Bill to allow people with disabilities to establish tax-free savings accounts

The Georgia Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Bill would allow people with disabilities to establish tax-free savings accounts to be used for a variety of essential expenses, including education, employment training, medical care, housing and transportation. The accounts would be similar to 529 accounts for college, and are also known as 529A Plans.

In 2014, Congress passed the federal ABLE Act, giving states the ability to create their own programs. Most states have introduced or signed legislation enabling the ABLE Act with Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Nebraska launching their programs in the next few months. Recent federal legislation eliminated the state residency requirement, which allows individuals setting up ABLE accounts to choose any state program.

Georgia’s version of the ABLE Act allows total annual after-tax contributions of up to $14,000 from family, friends, or the beneficiary himself. The balances of an individual account cannot exceed $235,000. Once an account balance exceeds $100,000, Social Security income benefits are suspended, but Medicaid eligibility remains.

Before ABLE accounts, an individual with disabilities was only allowed personal liquid assets up to $2,000 before losing Medicaid benefits.

Eligibility for an ABLE account is limited to individuals whose disabilities occurred before age 26.

Jennifer Briggs recognized for contributions to supported employment

(Above: Michael Callahan, President of Marc Gold & Associates, and Jennifer Briggs)

At the national TASH conference held last month, Jennifer Briggs, president and founder of Briggs & Associates, was recognized for her work helping people with behavioral health issues or developmental disabilities find gainful employment. The 2015 Marc Gold Award for Employment is presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution to increasing access to communities by integrating employment into the lives of people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Briggs founded Briggs & Associates in 1989 in Roswell, Georgia, with the philosophy that everyone has the ability to succeed in the workplace. The company provides career development services, and consults and trains businesses on employing people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. They have served thousands, including adults with psychiatric disorders, adolescents moving into the workforce, and people desiring to get off welfare.

The award is named in honor of Marc Gold, whose research and advocacy showed that people with significant disabilities can learn complex tasks, and that supported employment benefits individuals, employers, and communities.

Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week

SPADD-DSPweekIn appreciation of direct care providers who serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their homes and communities, Governor Nathan Deal has proclaimed September 13 – 19 as Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week in Georgia.

Direct support professionals (DSPs) include direct care workers, personal assistants, in-home support staff, and paraprofessionals who are the primary providers of publicly funded, long-term support and services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. DSPs assist individuals in leading self-directed lives that are integrated in the community. DSPs typically work in homes, workplaces, schools, and churches.

“Georgia is fortunate to have some of the best DSPs in the country,” said Curt Harrison, assistant executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia and administrator for the Service Providers Association for Developmental Disabilities (SPADD). “Their commitment, hard work and dedication results in healthy, meaningful, vibrant lives for some of our most vulnerable citizens. The proclamation issued by Governor Deal serves to honor these individuals who give so much of themselves in service to others.”

The proclamation was secured by SPADD, which will be engaging in activities across the state to recognize and honor DSPs this week.

Introducing Dana Scott, the New Director of DBHDD’s Office of Health and Wellness 

20141213_220455-1Dana Scott, MSN, RN, is the director of DBHDD’s new Office of Health and Wellness under the Division of Developmental Disabilities. The office was established as part of the department’s reorganization to be centrally managed and functionally aligned.

Dana has worked for DBHDD since 2008 in various positions, including nurse manager, associate nurse executive and nurse executive. She also started the department’s quality unit for nurses. Dana has been a nurse for nearly 18 years. Her first leadership role was director of child and adolescent services for the University of Maryland Medical Center, where she focused on inpatient care, partial day programming and expanding community-based services. Dana holds a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina A&T and a master’s degree from the University of Alabama.

We interviewed Dana to learn more about the new Office of Health and Wellness.

When did you start in your new role?
I officially started on May 1.

What do you see as the role of the Office of Health and Wellness? 
When you take on a new position, you start with a vision. Since I began in this role, I was encouraged by Dan Howell [director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities] to spend time touring and talking to the people in DBHDD’s regional offices who work directly with our individuals. I jumped on this opportunity because I believe that we are only as successful as the people who do the work, touch the individuals and make the difference. The process has really helped me to understand their expectations of what the Office of Health and Wellness should do to help them do their jobs better.

So the vision has evolved. In about a month, we have developed a shared vision through the incorporation of feedback from the people actually doing the work. This helps us look at what our priorities need to be to help the individuals we serve. Our focus is twofold:

  1. What should we be doing right now, and how does the Office of Health and Wellness ensure that it happens?
  2. What are some of the initiatives and priorities we need to set in the future? For example, establishing frameworks for preventive care.

