January 25, 2018 10:51:21 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
On Feb. 1, the ACT Center in Columbus will go about business as usual.
The same people will open the same doors in the morning at the same building on Main Street in Columbus. The familiar faces of the staff will continue to provide the services they always have. Many of those same adults with developmental disabilities who have relied on the help the center provides will continue their regular weekday routines.
What will change, however, is how the center that provides those services is managed.
"This is really a process that started back in April of last year," said Lori Latham, director of intellectual development disabilities services for Community Counseling Services, a private, non-profit care provider that will officially take over the ACT Center programs on Feb. 1. "The access to services will not change. There are options available now, but in the end no parent or guardian will have to change programs for those who are in our Day Service Adult Program."
Previously, the services provided by the Act Center, as well as community-based mental health facilities throughout the state were administered by the state's Department of Mental Health through the State School in Ellisville. But a Department of Justice ruling held that the same entity that evaluates potential clients for those services cannot run those programs.
"We will continue to provide evaluations and referrals," said Rinsey McSwain, director of the State School in Ellisville. "But under that ruling, we cannot provide those services. So what's happening in Columbus is happening everywhere in the state."
Currently the ACT Center provides services to 25 adults with intellectual disabilities. The change in management has most greatly affected the 16 adults who participate in the centers' pre-vocational program. That program has been phased out, but parents of those affected had the option of enrolling their children in the CCS's Starkville program (with transportation provided) or switching them over to the Day Services program.
The Day Services program is for adults with the least capacity for learning job skills.
Randy Selvie's stepson Harvey, 40, participated in the pre-vocational program in Columbus for 20 years before moving over to the Starkville facility as the phase-out began a month ago.
"When they came to us and told us the program in Columbus would be closing, my wife and I were worried about starting over because he had been in Columbus for so long," Selvie said. "But when we went over to Starkville, the people there were very nice. They answered all our questions.
"That first day, I asked Harvey how he liked it, but it would probably take him a while to make friends," he added.
With the phase-out of the pre-vocational program complete, the focus for CCS is on the remaining Day Services program, which currently provides services to nine adults.
"For those adults, the focus is helping them toward more independent living in ways other than the workplace," Latham said. "Some of them may be able to work on a limited basis, maybe an hour or two a day, but they will never be able to hold regular jobs. For them, independence means being able to function in other public settings and situations. It means maybe learning to wash dishes or do household jobs to relieve the burden on their caregivers. These are the people who have the great limitations."
Latham said that CCS still must adhere to the federal and state regulations that had governed the facility when it was a state-run program.
"Nobody likes change," Latham said. "That's why we started talking to parents back in September, explaining to them what their options were. Anyone who wants to transfer over to the Starkville program is free to do that and, with the pre-vocational group, that was the option closest to what they have had here. We provide transportation too, so the transition shouldn't be a hardship. But at no point are we saying that any parent has to transfer. That's totally their decision."
For his part, Selvie said Harvey has quickly adjusted to the change of scenery from Columbus to Starkville.
"He's doing fine now," Selvie said. "He's even found him a girlfriend."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]