What's in a name? For one woman with a developmental disability served by Lexington (Fulton County Chapter of NYSARC, Inc.), the mere mention of her own name served as a constant reminder of a traumatic past she wanted to forget.
The 36-year-old woman’s abusive foster parents had changed her birth name, explained Lexington Executive Director Shaloni Winston. So every time staff called the woman by that name, the simple act evoked painful memories of her past.
That revelation may have persisted throughout the woman’s entire life if not discovered during a Personal Outcome Measures® interview as part of Lexington’s process to be accredited by the Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL), said Winston. The POM interview also revealed that the woman wanted her name legally changed back to her birth name. Determined to fulfill her lifelong dream, Lexington staff facilitated the process and celebrated the emotional occasion with her when the paperwork was finalized.
“If you don’t ask the questions, you’ll never get the answers,” noted Winston, whose Chapter received CQL accreditation in the break-neck speed of just three months in June 2013.
These days, NYSARC Chapters statewide are asking more intrinsic questions, of themselves and the people they serve, in an effort to become more person-centered, raise their continuous quality improvement standards and ultimately become CQL-accredited.
Becoming a CQL-accredited agency can be an exhaustive process, requiring a monumental organizational shift and several months, if not years of planning. Agencies need to change long-standing mindsets, using CQL’s 10 Basic Assurances® and 21 Personal Outcome Measures® to evaluate the quality of services and supports they provide. Staff receives a person-centered training approach to ask the right questions that identify individuals’ hopes, dreams and aspirations. And, in many circumstances, the answers can be life-altering for the people with developmental disabilities served by Chapters.
“For us, it was the right thing to do, focusing on the person and creating opportunities to improve their quality of life,” said The Arc, Oneida-Lewis Executive Director Karen Korotzer, who researched quality programs for a year after joining the agency in 2011. After two years of careful planning and preparation, her agency earned CQL accreditation this past January.
Sadie Spada, Executive Director, The Adirondack Arc (Franklin-Hamilton Counties Chapter of NYSARC, Inc.) echoed Korotzer’s sentiments about taking a deliberate approach to CQL accreditation. After an 18-month “learning process” involving six workgroups examining all the small but significant ways staff could improve the lives of the people they served, The Adirondack Arc became the first Chapter to receive CQL accreditation in 2001.
Having served at The Adirondack Arc for the past 37 years, Spada described earning CQL accreditation as the “most positive thing in the history of the agency.” In particular, becoming CQL-accredited marked a significant cultural shift and directed a whole new level of staff engagement with the individuals they served.
Among the dreams Spada said staff helped fulfill was organizing a reunion between a 60-year-old Willowbrook State School survivor and his long-lost sister living in Florida. The agency flew the man’s sister and her family to Tupper Lake, NY, to meet. Witnessing the man excitedly introduce his sister and family to everyone “brought tears to my eyes,” she recalled.
Added Pat Dowd, Division Director, Lexington, “The process really gets to the heart of the person’s dreams and goals … it’s about what people want the most out of life.”
Candace Opalka, Chief Operating Officer, Liberty (Montgomery County Chapter of NYSARC, Inc.), has experienced personal and professional satisfaction in seeing her staff fulfill individuals’ dreams and aspirations since the Chapter received accreditation in 2005.
“Our staff has fully embraced the philosophy and our culture. They have seen the difference their efforts have made in supporting people,” said Opalka. “Weddings, dream vacations, discovering family, and supporting people to deeper relationships in the communities help staff to see the difference they make in people’s lives.”
Systematically improving the quality of life for people NYSARC Chapters serve and being able to show that through quantifiable data is at the core of CQL, said Michael Doherty, Ph.D., Executive Director, Chemung ARC, who first led his Chapter toward a more person-centered approach in the mid-1990s. After exploring other quality-based accrediting bodies, Doherty said CQL’s person-centered approach appealed to his leadership team. With 30 cross-functional teams comprised of 300 people, Chemung ARC invested two years in the process, training 24 staff members to become POM interviewers. In one “intimidating” part of the accreditation process, Doherty said, community stakeholders even share feedback with CQL representatives on the Chapter’s performance. Chemung ARC received CQL accreditation in 2007, just one of four NYSARC Chapters at the time to earn that distinction.
CQL provides “a common framework that just pulls people together” at an organization to focus on delivering quality supports and services, said Doherty.
The Chemung ARC executive director, however, recognizes the big-picture ramifications of instilling a person-centered, quality improvement approach. “The State of New York is taking quality very seriously,” he said, noting that having all NYSARC Chapters adopt standardized quality measures would be “a differentiating factor” as the Governor looks to introduce managed care among people with developmental disabilities.
As a result, the Executive Board of the Finger Lakes Collaborative, comprised of 12 upstate NYSARC Chapters including Chemung ARC, recently resolved to have all 12 agencies CQL-accredited within the next three years, he added.
In fact, this statewide commitment has captured the attention of CQL national leadership.
“CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership is pleased to partner with so many NYSARC chapters as they embrace accreditation using Personal Outcome Measures®. The CQL Personal Outcome Measures® are enabling these providers to learn about people’s definition of quality of life and gather information about the person’s priorities and preferences in order to support their person centered plans,” said Cathy Ficker Terrill, former CEO and now Senior Advisor, CQL.
So, with such high praise, what words of advice would leaders at accredited Chapters give to other Chapters currently pursuing CQL accreditation?
Well, for one thing, nearly all the executives interviewed suggested seeking counsel and guidance from other NYSARC Chapters that had been through the process.
Next, prepare to be humbled. Despite their preparations, Spada said her Chapter was “mortally surprised” at their poor initial showing, satisfying only five of 25 Personal Outcome Measures for some of the people initially interviewed. “It was a wake-up call because we thought we were there.”
Based on her experiences, Mary Therese Owen, Quality Enhancement Director, Chemung ARC, suggested “keeping an open mind. The whole point is continually improve.”
Finally, Chapter executive directors agreed that earning CQL accreditation is just the beginning of the journey, not the destination. CQL accreditation “doesn’t end. You’re always going to be improving and tweaking things,” said Korotzer. Added Winston, receiving CQL accreditation “does not mean you’re the best agency on the planet; you’ve got a lot more work to do.”
And with another dozen NYSARC Chapters still pursuing CQL accreditation, looking to fulfill the hopes, dreams and aspirations of thousands of people with developmental disabilities, the most rewarding work still lays ahead.
For more information about CQL accreditation, click here to visit CQL's website.
29 British American Blvd.
Latham, NY 12110
Phone: (518) 439-8311
Fax: (518) 439-1893
P.O. Box 1531
Latham, New York 12110
Phone: (800) 735-8924
Fax: (518) 439-2670