In March 2014, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) enacted a new rule calling for “conflict-free case management.” This conflict of interest, between administering and providing services must be resolved by county boards in the coming years. Since then, Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board (Summit DD) has been diligently working to create thoughtful plans that carefully address how to make this transition out of direct services in the most effective and seamless way.
“Over the years, the look of services and supports has changed, but the spirit has not,” shared Summit DD Superintendent John Trunk. “And even as we face changes to the way that we must provide support to individuals with disabilities in the future, we remain one team with one goal.”
Planning for Change
Because of an expiring lease in June of 2016, the Summit DD Akron, Center on West Exchange Street, was identified as the first center to make the transition. Knowing that this change was going to be challenging for both those who attend the center and our staff who proudly work there, the Agency looked ways to make this transition as smooth as possible. Additionally, to ensure the voices of all those impacted by the change were heard, the process began with a cross-functional committee comprised of individuals, families and staff (including center-based staff and SSAs) to lead the way.
The team came together in September 2015 to identify information and resources that people, families and staff would need to successfully transition from services. Things like provider meet-and-greets for families and individuals, small group activities at the center to discuss concerns or future possibilities, and person-centered planning with each person’s service coordinator (SSA), among other things were listed as important steps in the process to prepare individuals to make informed decisions for their futures. What they found was a process and tools that could be replicated as a blueprint for other Summit DD centers to use in the coming years.
“The transition has been characterized by a high degree of cooperation and support,” said Summit DD Senior Manager, Joe DiFranco, who coordinated the Akron transition committee. “Teams, families and individuals, although still processing some personal disappointments, have been very cooperative with the process and have appreciated the supports that have been made available.”
Summit DD staff have made it a priority to be transparent about the changes and share information as they know it. The Agency has also kept families informed through regular communication, in the form of letters, meetings and newsletters.
Summit DD’s SSA department has been happy with the progress they have seen as a result of the transition committee. To date, there has not been any difficulty finding appropriate service options for people, and they don’t anticipate any in the foreseeable future.
“SSAs have always played a very important role in the lives those we serve, that will not change,” shared Holly Brugh, Director of Services and Supports for Summit DD. “Through person-centered planning and the team process, SSAs will diligently continue to identify and connect individuals to the supports they need, one person at a time.”
Since last fall, there have been a number of transition successes from the Akron Center. Of the more than 70 people who attended the center, approximately one third have already chosen new opportunities. Some have chosen more traditional day program settings with other providers, others have opted to explore jobs in the community, and there have been a couple gentlemen who have even chosen to attend a traditional senior center within their community.
In one successful example, a staff member at the Akron Center made it her personal mission to turn people’s “fears and worries” into a “happy future,” to use her words. Assistant Jean Murphy discussed a specific instance where she was able to facilitate that “happy future” for a gentleman named Mark. She said that initially he was unhappy with the news of the center closing. Rather than dwelling on that fact, she and Mark worked through his concerns in the small group sessions and explored what he wanted for his future. Jean recalled that Mark really thought about the questions they had discussed. She was thrilled when he came to the next small group session eager to share that he had been exploring new programs with his family. Murphy mentioned that he was positive about his future opportunity and even encouraged others to start exploring saying, “No point on dragging your feet.”
Murphy was overjoyed with this success. “He has been at Akron Center for many years, and has many memories of good times that he said he will take with him,” she shared. “He is a true example of how this class can make a difference for a person to succeed. I look forward to helping everyone transition positively into the future!”
“I give a lot of credit to our staff,” DiFranco remarked. “They never lose sight of what’s important.” The conversations that have started as a result of this transition from services have been encouraging. DiFranco talked about the many discoveries that are taking place, to uncover what each person wants to try. He also commented that families have told him that they feel supported through this change.
While people do have the option to come back when they try a new program or opportunity, to date none of the 24 people who have left Akron Center have returned. “Not one person has asked to come back,” DiFranco said with pride. Generalists, such as Jenna Fitting, have been a big part of this result. Summit DD Generalists help individuals explore options and feel comfortable making decisions about their future. “We get to know people on a personal level,” explained Fitting about the process for exploring employment in the community. “We make them as comfortable as possible and are with them every step of the way.”
The Akron Center is the first of the six Summit DD centers to go through the transition. With the positive experience that has come from this initial transition, staff feel confident that individuals will be well supported throughout the process. DiFranco says that he also hopes for more of this as we go forward.
“I recognize how difficult this change can be for everyone. At the end of the day, it is important to remember why we are here,” reflected Trunk. “Our role in the future must continue to be the primary community resource, listening and connecting people to the supports they need to be successful.”
Do you have questions about Summit DD’s transition from services timeline? Contact us or call us at 330-634-8000 – we are happy to help!