Giving Thought: A helping hand for the disabled |

Giving Thought: A helping hand for the disabled

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

If you don’t happen to have a family member with intellectual/developmental disabilities, then the care and support of a special-needs individual can be hard to fathom.

Bruce Christensen has performed this important work, with children and adults alike, for more than 40 years, first in Kansas and now in Colorado. Since 1979, he has been executive director of Mountain Valley Developmental Services in Glenwood Springs, serving this unique population with everything from medical and behavioral support to housing and job training.

Aspen Community Foundation: What spurred the creation of Mountain Valley Developmental Services? How has it evolved?

Bruce Christensen: Mountain Valley was founded in 1976 as a volunteer program by a group of Roaring Fork Valley parents of preschool children with special needs. Since that time, we have grown to provide an array of services for both children and adults throughout Eagle, Garfield, Lake and Pitkin counties. We are designated by the state of Colorado as the single entry point for services for persons with intellectual/developmental disabilities for these counties.

We currently serve more than 300 children from birth through age 3 each year. Early intervention services for children include the provision of speech, occupational and/or physical therapies as well as promoting social and cognitive development through community-inclusive activities. These services have proven highly effective; fewer than 40 percent of the children served require specialized services upon entering public school.

For adults, we have an array of residential services for around 90 people, as well as employment training and support and day services for approximately 150 adults. We consistently rank first in the state with regard to the percentage of adults who are employed competitively within our communities. The day services are available for elderly individuals who may not be interested in employment and include a broad variety of social, recreational and educational activities.

We also operate two businesses, Art on 8th and the Mountain Valley Greenhouse, that employ some of the individuals we support. The greenhouse and weaving production at Art on 8th provide pre-vocational skill training for persons in transition or not quite ready to enter the community workforce.

Our residential services range from group homes that provide 24-hour support for individuals with high personal care needs to supported living for individuals who reside in their own homes or apartments. We own and operate facilities in Carbondale, Glenwood, Vail, Minturn, Silt, Rifle and Rulison.

ACF: Can you describe a typical day at work? For example, who comes in the door, and what happens inside?

BC: Fortunately, the administrative office also houses our case management department and Glenwood day services, and is adjacent to our greenhouse, so I’m able to interact daily with individuals supported by our organization. I believe strongly in “management by walking around,” which allows me to spend time each day with individuals in service as well as being available to their family members who may stop by.

We are lucky to have a staff of committed individuals who truly care about the people that we serve. After more than 38 years in the same job, I can honestly say that there has never been a day that I have not looked forward to coming to work.

ACF: Where does your funding come from? Does it vary year to year?

BC: Mountain Valley has an annual budget of around $10 million. The vast majority of our funding comes from contracts with the state of Colorado through Medicaid. We also receive support from Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, as well as the cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Our services for children are provided at no charge to the family. Adult services, with the exception of a room and board fee for individuals living in our residential facilities, are also provided at no charge.

ACF: What’s in store for Mountain Valley? What do you see in your crystal ball?

BC: Unfortunately, we currently have a lengthy waiting list for admission to some of our adult services and are unable to expand our services to adequately meet population growth. This is primarily a result of Colorado’s budget constraints resulting from TABOR, Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. We employ a staff of 160 and, like many employers in mountain resorts, we constantly struggle to maintain an adequate workforce. This issue is compounded, as you can imagine, by the low reimbursement rates provided by the state.

Potential changes to our funding streams at the federal level may present both challenges and opportunities. Proposals for block granting of Medicaid are very frightening, as they will likely result in decreased funding in coming years at the same time that we’re experiencing growth and increased costs. On the other hand, like many entities that deal with state and federal funding, we would welcome some relief from the ever-increasing bureaucratic demands that we face.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation and the Aspen to Parachute Cradle to Career Initiative.

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