“Is this really ours?” she asked as she slowly moved her wheelchair into the living room. “It’s amazing. I love it!”
A week had passed since Steger, 49, heard she had been approved for the two-bedroom Walton Legacy apartment in south Augusta off Deans Bridge Road. But the excitement of securing the unit – one of 12 in a $1.5 million, federally funded complex completed last month – had not dwindled.
As a person living with cerebral palsy, acquiring her new home symbolized something more: it was the first day she would live as an independent adult.
“I still can’t believe it,” she said as she looked out the front window. “I can only thank God and the people who have helped me for this. Prayers have been answered.”
Since July, Walton Options, a nonprofit organization that provides independent-living services to people of all ages and disabilities, has helped nine residents receiving care at an in-patient facility in the Augusta area find homes through Medicaid’s “Money Follows the Person” program.
Through the program, money follows participants by allowing states to pay for long-term support services in a home rather than an institutional setting, said Tiffany Johnston, the executive director of Walton Options.
Johnston said referrals to the program can be made by the individual themselves, nursing home or other facility staff, or a family member. Once a referral is received, Walton Options will make contact to arrange a screening to determine a person’s eligibility and what they might need in order to help them resettle in the community. If a person qualifies, staff will then assist in arranging home and community-based services through Georgia’s Medicaid waiver program. With assistance, the person will begin planning together with their family, friends and health-care representatives to leave their nursing facility.
Steger said independence seemed impossible when she was younger, but when she met Johnson nine months ago at Augusta’s Golden Living Community, it seemed like an achievable goal.
At age 9, she lost the ability to walk. Two years later, she was in a wheelchair and had to rely on other people for the majority of her life.
Her childhood included myriad intensive operations to increase mobility and interaction with others. She had to have surgery to straighten joint and bone deformities and starting at age 38, began 10 years of rehabilitation.
The final year, she met Johnson, 48, who was in the Golden Living assisted living community for physical and occupational therapy after suffering a stroke. While introducing himself, Johnson asked Steger for her phone number and a few days later, much to her surprise, made the call that change the couple’s lives.
“My friends said that he would call, but I was skeptical,” she said.
In the next three months, the couple met almost daily in the Wrightsboro Road nursing home. They went on joy rides and after a while, began discussing starting a life together. A short time later, Johnson popped the question; Steger said yes; and Walton Options secured the Medicaid funding for the couple to move in together.
The couple will be wed on Dec. 7 at Christian Heritage Church in Graniteville and take their honeymoon in Columbia.
“Being out on my own is an unbelievable feeling,” Steger said. “It was something I really had to think about and we had to talk about, but I like having my independence.”
Steger said none of this would be possible without the help of Walton Options, her family at the Golden Living community and her fiancé, who scouted and approved their apartment to keep the move-in a surprise.
The Money Follows the Person program paid the couple’s first-month’s rent; their apartment’s security and utility deposits; and all expenses need to furnish the home and make it handicapped accessible. The apartment includes hardwood floors and a roll-in bathroom and kitchen.
“We did it together,” Johnson said with a smile.