Pilot project for personal care attendants funded The plight of wheelchair-reliant Aaron Bates put the need in the spotlight Pilot project for personal care attendants funded June 1, 2006 Regular News Jan Pudlow Senior Editor Aaron Bates, the young lawyer with muscular dystrophy who needs a personal care attendant to work, wheeled his way through the halls of the Capitol lobbying for change.At his side was lawyer Steve Uhlfelder, who volunteered as a pro bono lobbyist after reading about Bates’ disability Catch- 22 in The Florida Bar News. Together, they received help from Rep. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who put $200,000 for a pilot project for a personal care attendant program in Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, helped double that amount to $400,000 during budget conference meetings during the last two weeks of the legislative session.“This was amazing, considering our late start,” Uhlfelder said.Bates’ dilemma was featured in the January 15 Bar News, as well as the Orlando Sentinel. The personal care attendant he needs — to help him dress, bathe, and get in and out of his motorized wheelchair — was provided by the state Division of Rehabilitation throughout his education but stopped once he landed a job as an assistant state attorney in the Fifth Judicial Circuit. Therefore, he could not accept the $40,000-a-year job, because an attendant costs about $35,000 a year, so he had to return to Alabama to live with his parents. The irony was that Bates could receive disability benefits if he chose to stay home and not work, but that was not an option for this ambitious, bright, 25-year-old Florida State University College of Law graduate.After the publicity of Bates’ plight, he was hired in Orlando at Mirabilis Venture, Inc., a mergers and acquisitions corporation, where they sweetened the job offer by including a personal care attendant in Bates’ compensation.“His problem is solved. He’s got a job,” Uhlfelder said. “But he’s a symbol of what’s wrong with the system. Most people, once they solve their problem, move on. But he wants to solve it for other people, including his sister.”Bates’ sister, Christine Bates, has the same medical condition and is currently a student at the University of Mobile.Bates said he loves his new job and it’s going well, but he is not giving up on fighting for a change in disability law.The expanded pilot project, Bates said, is “a good start, but by no means fixes the problem. I think the ultimate solution is a Medicaid waiver program.”Since the news articles, Bates said a lot of people thanked him for fighting the issue.“If this obstacle wasn’t there, you wouldn’t know how many disabled individuals would be able to go get a job,” Bates said. “A lot may just not have the resolve to go out there and fight the fight to get employed. There are so many obstacles to really sustain gainful employment. I won’t be giving up. It will be a state fix first, then I will look for a federal fix, because this is a nationwide problem.”In Florida, before the new pilot project allocation, the Personal Care Attendant Program of July 2005 had limited funding that only supported individuals with spinal cord injury. Bates was ineligible because his disability is from cell disease, not injury.The new language calls for the Florida Association of Centers for Independent Living to develop a pilot program to provide personal care attendants to persons who reside in the pilot program area, are at least 18 and significantly physically or mentally disabled, require a personal care attendant to maintain substantial gainful employment, and “presently be employed or have an offer of employment, but because of the loss of a caregiver, will lose employment or the offer thereof.”The association and the Department of Health will jointly develop a memoranda of understanding with the Department of Revenue, the Florida Medicaid program in the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Department of Children and Families, the Florida Endowment Foundation for Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation of the Department of Education.
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