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Dennis W. Felty President, KHS

Dennis W. Felty

Things to Consider When Selecting a Community Organization to Provide Services to a Family Member

Selecting an organization to provide services for a family member is a very important decision. It is worthwhile to engage in a very thoughtful process of inquiry about the needs of your family member, support options available as well as the possible agencies that might provide the care. For family members who are very vulnerable, particularly those who need residential supports, the selection of a community agency may imply an enduring and trusting relationship of many years if not a lifetime.

Under Self-Determination there is a wonderful range of options for individuals and their families that are now available. These include informal supports from family, friends and neighbors, hiring your own support staff, creating a new agency, contracting with an existing agency to manage informal supports or selecting an agency to provide more structured services. Making a good decision on these many options can be challenging, however making an informed decision is more important than ever.

In writing this article, I have tried to think about what I would do if I was a parent or family member, knowing what I now know after thirty years of experience working with people with mental retardation. In response to this question I would like to suggest the following issues be considered in the process of selecting an agency to provide services and supports:

Mission & Values
Are the agency's Mission and Values consistent with yours, and are the hopes you have for your family member consistent with the vision the agency has for the people it serves? Do you see evidence of the stated Mission and Values being real in the operations of the services and the lives of the people being supported?
Quality
Does the organization have a proven, consistent track record for quality? Does it have a program to measure and monitor quality in a meaningful way? Consider checking the reputation of the organization with funding sources and county MH/MR offices. Consider checking the reputation of the agency with local advocacy groups and with families that are currently using services.
Role of Families
Do families have a significant say in the governance, planning and decision making process of the organization. Are families kept informed and are questions answered in a timely fashion?
Services
Does the organization have an array of services appropriate to the needs and interests of your family member? Does it have sufficient resources, flexibility and range of services to be able to readily change services as the needs of your family member change? If your family member has complex medical needs does the organization have sufficient medical expertise and resources to meet such needs?
Human Resources
Does the agency have a responsible human resource policy that allows it to recruit and retain the employees it needs to provide quality services? What has been the staff vacancy and turnover rate over the last three years? How are staff trained and supervised? Is the compensation level for the staff that will be supporting your family member adequate? What do the employees say about what is it like to work for the company?
Service Planning
Does the agency offer an effective and meaningful planning process such as Person Centered Planning?
Spiritual Life
Does the agency incorporate and actively support the faith, cultural and religious preferences and spiritual life of the people it serves? If you and your family member have a particular faith or religious affiliation, will this preference be actively supported and encouraged?
Compliance
Has the agency maintained good compliance with all licensing requirements and regulations?
Visits
It is important to visit several homes or programs at different times over an extended period. Are the homes comfortable and homey; are they clean and safe? Are they in nice neighborhoods and close to community resources, stores, transportation, neighbors, friends and family?
Leadership
Consider making an appointment with the Executive Director to discuss your interests and any questions you might have. Does the executive leadership have appropriate expertise and experience? Are they accessible and knowledgeable about issues of interest to you?
Governance
Is the governance of the agency effective? Does the Board have several family members serving on it? Does the Board have first hand knowledge about the agency? Is the Board accessible? Is the Board knowledgeable about services and local issues? Does the Board visit programs? Consider speaking to Board Members about the agency and the services you are interested in. Do you find it relevant if the agency is profit or non-profit? How might this issue effect services and supports to your family member?
Finance
Is the organization financially stable? Are the services properly and adequately funded? Is the organization free of improper conflicts of interest? Has there been any litigation that may suggest quality problems or litigation that may threaten the viability of the agency? If the organization is for-profit are the profit levels appropriate so as not to have an adverse impact on service quality and effectiveness? If the agency is non profit consider asking for the current audit and IRS 990 report. The IRS 990 reports on non profits are available on the internet at Guidestar.org.
History
Does the agency have a history that is consistent with the vision, life style and values you wish to see realized in the life of your family member?
Enduring Capacity
Is the agency stable and secure, being in a position to endure for the time your family member may need supports. Has the agency been sold or merged or might it be for sale or merged in the future. How would a change in ownership or control effect services to your family member? Is there any litigation or audit issues that might threaten the future viability of the agency? Dependent on your decision of how much structure is needed, what is the enduring capacity of an organization to provide support over the long term?
Cultural Competence
Does the organization have the expertise to be sensitive to and respond appropriately and effectively to individual cultural and ethnic preferences?
Innovation & Creativity
Does the organization have the ability to be innovative, being highly responsive to individual preferences, changes in needs and alternative support options?

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