“There’s nothing worse than people not being independent because they don’t know there’s an alternative.”
-Stacey Zimmerman, Ability360 Independent Living Skills
By Anna Werner
Photos by Loren Worthington
The Reintegration to Community Living program at Ability360 gives individuals empowerment, support and the resources they need to be more independent.
In the past five years, the program has helped 107 consumers, ages 65 and younger, move out of nursing homes and into the community. Over 200,000 adults under age 65 were living in nursing homes in 2012, according to the latest Demographic Characteristic of Nursing Home Residents in the United States Report from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Centers for Independent Living, like Ability360, were established to provide core services that assist individuals – like some of these adults in nursing homes – to live more independently. In July 2014, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act into law. In addition to education and workforce reauthorizations and revisions, this Act also defined Transition as a fifth core service to join the previously-mandated family of core services provided by CILs: Advocacy; Information & Referral; Independent Living Skills Training; and Peer Support/Mentoring.
“Reintegration is a program that we’ve been involved in from the get go,” Reggie Mitzel, Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer at Ability360, said. “We’ve been helping people transition from nursing homes to independent living options for years.”
Though Ability360 has been working to help people live more independently since its founding in 1981, Fernando Cruz formally started the Reintegration program in 1998. Stacey Zimmerman, independent living advocate at Ability360, took over the reins this past May and is currently working with 25 people.
“There are some people who need nursing homes, but occasionally you get that younger individual who with a little help can still be on his or her own,” Zimmerman said. “A lot of people don’t realize that there is a choice. Some people think that the nursing home is it. They don’t realize that there are such things like Centers for Independent Living that can help them plan, budget and figure out how to make this work. There’s nothing worse than people not being independent because they don’t know there’s an alternative.”
Once a consumer reaches out to Ability360, Zimmerman meets with him or her to assess wants and needs. Based on that information, she assists the consumer in obtaining household or other items if funds are available. Some insurance companies have community transition funds, which allocate a certain dollar amount to the individual to help him or her move.
Regardless of the consumer’s financial situation or insurance company, Zimmerman can help him or her find accessible housing and can direct the consumer to other beneficial services available through Ability360 or the community. After the consumer is situated in his or her new environment, Zimmerman follows up to provide any further assistance, ensuring the transition is successful.
“I think the reintegration program is important because it enables individuals to be self-empowered,” Zimmerman said. “They get to be their own advocates in requesting the transition to happen and in wanting and making it happen. It’s empowering individuals to take control and take back their lives. It does so much for their self-esteem to know that they can live successfully on their own.”
Anna Werner is a junior at Barrett the Honors College at Arizona State University and served as the marketing intern at Ability360 last summer. She is studying journalism and is passionate about fitness, writing and traveling.