Medicaid supports a gateway to independence for Jimmy Yarbrough

Story by Mike Ervin

Access Living Staff Aziza Nassar and Jimmy Yarbrough
Jimmy Yarbrough has a lot to say on the subject of Medicaid. “I used to be the kind of person that didn’t go to the hospital,” Jimmy says. “You know how men get. If I was hurting I would just deal with it.” But Jimmy neglected his health to the point where he needed extensive abdominal and spinal surgery.

Jimmy lost over 100 pounds and ended up in nursing facilities, where he spent four years. “Now that I’m older I’m taking care of myself better and Medicaid helps me do that,” Jimmy says.

He was able to free himself from a nursing home four years ago with the help of Access Living, Chicago’s center for independent living. But getting free was no easy task. Like many disabled people stuck in nursing facilities, Jimmy didn’t even have any identification. So the first task was to acquire those documents.

Access Living staff then helped Jimmy obtain a Housing Choice Voucher and locate an apartment. But because Medicaid-funded nursing home residents in Illinois are only allowed to keep $30 a month of their Social Security income, Jimmy had no money or savings. The Access Living Community Reintegration Program, designed to help people with disabilities transition out of nursing facilities, covered Jimmy’s security and utility deposits, and helped Jimmy purchase his furniture and appliances. For every person that transitions into the community, Illinois saves at least $20,000 in Medicaid dollars that would have gone into a nursing home, and the individual with the disability has the opportunity to be independent in ways not possible inside an institution.

Jimmy is now 55. He gets around using a motorized wheelchair and lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, where he grew up. He particularly enjoys getting together with his brother and sisters and childhood friends. “I feel blessed on a daily basis,” Jimmy says. He works part-time at Access Living as a security guard and as a facilitator for Stepping Stones, a support group for others trying to get out of nursing facilities. Jimmy says he’s helped 40 to 50 people move out, which gives him a great deal of satisfaction.

But before Jimmy can take care of anyone else, he has to take care of himself. That’s why he’s a big fan of Medicaid. Medicaid not only pays his medical bills but Jimmy also receives assistance in his home from people he has hired through the Home Services Program (HSP) of the Illinois Department of Human Services. Jimmy says, “I have two personal assistants that are wonderful. They clean, they cook, they wash my clothes, (and) they shop for me. And if I need anything else, if I’m not feeling too good one day, they come take care of me.” HSP is funded by Medicaid dollars, half federal and half state.

“Without Medicaid, it would be virtually impossible to get the things I need,” Jimmy says. “I wouldn’t be able to afford much.”