BCBS funding opportunity addresses health disparities upstate  

Area nonprofits can now apply for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Health Equity awards, which help fund health and wellness programs that address racial and ethnic health disparities in upstate New York.  

BCBS funding opportunity addresses health disparities upstate  

The application period is now open and closes at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 15. 

Application proposals must include clear, defined goals for reducing health disparities and improving health equity for people that face a higher burden of health inequities and social disadvantages.  

Organizations will be required to specify how funding will measurably assist in improving racial and ethnic health equity outcomes. 

Proposals that have detailed scope, goals, rationale for support and measures will receive the strongest consideration. Award winners will be announced in mid-November. 

Health Equity categories include, but are not limited to: 

  • Reducing health disparities in racial, ethnic, LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, people living in rural or urban communities or other groups of people that may be at a higher health risk for: 
    • Medical issues and conditions (chronic or acute); 
    • Behavioral health or mental health conditions, or 
    • Negative outcomes from the above, including death or suicide. 

“At Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, the health of our communities is at the center of everything we do,” said Gina Cuyler, MD, vice president of Health Equity and Community Investments, Excellus BCBS, in a statement. “Together we can confront the crisis in health disparities, embrace and address long-standing gaps in care and bridge health equity gaps in our underserved communities.” 

Visit www.excellusbcbs.com/community for more information.  

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

OPWDD invites questions, comments for disability-related webinars

The state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) has a series of webinars to take place statewide to help answer questions from self-advocates and family members of people with disabilities. The first event will address individuals in the Western New York and Finger Lakes regions on May 26.

“We ask that each person take part in only one forum so that we can hear from as many people as possible,” officials said in a statement this month. “You may choose to provide spoken testimony at the event, submit written testimony or simply listen.”

OPWDD is expecting to address the following questions:
• How should OPWDD meet the growing demand for services throughout a person’s life to assure sustainability, equity and access?
• How can OPWDD include the values of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the service system?
• How can the direct support and clinical workforce be strengthened to provide quality supports for the people we support?
• How can the OPWDD service system build and sustain a variety of housing supports?
• How can day and employment services better help people to achieve their life goals?
• How can the self-direction program better address the needs of the person and support family caregivers, as well as assure equity of access and sustainability of self-directed supports?
• How can technology be used to support a person’s life goals?
• How can OPWDD, working with other state agencies, best plan for and serve children and adults with complex needs?
• How can OPWDD best use telehealth to meet a person’s clinical needs?
• How can care coordination better support people with complex needs or enhance the skills of care managers?
• What research projects would assist in screening, evaluating, identifying and supporting people with developmental disabilities?

The Region 1 event will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday. A Region 2 event has been planned for June 2, followed by an event June 3, June 8 and June 9. Speakers must register in advance and limit their comments to three minutes. All webinars will be recorded and links to the recordings will be posted on OPWDD’s website after the events.

While the deadline to submit comments for the Region 1 event has passed, comments for the Region 2 event can be sent to Jessica Davis at [email protected] up to two days prior to the event. Written testimony can be submitted to [email protected] More information is available at opwdd.ny.gov/strategic-planning.

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Arc Wayne opens laundry facility, employs differently abled

The Arc Wayne has opened a new business that is designed to help employ individuals who are differently abled.

Erie Shore Laundry opened April 1 as a commercial laundry business in the Wayne County town of Newark. The Wayne County Nursing Home, which is partly responsible for the business’ opening, is its sole client, for now.

The project began when staff members at the nursing home approached the Arc Wayne about wanting to switch laundry providers when its current contract expired. Arc Wayne staff began working on a solution to partner with the nursing home.

But it’s not the first collaboration between the two organizations. In fact, the Arc Wayne and the Wayne County Nursing Home have collaborated for many years. So the Arc Wayne wanted to meet the new need in the community and create job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Renovations began at the Arc Wayne’s Harrison Street training facility in Newark late last year and new commercial-grade washers and dryers, folding station tables and a delivery truck were purchased to serve the nursing home.

The project was possible due to grants from the Golisano Foundation, New York State Industries for the Disabled Inc. (NYSID) and the Davenport Hatch Foundation. Services began on April 1 and four individuals with disabilities were hired.

“NYSID is thrilled to assist the Arc Wayne in establishing a laundry business with a matching grant for new equipment,” said NYSID President and CEO Maureen O’Brien. “The new venture will help the Arc grow jobs for local individuals with disabilities and provide an essential service in the region. A job can change everything, and NYSID is proud to help our member organizations realize more opportunities that lead to paychecks and inclusion.”

