A Diversity of Services Requires A Diversity of Providers

Community-based services are different.  In 2001, Oregon made a deep investment in community supports when it began to develop Support Services Brokerages.  This style of service, which seeks to serve people where and how they wish to live, is very support servicesdifferent from the institutional settings of the past.  People make different choices when you let them, they express different needs than you might have anticipated–they surprise you.  Oregon found that community-based services demanded a wider diversity of providers.  People inviting workers into their homes expected different things from those providers: willingness to take direction directly from the individual as to how to do the job, and an understanding and respect for self-determination.  Brokerage customers made use of established provider agencies for some tasks, direct employees for others; and over the years, Independent Contractors, or professionals in the field who go into business for themselves, have also sprung up around in-home services and customer needs.

Independent Contractors often offer a professional level of skills and experience, as well as ancillary expertise such as sign language, to provide the targeted training needed to build a more independent life.  For many people, an experienced, capable, autonomous, self-employed trainer has meant the difference between continuing to rely on others and acquiring the skills to live more independently.  Over the years, Independent Contractors have been essential to providing this kind of high-level skills training to Brokerage customers.

In 2014, the Independent Contractor stakeholder work-group mandated by the SEIU/DHS collective bargaining agreement issued a report concluding that changes to the system had likely made legitimate classification of independent contractors next to impossible.  The group’s work included consultations with The Oregon Employment Department.  Systemic changes due to the K state plan, overlay of union representation, implementation of the eXPRS payment system, and new rate structures have all resulted in incremental shifts, accumulating to a significant transformation of the business of Independent Contractors within the field.  This shift has jeopardized their correct classification as Independent Contractors by moving them closer and closer to the appearance of employees.rob_olga2

Brokerages believe and have always believed that Independent Contractors fill a particular need among brokerage customers.  Diversity of providers has been a hallmark of the brokerage system since its inception.  The elimination of Independent Contractors as a distinct class of providers with a distinct set of skills to offer people with IDD will be a significant loss to the people being served by Oregon.  When high-caliber skills training and the people who provide it are no longer supported by appropriate compensation, it starts to disappear as an option for the people who need it.  Community-based IDD services require people who can offer strength-based supports–people who can work with a person to understand a goal, create achievable steps, and get there.  OSSA supports a true diversity of provider options to meet the diversity of individual needs.

PSW-ICs deserve our support.  This group of people who have established businesses around the unique needs of Oregon’s IDD community, people who have built these skills and relationships, deserve a solution that allows them to continue to flourish and contribute their professional talents to serve the unique needs of Oregonians.


DD Awareness Event Honors Margaret Theisen as DD Champion

"I Have Something to Say" poster, and model Maddie Zielinski

“I Have Something to Say” poster, and model Maddie Zielinski

Last Friday March 6th, the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities hosted the 2015 DD Awareness Celebration kickoff event.  As part of the festivities, attendees enjoyed guest speakers Robin Shobe and state DD Director Lilia Teninty, and the unveiling of the 2015 DD Awareness poster “I Have Something to Say,” highlighting adaptive technology, with participation from poster model Maddie Zielinski.  Sherri Osburn, Vice Chair of the Oregon Council, served as emcee, and Senator Sara Gelser read a message to the community from Governor Kate Brown.

Senator Gelser also presented awards to this year’s DD Champion recipients, Jim Wrigley of Disability Rights Oregon, Margaret Theisen of Full Access, and Trisha Baxter of DHS.  Bob Joondeph of Disability Rights Oregon accepted the award on behalf of Jim Wrigley, who was unavailable. All three recipients have been pillars of the DD Community, and their retirements create a call to action for those who remain to try to fill their roles.

Margaret Theisen

Margaret Theisen accepts DD Champion award from Sherri Osburn and San. Sara Gelser.

Margaret’s introduction rightly spoke of the leadership and inspiration she has provided to the Brokerage community, and to the broader I/DD community.  Her focus on self-determination for the people with I/DD that we serve never wavers.  Margaret has demonstrated in her daily work that we cannot compromise on core values.  She has been the person in the room who is willing to say the unpopular thing, the uncomfortable thing, and in doing so, often what matters most.  Margaret is set to retire from Full Access in June, where she has served as Executive Director for 13 years.

