Friday, September 30, 2011

Good News Friday!

Often in this space I express my concerns about the current system of how services for individuals with one or more developmental disabilities are funded and delivered. Models of support for adults with developmental disabilities throughout Colorado are not meeting the needs of the current eligible population, and are unsustainable for the future. Nearly one-third of the adults who are known to be eligible for services within Imagine!’s service area are on multi-year wait lists. The number of individuals on these wait lists is expected to nearly double by 2020 if a more effective and sustainable system is not implemented.

Because the current service delivery and funding landscape is dominated by a deficit-model mindset and cost-containment strategies, efforts to determine the total number of individuals with developmental disabilities and to understand the true scope of their needs have been insufficient. With no end in sight to the growing wait list, a new model of service provision must be explored.

Imagine!’s Boulder County Initiative (BCI) is such a model.

Using Boulder County mill levy funds, the Boulder County Initiative will provide support to individuals on the Imagine! adult wait list for services. Utilizing local funds provides for flexibility in service design and delivery, rather than being defined by a federally dictated set of rules for participation and service delivery. Imagine!’s Boulder County Initiative will be comprised of individuals who participate in a needs assessment that: 1) identifies the support needs of the individual through use of the Supports Intensity Scale, and; 2) assesses individual/family needs, resources, and priorities. Eligibility for participation in Imagine!’s Boulder County Initiative includes: individuals who are 18 years of age or older, currently reside in Boulder County, are U.S. citizens, and who are not receiving other waiver or state funded adult services.

The BCI model will include a navigator who works with individuals and families to identify and access existing resources. Only after all other resources have been exhausted will Boulder County funds be accessed. The backbone of the BCI will be the strengths of individuals and families. BCI will focus on the needs and self-identified priorities of the individual (and family whenever possible).

I have high hopes for this program as a first step toward re-configuring our system to better meet the needs of those we serve.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Have A Coke And A Moment

I came across a quote from the CEO of Coca-Cola that got me to thinking. The quote was, “We sell moments of pleasure for cents billions of times a day.” I had my doubts about that, until I saw this commercial and realized how happy Coke drinkers could be:

Can't see the video? Click here.

Anyway, I really like that phrase “moments of pleasure” and think that is has a great relevance to the work we do at Imagine!, and in fact all of us who are in the field of serving individuals with one or more developmental disabilities.

Let me explain. Like most people, I have little “moments of pleasure” stored in my memory bank that sometimes pop up in my brain for no particular reason. For example, I remember as a child going on a fishing trip with the superintendant of my school. I can’t remember now why exactly I went fishing with the superintendant, but I remember some specifics of the trip as if it were yesterday. I remember riding in his green Volkswagen Beetle, I remember what the weather was like, and I remember that when we got to the stream to fish we went in different directions to find our spots. Most of all, I remember that I had a great time.

So why do I remember that one particular moment? I honestly have no idea. I know I went fishing many times – by myself, with my family, with my friends. But for whatever reason, this memory lingers where others have faded.

I believe that unknown aspect of why I remember some moments of pleasure versus others is related closely to providing services in our field, especially for Direct Support Professionals. We never know when we will have an interaction with one of the individuals that we serve that will trigger something in them and take a spot in their own collection of memories. It could happen at any time and any place.

That is why it is so important for all of us the field to approach our jobs with energy and an openness to being ready for the moment. I know that is easier said then done, especially in the climate we currently face, where dwindling resources and burdensome regulations make creating those special moments all the more difficult.

But not many other people can say that they work at a job where every day and every interaction is filled with the possibility of becoming someone’s memorable moment of pleasure. And those moments of pleasure are undoubtedly going to be far more significant (and possibly more beneficial in the long run) than someone drinking a Coke.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Good News Friday!

Imagine!’s Dayspring department recently released its latest community activity calendar, for the months of September through December.

Daypsring’s community calendar activities introduce young children with developmental delays and disabilities and their families to places in our community that offer great activities and opportunities for children to meet their goals through fun and play. All activities encourage motor, sensory, social-emotional, cognitive, and speech-language development.

Why are Dayspring’s community calendar activities, along with the other services they provide, so important?

Studies show that the first few years of life of a child's development are crucial in setting the foundation for lifelong learning, behavior, and health outcomes. This is good not only for the child, but also for communities and organizations facing a limited amount of resources available for serving individuals with one or more developmental disabilities. Well-designed early childhood interventions have been found to generate a return to society ranging from $1.80 to $17.07 for each dollar spent on the program.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what a parent of a child who received services from Dayspring recently told us:

“Our daughter is a perfect example of how this program works. She entered with delayed speech and was extremely shy around other people and other children. Today she excels in her speech, has started preschool and plays and interacts great with other kids. I could never have imagined what a huge change we would see in her.