The Arc Wayne hosted a grant ceremony and tour of the facility for community members on Thursday.

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JobPath website connects employers with potential staffers

JobPath of Rochester, a division of the Arc of Monroe, has launched a new website to support employment services for individuals with disabilities.

JobPath is recognized as a leader in providing innovative employment services and is Monroe County’s largest supported employment agency, officials noted. Launched in 1981, JobPath has worked with hundreds of businesses throughout Rochester and the surrounding area to create employment connections and was the first to establish job services for people with disabilities in the Western New York region.

The website features success stories of local businesses who have hired qualified, pre-screened candidates for their businesses by using JobPath of Rochester. An employment specialist is assigned to each JobPath candidate, providing support for the job candidate on and off the job, as well as support to the employer.

JobPath offers potential job candidates opportunities that span numerous markets and industries including retail, customer service, automotive, elder care, environmental services and more. Longstanding partnerships in the region include Genesee Brewing, DelMonte Hotel Group, St. Ann’s Community, Ziebart, BJ’s Wholesale Club and Crickler Vending Co.

“By visiting JobPathRochester.org, you’ll learn more about supported employment and how we can partner with your business,” said JobPath Director of Business Relations Brandy Solomon. “We pride ourselves on quality partnerships with a variety of businesses around Rochester.”

Organizations that work with JobPath may be eligible for tax incentives, tax credits and wage reimbursements. The website highlights the tax incentives available to businesses.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Golisano Foundation awards $230,000 in COVID-19 grants

The Golisano Foundation has awarded nearly $230,000 in the fourth round of its COVID-19 Response Grants to six organizations in Western New York and Southwest Florida.

Grants totaling more than $215,000 have been awarded to agencies that serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, while $14,000 in grants have been awarded by Bailey and Friends to organizations supporting animal welfare. Bailey and Friends is a component of the Golisano Foundation that is dedicated to supporting animal welfare.

The grants will assist organizations with urgent needs stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

Awardees include:

• Arc of Monroe – $84,500
• Cobblestone Arts Center – $20,000
• Epilepsy-Pralid Inc. – $15,000
• Happiness House – $31,000
• Daystar Kids – $25,000
• The Summit Center – $40,000
• Humane Society at Lollypop Farm – $3,000
• Keller’s Kats Rescue Inc. – $3,000
• Cape Coral Animal Shelter (Southwest Florida) – $5,000
• Gulf Coast Humane Society (Southwest Florida) – $3,000

Ann Costello
Ann Costello

“While agencies, clients and families are growing weary of the COVID-19 restrictions, they certainly understand the importance of maintaining precautions according to New York State guidelines as some programs and activities begin to reopen,” said Golisano Foundation Executive Director Ann Costello. “Providers continue to do a remarkable job of keeping participants engaged and connected in these challenging times.”

This round of grants brings the foundation’s total COVID-19 Response Grant funding to more than $1.3 million.

Through the end of October 2020, the foundation is redirecting some $2 million in grant funding to assist organizations in Western New York and Southwest Florida due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Grants may help cover items such as short-term operating expenses for essential programs, safety net and specialty services; the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies and equipment; new technology and technical assistance for virtual commuting and telemedicine; cleaning supplies for health and hygiene; efforts to ensure safe distancing in group homes and facilities; among others.

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Local nonprofit creates global inclusion training movement

Rochester Accessible Adventures, a local nonprofit that trains, supports and promotes recreation businesses to operate inclusively, is hoping to train 2,020 youth and adults this year in its #WeWillInclude movement.

RAA is responding to the impact of COVID-19 with an ambitious online inclusion movement that includes a free, three-hour training that promotes knowledge and skills for creating inclusive recreation and sports settings.

“In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is imperative that we do not lose the momentum we have gained towards creating a community that is inclusive of youth and adults with disabilities,” said RAA Executive Director Anita O’Brien. “We are very excited about new partnerships we are forming which will foster whole communities of ‘Inclusion Ambassadors’ to promote inclusion and work with us to remove physical and social barriers which keep people with disabilities from accessing recreation and sports alongside their family members, schoolmates, peers and work friends.”

The #WeWillInclude movement has two components: a way for corporations and philanthropic giving groups to financially support the effort, and online training designed for this novel time when people are staying close to home and learning to rely on their screens for unique learning opportunities for themselves and their families, officials said. A number of groups that typically spend time in person during the summer are using the online training for their staff and participants who continue to meet virtually.