OSSA’s Vision for the Future of Disability Services in Oregon

Sometimes, in the midst of change, it is hard to see the way forward.  Oregon’s system of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities once felt like it had a clear identity as a national leader for progressive, community-based service.  We closed down institutions.  We gave control to the people using the services.  We showed that giving people self-determination can not only be right, it can also be cost-effective, good business.  Somewhere, in the crush of change and hurtling, forward momentum, we have lost the clarity of that identity.

Oregon the beautiful, through and through.

Oregon the beautiful, through and through.

Now is the time to work to reclaim that pioneering spirit at the heart of our state.  Make no mistake, it will take work–no one else in the nation is using the K Plan in the same way that Oregon has.  We’re out on the grand stage, we’re under the watchful eye of the national Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and we need to make this work.

It is in the spirit of collaboration, excellence, and service that we offer our Vision for the Future.  As is stated in our Opening Thoughts on page 2, this is “intended to be a starting point for discussion,” not a perfect, finished product.  We start with the vision and we fill in the rest, together.ossacoverforfacebook

Take a look, let your gears turn, and share your thoughts with us.

Thank you!

Who is OSSA?

Dear Personal Agents, Brokerage office staff, Lead Personal Agents, Operations Managers, Fiscal Managers, accounting staff, Provider Coordinators, Resource Managers, and every other Brokerage staff member,

At the start of February 2015, you hired me to serve as your Executive Director. Did you know that? The Oregon Support Services Association represents the 13 Brokerages around the state of Oregon. OSSA’s board of directors is comprised of the 13 Executive Directors of each Brokerage. But OSSA is so much more than that—our membership includes each and every person employed by a Brokerage to do the work of Support Services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. So to you all I say, thank you for taking a chance on me, and let me tell you a little bit about the person you hired, and the work I’m going to do.

Katie Rose enjoying a cup of coffee

Can’t get enough good coffee.

A life-long Oregonian, I started in the field of I/DD services fresh out of college, working in direct care at United Cerebral Palsy Association of Oregon and SW Washington. Since that time I’ve served at Mentor Oregon as a Personal Agent, Lead Personal Agent, and Brokerage Director, for a total of 12 years in the field.

Serving in these capacities, I’ve developed a strong theory of leadership: leadership exists in service to the people doing the work. We accomplish that by clearing the way for the actual work to get done, with easy to understand guidance, increased efficiency, and a sharp focus on our customers. True leadership isn’t afraid of feedback or differing views, and it remains open to new facts, and developing realities.

Personal Agents, that means you’re at the top of my pyramid, because you’re answering the needs of individuals in service directly. Office support staff, PA supervisors, other managers—you’re next, as you directly support the work that Personal Agents perform for customers. Brokerage Directors, you support the whole team, and I work directly for you. My charge as OSSA Executive Director is to be a strong and unwavering voice for our collective needs, concerns, passions, and goals.

To close this post, I’d like to share with you some of OSSA’s priorities over the next two years. In a release coming later this week, OSSA is incredibly excited to share with you Our Vision for the Future of Disability Services in Oregon, created by your Directors at last September’s OSSA retreat. The document is well worth your time. It outlines an ambitious, energizing plan for rebuilding a stellar service system to Oregonians with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As a preview, some of OSSA’s key priorities include:

  • Honoring the strengths of Oregon’s case management workforce by returning to a system of specialized case management, where people who choose in-home supports are assisted by Brokerage staff, and people who choose licensed/certified settings are assisted by CDDP staff
  • Re-infusing the system with the principles of self-determination at every point possible, by returning budgetary control to customers, educating customer employers on employment responsibilities, engaging customers in provider choice, and encouraging responsible fiscal management of public funds at every level.
  • Restoring true choice to individuals entering and in service by removing the caps on current Brokerage contracts
Image of Katie's office door while serving as Brokerage Director

My door while serving as Brokerage Director at Mentor Oregon was plastered with the wonderful Rosie the Riveter, sporting my likeness.

I hope this is as exciting to you as it is to me.  The last two years of rapid change in Oregon have left me feeling battered, without direction, reactive, and operating in a permanent crisis mode. It seems like the old service system was demolished without a clear idea of what should be built to take its place. No one does their best work without a clear vision for what they want to accomplish.

We cannot afford to wait for someone else to tell us which way to point the ship, we must define success for ourselves, and head in that direction.  I intend to meet the challenges and opportunities laid out in our vision head-on, with partnership, advocacy, and strength.  Join me, members of OSSA–there is a lot of work for us to do.


Katie Rose