Both of the therapists that we worked with were exceptionally good. Janine Randol gave us a number of exercises and techniques to encourage our daughter to begin to use more words and develop her speech. Kate Hines, our OT always had fun games and activities to help our daughter break out of her shell. I can't say enough about the impact that these two women had in our life and our daughter's improvement from the time she entered the program until she aged out. In addition, our daughter regularly attended nearly all of the community activities and they were an incredible tool to encourage her social development. Sara and Pat were wonderful group leaders and really gave us support on a weekly basis as our daughter went through new stages and took on new challenges.

I truly credit Dayspring's therapists and community activities with her success and am very satisfied with our experience. Thank you!”
Congratulations to all of the Dayspring staff. You do vital work for our community, and the positive impact you have on the children you serve will last them a lifetime.

By the way – if you are looking for a way to support Dayspring’s community calendar activities, which are funded by donations from generous local organizations, then check out this Imagine! Foundation blog post about some Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll Drives taking place in Boulder and Longmont over the next two weekends.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Good News Friday!

Imagine!’s Case Management department is participating in a student internship program that I believe benefits both the interns and Imagine!.

Each year, two students studying social work are chosen to serve an internship in our Case Management Department. Members of the Case Management department’s administrative team (who have a Master’s level degree in Social Work) are assigned to supervise the interns. The interns shadow Imagine! Case Mangers, work on a few cases, and also work with some families to help them navigate the complex and confusing system of funding services for individuals with developmental disabilities in our state.

The students benefit from getting hands-on experience working at a human service organization, and Imagine! benefits from the new perspectives and ideas the interns routinely provide.

This year’s interns are Anita Doss (who is currently working on a Bachelors degree in Social Work at Metropolitan State College of Denver) and Alyssa Santoriello (who is currently working on her Masters degree at Colorado State University).

I had the pleasure of spending Wednesday with Anita and Alyssa as we attended a couple of meetings in Denver, including a meeting hosted by the Colorado Division for Developmental Disabilities for Community Centered Board Directors, and a meeting of the Government Relations Committee of Alliance.  In both cases, the interns we able to get a sense of the many concerns currently facing the finding and delivery of services in our state.

Despite the complexity of the issues discussed at the meeting, Anita and Alyssa remained engaged and asked some very insightful questions. I am so pleased that they will be part of the Imagine! team this year, and looking forward to working with them throughout the year.

Left to right: Case Management Assistant Director Rick Haskins, Case Management Intern Alyssa Santoriello, Case Management Intern Anita Doss, Imagine! Director of Client Relations Liz Smokowski

Imagine! Case Management Advisor Marianne Nick (right) and Metropolitan State College Field Liaison Doris Goodteacher (left) are working together to create a learning plan for Case Management Intern Anita Doss (center)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Baby You Can Drive My Car (As Long As You Are Not Providing Transportation Services)

One of the many regulatory agencies that Imagine! is beholden to has rules regarding transportation of the individuals served by Imagine!. On my mind today are the rules directed toward employees of Imagine! who are using their personal vehicles to transport the people we serve, or non-employees providing transportation on behalf of Imagine! for the individuals we serve.

Sure, everyone should have a first aid kit, tools for inclement weather, and keep records of all maintenance performed on their vehicle. That’s what our grandfathers told us to do. It was not regulated by the government, nor shared with your employer or company for whom you might volunteer. The requirements go far beyond what a registered car owner would have to meet if the passenger didn’t have a developmental disability.

At first glance, that may seem like it makes sense – like it is a good protective measure. But upon further inspection, I think it is emblematic of how our service system in Colorado has become misdirected and now regulates to the exception rather than the rule.

What do I mean by that? Well, if I want to drive my registered car in Colorado there is a set of standards I must meet, such as: I need to have insurance, I need my emissions checked, my taillights need to be in working order, etc. As a member of my community, I accept that there are rules in place that I must meet in order to be allowed to use my vehicle. I accept that my car shouldn’t look like this:

Can't see the video? Click here.

So if I am at work and I need to travel to a different location I can jump in with a co-worker who is driving a typical registered vehicle and off we go. If I invite a person who is receiving services, we have to engage the regulatory checks and balances and document additional information in a separate record about the registered vehicle.

As a society, through the various laws that have been enacted over the years by various government representatives elected by the public, we have come to a general agreement on the balance of the risks and responsibilities we are willing to bear for the privilege of owning a registered vehicle.

And here is where these rules miss the point, in my opinion. Most organizations that serve individuals with one or more developmental disabilities have a goal of community inclusion for those they serve. Community inclusion isn’t a blank check, however. Being part of a community also means accepting certain risks and responsibilities.

If we truly believe in community inclusion for those we serve, we have to acknowledge that we can’t regulate away all of the risks that come with that honor.

It doesn’t make any sense to me that an employee of Imagine! can drive to work in a car that is perfectly acceptable under one set of rules (rules that apply to the majority of citizens), but that same car may not be acceptable to transport a client because of a different set of rules.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we serve a vulnerable population, and a good deal of the rules and regulations regarding our services that we abide by are perfectly reasonable. But rules like the ones I just described only end up making the task of achieving true community inclusion for those we serve that much more difficult.

By the way – my first aid kit is missing band aids. Please don’t tell my grandfather.

Then again, what do I know?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Good News Friday!

