Helping Individuals and Families Find Their Home
For more than 35 years, Mary Anne Tolliver has been supporting individuals and families in their residential goals at the St. Louis Arc. As the Director of Aging she continues to help individuals of various ages identify and achieve their vision of a good life. We recently sat down with Mary Anne to gain insight into her role and how she assists individuals and families at the Arc.
What does your role as the Director of Aging entail?
I work with families who are at that point in life where they can see their family member living in a different setting. Some people are coming to us from living with a family member, while others may be currently receiving services from a different provider.
I also work with residential services and the aging population. As people who receive support from the Arc are growing older, we are looking at our aging curriculum for staff training and updating it so our staff has the resources and tools to support people as they age. Finally, I support individuals, staff, and families through hospice supports and walk them through the end of life journey. Occasionally, we may have individuals whose support needs become more than what we are able to provide services for and in that situation, we assist families along with the St. Louis Regional Office to find the best environment to provide the supports that the individual needs. With the end of life journey, I also support individuals and staff through the loss and grief bereavement process.
How do you support individuals to find the right housing for them?
The first thing I ask is what supports does an individual need, what are their interests, and what is their vision of a good life. With that information I am able to identify the options available at the St. Louis Arc. Next, I am able to match and introduce people to each other, so they can make the best decision for themselves. Housing and housemates has to be a decision that is made by the individual who is looking for a home and the people who are living in the home. We ensure that everybody has a voice and asks themselves “is this going to work, can I live with this person, can I not live with this person” or identify if they are interested in getting to know a person more.
Many families may be intimidated or overwhelmed by thinking about this topic or starting this process. What would you share with them?
When I meet with an individual, I want to know more about them and what their goals are. What do they want? What is their timeline? Next, I find out whether they have Medicaid and whether they have a service coordinator (case manager) through the Department of Mental Health (DMH).
If they don’t have Medicaid, we look at whether they would qualify for Medicaid or if they are in a position where they could afford private pay. Taking it step-by-step, we decipher funding options and processes. We help them understand the difference between Medicaid and a DD Comprehensive Waiver. We might even identify that an individual may need less support and in that case I connect them with Beth Moeller in the Connect program.
Additionally, we are now starting a learning group called Planning Forward, which will help people gain a better understanding of their life course, what is important now, and what is going to be important in the future. We will walk them through those questions so they can identify the answers for themselves. We will assist some individuals in writing a futures plan. This is especially helpful for individuals who do not have Medicaid because they don’t have a case manager or someone who is able to walk them through that process.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge for someone through this process?
To be honest, it’s not an easy process because funding is not readily available. Currently, funding is questionable with DMH, although it will continue to ebb and flow. Knowing this, we need to look at alternative ways for us to provide these supports.
If funding is difficult, should families even start the process? What can they do?
At some point, you and your family will need some type of residential support, you are going to get there. Even if you cannot get the funding now, there are going to be things that happen in life that you need to plan for. I tell people; at least if you know what you want, you can advocate for it and work toward that goal. You never know when funding may become available or maybe you identify another way to accomplish your goal.
I also encourage everyone to advocate to your legislators. Tell them how important funding to the Department of Mental Health and the Division of I/DD is to your family and your family member.
What are the benefits to residential support?
The benefit is for individuals to be able to become their own person and to direct their life. They are able to do the things that make them the most happy and are meaningful to them. They can have the life that they want to have.
The benefit to the family is the ability to see their family member thrive in their own home and create the life they want. Residential support helps them to live life as a family member, i.e. son/daughter, sister/brother. The family also performs in their role as a family member while ensuring their daughter/son/brother/sister is having a good life. The family will continue to advocate, help them with decision making, and be a brother/sister/mom/dad and not be the first level of support. They get to see them grow and do things they never thought they would do.
Get Started Today
At the Arc, we are relationship focused and we do what we can to continue a person’s natural family relationship. The family is the constant in an individual’s life. Staff can never do that job as good as a family member does, which is why communication between family and staff is vital. Communication ensures that the supports provided are what the family wants them to be.
The St. Louis Arc currently has several residential openings. To learn more about current openings or to begin planning for the future, contact Mary Anne at 314-817-2218.