Dr. Jeffrey Burkhart sits casually in his living room discussing his 30 year career that encompasses teaching in four universities and two private schools. The walker next to him is the only indicator of his partial disability. A glint of pride sparkles in his eyes as he recalls a particular student’s evaluation of him at the end of a semester: Dr. Burkhart not only teaches us about French but he also teaches us that we matter.
Jeffrey Burkhart, a retired French professor, spent two years in a nursing home before being transitioned back into the community with help from The Independence Center.
“Unless you choose to live in a cave, you are in the ‘people business,’” he offers the oft-given admonition by his father and mother, a doctor and nurse respectively. The ‘people business’ has sustained him through four years of transitional housing. Now successfully living independently in his own apartment, he continues to seek out community with his neighbors in spite of needing to use the walker to get to them.
A retired French professor, Dr. Burkhart moved to Colorado Springs in 2007. A series of catastrophic events caused a sudden, unexpected eviction from his residence. Several days later Dr. Burkhart found himself being dropped off by cab at the doorstep of a local shelter. Because he didn’t even have enough money for cab fare, the cab driver kept his two boxes of belongings that held his only clothing, family photos and favorite books amassed throughout his career. Dr. Burkhart walked into the shelter with only the clothes on his back.
Health issues led to hospitalization, multiple surgeries and over two years in a healthcare facility. Sustained by his daily walks (utilizing his walker) along the facility corridors and visits with his resident neighbors, Dr. Burkhart sought out community inside the health care center that many people would call a nursing home. He just called it “home,” but he always knew it was temporary. The question was just how he was going to get into a position to live independently.
As one of the more independent residents, Dr. Burkhart was challenged by the facility social worker to once again enter the broader Colorado Springs community outside the comfort zone of daily corridor exercise. Walking the halls is where he met LaTesha, Community Transition Coordinator from The Independence Center (The IC). The rest is history, as they say, but it’s a history that’s still being written as Dr. Burkhart is regaining his independence through the Community Transition Services of The Independence Center.
LaTesha and the Community Transition Services team from The IC came along side Dr. Burkhart and moved him into his own apartment in July of 2015. By choice, his new apartment is just down the street from the healthcare center. He still gets his exercise going next door to walk the corridors and visit his neighbors in the healthcare center. But now instead of retiring to a small room he goes home to his comfortable first floor one-bedroom apartment.
Transitioning from life in a healthcare facility to independent living on his own is a passage that Dr. Burkhart doesn’t gloss over. Dr. Burkhart’s advice to others going through similar transitions is, “Be true to yourself and maintain the ties.” Intentionality about the ‘people business’ and Community Transitions Services provided by The Independence Center have given Dr. Burkhart a successful reentry to independent living. He’s even doing some of what he did for thirty years: giving French lessons in his apartment. He smiles and says, “It’s getting back to where I feel like I am part of society again.”
Judy transitioned out of a nursing home after 11 years with the help of Community Transition Services at The Independence Center.
These are new freedoms since The Independence Center Community Transition Services program enabled Judy to move out into an independent apartment in 2015.
“The biggest highlight about Judy’s story is that we transitioned her out of the nursing home into the community after eleven years in the facility,” LaTesha Kearney, Community Transition Coordinator at The Independence Center explains. Judy laughs good-naturedly about the day that staff and volunteers from The Independence Center moved her out of the nursing facility. It was a big day for her and one she remembers clearly.
Judy gets a sparkle in her eyes when she talks about her neighborhood and her favorite pub. She’ll easily take a new friend around her apartment and point out her new furniture and décor, with which she has been establishing her new home.
Since the move, services set up by The Independence Center have helped sustain her independence. Judy receives regular visits each week from a nurse for medication monitoring and a CNA for help with personal care. She beams happily when she talks about her new situation. She says, “I love it.”
Cascade Investment Group, recently released his book Protect Your Family: Life Insurance Basics for Special Needs Planning, the first publication in the “Blueprints for Special Needs Families” series. The book is available on Amazon.com. The Independence Center recently sat down with Rob to find out how his book can help families with a member with a disability.
Rob Wrubel, CFP® is a Senior Investment Consultant with Cascade Investment Group. Rob works with families that have a member with special needs in investment management and financial planning.
Q: What motivated you to write this book?
