Assistive Technology and Remote Services in Illinois – Movement in the Right Direction

Foothold Technology is a proud member of the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities (IARF). Josh Evans, President & CEO at IARF wrote this blog providing thoughts about the current state of assistive technology in Illinois.

On January 17, 2018 friends and colleagues from Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Ohio gathered with state officials, representatives from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and staff with the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) in Chicago for the annual CMS Region V State Summit.  For several years now, the state associations in Region V have hosted these events to promote discussion on mutual areas of interest among state ARCs, service providers, and state & federal officials.

After this particular Summit, a consensus letter outlining a series of shared issues and recommendations was advanced to then-CMS Acting Director of the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services Tim Hill.  An important request in this letter was for CMS to provide sub-regulatory guidance, advised best practices, and technical assistance to states interested in making greater use of technology to promote individual independence and reduce reliance on staff.  While such guidance and assistance has yet to be published, it did embolden IARF to be more aggressive in pushing for meaningful discussion about increasing access to and funding for assistive technologies and remote services in Illinois.

During the 2018 legislative session, Representative Robyn Gabel and Senator Melinda Bush led an Association initiative that included provisions directing our Departments of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) and Human Services (DHS) to work collaboratively on a waiver or state plan amendment to the Medicaid program to allow/reimburse for remote monitoring and support services.  While those portions of the legislation were removed, the discussions had during that Session with lawmakers and the Departments led to further work on these important topics.

Later in the year, Acting DHS Division of Developmental Disabilities Director Melissa Wright organized a series of Subcommittees that would report to a Ligas (an Illinois Olmstead Consent Decree) Oversight Committee on recommendations to bring our state in compliance with the Consent Decree.  One of those Subcommittees – Assistive Technology – is Chaired by Meg Cooch, Executive Director of the Arc of Illinois, along with IARF, represented by our Vice President of ID/DD Policy Sarah Myerscough-Mueller.  As a result of the exceptional work of this particular Subcommittee, legislative amendments were filed during this 2019 legislative session recommending an assistive technology for persons with developmental disabilities pilot program.

While that legislation did not move forward, now Acting DHS-DDD Director Kathy Ward has announced the Division’s intent to move forward with a pilot program with four organizations/awards over the next two state fiscal years.  Having shared some details during the 2019 Technology Enhancing Capabilities (TEC) Conference in June, and more recently during our June IARF Meetings of the Membership, we are excited to note the Division intends to issue an RFI to receive proposals to fund four pilots.

An historic budget impasse, several years of stagnant reimbursement rates, and legislative gridlock have taken their toll on the ability of Illinois providers to meet the capacity needs in their local communities.  While we will continue to advocate for living wages for the Direct Support Professionals that are crucial to the individuals and families we serve and support, we must look to other states that have made inroads into other ways to mitigate the workforce crisis – such as remote services and supports. We can also seek to proliferate existing and emerging technologies that promote greater independence and ensure a regulatory and policy environment that allows Illinois to move quickly when it is clear where use of technology can promote employment and access to the broader community.

While I will continue to be proud of our members and our team for work they are doing in this area, I tip my hat to the folks at TEC, the Arc of Illinois, and the Division of Developmental Disabilities that recognize it is time to move forward for those we serve and support.  Onward!