Stephanie is an energetic young woman who wants to live a full life like everyone else in their mid-twenties. She met her DRM advocate in the fall of 2019 when she was living in a group home with seven other people, many of whom were considerably older than her and had support needs very different from Stephanie’s. Stephanie asked, “Will you be my advocate?” and explained that she wants to move to her own apartment, have a job in the community, and make friends her age. She explained that she needed an advocate because she felt her team was not listening to her and did not support her wishes.
Disability Rights Montana (DRM) receives the Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities (PADD) grant that allows staff to advocate for the rights of Montanans with developmental disabilities. Some of those rights are getting to choose where a person wants to live as well as receiving services in the least restrictive environment, that is a setting allowing a person to live as fully integrated in a community as possible.
Based on Stephanie’s request, the DRM advocate started to attend Stephanie’s monthly team meetings in the fall of 2019 to advocate for Stephanie’s wishes and to ensure Stephanie’s voice was heard. Team members included a targeted case manager, community provider staff who had known and worked with Stephanie for the past 6 years, and a representative of DPHHS’ Developmental Disabilities Program (DDP). The DRM advocate’s role in this setting was to repeatedly urge the team members to evaluate every possible option for Stephanie to move to a less restrictive environment as well as to discuss how to address a potentially needed increase in Medicaid funding with DDP’s Regional Management.
Montana does not have enough community placements for people like Stephanie and DRM understands that it can feel like fighting windmills to find a more appropriate, less restrictive place to live for someone like Stephanie who already lived in the community. It is DRM’s role in those moments to remind everyone on the team that this is Stephanie’s life, that she is her own guardian, and that her wishes and decisions are the driver of the team process and its decision-making. She deserves to be heard and it is on her team to do everything possible to locate and secure the least restrictive environment in which Stephanie can thrive and reach her full potential.
After 1.5 years of attending monthly team meetings, assisting the team in evaluating potential provider options, encouraging all team members to continue the effort for Stephanie while not losing sight of the good work Stephanie’s current provider was doing, the team learned in December 2020 that a community service provider in Billings was hoping to have Stephanie join their services as soon as the referral process was finalized.
Stephanie moved from Missoula to Billings on March 1, 2021 on a beautiful, sunshine-filled Montana day. She is now living in a house with two housemates about her age and with similar support needs. Her new staff at Casey’s Dream assist her in getting to know Billings, finding new favorite places, and becoming more independent in her new apartment.