A. My daughter was born with Down syndrome in 2003. I started to research what I needed to do differently regarding financial planning. At that time, there was very little information available about what families with a member who has special needs should do differently when it comes to comprehensive financial planning. Even today, it’s difficult to parse out what is good information and what is just sales information. And unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of service professionals who specialize in this area.
Q. What is your basic philosophy behind planning for families with a member with a disability?
A. Quality of life. All of the planning work I do for families takes their vision for the future into account. What quality of life do they hope to achieve for their family member with a disability?
Q. What do you see in your practice that families commonly miss?
A. Mostly, families do not put any plans in place. Specifically, too many families do not have correct beneficiary designations on their 401ks or IRAs when a beneficiary has a disability and relies on government benefits. This is something I’ve seen that families commonly overlook.
Q. When you speak in front of family groups, what do you normally ask the group?
A. I normally ask two key questions: “Have you heard of special needs trusts?” and “Do you have one in place?” Usually only 50% of families with a member with a disability have heard of a special needs trust and only 10-20% of families have actually done anything about it. This has shown me that there is a clear need for education on special needs trusts.
Q. Beyond the need for education, what do you find are the most common barriers to taking legal action to protect assets for family members with disabilities?
A. First is fear, because when people start to think about this stuff they actually are forced to think about the future and this can naturally bring an element of uncertainty. Second is that the issue tends to be perceived as complex and people feel overwhelmed. Third is the issue of time. People always think they have time. In planning, we have to think about the worst-case scenario, in which they don’t have any more time.
Q. What do you find is the first step families need to take?
A. The first step to protecting your family financially is actually sitting down and talking about it and coming to a commitment. Once a commitment is in place, the rest of it is actually easy.
Q. What was your goal for the book?
A. My goal was to boil it down into simple language and steps. To make it so most people would be able to read it and understand the insurance options available to them.
Q. What is the next step for a family that wants more information after reading the book?
A. We hold regular meetings for families who have a member with a disability. The events are free, but registration is required. Contact Scott Rethi to find out when the next meeting is scheduled and to register at (719) 632-0818. Download the PDF flyer with more information here..
Click here for more information on the Able Act.
Ty Smith talks with The Independence Center about his adaptive ski experience with the Spinal Cord Injury group.
Ty Smith never slowed down as an active young adult in his early twenties. Then in November of 2011, life as he knew it came to a crashing halt. Ty lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a ditch. While Ty does not remember the terrible accident, his life took a dramatic turn in a different direction that day.
The impact smashed the 4th, 5th, and 6th vertebrae in his neck; the diagnosis was Incomplete Quadriplegia. Ty retained some sensation, mostly continuous pain. He now uses a wheelchair and relies on morphine throughout the day.
Ty suits up and prepares for the adaptive ski experience.
“Since my accident I haven’t been able to do any of the things I enjoy,” Ty explains. “But one of the best ways to disrupt the pain is to keep my mind busy and active and to have fun.” Faced with his physical limitations, Ty admits he has struggled to overcome the mental obstacles to participating in recreational activities. The uncertainty of whether or not he “can do” an activity is its own internal barrier he has to overcome every time. He is keenly aware of the benefits of recreation though the mechanics aren’t ever easy for him.
Yet, Ty didn’t let that stop him. When The Independence Center’s Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Group sponsored a skiing retreat with Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center in December 2015, Ty agreed to go. The trip surpassed his expectations as a recreational experience. It actually was pivotal for Ty to overcoming the mental barriers. Facilitators from the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and specialized adaptive ski equipment allowed Ty to experience sensations he hasn’t experienced since before the accident. Ty is eager to point out that the facilitators “made all the difference” through their expertise, positive attitudes, and assistance.
With assistance from facilitator at Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center, Ty experiences skiing for the first time since his accident in 2011.
“Tim [SCI group leader] invited me, encouraged me to try it and it blew my mind how easy it was,” Ty describes doing something he couldn’t have imagined was physically possible. “Now I know there’s got to be other things that are just as easy. The next thing I want to do is bicycle.”
On the long road to regaining his independence, the support and services Ty has received from The Independence Center have helped move him forward both physically and mentally. He describes rehab experiences at various facilities as somewhat hit or miss in terms of their results. And in the midst of coming to terms with his injury, he suffered the loss of many friends. In need of support, he got in touch with The Independence Center. He looks ahead thoughtfully as he states, “I’ve had more positive things come out of The Independence Center than anywhere else.”