Tell us about the listening tour.
The listening tour has been focused on DBHDD’s regional field offices. We started about a month and a half ago. Almost immediately after I accepted the position, Ron Wakefield [director of the Office of Field Operations under the Division of Developmental Disabilities] and I began a tour of each of DBHDD’s six regions where we met with staff in different positions who are responsible for supporting individuals who are in the community or transitioning to the community. We used guided questions to help us understand what the staff need to help them do their jobs better, but mainly we just sat there and listened.

The response has been welcoming and positive. People are excited, and there seems to be energy and synergy, like ‘things are changing, and I think we like where they are going.’ As we’ve talked to staff at the regions, it’s so very evident that these people are doing what they love. They want to do it at a level of best practice, and they are excited about the fact that people from the central office are coming, and asking, and supporting them.

Have you completed the tour?
We have visited five of our regions and will visit the last region before the end of June. The goal of the listening tour is to get feedback, but our plan is not to stop there. We want to have a presence in the regions. We have committed to become familiar faces.

We’ve put together seven or eight pages of responses from each region. After we review all of the feedback and begin to put things in place, we need to get back to these folks and say, “not only do we want your input about what to do, but we need your feedback on the most efficient ways to do it—because ultimately, what we put in place has to facilitate you getting it done.” We want this to be an ongoing relationship.

So what does the Office of Health and Wellness look like right now?
We are starting from scratch and working on a proposal that includes where we want to go and the resources we need to accomplish our goals. It is my hope that the office will be interdisciplinary, so that all disciplines within the community are represented and advocated for.

Are you the only employee in the Office of Health and Wellness right now?
At the moment, yes. However, the need for the office has existed for some time, so health and wellness functions have been carried out by people who, though not officially in the Office of Health and Wellness, have stepped up.

Do you have a timeline of when and how the office will be built out?
The timeline will be carefully scrutinized to ensure that we are doing the right things at the right time. We have to balance the urgency of the need while being meticulous enough to make sure that we don’t rush and miscalculate what needs to be implemented at what times for what reasons.

Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you would like to add?
I think that it’s important to give credit where credit is due. This work has been a combination of very supportive leadership and dedicated staff and team members. It is truly the result of people willing to be a team.

What about you?
My energy and the commitment I have to DBHDD’s vision and mission come from the fact that I’m a nurse first—I started out touching people. As a result, I appreciate my responsibility for helping people do their jobs effectively and helping them get the same level of job satisfaction I’ve had throughout my career. I may not have done this job before, but I’m willing to get in the trenches. I’m willing to ask the questions. I’m willing to get out there and find out what is needed to get the work done.

Why are you most excited to be a part of this new initiative?
The individuals we serve are an inspiration. No matter how hard the work is, you want to come to work every day and advocate.

ADA Legacy Tour comes to Georgia

The ADA Legacy Tour is a traveling exhibit designed to raise awareness and build excitement about the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Road to Freedom ADA Bus is traveling across the country and has made stops in several Georgia cities, including Atlanta, Augusta and Gainesville.

The tour features a “Museum of disABILITY History” display on the history of self-advocacy; the ADA quilt where thousands of signatures represent those who have participated in the tour; educational displays on the history of disability; and workshops and other programs provided by local hosts.

Last week, the tour made a stop at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. Along with the traveling displays, there were information booths, balloon artists, door prizes. Souvenir bags were also given to those who attended  the event.

The ADA is an equal opportunity law for people with disabilities. Signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, it is one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination and ensuring that people with disabilities have the chance to lead fulfilling lives in their communities.

Paces Foundation develops new special needs community for View Point Health

A new affordable housing community providing integrated care for residents with specials needs opened in Covington last week. The grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on March 25 at the Clover Bridge apartments, which includes 28 one-bedroom units and several shared community rooms. 


“Clover Bridge is a beautiful place to live and thrive in recovery. View Point Health is honored to offer individuals experiencing homelessness a permanent supported housing opportunity. Residents are supported by our wide service array customized to meet their individual needs while living in their own apartments,” said Jennifer Hibbard, CEO of View Point Health. 


Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, the housing community was developed by The Paces Foundation, which transferred ownership to View Point Health, DBHDD’s community service board for Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties. 


“Clover Bridge posed unsurpassed challenges of complexity of interface with the many different partners and government agencies necessary to its completion. The design of the building, apartments and common areas as well as its placement within, and support from, the local community added to these monumental challenges. Paces is proud to have had the necessary skills and experience, garnered over 25 years of experience and more than 2500 units of affordable workforce housing, to weave these many stakeholders and challenges into the wonderful facility which is Clover Bridge: 28 one bedroom apartments for our chronically homeless mentally ill citizens,” said Mark du Mas, president of The Paces Foundation. 


The Paces Foundation is a nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing and services for low-income residents. 

DBHDD unveils new vision and mission statements

DBHDD unveiled new vision and mission statements this week emphasizing the agency’s commitment to providing high-quality care to people with behavioral health challenges and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Easy access to high-quality care that leads to a life of recovery and independence for the people we serve.

