Thursday, September 4, 2014

ADAPT And Arkansas:

An overview of some important ADAPT Actions from the 1990s

By Tim Wheat

Brenda Stinebuck of Arkansas ADAPT
Brenda Stinebuck of Arkansas ADAPT
When ADAPT rolls into Little Rock next week it is important to know that the natural state has seen and heard of ADAPT before. Although National ADAPT has never been to Arkansas, local and regional actions have set the stage for the upcoming ADAPT Action.

“When I was at Mainstream, ADAPT was active and closely linked to the center,” said Richard Petty, the former Executive Director at Mainstream the Center for Independent Living in Little Rock. “ADAPT was able to take actions not best taken by the Center and the Center provided organizational support to ADAPT. Mainstream organized several national trainings for Arkansas ADAPT members. Diane Coleman, Shell Trapp and other ADAPT trainers came to Arkansas with Mainstream’s support.”

At the end of 1991, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas was preparing to run for US President. ADAPT reports in the INCITEMENT that the Presidential Candidate had made a statement that people have a civil right to live outside a nursing home.

But on December 12, 1991 the Arkansas Department of Human Services issued a memo that the state would limit personal care services to 50 hours per month and freeze other state programs that would keep people out of expensive institutions. Governor Clinton and the Arkansas Legislature were looking for ways to cut the state budget and looked to cut state programs that would save Arkansas money pushing people into costly federally funded institutions.

In this time before Olmstead, Money Follows the Person and the Community Choice Option, advocates had few tools to counter the cuts to the Arkansas Medicaid program. People with disabilities in Arkansas turned to the streets and adopted the ADAPT tactics that had been successful in making public transportation accessible. ADAPT Nationally and pivoted their focus to personal attendant programs and reforming Medicaid. ADAPT grassroots activists were asking for 25% of the current Medicaid funding for institutions to be diverted to provide attendant care to help people remain in their own homes and live and work in the community.

This was also before CASA, MiCASSA, the Community Choice Act and the Community Integration Act.

Sixteen activists occupied the private office of then Governor Bill Clinton on December 30, 1991. Arkansas ADAPT’s main demand was that the state stop the Medicaid cuts that were outlined in the Department of Human Services memeo. The group also asked for the state to develop a comprehensive long-range plan for home and community-based services and to apply for Medicaid personal assistance services waivers.

ADAPT marches in Harrisburg PA
ADAPT marches in Harrisburg PA
Arkansas ADAPT was led by Dr. Terry Winkler, who was the first wheelchair user to graduate from medical school at the University of Arkansas. He teamed up with activist Verlon McKay, a veteran and others in the disability rights community including Richard Petty of Mainstream and Bonnie Johnson the head of the Arkansas Disability Coalition. Others present included Glennis Sharp, Adrian Horton, Mattie Jones, and Janice Winkler.

“I was chained in the office with Winkler, McKay and fourteen other activists,” recalls Richard Petty. “We stayed there until the early hours of the morning of December 31. The action was ended with a conference call with Governor Clinton (who was out of State at the Renaissance event in South Carolina) and discussions with Acting Governor Jim Guy Tucker, who was present in the office with the chained ADAPT members. Diane Coleman and Bob Kafka coached the activists by phone throughout the action.”

Arkansas ADAPT had slipped into the governor’s office while admiring the state Christmas tree. They secretly wound a long bicycle chain on themselves and inside the office to emphasize the fact that they would not leave until their demands were met.

“The action resulted in a signed written agreement in which the State agreed to roll back Medicaid cuts that would have forced thousands into nursing homes,” said Richard Petty. “They agreed to develop a comprehensive long range plan for home and community-based services, and agreed to make application for Medicaid waivers for personal assistance services.”

Two years later, INCITEMENT points out that ADAPT was at the Arkansas Capitol to enforce that agreement made with Gov. Clinton.

Twenty years ago last month, ADAPT struck out at a regional target in Fort Smith Arkansas. ADAPT activists from Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas occupied the offices of Beverly Enterprises, the largest nursing home corporation in the nation at the time. Beverly owned or leased over 800 nursing homes and had profits of nearly $90 million.

Randy Alexander, a long-time ADAPT activist got fired-up about ADAPT tactics during the Beverly Enterprises action in 1994. He remembers meeting Bob and Stephanie but had to leave with his ride home before meeting many of the others from Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. He says he had just spent two years in an institution in Hot Springs after an injury.

“I was stuck in that damn institution. I had to fight to get out of there,” said Randy from his farm in rural Mississippi. “When ADAPT came along it was like saying a big ‘fuck you’ to the nursing home industry and Beverly Enterprises. I was all in.”

ADAPT asked to speak with David Banks, the Chief Executive Officer of Beverly and demanded that ADAPT’s proposal to redirect 25% of Medicaid institutional funding to attendant care be discussed at the upcoming AHCA Convention. At the time the main target for National ADAPT was the massive, well-funded nursing home industry lobby: The American Health Care Association.

Banks got the meeting but the lobby reneged on their member’s agreement and actually sued ADAPT to try to prevent the demonstration in Clark County Nevada that year. David Banks agreed to survey accessibility at Beverly facilities and he wrote a letter supporting a national attendant services program.

“It is my commitment that Beverly Enterprises will support a national attendant services program so that people with disabilities, old and young, will have real alternatives to institutionalization,” wrote David Banks the CEO of Beverly Enterprises.

In September of 1997, Verlon McKay organized an ADAPT hit on President Clinton speaking at the 40th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine at Little Rock’s Central High School. He said it was hypocritical to celebrate inclusion when the school remains inaccessible to people with disabilities. The real irony was that for the Little Rock Nine to get into the school and to the podium where President Clinton spoke, they had to build ramps.

The ADAPT members shouted down the President, but were not removed from the accessible seating a long way from the front steps. President Clinton paused at one point in the speech and looked up from his written comments where he had just talked about the Little Rock Nine not being able to learn “ simple peace.”

“Speaking of simple peace,” directing his comments to the ADAPT Activists, “I'd like a little of it today.”

But ADAPT did not give the President any peace; Verlon and Arkansas ADAPT, supported by some Memphis ADAPT members continued to shout about the hypocrisy and rain on Clinton’s parade.

“I planned to be at the inaccessible Little Rock Central High School where Bill Clinton was going to talk about inclusion,” said Randy Alexander. “But traffic and police held me up and I never got there.”

Randy now lives a half-mile from a dilapidated care home at the Tubby Creek Farm he runs with Josephine. He jokes that the facility closed because he moved in. Randy may have started out with Arkansas ADAPT, but he has lived in Texas, Tennessee and now Mississippi. The farm takes all of his time but he still has a hope to join ADAPT for an action soon.

“My first action was against Greyhound in Hot Springs Arkansas. I didn’t get arrested,” said Randy, “but I got so excited that the other ADAPTers had to drag me off of the bus.”

Arkansas has been involved in much more and many things since the first ADAPT actions in the 1990s. National ADAPT members always must remember our roots and the struggles that our community faced years ago. For the natural state, this may be the first National ADAPT Action, but it is in the long tradition of people with disabilities speaking up, speaking out and taking to the streets to FREE OUR PEOPLE!