Expanding opportunity for Virginians with disabilities is a cause Ralph is profoundly committed to, both as a healthcare provider and as a public servant.
As a pledge of commitment to the Disability community, Dr. Northam will re-establish the Special Advisor to the Governor on Disability Issues. This position will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the administration’s goals, engaging relevant stakeholders and working collaboratively with impacted state agencies to ensure that priorities and activities align.
Dr. Ralph Northam’s campaign for governor is about expanding economic opportunity for all Virginians, no matter who they are, and no matter where they are from. This especially includes opportunities for Virginians with disabilities.
This agenda is a three-pronged initiative that seeks to decrease unemployment amongst the community of individuals with disabilities, by 20 percent by 2020.
Implement a “Model the Way” initiative to increase employment of people with disabilities in state and local government to ensure that the commonwealth is setting the highest example of what it means to be an equal opportunity employer
Implement a “Jobs First” campaign: The overarching goal of the Jobs First campaign is to build off the work-in-progress within the existing state agency, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) by increasing access to integrated community-based employment and furthering opportunities for competitive jobs in the market. The Jobs First campaign will promote existing programs that offer tax credits for employers who employ a certain percentage of employees with a documented disability. This includes: Building a one-stop online resource tool, as other states have done.
- Establishing a Governor’s Commission on Employment of People with Disabilities that will be tasked with increasing the number of qualified state and local vendors who employ a certain percentage of individuals with disabilities
- Increasing access to long-term supportive employment coaches in an integrated setting
Dr. Northam takes a holistic approach to education and believes it is just one component in a network of agencies that contribute to a person’s health and well-being. There is much work to be done in improving our schools and the quality of life for both families and the individual students with disabilities. Dr. Northam would work diligently to implement and support programs that ensure Virginia’s families and individuals in school settings across the continuum, have access to the highest quality educational services and supports. This includes:
- In year one, a comprehensive assessment of Virginia’s pre-K through 12 public school systems that would take a baseline measurement of the following areas:
- Meaningful inclusion in general education classrooms
- Family engagement
- Individualized Education Program (IEP) process and documentation
- Coordinating with local agencies and funding streams critical to service delivery for individuals and families with disabilities such as the office of comprehensive services (CSA) and Community Services Boards (CSBs)
- Physical accessibility
- In year two; working in collaboration with localities, educators, stakeholders and school systems, develop an action plan to address the six focal areas and identify achievable metrics for success
- Working in collaboration with Virginia’s premier community colleges, public universities and career technical institutes, develop a “Pathways for Success” pipeline program that supports and assesses rising high-school seniors for higher education preferences, job training and placement
Access to healthcare
As a pediatric neurologist and a volunteer children’s hospice provider, Dr. Northam has an in-depth understanding of the unique healthcare needs that Virginia’s families and individuals with disabilities are facing. Further, he is passionate about improving the efficiency and quality of how these services are delivered for families and individuals with disabilities. Dr. Northam has seen firsthand, the barriers that encumber these individuals and believes there are some commonsense solutions that can be put into place in year one. This includes:
- Addressing— and ending— the wait list: The current wait list for Intellectual Disabilities/Developmental Disabilities (ID/DD) waivers is over 11,000 individuals long. Northam believes this is unacceptable, and that it should be the goal of the commonwealth that there is no wait period to receive ID/DD waivers. While budget constraints will not allow us to eliminate the wait list in the short term, there are some steps we can take to get there:
- Require the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to submit a report detailing the needs of individuals on the waiting list by July 1 of each year
- Add additional waiver slots, starting with the highest priority
- Work with the General Assembly to come up with a long term plan to eliminate the waiting list. The state has done this for priorities like the Virginia Retirement System, funding for higher education, etc. and can do the same for this important goal
- Transportation: Transportation remains a significant concern for our Medicaid recipients with disabilities. Dr. Northam has heard repeated concerns voiced over the lack of efficient and timely transport to service providers. Through contractual incentives with the Medicaid Managed Care Plans, Dr. Northam will encourage partnership with transportation vendors that use GPS tracking technology and a transportation model, similar to Uber, Lyft and other GPS tracking transportation services. Several other states have employed licensed, trained vendors that use this model with phenomenal success.
- Patient-centered, community first: Dr. Northam wholeheartedly believes in a patient-centered, community-based model and will work to incent those that are “doing it right.” Virginia lacks a ‘gold standard’ in patient-centered care for individuals with disabilities. Patients and families with disabilities deserve the highest quality treatment and services. While the national certification for patient-centered medical homes is a step in the right direction, we should strengthen these standards to fit the unique needs of patients with disabilities here in Virginia. The state certification would include rigorous evidence-based standards would help to ‘raise the bar’ across the board for clinics and providers serving Virginia’s families and individuals with disabilities as well as acknowledge the good work of existing patient-centered medical homes across the commonwealth.
- Health information technology (HIT): Virginia is in the process of implementing a state-wide health information exchange system that aims to better coordinate care across the continuum of care providers. Because of the array of services that individuals with disabilities receive, coordination and continuity of care between providers is absolutely critical. Virginia has long been in the dark ages of health information technology and has not done enough to leverage the infrastructure to lessen the burden on patients and providers alike. Dr. Northam believes this is an incredible opportunity that should be maximized to improve all Virginians’ health care experience. Specifically, prior to implementation in 2018, he would establish a clinical consensus group, with a special subcommittee for people with disabilities. This subcommittee would produce and enact recommendations that would enhance the healthcare experience for these individuals.