The Massachusetts Acquired Brain Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Commission held an informational hearing on August 13 for the Berkshire community, then toured a Berkshire County Arc residential program – one of its 15 BI programs – to learn firsthand from direct staff and front-line managers.
Led by Senator Harriette Chandler, the Commission members were joined by Berkshire County’s Sen. Adam Hinds and Tricia Farley-Bouvier, as well as the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, statewide associations, and a brain-injury survivor.
Kenneth W. Singer, BCArc’s President & CEO, commended the group for traveling to the Berkshires to learn about personal stories, which included BCArc individuals who volunteer at City Hall and the Arlo Guthrie Center, and one who works as a bus monitor for a local transportation company.
“Despite great advances in services and support, our greatest problem is a lack of staff,” he emphasized. “The crisis has brought great stress on the services and can lead to huge problems in the quality of programs across the Berkshires and the Commonwealth.”
Singer also complimented the legislators on the Commission for the outstanding state budget passed this year, noting it was great for human services, particularly for serving people with developmental disabilities and brain injuries.
Touring a BCArc Residence
After the hearing Commission members visited a BI residential program, and sat with individuals and staff to have lunch and hear stories about the program. Members noted that they were impressed with the quality of the house, and the activities described by the staff. They learned how one staff member was flying with an individual to Pittsburgh to see a Steelers football game, another staff member was traveling to Cooperstown, N.Y., for a four-day trip to the baseball Hall of Fame, and another staff member and individual had an upcoming week-long vacation in Florida.
A question and answer period continued after lunch, and members toured the home, meeting the individuals in their bedrooms and relaxing on the back porch.
Amber Steele, Director of BCArc’s Brain Injury Services, answered questions and detailed for the group how the lack of physicians and therapists available in the Berkshires posed challenges for the program. She also described for MRC Commissioner Toni Wolfe and Sen. Chandler billing issues and funding mechanisms.
“Services over the years have dramatically improved and increased for those with Brain Injuries,” Singer told the Commission before laying out other concerns, such as: only those in nursing homes are eligible for residential programs, leaving hundreds of others in need of services without options; there is a shortage of funds for day services; and the Peer Support Program has been successful, but only certain individuals qualify.
The Commission will finish its fact-finding tour and propose legislation and/or regulation changes based on the needs communicated by the communities.