“Girl Scouts of Western New York values diversity, equity and inclusion and is proud to join in the #WeWillInclude movement as a way to expand efforts to build a community of young leaders who promote inclusion,” said Alison Wilcox, CEO of Girl Scouts of Western New York. “We look forward to exploring ways our troop leaders, camp counselors and girls can continue to build these principles of inclusion throughout all of our programs across Western New York as we conduct Summer Camp At Home and future Girl Scout programs.”

The movement already has 100 registered participants between the ages of 6 and 90, in four countries, six states and more than 55 zip codes. Rochester Accessible Adventures is committed to creating Community Health Inclusion (CHI) partnerships with the implementation of a service model of inclusion; creating long-term sustainability for adaptive sports teams; and operating a regional resource network for individuals with disabilities, their families and service providers.

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Lifetime Assistance to renovate three centers with help from Golisano Foundation challenge grant

Lifetime Assistance Inc. has received a $750,000 challenge grant from the Golisano Foundation. The funding will help the nonprofit transform three-day services centers to meet the changing needs of those with developmental disabilities.

The Independence Together campaign, the largest in Lifetime Assistance’s history, will support essential renovations to its three largest day services centers: the Lowry Center in Clarkson, Paul Road Center in Chili and Weiland Road Center in Greece.

With a goal of $5.1 million, the Golisano Foundation gift will match every dollar up to $750,000 contributed by the community. It is the largest single campaign gift received by Lifetime Assistance to date.

James Branciforte
James Branciforte

“We are extremely grateful to the Golisano Foundation for this generous challenge grant,” said Lifetime Assistance President and CEO James Branciforte. “It demonstrates the foundation’s trust in our team and our vision for helping the extremely vulnerable population we serve benefit from an environment that meets their personal needs, facilitates learning skills and allows them to reach their potential and highest degree of independence.”

When finished, the three renovated centers will be one-of-a-kind centers with Learning & Works Suites that include culinary, senior, technology, health and wellness, continuing education/vocational, music and arts and enrichment. The centers will be fully accessible, motiving centers to meet the needs of the hundreds of individuals supported there.

“The rapidly changing needs of those we support requires us to change how we deliver services,” Branciforte said. “Those who depend on us for day services are medically frail and have severe physical needs.”

Those individuals are aging and increasingly have Alzheimer’s and other age-related conditions, he said.

“More than half of the people we serve use wheelchairs now and there is a tremendous increase of young people with severe autism,” Branciforte added. “Our quality facilities must always deliver upon Lifetime’s mission of service and reflect the dignity of the people we serve, meet diverse needs and assure community inclusion, independent growth and learning. With the community’s help, we can achieve our goal.”

Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2020 and will be sequenced over the following two years in order to maintain services at each of the centers. The renovated centers will feature advanced assistive technologies, state-of-the-art technology, more opportunity to volunteer in the community and gain work skills and programs that are more community based, officials said.

“Lifetime’s designs for revisioning day services is an important project that will create more accessible and supportive environments, especially for the growing number of older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Ann Costello, executive director of the Golisano Foundation. “The renovations, including the Learning and Work Suites in each center, will make Lifetime’s day services inviting and flexible, providing greater opportunity for continuing education, skill development, socialization and community inclusion.”

Other major gifts received to date include those from the August Family Foundation, Barclay Damon LLC, Daisy Marquis Jones Foundation and Davenport Hatch Foundation, among others.

Lifetime Assistance is the largest, most comprehensive agency in the Greater Rochester area serving children and adults with developmental disabilities. The agency serves more than 1,800 people every day at more than 70 sites in the region. Lifetime is one of 300 agencies nationwide to receive accreditation by the Council on Quality and Leadership.

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Golisano Foundation awards grant for training in specialized Alzheimer’s care

The Golisano Foundation plans to fund a pilot program to train providers who serve seniors with intellectual and developmental disabilities on how to care for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The two-year, $100,000 grant will be implemented by two chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association, Rochester & Finger Lakes and Western New York.

“Both chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association have a long history of conducting training for IDD agencies with a proven track record of improvement in quality of life and care for individuals with disabilities living with dementia,” said Golisano Foundation Director Ann Costello. “We are proud to support their efforts in developing an innovative training program in partnership with four of our most trusted development disabilities providers.”

Some 400,000 New Yorkers live with Alzheimer’s disease. By 2025, it is estimated the number of people with Alzheimer’s statewide will grow by 15 percent as the population over 65 expands. Studies show that the prevalence of dementia among people with IDD is the same as for those without disabilities, but the risk of developing Alzheimer’s is higher among adults with Down syndrome.

