HEART Reinvents Itself!

This summer on July 6th-- the day before our Happy Days heART Show-- HEART was made aware of the code of laws 44-20-710 by the Disabilities Board of Charleston. This law requires anyone working with a person(s) with disabilities and special needs for 10 hours or more per week to be licensed by South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (SCDDSN). 

SECTION 44-20-710. Licensing of facilities and programs.

No day program in part or in full for the care, training, or treatment of a person with intellectual disability, a related disability, head injury, or spinal cord injury may deliver services unless a license first is obtained from the department. For the purpose of this article "in part" means a program operating for ten hours a week or more. Educational and training services offered under the sponsorship and direction of school districts and other state agencies are not required to be licensed under this article.

The news that HEART was operating illegally without a DDSN license threw us all for a loop but has made us all aware of code of laws 44-20-710 which is important. Whether any of us put the energy into changing this law; is yet to be seen. This news also came right after HEART purchased a van for regularly scheduled farm trips, hired a full-time Activities Director, and launched a micro-business and employment service.

Since HEART's beginning in July 2014-- I have been asked by some parents if I could accept DDSN waivers (Medicaid) but I could not without a DDSN license. On that request, I went through the DDSN licensure application process twice. In dozens of interactions with DDSN during this process I was never told that it was mandatory to have a DDSN license. I was under the impression that becoming a DDSN provider was a choice.

After going through the application process and being rejected twice and learning more about the requirements, policies, directives, standards and procedures of being a DDSN provider -- I came to the conclusion that a small start-up like HEART would be crushed under such regulations and procedures. Three of our biggest obstacles were the requirements to provide transportation for participants to and from HEART, for our facility to have a fire sprinkler system, and the daily paperwork and record keeping would require a full-time employee. HEART made the decision to remain small and to remain private to safeguard our integrity and sustainability.

While the Disabilities Board delivered this information; they confirmed that DDSN governance was built for large organizations. Ironically, they also advised that HEART continue operating "under the radar" after telling us we were illegal without DDSN licensure out of concern. HEART did not not follow this advice and insisted on a letter from DDSN acknowledging HEART's existence and exempting us from this requirement.

HEART parents and volunteers reacted strongly to this news and sent letters and made phone calls to DDSN and the State. They believe strongly and rightly so that they should have the right to choose where they send their children. Thankfully, Rufus Britt of DDSN agreed and was the main driver of getting HEART the letter from DDSN. Britt also confirmed that the law is “archaic” and that DDSN wants to move away from it. He asked that I restructure HEART's scope of operations so that it fits better outside DDSN services and what constitutes as a day program in the law mentioned above. Once that was sent and seen by DDSN's State Director, Dr. Buscemi as fitting outside of their scope of authority they would send a letter exempting HEART from DDSN licensure. Britt is calling it “niche services”.

HEART will resume operations on August 9th having moved away from the idea that we are a program that provides “services” to participants. HEART is instead a co-op with members. We are now HEART Artist Guild & Theatre Company and Heartists are members. This change to differentiate ourselves from standard DDSN service providers is a good thing and I believe will make HEART more focused, sustainable and stronger. It also forces us to hone in on our real skill set which is the creative arts!

HEART Artist Guild & Theatre Company is a family of multi-media and performing artists for adults (21+) with special needs. People with developmental and other disabilities are often segregated and discounted by the public. Difficulties in communications, people skills and other restraints make it difficult for interaction and independent living. At HEART we believe that every individual is able to contribute a unique viewpoint on life and should have the opportunity to express that vision through art and theatre. Providing an inclusive space, art materials, and the mentorship by professional artists allows for creative expression, independence, dignity, and community integration.

MISSION: To provide an innovative art and theatre community that promotes creative expression, independence, dignity and community integration for adults with disabilities.

HEART Artist Guild & Theatre Company functions as an open studio and stage company with artists and actors focusing on their own artistic career and art production. Up to 20 Heartists per day work with two professional artists creating pieces in visual and performing arts. The artist mentors offer exploring art techniques and practices while encouraging the development of skills, but leave the artistic decisions to the individual. The studio and stage environment focuses on multi-media art creation while building skills of observation, concentration, decision-making, project management, co-operation, and promoting the value of practice and artistic expression. We strengthen Heartists' confidence in interacting with the public with our quarterly heART Show exhibitions.