Horizons, agencies work to provide special needs services as statewide waitlist can extend for over a decade
Horizons Executive Director Tatum Heath grew up on a small ranch in Routt County with an older brother with autism and knows as well as anyone the challenges and wait times people with special needs can face in Colorado.
“I know as a family member how important it is to get services and supports for loved ones,” said Heath, whose brother was a client at Horizons before he died of cancer in 2016. “It’s hard to ask for help to begin with, but then having to wait because of a state waitlist and related requirements makes it even more challenging. And that’s why we have (Horizons) case managers to help people through that process.”
Heath started working as a case manager at Horizons in 2002 and progressed to the leadership role in January 2020. He said the statewide waitlist for comprehensive services for people with development disabilities now sits at approximately 3,000 people. That translates to a long wait for 24-hour care in Routt County.
“On average, people are on the statewide waitlist for about 12 years before receiving an enrollment,” Heath said.
Steamboat Springs parent Candy Granger, whose 13-year-old son has physical and intellectual disabilities and needs 24-hour care, worries that special needs students “are coming up on some really big challenges,” especially as they age out of the school system and start to seek adult programs.
“We really need to expand services in this county for this population, including respite care for parents,” Granger said. “You spend a lot of time isolated at home if you can’t find services.”
Understanding the challenges for care is one reason Steamboat parent Ginger Johnston established a monthly support group.
Sponsored by the Yampa Valley Autism Program, the Special Education Parent Support Group meets next at 5:30 p.m. April 27 at Otto Pint Gastroteca, 700 Yampa St. in Steamboat. Interested families can email Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Horizons currently operates five fully occupied residential locations in Routt County for clients with the comprehensive Medicaid waiver, including group homes each serving three to seven clients and the Soda Creek Apartments, which has eight units — seven for clients and one for staff. The apartments opened in 2014, which was the last residential addition for Horizons.
Due to the long wait times for 24-hour care, Horizons currently is emphasizing two diversified support programs for client families, including Host Homes and Family Caregiver programs.
A Host Home is similar to adult foster care where an individual receiving services lives with a host family while attending day services during the week. Families are paid a daily rate based on the individual’s needs.
“We’ve always had those other service delivery models, but now we are really focusing on those models more because they provide more individualized and person-centered care and reduce the number of staff needed at Horizons,” Heath explained. “We are seeking creative delivery service models.”
The nonprofit provides services for more than 300 clients and their families annually in Routt, Moffat, Grand, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties. In Routt County, Horizons currently serves 29 adults with 24-hour care, and the agency provided overall services to 90 individuals and families in 2021.
Horizons is facing the same challenges as many organizations in the Yampa Valley, including high housing costs for employees, an employee shortage and an expanding volume of clients. The organization also must find staff who are passionate about the service work.
A unique challenge for Horizons is that special needs individuals are usually lifelong clients, often not moving on from services.
“We make a long-term commitment. It’s unique, like a big family all together,” said Lindsey Garey, Horizons director of case management.
Other agencies in Routt County offer important services for special needs clients too, for example, the nonprofit Yampa Valley Autism Program and Colorado’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The local state vocational office on Anglers Drive in Steamboat also helps with job placement and coaching for people 15 and older diagnosed with a disability that creates a barrier for employment.
The Yampa Valley Autism Program, where services extend beyond residents on the autism spectrum, offers a gardening program for sixth graders through age 21 and the STRIDES program, which stands for “students transitioning reaching independent direction education in Steamboat,” for clients age post-high school to 21, YVAP Executive Director Lisa Lorenz said.
Lorenz said YVAP is moving forward to help with long wait times by exploring development of a three-acre campus in northwest Steamboat for an inclusive residential community for adults with development disabilities.
The envisioned complex could include 35 to 45 residential units with some apartments for employees, YVAP offices, and spaces for the gardening program and a coffee shop and bakery where clients could work. The program would operate outside of the long statewide waitlist with condominium-style, affordable units that could be leased or purchased by clients.
Horizons offers other services that have no wait times including Early Intervention for ages birth to 3 and a family support and services program. For more information, residents are encouraged to reach out to Garey at 970-879-4466 ext. 112 or email@example.com.
Volunteers are needed at Horizons, as community members provide assistance such as baking birthday cakes, providing free haircuts, teaching exercise classes or helping with special activities.
The Special Education Parent Support Group, sponsored by the nonprofit Yampa Valley Autism Program, will meet at 5:30 p.m. April 27 at Otto Pint Gastroteca, 700 Yampa St., in Steamboat Springs. Interested families can email Ginger Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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