By Jennifer Skelly
Director of Penn-Mar PA Programs
If you are engaged with the Penn-Mar mission, you have undoubtedly heard us use the phrase “person-centered” as it relates to every interaction we have with the people that we support.
In many ways the words speak for themselves. With a person-centered model, the focus is on probing to understand the underlying motivation for a person’s wants, needs, and desires, be it working in a restaurant, having alone time during the day, losing weight, writing a cookbook, cutting the lawn or vacationing in Las Vegas.
At Penn-Mar, we view this approach as a thinking process where our leaders set the course. But it is the Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) who are charged with implementing the plan every day who must have a critical role in its development.
It’s easy to find lots of tools and ideas on the internet to help produce a PC plan but we weren’t looking to go the cookie-cutter route. So rather than accept a universal standard of practice, we created a task force comprised DSPs to study and define what “person-centered” supports at Penn-Mar will look like now and in the future.
Think of it as a doctrine that can be refined and enhanced as need be and one that challenges all of us — the individuals we support, their families and our team members.
To begin, we viewed person-centered supports as a mindset rather than a mandated process that needed to begin with developing a plan, a life plan, for each individual. Development of the plan should include input from those in the individual’s circle of supports that they choose.
As with Penn-Mar’s innovative customized employment approach, we chose to rely on Exploration & Discovery to actively engage our individuals, listening and observing all forms of communication, gaining knowledge through direct interactions and information, all the while balancing risk while supporting the person’s life vision and decisions. In addition, everyone involved was tasked with putting their interests aside, approaching each situation without preconceived notions or bias.
From this process, we developed a definition for Penn-Mar’s unique person-centered approach: Empowering people to be their own voice.
Our goal here is to establish a culture at Penn-Mar where every team member will have this mindset front-and-center. For new team members, our person- centered approach will be introduced during the initial interview process and be reinforced from the first time they enter a day program or group home and throughout their career with the organization. Ideally it will help every DSP to make decisions “in the moment” to support the person’s dreams.
But in the end, true person-centeredness will go beyond just the creation of the plan. Critical to its success will be how the plan is lived daily and how each person’s voice drives the supports they need and want.