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Help is Available to Caregivers in Wyoming

When Debbie Walter submitted a required report on Wyoming’s new Aging and Disabilities Resource Center to the U.S. Administration on Aging, this question came back: Was there a typo on the cover email?

No, there wasn’t. Walter in fact wrote a 500-page sustainability report on the program.

“I wrote up and sent everything I could,” Walter said from her office in Wyoming Department of Health’s Aging Division. “I wanted them to see we have been working very hard even with limited funding to provide all the services we could.”

If you’re reading a sense of passion and urgency, you’re right. As state ADRC coordinator, Walter knows that the new statewide resource center is funded with a three-year federal grant – now in its second year – supplemented by one-time funding this year from the state of Wyoming. In the future, the program may have to depend entirely on state funds.

The ADRC is a single-stop service that provides a free and unbiased service to help Wyoming residents looking to help those who are aging or have disabilities find answers on where to find help and resources in Wyoming. Staff members receive training on government assistance programs and can help people learn more about whether they are eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance and other federal and state programs. They can also help people who are working with private insurance companies to determine what services are covered under their policy. Center staff also will help clients complete applications if those are required. ARDC does not, however, determine a client’s eligibility for any program. Other services include short-term case management and options counseling for those who are approaching retirement and may be looking for information on long term care options, for instance.

The grant was written for the service to be offered via toll-free phone assistance supplemented by a website. For many, that level of support at a one-stop resource shop gives them the help they need. But in some cases, a face-to-face consultation is required. Walter says the state’s $200,000 is being used to expand the program and hire staff members who will be able to travel to meet with clients who need more help. Currently, the program has someone in Cheyenne who will be able to travel through the eastern portion of the state; in the long run, she said, the program will have people strategically placed throughout Wyoming so no one has to travel very far.

The plan for the ADRC also calls for outreach through the state’s service providing agencies via a system of VOIP (voice over internet protocol) phones that clients could use to speak to and see the ADRC’s intake staff. Walter said that’s likely to come later; the VOIP phones cost $500 each.

Another piece under development, Walter said, is a searchable informational Web site. When it’s up and running, she added, it will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Because Wyoming is a large, sparsely populated state, not all services are available in every community. Center staff strives to make the most efficient use of their clients’ time, she said. “We might not be able to offer a local resource, but it will be the closest resource.”

One of the key resources that center staff has at its command is a database of all service providers – more than 7,000 federal and state agencies – that can provide some help and support. Work is now under way to complete that database using the same software that other agencies use to ensure easy access.

A pilot ADRC project in Natrona and Converse counties for residents of those counties closed its doors on April 1, 2009. But since the statewide initiative opened its virtual doors on March 14, more than 600 people from across Wyoming have called looking for help and information through mid-June, the most recent period for which information is available, Walter said.

The project is staffed by Southwest Wyoming Recovery Access Programs, which was one of three organizations that responded to the Health Department’s request for proposals. SW WRAP staff answers calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Callers can leave a message at other times and will get a call back on the next working day.

Walter said the program is also partnering with Wyoming 211, a free and confidential referral system in Wyoming for health and human services information that launched in February. Calls received through that program will be routed to ADRC staff.

Walter said her 500-page report was worth the effort she put into it. Funding for the third year of the cycle depends on that report, which focused on the program’s sustainability. The only thing missing, she was told, was a pair of timelines. But overall, it was such a success that the Administration on Aging may require other states to include some of the same information, she said.

The Wyoming Aging and Disabilities Resource Center can be reached at 1-877-435-7851.

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