Care program. After only two years with Access Living, Aimee has transitioned 40 people out of nursing homes into the community. When I sat down with Ms. Potter she described the many steps that are involved in preparing people with disabilities to live independently through the Deinstitutionalization Program. Among them include completing paperwork for the Department of Rehabilitation Services, meeting with the consumer in the nursing home, obtaining documentation (including medical records), and finding an accessible, affordable apartment that fits the individual needs of the person. Ms. Potter works every day with her consumers (which currently number about thirty), many of whom are at various stages of transition. The entire transition process can take up to a year. Ms. Potter describes below a specific case that stood out to her:
I first met Amanda in May 2009 when she contacted me regarding her interest in moving out of her nursing home. Amanda had been forced to enter a nursing home in the Chicago area shortly after giving birth to her second child. At the age of 26, Amanda become disabled during the birth of her second child. She now is diagnosed with paraplegia that necessitates the use of a wheelchair and she has also developed Lupus, which makes her lethargic. Because her home was physically inaccessible, Amanda was forced to move out. She was separated from her children and placed in a nursing home by the State in September 2008. Her two children went to live with a relative.
After Amanda contacted me, I went to work to try to get her into an apartment that would fit her needs and the needs of her children as fast as possible. Eight months later, Amanda received a housing choice voucher that financially enabled her to move into her own apartment with her children. The apartment is three bedrooms and accessible, with a ramp at the back entrance. She moved in to her new apartment on January 13, 2010 approximately two weeks before her 27th birthday.
Amanda’s success story is, unfortunately, somewhat of a rarity. Thousands of people in Illinois who would rather live on their own are forced into nursing homes. In addition to the fact that the supply of affordable and accessible housing is so limited, many times, people with disabilities in nursing homes don’t have the resources to advocate for themselves as Amanda did or they are simply not informed of organizations like Access Living or people like Aimee who are available to help.
At Access Living, we continue to work to enable more people with disabilities to live independently and Aimee, along with her colleagues, is a crucial part in our work to accomplish this goal.