In the 17 upstate counties served by the two Alzheimer’s Associations, more than 6,700 adults age 50 and older live with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Each chapter will deliver a train-the-trainer program to two IDD providers within their territories. The local chapter will work with the Arc of Monroe and Lifetime Assistance Inc., while the Western New York chapter will partner with Aspire of WNY and People Inc.

“With this grant award we will build upon our past successes and partner with the developmental disabilities system to train a dementia-capable workforce,” said Teresa Galbier, president and CEO of the Rochester & Finger Lakes chapter. “I’m confident our pilot will inspire similar efforts in other communities.”

Both Rochester-based agencies already work with the Alzheimer’s Association to meet specific care needs of IDD seniors who live with dementia, officials said.

“Dementia-capable professionals will be able to provide more adequate care and allow individuals with dementia live in their familiar environment in group homes longer, without having to move to a skilled nursing facility,” Arc of Monroe President and CEO Barbara Wale said.

Started by Rochester entrepreneur and philanthropist Thomas Golisano, the Golisano Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the nation devoted exclusively to opening doors to opportunity, changing negative perceptions and stereotypes and forging partnerships to ensure individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have pathways to personal dignity and independence. With more than $40 million in gross assets, the Golisano Foundation has awarded more than $26 million in grants and $2 million annually to nonprofit organizations in the Finger Lakes Region and Southwest Florida.

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Al Sigl, WXXI partner on week of ‘Dialogue on Disability’

Al Sigl Community of Agencies will partner with WXXI Public Broadcasting System to offer a series on breaking the stereotypes of individuals with disabilities.

The weeklong broadcast, “Dialogue on Disability: The Herman & Margaret Schwartz Community Series,” will run on WXXI TV, radio and at the Little Theatre from Jan. 14 through Jan. 20 and will encourage community discussion about the perspectives and abilities of people with physical and intellectual disabilities.

WXXI and Al Sigl also will host a listening session of the award-winning podcast “Exited” on Jan. 14 at Al Sigl’s Golisano campus on Elmwood Avenue. “Exited” shares the journey of eight young people with disabilities as they transition into adulthood.

WXXI and Al Sigl also will present a free screening of “Perfectly Normal for Me” on Jan. 15 at the Little. The documentary follows four kids who strive for acceptance in a world that is indifferent to them. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with the film’s director, Catherine Tambini, via Skype.

Al Sigl and WXXI have worked together since 2003 to help break the ingrained stereotypes about individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. The partnership is supported by the Golisano Foundation and Move to Include, a project designed to build a more inclusive community by inspiring and motivating people to embrace different abilities and include all people in every aspect of community life.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Documentary on intellectual disabilities to be screened here this week

Micah Fialka-Feldman will join filmmaker Dan Habib at Strong National Museum of Play Wednesday for a screening of "Intelligent Lives." (photo provided)
Micah Fialka-Feldman will join filmmaker Dan Habib at Strong National Museum of Play Wednesday for a screening of “Intelligent Lives.”
(Photo provided)

A documentary that challenges IQ testing and the limits placed on people with intellectual disabilities will have its Upstate New York premiere at Strong National Museum of Play on Wednesday.

“Intelligent Lives,” a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Dan Habib, will be screened Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. Habib will discuss the film alongside film subject Micah Fialka-Feldman, of Syracuse. The screening and discussion are free and open to the public.

The documentary stars three young adults with intellectual disabilities, including Fialka-Feldman. The three subjects challenge perceptions of intelligence as they navigate high school, college and the workforce. “Adaptation” star Chris Cooper executive-produced and narrates the film.

“People with intellectual disabilities are the most segregated of all Americans,” Habib said. “Only 17 percent of students with intellectual disabilities are included in regular education. Just 40 percent will graduate from high school. And of the 6.5 million Americans with intellectual disability, barely 15 percent are employed.”

Dan Habib
Dan Habib

In Rochester, the graduation rate for students with disabilities is 22 percent, and the median individual earnings for those with disabilities is $14,450, officials noted. Rochester’s disabled community is the poorest among the 75 largest metropolitan areas nationwide.

The documentary is co-hosted by the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities and Starbridge Inc., a community-based organization that partners with people who have disabilities and their families to realize fulfilling possibilities in education, employment and health.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Bill to reform Americans with Disabilities Act draws criticism

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on a bill that addresses the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and has a number of disability rights advocates speaking out against it.

