The Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) today thanked Governor Ron DeSantis and its partners in the disability community for their actions to help support persons with disabilities and protect some of our state’s most vulnerable residents and their families during 2020.
Although 2020 presented many challenges to all Floridians, APD was able to achieve significant milestones to benefitAPD customers, serving more than 55,000 Floridians with severe forms of autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome.
APD Director Barbara Palmer said, “This year, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities successfully continued its mission to protect the health and safety of our more than 55,000 customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. We leveraged technology, remained flexible, tried new ways of doing things, and adjusted as required. I thank Governor DeSantis for his leadership and support of individuals with developmental disabilities, as well as the dedication of our outstanding employees, Waiver Support Coordinators, and providers. In addition to our efforts during the pandemic, we have made strides in supporting individuals with unique abilities to secure employment and access to opportunities that improve their quality of life.”
Chair of Family Care Council Florida Dina Justice said, “Individuals with developmental disabilities served by APD and their families faced many challenges this year and were able to modify schedules and routines to protect everyone involved. I want to thank Governor DeSantis and Director Palmer for their strong leadership throughout this pandemic. The Family Care Councils continue to offer advice and suggestions to those seeking help to navigate their service needs during these unique times.”
In keeping with Governor DeSantis’ priority to support our state’s most vulnerable citizens, APD continues to provide support and services to our customers, families, stakeholders, providers, and staff. The following are accomplishments during 2020:
Florida Highlights Success of Partnerships with Business Community During Disability Employment Awareness Month:
As part of Florida’s mission to help individuals with unique abilities achieve successful employment outcomes, Governor Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation declaring October 2020 as “Disability Employment Awareness Month.”
- As part of this themed month, APD and its partners hosted the 15th annual Disability Employment Awareness Month Celebration and Exceptional Employer Awards virtually in October. Six businesses from around the state were recognized for their commitment to inclusion in the workplace by hiring and retaining those with disabilities. The six award-winning businesses were:
- Blaze Pizza Store 1064 of Tallahassee
- Lee County Library System
- Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard of Lake Buena Vista
- The Florida Bar
- Whataburger #55 of Ft. Walton Beach
- Youth Co-Op, Inc. of Miami
- Additionally, APD Director Palmer published an Op-Ed discussing the many contributions Floridians with unique abilities make to our workforce and communities as part of Disability Employment Awareness Month, “Recognizing Abilities for 15 Years.”. The agency also shared employment success stories with media and stakeholders across the state to highlight the importance of this issue.
Florida Recognizes the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act:
- APD coordinated and hosted virtual celebration with a special message from Governor DeSantis and videos from partners and live keynote speakers on July 24.
- Governor DeSantis recognized July 24 as “Americans with Disabilities Act Awareness Day” with an official proclamation affirming Florida’s position as an accommodating state for more than three million individuals who live daily with some form of physical or mental disability, and our dedication to supporting individuals with unique abilities and their families as they work to achieve their dreams
- The agency promoted two articles celebrating the many milestones and achievements of the agency and disability community since the passage of the act: APD Celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the ADA and ADA Anniversary Celebration Receives High Praise from Floridians
Proudly Served Our APD Customers and Supported Providers:
- Since January 2020, there have been 62,004 visits to APD’s online Resource Directory.
- In February, APD employees volunteered for the annual Tim Tebow Foundation Night to Shine. APD also produced and promoted a Night to Shine highlight video.
- APD produced and promoted Connecting the Dots 2020 promo video.
- APD implemented the Significant Additional Needs (SANs) process to assist in meeting the health and safety needs of clients receiving waiver services. In June 2020, APD centralized the SANs process into headquarters. The SANs review process helps to ensure that individuals on the iBudget waiver receive medically necessary services at the appropriate intensity, frequency, and duration, and in a cost-effective manner. APD completes an average of 7,576 SAN reviews each year, which include individuals seeking an increase in services or services that exceed their iBudget algorithm.
- From January through October 2020, APD helped 1,756 Floridians with disabilities on the waiver with maintaining gainful employment. The agency also provided 391 individuals on the waiting list with supported employment services to obtain and maintain employment.
- The agency’s online TRAIN Florida Learning Management System continues to see an increase in registered users. Agency users (including providers) have completed over 1,550,481 courses since the system’s launch in 2016. The total includes all APD users (including providers) that are assigned to TRAIN Florida APD, with course completions for APD Required courses and other Public Health Professional Development courses.