Leading an accountable and effective continuum of care to support people with behavioral health challenges, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a dynamic health care environment.

“At every level of our work, we are committed to providing easy access to high-quality care,” said Commissioner Berry. “The new vision and mission statements reflect the work we have focused on for the last several years.”

This marks the first change to DBHDD’s vision and mission statements since the agency was created in 2009.

Albany ARC launches program to boost physical activity

Albany ARC staff and clients engage in physical fitness activities.

Albany Advocacy Resource Center (Albany ARC) is partnering with the I Can Do It, You Can Do It! (ICDI) and President’s Challenge programs to help encourage people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be physically active and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

ICDI is an eight-week mentoring program that promotes regular physical activity and healthy eating for children and adults with disabilities. Fifty-five national sites are participating, including schools, universities and community-based organizations. As an ICDI site, Albany ARC will administer programs that promote a healthy way of living through regular exercise, meal planning and community sports tournaments for staff and individuals.

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to be an ICDI advocate,” said Albany ARC’s Director of Programs Sonny Slate. “What is truly impressive about this program is the real person-centered approach that pairs our wellness staff and individual mentors with each participating individual to effectively address their individual health needs. We are able to bring our full collective resources to bear in supporting each participating individual in developing responsible skills and making informed decisions that promote a healthier life style in a truly progressive and fun way.”

The President’s Challenge helps people of all ages and abilities increase their physical activity and improve their fitness through education, easy-to-use tools and motivation. For more information about the President’s Challenge, visit

Albany ARC serves people of all ages with physical and intellectual disabilities in 14 counties across southwest Georgia. More than 800 individuals participate in a variety of programs, including Adult Day Independent Living, EmployAbility, and the Dougherty Leadership Development Institute.

For more information, contact Eddie McCarty at (229) 888-6852, ext. 234 or



Community forums provide valuable feedback about waiver services

Norcross forum
Catherine Ivy, director of community services in the Division of Developmental Disabilities, hosts a forum in Norcross.

DBHDD administers funding supports to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the New Options Waiver (NOW) and the Comprehensive Supports Medicaid (COMP) Waiver. NOW and COMP are Medicaid programs that provide supports to people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities who want to live at home or in other kinds of community living arrangements. The services offered through these waivers provide supports 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires home and community-based services programs such as NOW and COMP to be renewed every five years. The COMP waiver is scheduled for renewal in late 2015. As we prepare for the renewal, DBHDD is hosting a series of community forums to receive input from individuals, family members and providers about the successes of the COMP waiver program, as well as opportunities for improvement. Because many of the services provided by NOW are similar to those provided by COMP, we are also seeking feedback about the NOW program.

Upcoming sessions will be held in Tifton on February 24 and in Athens on February 28.

Stakeholders are also invited to submit comments online.

For more information about these forums, or to view the presentation, please visit our website.

DBHDD announces staged rollout for Administrative Services Organization

DBHDD, in partnership with Beacon Health Options (formerly ValueOptions), has been diligently working to bring to life the vision that began with the procurement of the Administrative Services Organization (ASO). Following a procurement process, DBHDD awarded the contract to the winning vendor on September 16, 2014. The project is now called the “Georgia Collaborative ASO.” A press release regarding the bid award can be found on the DBHDD website.

The Georgia Collaborative ASO will consolidate the functions of several DBHDD contracts into a single, integrated system which supports both behavioral health and developmental disability services. This new and innovative approach will aid DBHDD and our provider network as we strive to provide easy access to high-quality care for the people we serve.

Initially, DBHDD anticipated a go-live date of April 1, 2015 for this new system. As the work has progressed, DBHDD and Beacon Health Options have evaluated and adjusted our strategy with the goal of ensuring that the vision of the ASO is fully realized through a carefully staged execution that supports the DBHDD provider network throughout implementation.

On July 1, 2015, the new quality improvement initiatives, including quality reviews for providers of behavioral health and intellectual and developmental disability services, will be implemented. Also on July 1, 2015, the CONNECTS system, a Beacon Health Options platform will replace the APS Healthcare system (Care Connection/MICP). The implementation of the Adult Needs and Strength Assessment and Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths Assessment will take effect on July 1, 2015 in concert with new authorization process supported by the Georgia Collaborative ASO.

The development of the case management Information System for intellectual and developmental disability services is underway with a rollout targeted for the fall of 2015. Columbus will continue to support DBHDD through the Columbus Information System during this transition.

DBHDD and the Georgia Collaborative ASO will be hosting a series of introductory webinars for DBHDD staff and providers in February with additional training and information sessions to be held in the coming months. Information and updates will be provided on the Georgia Collaborative ASO page on the DBHDD website.