County disability programs continue to see steady increase in cases
Jill Idrizow knows all too well that she can't control disease and disability.
What she can control, though, is how she responds to the situations.
Idrizow, a Lakeland Township resident, is a longtime receiver of Washington County developmental disability services for her two children.
Her daughter Katie and son Brian, two young adults who suffer from mental and physical disabilities, represent hundreds of cases that have been steadily increasing over the years at the county's Community Services Department.
Katie, 18, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She's had multiple surgeries including one to close her spine and another to plant a shunt. She's had 50 surgeries and has developed epilepsy, Idrizow said.
"It's been a bumpy ride, having to learn a lot of new things about all the different disabilities," she said.
Grateful for help from Washington County, Idrizow shared her story with county officials last week as they heard an update on the number of cases and services offered by the department.
"It's been a wonderful program," she said.
Katie is not the only child of Idrizow who receives help. Her son, 16-year-old Brian, was placed temporarily in a group home in Cottage Grove when he became aggressive toward his sister as a result of his Asperger's disorder.
"It was very frightening," she said, as she described the episode where Brian pushed Katie's wheelchair down the stairs. "I was on the other side pushing, pushing."
Brian moved to the group home until he was diagnosed with leukemia in December.
"Having to choose between my children was extremely difficult," she said.
Katie is sick and vulnerable, while Brian, also vulnerable, was aggressive.
"It was a very emotionally wrenching time," Idrizow said.
Washington County's developmental disabilities services program is a core, mandated service, run in part with county funds and state waiver dollars.
With 1,230 cases of children and adults, social worker Cathy Ellis said the numbers have been steadily increasing.
"The numbers have been going up over the years," she said. "I've been here 30 years and the numbers never dip down."
Eligibility requirements include diagnoses of an IQ of 70 or below or related conditions like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Early childhood eligibility requirements are also in place for 5-year-olds and younger.
Ellis said some of the services offer cash grants for families with kids living at home, which are often more effective than placing the child in a group home.
But the county also contracts with private partners who operate three group homes for adults in Washington County with an average size of six individuals.
Idrizow pulled Brian out of the group home after his leukemia diagnosis and was constantly going to the hospital for treatment. She credits the county's help for assisting her obtain medical assistance to cover hospital bills.
Brian's chemotherapy medications were interfering with his anti-seizure medication to the point of reaching toxic levels, Idrizow said, which may be the reason for him being less aggressive toward his sister.
"There aren't all that many kids who have autism, leukemia and fewer kids who have autism, leukemia and epilepsy," she said.
Idrizow continues to be positive, appreciative of the support system that she has and taking things day by day.
"What I've learned, I have no control over my life," she said. "Something tragic can happen today ... the only thing I can control is how I respond to it."