Changes at Orange Grove will be gradual—but will happen
A standing-room only crowd filled the Orange Grove cafeteria last Tuesday night. Family members and concerned citizens wanted to ask the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) if the rumors they’d been hearing were true.
The confusion revolves around a federal mandate, the Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Waivers Final Rule. The rule was created to set the bar for integrating facilities catering to those with mental disabilities. As part of Title II of the 1989 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which governs home and community-based services, “states are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than institutions.” This was confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the “Olmstead decision” in 1999.
Orange Grove Center (OGC) is a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1953 by the parents and families of individuals with developmental disabilities. It was meant to provide them with a safe, comfortable place to learn, congregate and play, instead of being warehoused in mental institutions. For its time, Orange Grove was a pioneering facility, copied all around the world.
In January 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) set forth new rules for both residential and non-residential settings receiving funding from the federal government. The new rules stated that facilities must give greater access to the “greater community,” meaning individuals who don’t have developmental disabilities. Currently, individuals at OGC work alongside others with disabilities in on-campus shops earning sub-minimum wages for jobs that require minimal skills.
The only non-disabled people they interact with are the paid staff members there to train and supervise them. The new rule change would bring other non-disabled workers into the facility to work alongside them, presumably to further enhance the individuals’ preparedness to go out into the “real” world. This will also mean that all workers will be paid a “competitive” wage. The new rules by CMS also put a time limit on how long an individual may stay in that program.
Other rule changes caused some close to the issue to think that Orange Grove would be forced to close because it is not in compliance with the HCBS Waivers Final Rule. “Let me make this very clear,” said OGC Executive Director Kyle Hauth to the assembled crowd, “Orange Grove is going to continue to serve your sons and your daughters. And we are going to find a way to be able to comport with rules, whether they be federal or state.” To that end, Hauth says individuals in the programs at OGC will be given more opportunities to go out into the community, and members of the community will be given opportunities to utilize programs at Orange Grove.
Clearly the topic of most concern to the families of those affected is whether or not there will be any flexibility in these changes. According to DIDD representatives at the meeting, every case will be judged on its merits. If something is referenced in the Individual Support Plan for an individual precluding compliance with the new rules, they will be exempt.
Changes will be gradual for Orange Grove Center, but the deadline for compliance is March 2019. Failure to comply with the new rules may not result in OGC shutting its doors—but it would lose two thirds of its funding.