- From January through October 2020, the APD Call Center answered more than 12,000 calls from customers and families served by the Agency, as well as many citizens who do not have developmental disabilities. Representatives provide personalized service to help individuals find solutions. Also, the Agency responded to more than 1,135 correspondence inquiries from January through October 2020.
- Through the APD Florida Navigator online contact request form, APD was able to connect 430 families to their local Family Care Council. The 15 Family Care Councils, which are the agency’s advisory groups, met throughout the year. Representatives from each of the 15 Family Care Councils gathered in Orlando to meet with APD staff and various stakeholders for January, March, and November, and then virtually for May, July, and September.
- Consumer-Directed Care Plus (CDC+) increased enrollment to 3,856 individuals who are managing their own services in the HCBS waiver program. This was an 8% increase from 2019.
- This year, the CDC+ program has worked to strengthen trainings provided to program participants, their Representatives, and Consultants. The improved trainings have proven beneficial, particularly for customers working to enroll in the program. New consumers/Representatives also receive informational emails during their first five months on the program. These emails serve to reinforce critical program information that was provided during training.
Promoted the Agency’s Mission:
- APD hosted booths at Children’s Day and Senior Day at the Capitol and produced highlight videos for both.
- In February, APD hosted booths at Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day at the Capitol and produced and promoted Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day highlight video and full rally video.
- APD presented information about the Resource Directory to the State Advisory Committee (SAC) for Education of Exceptional Students in February.
- In March, APD Director Barbara Palmer spoke about APD programs on a call hosted by the Family Initiative Incorporated of Lee County, which was also attended by state Senator Lisbeth Benacquisto and Rep. Dane Eagle.
- The Agency’s Communications Office won two awards in April from the local Florida Public Relations Association’s (FPRA) Capital Chapter for the 2019 Disability Employment Awareness Month op-ed article by APD Director Barbara Palmer that was published in 12 newspapers statewide. APD received the Image Award in the category of Printed Tools of Public Relations – News Release, as well as a Judges’ Award, which recognizes maximum impact for minimum cost.
- APD produced an interview video presentation with Dr. Kristin Korinko and Allison Leatzow for the Department of Children and Families Summit.
- APD employees delivered 10 recorded presentations for The Family Café virtual conference in June and answered 91 follow-up questions submitted to us.
- APD was represented at the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS) conference in November.
Phased in Services and Users of APD iConnect, Grew User Resources:
- Over the summer, WSCs and APD staff began using APD iConnect for budgets, cost plans, authorizations, and Significant Additional Needs (SAN) requests.
- APD developed and published a comprehensive, categorized FAQ section of the website for APD iConnect.
- Staff held APD iConnect workgroups and provider webinars throughout the year.
Supported and Celebrated APD Staff:
- APD leadership planned and hosted a Years of Service virtual awards event and produced a video to kick off the event on September 30, State Employee Recognition Day.
- APD produced a video of supervisors recognizing employees that reached key service milestones this year.
- Staff produced a Mental Health presentation video for staff featuring experts from the agency.
Created Agency Efficiencies:
- In October, APD agreed to purchase food and food related items from the North Carolina State University (NCSU) contract with Premier Purchasing Partners/US Foods for the next three years for APD facilities. It is anticipated that APD will save about $300,000 over three years.
- In November 2020, the agency received a Florida TaxWatch Productivity Award in Technology for the implementation and installation of a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Telephone System installation. Voice over Internet Protocol systems (VoIP) routes voice calls over the data network that is already being used by the agency to transmit other forms of media thereby eliminating the need to maintain two separate networks and separate cabling. Cost savings are anticipated to be $1,831,854 for first year of implementation.
- The Consumer-Directed Care Plus (CDC+) state office implementing a call tracking system using a dedicated email box free of charge. CDC+ was able to discontinue using another system that cost the program approximately $20,000 a year.
APD took protective actions early during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the safety of customers, residents, providers, Waiver Support Coordinators, and APD employees:
- In April, APD issued two emergency orders: Emergency Order 20-02, which halted new admissions or commitments to APD developmental disabilities centers and forensic facilities for thirty days, and Emergency Order 20-03, which temporarily suspended face-to-face visits to administer the Questionnaire for Situational Information to determine the level of need of APD customers. The agency also suspended in-person community-based competency training for thirty days. Remote training by telephone or other electronic means continued, where available.
- At the onset of this public health emergency, APD-operated facilities implemented precautions such as instituting visitor and staff screening questionnaires, temperature-taking of staff and residents with touchless thermometers, development of quarantine and isolation plans, and restricted visitation to mitigate the spread of the disease.
