While most cases of mental retardation can’t be cured, that doesn’t mean that lives can’t be improved.
That’s what Beth Friess, new superintendent of Fulton County Developmental Disabilities Board, said last week.
Persons who live with developmental disabilities, such as mental retardation, can do more with their lives by receiving services through the DD Board.
And that is where she receives her job satisfaction.
“Seeing people do things they hadn’t done before is great. Working with families is great.
“Honestly, it’s more exciting watching a child at three take their first steps, rather than the normal nine months. They waited a long time to do it,” she said.
Despite all the problems and headaches that come along with the agency’s top job, there are still those moments of satisfaction.
“The good parts far outweigh the bad,” she said.
By The Numbers
Today, the county DD board serves just under 300 persons, with a budget of about $4.5 million, part of which goes to pay the 50 to 55 full- and part-time employees (not counting substitute workers).
The board’s clients, those who receive services from the board, can start at even the prenatal level, and go from birth to death.
During a child’s school years, from ages three to 18, clients receive services from the schools. But if the client chooses, they can still receive some services from the board, including the board-sponsored Special Olympics program at eight years of age.
The rules for those who are eligible for DD Board services vary with age; for young children, they can have just one problem, or “delay,” that prevents them from growing normally.
And that delay doesn’t have to be mental retardation; it could be a physical handicap, such as a child with spina bifida, a malformation of the spine, that may prevent them from using their lower extremities. Such a child is not mentally retarded, but their impairment impacts them greatly, she said.
The board’s level of involvement with clients can range from those who require ’roundthe clock care, to those who need just a little bit of help to get along.
The number of clients the board serves has increased for a number of reasons.
One is because people are living longer, she said.
Another factor is that advances in medicine are saving lives that in the past could not be saved.
“Some of the real extremely premature kids, kids who 20 years ago wouldn’t be alive,” she said.
Also, the growing field of autism is impacting the board.
While the board deals with its clients, it must also deal with the same factors other agencies must face, such as changes in state funding levels, and even the downturn in the economy.
Many of the board’s clients work in businesses throughout the community. When the local economy slows, the clients lose their jobs, just like everyone else.
Right now, there is a vacancy on the DD Board.
Friess said Kathie Donaldson, Archbold, was a member of the board when her daughter, Kristen Bloomer, applied for a job with the board.
Since Donaldson couldn’t serve on a board that hires her daughter, she resigned her seat. Friess said the board went on to hire Bloomer as an early childhood specialist.
“I got the mother or the daughter- I won either way,” Friess said.
The vacant DD Board seat is one to be appointed by Michael J. Bumb, Fulton County probate court judge.
Bumb is currently accepting applications for the open seat. The term expires Dec. 31, 2010. Applications should be submitted in writing to the Fulton County Probate Court and must be filed before 4 pm, Dec. 19.
The application should include a brief biographical sketch and the reasons the applicant would like to be appointed.
Friess said she didn’t have an agenda when she took over the superintendent’s position, but she did have things she wants to do.
The first is to generate positive publicity about the board, to tell the public what the DD board does in the community. To that end, she reorganized its publicity committee.
She’s also like to do some long-range planning to determine the board’s future five years from now. To complete that process, Friess would like to involve clients, board employees, county officials, and even the general public.
The Bad Old Days
The DD Board has struggled in the past. Two previous superintendents left the board in clouds of controversy. Friess is the fourth new superintendent in five years.
She said the biggest thing that turned around the DD board’s bad reputation was Brenda Oyer, former superintendent. Oyer resigned to pursue a doctorate degree.
“She came in at a difficult time as a breath of fresh air,” Friess said.
“She brought the staff back, so we could start to be comfortable again with what was going on.”
Now, Friess said, the DD board is looking to the future.
She said she’d like the DD board “to be a leader, to be in the forefront of our field.”