My turn, Wilson R. Cherry: Write to legislators to address issues

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 8, 2019

By Wilson R. Cherry

As local, state and federal budgets have been projected and some approved for the 2019-20 fiscal year, I am very disappointed by the lack of expansion of the North Carolina Medicaid and Medicare programs.

While substantial emphasis is being placed on eradicating the opioid, substance abuse and mental health crises, these are serious conditions that can frequently be acute and individuals with addictions can recover from as well as mental breakdowns. Perhaps we have been awakened by the large number of overdoses and fatal overdoses of both prescribed and illicit drugs.

Individuals who are born with cognitive delays, developmental delays, or intellectual delays cannot recover. We must not forget this group of individuals in our communities and need to continue to advocate for their lifelong care.

While this may be one of the more visible negative issues in our society, it is of the utmost importance for all of us to advocate on behalf of the many individuals in our communities and nation who are born with or suffer injuries that cause them to have cognitive delays or developmental or intellectual disabilities. These are the people who struggle with chronic impairments that cannot be healed.

Having worked for more than 30 years with consumers and families with disabilities, I am privileged to work at Rowan Vocational Opportunities Inc., where consumers who have these disabilities have an opportunity to develop vocational and life skills to help themselves and their families enhance their quality of life.

A recent community needs assessment conducted by Rowan County United Way found that substance abuse, mental health issues and healthy lifestyle behaviors (which include such basic community needs as housing, employment, education and transportation) are critical needs that should be addressed. We must remain aware, vigilant and committed in our efforts to serve some of the most fragile and vulnerable members of our community.

Those who work daily at Rowan and Cabarrus Vocational Opportunities frequently are given the task of helping train consumers who have a developmental or intellectual disability along with mental illness, physical impairments and substance abuse issues. While our thrust is to provide guidance, counseling and training, we seek to accentuate the positive while realizing that each person may be “differently abled” if they are given proper assistance, funding and mental/physical support.

While our consumers perform many different tasks with practice and proper training, we make sure that they are not segregated; as trainers, model workers and nondisabled workers help them develop a proper work ethic and behaviors. Yes, the government allows us to pay some workers at a subminimum wage standard because they work at an extremely slow pace, have difficulty with hand-eye coordination, lack theh ability to count, are unable to read and/or write, fall asleep at their work stations due to their medications or have behavioral issues.

Many parents, spouses and legal guardians would not be able to maintain their employment or quality of life without the support of these most vital agencies. Each of the agencies, schools and businesses assists with behavior modification, involvement in community activities, socialization, cultural educational experiences and recreation. We constantly advocate for community inclusiveness in a safe, nurturing and inclusive environment.

While many parents/guardians are truly concerned for their family members, we all make sure that the consumers are not abused, neglected or exploited financially or physically in a highly competitive workplace.

Rowan and Cabarrus counties are experiencing tremendous economic uprise. We have been given more opportunities to provide work for individuals/consumers with special needs in the past year. Although we have the work available, we often come to a roadblock with Cardinal Innovations and the state to approve for consumers to get services in a timely manner. Supported Employment is a great concept, particularly for persons with ID/DD. Many of these consumers, however, work limited hours and have shifts where transportation to and from work are problems.

While Cardinal Innovations Solutions has recently experienced some major changes and turnover in both the administration and board of directors, as a member of the five-county local advisory board (Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Rowan, Stanly, Union), I believe the current board is truly committed to providing the resources, financial support and professional expertise to help expedite services to many potential consumers who languish on the Registry of Unmet Needs.

I encourage everyone who is an eligible voter in North Carolina to write your local county commissioners, state legislator and congressmen/senators to take quick action to help remedy these prevailing issues.

Thanks to our local United Way and the many volunteers who help bring these concerns and pressing issues to the forefront.

Wilson R. Cherry is director of community affairs at Rowan Vocational Opportunities Inc. He is an advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities as well as Rowan County United Way.