- In April, APD sent out and promoted a Guidance Booklet to providers and Waiver Support Coordinators to outline waiver changes and flexibilities as a result of COVID-19. It also included information on infection control measures and recommended actions when faced with various scenarios.
- APD’s Developmental Disabilities Defendant Program (DDDP) successfully began admitting new admissions in the middle of the pandemic and worked with the local jails and communities to provide competency training for those court ordered residents that were awaiting admission. The fact they kept their total resident cases so low despite the confined areas of a forensic facility is a major accomplishment.
Under Governor DeSantis’ leadership and in collaboration with the other state agencies including the Division of Emergency Management (DEM), the Department of Health (DOH), and the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), APD worked to meet the needs of its customers:
- APD Regions worked to distribute 66,155 gowns, 264,620 surgical masks, and over 220,000 cloth face covers to 13,231 group home residents, thousands of providers, APD-operated facility staff, and independent living customers around the state.
- APD worked with DEM to provide 62 hospital beds to APD-operated facilities.
- APD worked with DEM and DOH to augment nursing and behavioral health staff at APD operated facilities.
Testing and Contact Tracing to Protect Public Health:
- APD issued Emergency Rule 65GER20-1 in August, which required all APD-licensed homes and APD-operated residential facilities to conduct COVID-19 testing of staff every two weeks.
- APD continues to ensure testing occurs in our APD-operated facilities using an array of federal, state, community, and contracted testing resources.
- APD instituted daily tracking of quarantine, isolation, and deaths of customers, provider staff, residents, and APD staff.
Communications to Keep Floridians with Unique Abilities Informed:
- In March, APD established a new COVID-19 webpage on its website. This webpage includes important links and a section for Provider Frequently Asked Questions and Answers to provide guidance during this state of emergency. APD updated this page regularly throughout the year to reflect important information for APD’s customers, providers, and Waiver Support Coordinators. The agency also developed a series of graphics with tips to help providers and families protect themselves and others from COVID-19. These were shared through APD’s social media pages.
- In July, APD worked with AHCA to issue new telemedicine guidance for Developmental Disabilities Individual Budgeting (iBudget) Waiver adult day training (ADT) providers.
- APD Director Barbara Palmer provided video updates for our customers.
- APD established a Testing page as part of our COVID-19 section of the website with updated results and relevant announcements and included a page of mental health resources to support APD employees, providers, Waiver Support Coordinators, customers, and others.
- In our continued effort to ensure that our staff, providers, clients, and other stakeholders are provided with the most up-to-date information concerning COVD-19, APD created the COVID-19 Information Tracker. The Tracker, which is updated daily, monitors information about COVID-19 released by the following six government agencies:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Executive Office of the Governor (EOG)
- Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD)
- Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA)
- Department of Health (DOH); and,
- Division of Emergency Management (DEM)
The Tracker is posted on the agency’s website and available at the following link:https://apd.myflorida.com/covid19.
Staying the Course:
- Infection prevention and control practices continue at APD-operated facilities, and APD continues to monitor safety practices at APD-licensed residential facilities and ADTs. Implementing measures that mitigate and reduce the spread of COVID-19 remain paramount in APD operations every day.
- APD has ensured that APD Regions have sufficient supplies of PPE to implement face-to-face monitoring in APD-licensed foster/group homes. Having necessary equipment for staff allows the Regions to implement face-to-face monitoring visits in licensed settings and Adult Day Training programs to ensure services are safely rendered.
Continuing to serve APD’s customers and residents was the top priority of Director Palmer and agency leadership:
- In March, APD wrote and distributed two letters: one to Florida sheriffs and police regarding transportation of individuals for involuntary examination/admission under Baker or Marchman Acts and one to APD Regional Operations Managers about suspension of face-to-face group home monitoring visits.
- APD issued an Emergency Order to providers suspending certain renewal deadlines due to COVID-19.
- APD collaborated with AHCA to approve specific services that could be provided virtually. This change in service delivery allowed individuals to receive medically necessary services safely and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
- Monthly monitoring of APD-licensed group homes continued via virtual formats with no interruption. Staff used creativity and ingenuity to assure that they were obtaining accurate and thorough information when conducting virtual visits.
- The CDC+ program will have fully implemented the Electronic Visit Verification (EVV) system for Personal Support workers, as required by the Cures Act, by December 31, 2020.
APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn, and work in their communities. The agency annually serves more than 55,000 Floridians with disabilities. For more information about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit APDcares.org or call toll-free 1‑866‑APD‑CARES (1‑866‑273‑2273).