A Time for Embracing Innovation and Collaboration - Penn-Mar

A Time for Embracing Innovation and Collaboration

Posted on May 26, 2020

By Gregory T. Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer, Penn-Mar Human Services | Chief Executive Officer, Penn-Mar Foundation

The challenges continue.

Trying to adjust to extended sheltering-in-place orders that have upended households and temporarily suspended routines and relationships.

Acclimating to home schooling for the kids and home offices for the adults.

Worrying about paying bills with reduced income or worse yet, no income at all.

This pandemic caused many challenges at Penn-Mar as well, but also unexpected opportunities to find new ways and workable solutions for providing essential supports to people with disabilities.

Funding, workforce and technology are impacting what we do and how we do it like never before.

In our world, this new crisis has added additional complexity for how we get paid for the services we provide.

States have developed a 28-page document dubbed “Appendix K” to redefine the funding landscape and alternate services that will qualify to receive support in this different environment. We want to ensure integrity in our services but need to know what is and isn’t possible going forward; Appendix K has shed a lot of light on that.

These new guidelines are forcing us to embrace two of our core values — innovation and collaboration — and giving us much needed flexibility in how we deliver some of our services.

Our charge is to maximize our capacity to utilize innovative processes to provide individuals with the best support we can and team members with ongoing employment opportunities.

So how are we doing this?

First, we are evaluating each individual’s needs and figuring out what supports can we provide to adequately fill those needs.

Technology is playing a huge role in our service delivery. Appendix K allows us to innovate by providing funded remote services through Zoom conferencing.

Our Day Program, for example, has transitioned into each group home. For families in their own homes, we are getting technology to those that need it so they, too, can take advantage of our virtual programming.

Our DSPs are coming up with innovative, meaningful programming that covers cooking and nutrition, travel, exercise, and skill building, just to name a few. And our Operations, Learning and Development folks are providing the resources and processes to make all of these ideas come alive.

If you are a regular reader of my blog you are well aware that there is a shortage of Direct Support Professionals in our country to support people with disabilities. Yet, during this pandemic, we have unfortunately had to furlough some 150 team members.

We want them to come back as soon as possible but we need opportunities for them that will not jeopardize our financial integrity.

Our Human Resources Department is working closely with them to help secure unemployment benefits and keeping them apprised of upcoming workforce needs. Unfortunately, none of us know exactly how things will play out and when we can expect to staff up again.

The other unknown hanging out there is the federal government’s response to state stimulus funding requests. That will surely impact what services we can provide and the opportunities for employment for our team members going forward.

One of the positive outcomes from this pandemic is that the technology capability at Penn-Mar is becoming enhanced in powerful ways. It will never replace vital human interactions but it is showing how pieces of the services we provide can be delivered more creatively and cost-effectively.

Eventually we will transition back into full service. Our world may look different then but we will definitely come out of this time of innovation and collaboration having learned some incredibly valuable lessons, capable of taking on whatever challenges are thrown our way.

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