The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620) would require the Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice to develop a program to educate state and local governments and property owners on strategies for promoting access to public accommodations for persons with a disability.

Additionally, the bill prohibits civil actions based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation unless the disabled person has provided a written notice specific enough to identify the barrier and the owner fails to provide the person with a written description outlining improvements that will be made to improve the barrier or if the owner has not made progress toward improving the barrier after providing a written statement.

“The bill’s proponents have forgotten the everyday experiences of millions of people with disabilities who cannot shop, transact personal business or enjoy recreation as most Americans take for granted because so many public accommodations across the country have ignored the reasonable requirements of the ADA,” National Disability Rights Network officials said in a statement. “Why should a wheelchair user be unable to join her family at a restaurant, just because the owner has resisted installing a ramp for 25 years?”

Title III of the ADA as it currently reads prohibits places of public accommodations, such as grocery stores, homeless shelters and doctors’ offices, from discriminating against people with disabilities. If an individual with a disability encounters an architectural barrier that prevents him or her from accessing the business, he or she can either speak with the business, file a complaint with the Department of Justice or file a lawsuit.

“Do not be misled by the name of this bill,” said political action committee Disability Action for America officials in a statement last week. “This bill is not an attempt to educate or reform, but an unabashed attempt by Congress to undermine the ADA and discriminate against individuals the ADA was meant to protect, by allowing public accommodations to remain inaccessible.”

The PAC said the bill would force people with disabilities to “jump through bureaucratic hoops” to secure the same rights that were promised to them under the ADA nearly three decades ago.

But Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, who co-sponsored the bill, disagreed.

“This bipartisan legislation allows small businesses a reasonable timeframe to fix Americans with Disabilities Act violations before involving lawyers or the courts. It also prevents time and money being spent on frivolous lawsuits that don’t help correct the problem,” Reed said. “It in no way negatively impacts disability rights. If a small business does not fix the disability accessibly issue, you can still take them to court.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union has said it’s a myth that H.R. 620 is necessary to stop lawyers who abuse the ADA by filing frivolous lawsuits.

“Although a very small number of lawyers have filed significant numbers of lawsuits that may be frivolous or fraudulent, a ‘notice and cure’ period would not eliminate fraud or frivolous suits. At best, it defers the lawsuit,” the ACLU wrote in a statement addressing myths and truths of the bill. “The true purpose of this bill is to allow businesses to delay meeting their obligations under the law—for weeks, months or longer—at the expense of people with disabilities.”

ACLU officials said H.R. 620 upends a key provision of the ADA by preventing people with disabilities from immediately going to court to enforce their rights and to press for timely removal of the barrier that impedes access.

H.R. 620 removes any incentive for voluntary compliance, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund officials said, and rewards non-compliance by allowing businesses generous additional timelines, even though the ADA’s “very reasonable” requirements already are more than 25 years old.

“It is deeply concerning that at a time when we should be doing everything we can to guard against attacks on the rights of people with disabilities from this administration, members of the House of Representatives are instead pushing to pass a bill that would severely weaken the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act and make it harder to enforce the rights of those with disabilities in our courts,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., in a statement. “I hope my House colleagues on both sides of the aisle will immediately reverse course and drop any further attempts to move this bill forward.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021

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Jewish Family Navigator program helps families address disabilities

Rochester-area residents have a new resource for coping with a family member’s disability.

The newly instituted Jewish Family Navigator program is a partnership between AutismUp and the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester, with funding support from the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation.

The program, which serves a specific pocket in the community, aims to address the question of how and where to access support for family members who have been diagnosed with a disability, while helping institutions meet the needs of their diverse constituents. It is one of three navigator programs AutismUp is involved with.

“AutismUp’s Navigator Program is a comprehensive, family-centered approach to care coordination,” said AutismUp Executive Director Sarah Milko in a statement. “The Rochester Jewish Community Navigator is one of only three across the country, and joins our existing Family Navigators located at the URMC Levine Autism Clinic and at AutismUp.”

Milko said the partnership with the Jewish Federation will serve as the model for the expansion of the program across the community, improving access and outcomes for individuals with autism, developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families.

“For the Jewish Federation, the creation of this position will bring our efforts to elevate the needs of those with differing abilities to the next level,” said Jewish Federation CEO Meredith Dragon. “Over the last two years we have invested significant resources to enhance the ability of our local religious schools and early childhood programs to include children with differing needs.”

The program—which AutismUp officials said they hope is the start of many community-based navigator programs in the region—launches Feb. 7 at an 8 a.m. program at the Jewish Federation.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021

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