Catholic Courier

Posted: September 9, 2016

Catholic Charities program aids those with traumatic brain injuries

Annette Jiménez/Catholic Courier

For more than 20 years, a special program operated by Catholic Charities Community Services has been helping people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.

The majority of those injuries were the result of motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses or gunshot incidents, explained Shellie Fizer, service coordinator supervisor for CCCS' Traumatic Brain Injuries program.

The local program grew out of a state Department of Health and Community Based Services Waiver for Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injuries that was created in 1995, said Tracy McNett, CCCS' director of care coordination. The Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver program is funded by Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for low-income individuals, and covers the costs of the service coordination for clients, Fizer said. CCCS connects clients with such services as home health aides, independent living trainers or integration counseling to help rebuild relationships with family members, she said.

Prior to this program, concerned parents whose children were being sent out of state to nursing homes for long-term care advocated for funding for in-state services, McNett said.

"They wanted their children back home and in their own communities, so the waiver (program) was created to provide those specialty services to ensure the health and welfare of the individuals living with brain injuries," McNett said.

Catholic Charities began providing independent living skills training in 1996, and a year later, the Traumatic Brain Injuries program was created, she added.

"The goal for our program is for our clients to live as independently as possible, even if living with families, as they are coming out of nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities," Fizer said.

Anyone ages 18 to 64 is eligible for the program, she said, but most clients range in age from their early 30s to 60, she said. Many of them have family members in the area, Fizer said, but they may not live with their families because the brain injury has had such an effect on their personalities that the families can't always handle the change.

"Some of the stories are so heartbreaking," Fizer remarked.

Offering support and service coordination is invaluable to individuals who may find themselves in these situations and in keeping younger individuals with brain injuries out of nursing homes for long-term care, noted McNett and Fizer. McNett worries about the changes being considered under a Medicaid redesign currently expected to take effect in 2018, including the elimination of the Traumatic Brain Injuries waiver program as it exists now, she said. CCCS staff members expect that many of their clients will be covered by Medicaid Managed Long Term Care Services or be transitioned into CCCS' Home Health program, McNett explained.

Currently, there is a lot of advocacy around incorporating into Medicaid Managed Long Term Care Services as many of the services as possible that are currently offered through the Traumatic Brain Injury program, she said.

"I've seen firsthand how the services provided through this waiver (program) can have a tremendous impact on peoples lives," McNett added.