At what point do you say enoughs enough and take a stand?
Jackie Morlan decided shes not going to take it anymore. Her line was crossed.
After 23 years with Community Connections, the last eight as executive director, shell be working her last day Jan. 31. Shes quitting in protest.
The issue? A lack of support for the nonprofit and its clients the developmentally disabled in Southwest Colorado. Morlan feels she cant continue in her role, knowing that budget cuts and a morass of other issues are becoming detrimental to the people she serves.
If we keep seeing the hits that we are, we will not be able to operate. Thats the bottom line, she said during an interview last week at Bodo Industrial Park, the low winter sun beaming brightly into her second-floor office.
Shes trying to shine the light on a big problem. Leaving her job is the best way she knows to make a big statement.
Im sure every director in the state feels the same way, Art Hogling, executive director of Developmental Disabilities Resource Center in Lakewood, said in a phone interview Thursday. The pressures and frustrations with our system are tremendous.
Community Connections serves a populace that not everyone sees. The 250 or so developmentally disabled or challenged clients are spread around a five-county area. Many work jobs, many vote. But they still need support a home, a live-in adviser and overseer.
When you dont see it, it doesnt exist, Morlan said. These people do exist, and they need support. Theyre in a long-term care situation.
Policy changes and budget crises over the last several years have made an already-difficult situation nearly untenable, Morlan said. A federally mandated fee-for-service policy has led to a system that serves fewer people at a higher cost. And the state divisions overseeing Community Connections, and the other 19 similar programs statewide, are not responsive to the problems, she said.
Theyre not seeing the direct consequences to the individuals we serve.
In Lakewood, where theres a multiyear waiting list, Hogling said, budget cuts simply have meant serving fewer clients.
In Glenwood Springs, Bruce Christensen, director of Mountain Valley Developmental Services for the last 32 years, faces the same mountain-town issue that Durango does: a high cost of living the state does not consider when doling out money.
Christensen also is mayor of Glenwood, so he understands the budget woes. But he said a recent barrage of bureaucracy and a push from the state to dismantle a system thats not broken have him upset.
Its really gotten to be a critical problem, he said, emotion obvious in his voice, even over the phone, and some of us have gotten really, really frustrated.
I absolutely understand where Jackie is coming from, and I think shes made a point.
Morlan is particularly troubled by the thought of group homes with as many as eight unrelated people something she figured was a thing of the past. The dorm-room-type atmosphere of large group homes can produce undesirable behaviors. I will not support this type of backward movement, she wrote in a column in the Jan. 9 Herald.
There are solutions, but they are not quick, easy fixes. One is finding residents willing to provide a host home.
All they need is an extra bedroom and the desire to have someone with a developmental disability live in their home, Morlan said. They do get paid for it, too.
City and county governments need to kick in more funding, she said. Montezuma County, where 45 percent of Community Connections clients live, has provided nothing since 2005. Archuleta County stopped contributing in 2007.
Several regions around the state have voted in mill levies to fund organizations like Community Connections. Morlan is pushing for this in Southwest Colorado.
Our cities and counties need to step up. They need to consider what would happen if Community Connections was not here anymore. What would happen to the 250 people we serve annually?
Ive been saying that for years.
Its not a career you go into to get rich. Its one that you have to feel is your mission.
Shes a great loss, Hogling said. Shes highly respected in our field. ... The community suffers when you lose people like that.
Morlan isnt certain what shes going to do come Feb. 1, but shes not worried about it.
I will say I did not have a hard time deciding to leave, said Morlan, who moved to Southwest Colorado with husband Ed Morlan in the late 1970s. Dont feel sorry for me. Im on the right path.
Her values clashed with those shes observed at the state level, and shes taking what she feels is her best action.
Im truly making a statement to the state, and I want to be heard.
johnp@ durangoherald.com John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.