LEWISTON — Some people wanted more and better transportation for Mainers with disabilities.
Some people said the state should work harder to keep its elderly residents living independently.
Others said the Maine Department of Health and Human Services needs a computer system that will allow all departments and agencies access to the same client information.
But just over a dozen disability rights advocates, service providers and community members agreed on one thing during a public forum Tuesday: Maine needs to do a better job of helping people with disabilities.
State leaders say they’re listening.
“This isn’t just like an exercise being done so people can check off a box,” meeting facilitator Kirsten Smith said. “They really want to hear from the public and they’re really invested in this.”
Held at SeniorsPlus in Lewiston, the two-hour meeting was designed by DHHS to gather information about what the state is doing well and what needs improvement in order to help people with disabilities in the community. The public forum, one of six across the state, will lead to a new, 10-year “Olmstead roadmap” and will help drive changes to state services.
The “Olmstead roadmap” follows the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Olmstead v. L.C., in which the court ruled that states had to try to integrate people with mental disabilities into the community and support them in the least restrictive environment possible. Institutions were out. Independent living — with assistance — was in.
Maine’s last “Olmstead roadmap” was done in 2003. The state is looking to create a new one to guide services for the next decade.
Four other public forums have been held across Maine this month. The last will be held in Caribou on Wednesday.
Attendance has ranged from eight people to 30, with a mix of clients, service providers, advocates and community members. Fifteen people attended the forum in Lewiston.
Many of the comments made Tuesday matched comments made in other forums, including that Maine needs better and more transportation for people with disabilities, the state needs to help its disabled citizens with jobs, DHHS needs a computer system that’s more accessible and the state needs to be more flexible — and faster — with its assistance.
“When you have to leave the hospital and go somewhere and go through all the red tape, you’re going to end up in an institution. Because that’s easy. You can get in there mighty quick, but you can’t get your home services all in place,” said Mollie Baldwin, CEO of Home Care for Maine, a Farmingdale-based organization that provides personal care to disabled adults and elderly Mainers.
Smith, who is leading the forums, will organize the information into a report to be presented to DHHS officials at the end of September. Officials will accept public comment on the state’s Olmstead work this fall.