DHHS Awards First Round of Grants for Innovative Projects Supporting People with Disabilities

February 28, 2023

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The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Aging and Disability Services (OADS) has awarded $4.3 million to 13 organizations in its first round of Home and Community Based Services HCBS Innovation Pilot Grants designed to support projects that promote greater independence and community participation among individuals with disabilities.

DHHS awarded the grants through a competitive process, using federal HCBS improvement funds provided through the American Rescue Plan Act. The selected projects cover a broad range of innovations – from assistive technologies to self-advocacy training and accessible ride-hailing apps – benefitting people with diverse needs, including individuals who may need significant behavioral health supports.  Grant amounts vary, up to a maximum of $500,000.

Applications for the second and final round of grants have been received and are currently under review.

First-round HCBS Innovation Pilot Grant Recipients:

Independence Advocates of Maine (IAM) will use its grant to expand access to remote sensing technology that will support independent living for individuals with disabilities in the Penquis-Down East and Aroostook regions of Maine. This technology will allow for the use of sensors that are monitored remotely to detect falls, identify illness, provide cooking assistance, and support automated medication dispensers. These cost-effective aids will allow individuals with disabilities to remain as independent as possible by staying in their homes while reducing the need for in-person assistance. 

Disability Rights Maine, working closely with Speaking Up for Us (SUFU), will increase advocacy capacity of transition-aged youth with developmental disabilities in Maine. This will be accomplished by developing two interrelated pilot projects that can be replicated across the state. The first project will develop Maine’s first youth-oriented Speaking Up for US self-advocacy chapter. The second project will implement an intensive youth advocacy leadership pilot program to train Youth Ambassadors. This will include a 15- to 20-week training program that will strive to give transition-age youth the knowledge and skills to enable them to advocate for themselves on a wide variety of issues, from alternatives to guardianship to developing meaningful person-centered care plans. This program will follow a peer-to-peer model taught by self-advocates. 

Goodwill Industries will place Public Health AmeriCorps members to serve as Community Integration Coordinators within Goodwill of Northern New England and partner organizations providing HCBS services to individuals with disabilities. The Community Integration Coordinators will assist HCBS participants to improve mental and physical health through work and community engagement. Coordinators will facilitate and train Direct Support Professionals or other home, community, and work-support staff to facilitate work readiness and community integration among individuals with disabilities.

Independence Association (IA) plans to support the development of an accessible Community Integration Scheduler App which will provide a simple way for individuals using IA supports to access information about community events that may be of interest. Through the support of a designated staff person, those using IA services can also request the staff needed to support them in attending these community events.

Living Innovations will launch the “Opening the Door to Shared Living” project to adapt the shared living model to individuals with significant behavioral health support needs. This pilot will target individuals who were previously living in crisis homes or long-term care centers to support a transition to a less restrictive shared living environment with wrap-around supports. Innovations will include the use of behavioral health clinicians to support the provider and the individuals in shared living, specialized training, and the use of a trauma-informed approach to support the individuals in these homes. 

Maine Medical Center will undertake two projects to promote more employment among HCBS participants. The first will supplement and expand Benefits Counseling Services with new features, including the dedication of two Community Work Incentives Coordinators to HCBS participants. Additionally, the staff of selected partner agencies will receive Work and Benefits Navigator Training, along with ongoing technical assistance and consultation. In the second initiative, Maine Medical Center’s Department of Vocational Services (DVS) will collaborate with HCBS provider agencies to advance competitive, integrated employment for individuals they serve. DVS will expand employment services capacity in York and Cumberland County with two additional positions dedicated to HCBS participants.

Momentum will pilot the use of on-demand ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft to provide reliable, prompt, safe, cost-effective, pre-scheduled employment-related transportation for Momentum clients. The model includes an innovative process for authorization, delivery, and payment to enable clients to use modes of transportation which are available to the general public. Momentum proposes an expansion of self-directed options, including budgeting for non-emergency transportation, such as to and from employment sites. 

Rehab Without Walls will use innovative strategies to support transitions from acute brain injury rehabilitation services to home and community-based settings. This service will blend evidence-based therapies with creative uses of the patient’s own surroundings – whether at home, school, work or other community settings. Addressing goals and barriers in real-life settings can increase motivation, lead to more durable outcomes, and reduce the risk of injuries that could and often lead to rehospitalization.

Seniors Plus, partnering with 3i HoME, will implement an enhanced care coordination model along with a refined assistive technology assessment tool that will allow residents of “smart design” housing to access customized assistive technology. The care coordination model engages an Occupational Therapist as the care coordinator with a smaller caseload of residents.

Spectrum Generations, in partnership with the Autism Society of Maine has been awarded a grant to develop training about internet safety for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities or autism. This eight-module training will be offered online and free for anyone to access. The course can be used independently by the person, or in conjunction with their staff or family member who will be trained to provide content support.

Waypoint (formerly known as Waban) will undertake two projects. The first, Neighborhood Network, will create robust neighborhood networks where Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) live within arm’s reach of the members they support. The Neighborhood Network is designed to provide flexible real-time support by DSPs providing both remote and in-person services, reducing the number of people involved in care while improving efficacy, increasing choices for members, and maintaining member privacy and autonomy. The second project, Supporting DSPs, will re-envision and enhance how Maine providers deliver services, cultivating new and affordable human support models that help those with a wide range of medical and behavioral health support needs live better, safer, and more private lives.   

Technical Assistance and Evaluation

The Department is partnering with the National Disability Institute (NDI) to support the awardees in the pursuit of quality outcomes that can be replicated in HCBS programs once the concepts have shown effectiveness. NDI is the first national organization committed exclusively to championing economic empowerment, financial education, asset development and financial stability for all persons with disabilities.  NDI is acting as fiscal agent to distribute the funds and monitor grant activity, providing technical assistance to awardees, and supporting project evaluation and reporting.

Innovation Key to A Path for ME

Program innovation is one of three system improvement prongs that OADS is implementing under A Path for ME, an initiative to improve and transform how services are delivered to people with IDD and autism. 

Another key prong is implementation of OADS’ HCBS Lifespan Project program which will enroll youth ages 14 and older and adults beginning in January 2025. Lifespan recognizes that individuals with disabilities each have their own paths, and services must be flexible and responsive to support those paths. Successful innovations from the grant initiative will be considered for incorporation into Lifespan, which is planned for a 2025 launch date.

The third prong is a robust identification of needs using the Supports Intensity Scale, a nationally validated and reliable tool used in several other states. Individuals enrolling in Lifespan will have an assessment for use by the person-centered planning team to develop an individualized service plans that promote independence and community integration.