Next week, September 11-17, is National Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week. The US Senate approved the establishment of National Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) Recognition Week in order to honor "direct support professionals and the tremendous impact they make everyday in communities across the country."

As both United States Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted, the "often unheralded efforts of direct support professionals make it possible for millions of Americans with disabilities to lead meaningful lives as valued members of their communities."

Anyone associated with Imagine! already knew that. DSPs are the beating heart of our organization. They are the ones who are working hard everyday to facilitate opportunities for those we serve so they may lead fulfilling lives of independence and quality in their homes and communities. To our DSPs, Imagine!’s mission isn’t just a bunch of words on a piece of paper – it is something they live and embody every day.

We are so fortunate here at Imagine! to have so many dedicated, talented, and passionate people who are willing not only to take on the difficult job of being a DSP, but to excel at it. Imagine!’s DSPs share several things in common – a willingness to go above and beyond what is required of them, an ability to see solutions where others see only barriers, and most importantly, a deep and unyielding commitment to the individuals they serve.

Today, I want to offer my sincere thanks to all of the DSPs at Imagine!. I am honored to work alongside you, and words cannot express how much I appreciate all you do for the individuals that Imagine! serves.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Good News Friday!

I often use this space to discuss how fortunate we are to live in a community that is so supportive of the work we do at Imagine!. At our best, Imagine! plays the role of facilitator between those we serve and the communities where they live. When that facilitation is successful, everyone benefits.

So today I’d like to highlight two businesses that have embraced their part in that facilitation. These stories come from Imagine!’s Out & About Summer Camp program. 91% of Out & About’s services are offered in the community and do not involve a base site or segregated setting. The individuals served by Out & About can have some challenging behaviors, and therefore Out & About always works with the organizations where events are scheduled beforehand to ensure mutual understanding. Here are two stories of how that mutual understanding, along with a willingness to create a welcoming atmosphere, can lead to successful results:

At Centennial Lanes in Longmont, the manager and the coordinators maintain open communication regarding safety and quality of time at the bowling alley. One of our summer campers took a few weeks to adjust to the stimulating environment in the bowling alley and reacted by running through the alley and making loud vocalizations. The manager has kindly worked with us and shared ideas with how to keep safe in the bowling alley.

At Elitch Gardens, the kindness and professionalism of the staff was evident when they granted us accessibility passes to skip the lines. This was a great help for our campers who become anxious and have a hard time waiting and standing in line. Also, any time a consumer appeared to be having a difficult time, an Elitch Garden's staff would kindly approach and offer support if needed.
Imagine! and Out & About strive to make every experience in the community a positive one, and are grateful for the community members who help make this happen!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cinderella and Cigarettes

About two years back, I attended a training put on by the Disney Institute called “Building a Culture of Healthcare Excellence.” I found the training to be fascinating, and so much of what was discussed was relevant to the system of funding and delivering services to individuals with developmental disabilities in Colorado, as well as to Imagine! and the way we work.

For example, one of the things the trainer discussed was how Disney had an overall vision of providing “entertainment experiences for all generations to share.” That vision permeates the company from top to bottom, and all actions are undertaken to meet that vision. The trainer gave an example of how nobody visiting one of Disney’s theme parks wants to have an encounter with a Cinderella with cigarette smoke on her breath – it would ruin the magical experience that the Disney company strives to provide all of its visitors.

But what was interesting about the discussion about the smoking Cinderella example was that the trainer didn’t say “and therefore we have a policy that our Cinderella’s can’t smoke.” While that may indeed be the policy, instead Disney emphasizes the idea that every employee at Disney is responsible for making a visit to Disneyland or Disneyworld a magical experience. They are encouraged to take ownership of what they do and be an active part of that experience. That helps it become more natural and obvious for the employee to realize that smoking and cigarette breath might make the experience for guests much less enjoyable.

Instead of taking the big picture approach, it seems to me that in our world we focus strictly on the policies without offering a bigger vision for what we do and way.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. We have to file incident reports whenever an individual gets injured. This makes sense, and I don’t argue with that idea. But we never file incidents reports when someone we serve does something good or positive.

Imagine!’s mission is about providing opportunities for those we serve, but nothing we are regulated on has any relation to, or measure of, opportunities provided. If you run down the list of all the regulations we have to meet, and all the things we are trained on, (and both lists are substantial) you will see that they are all related to what to do when things go wrong – not about providing opportunities. Consequently, a substantial majority of our time, energy, and resources are spent on avoiding doing the wrong thing, instead of doing the right things – providing opportunities for those we serve.

In other words, all we ever do is tell Cinderella not to smoke. We fail to encourage Cinderella to look and act her best, stay fit, and treat people with kindness. This constant focus on the negative produces employees (from the Direct Service Professionals on up to the executive level) who are uninspired and frustrated.

I get it. Cinderella shouldn’t smoke. But it is time to get past that smokescreen (pun intended) created by that simplistic approach to what we do and start paying attention to the bigger picture of how we can facilitate the positive growth of the individuals we serve.

Then again, what do I know?