Nurses Week 2022

Nurses Week 2022

Last week we celebrated Nurses Week, and if you ask us, one week just doesn’t seem like enough!

What would we be without our tremendous team of Incompass nurses? We’d be falling apart quite literally! We are indebted to them for their gracious dedication to supporting the vulnerable people in our programs and group homes.

The timing also couldn’t have been better to award Kate Burk, part of the nursing team, with an ADDP Continuing Education scholarship. A big thanks to Seven Hills Foundation and Justice Resource Institute, the sponsors who make this type of aid available to our care champions. Well deserved, indeed!

 

Kate Burk and Incompass COO Al Frugoli pose together.

ABI Community Center Orientation at Omni Way

ABI Community Center Orientation at Omni Way

Today was an exciting day at Omni Way, as we welcomed participants to the first-ever Incompass Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Community Center. The ABI Community Center seeks to empower participants to maximize their level of independence, self-confidence, and dignity so they can experience full lives in their communities.

Incompass staff enjoyed coffee and breakfast with participants and their families before moving into the main room for more formal introductions. Heather Mantell, Assistant Director of Family & Community Services, is acting as an interim program manager until we welcome our newest care champion, Stephanie, in June.

The Center is still in its development phase as far as the activity schedule, but there was a strong emphasis on self-advocacy during the orientation. More than anything, we want the folks joining us from the ABI community to shape the Center into a place that will meet their unique needs.

A full continuum of community-based supports will be accessible to participants, comprised of skilled clinicians and care champions that serve on an interdisciplinary treatment team. Staff will encourage participation in the Center’s operations through a variety of work units such as:

  • Administration
  • Governance
  • Programming
  • Maintenance of physical site
  • Food service
  • Human Resources
  • Center development

We look forward to what the future holds for this new group joining us. Welcome to Incompass!

Care Champions Love April Fool’s

Care Champions Love April Fool’s

Angela Otieno, director of residential services, has championed April Fool’s Day Week shenanigans since she first started at Incompass (you read that right…week!). One of the things we all missed out on during the pandemic was this annual Incompass tradition, and it’s great to have it back…over to you Angie!

From no-tear toilet paper to fake parking tickets and cockroaches to BrownEEESss!!!

This is my favorite holiday. Given that COVID ruined my plans for the past couple of years, there is no way it could be contained in one day. It was April Fools Week!!

I don’t have a picture of it, but Al Frugoli’s office was hit! LOL! Ask him to tell you about the phone ringing. (And there may be a few other surprises yet to be discovered. 🤔 )

We all know how challenging it’s been over the past couple of years. We all deserved this light-hearted moment. While work continues to be very “worky” at times, I need to remind myself and others that there is still time for fun. We could all use this reminder to make time for it as it reminds us that we aren’t robots.

My team has never stopped, in fact, back in March of 2020 when day programs shut down, residential went into hyperdrive. All individuals now were without warning told to remain home until things resolved with the virus. Could be a few weeks or months we were told initially.

Fast forward to two years later and a good number of individuals are still home because of staffing issues with day programs. So for the past 2+ years shared living providers and group home staff have become truly a 24-hour model. It’s taken a toll on people in immeasurable ways.

The least I could do is give my team and others in the office time to be distracted from the hard work they’ve been focused on. Maybe have them laugh or be grossed out. It’s a win either way.

I do have to say that one of the best moments was when I brought one of the specimen jars filled with apple juice into managers meeting and told everyone I needed to remember to drop it off to the lab then proceeded to tell them I was thirsty and opened it up and drank it. I then calmly put it back in my bag. John Mbuthia was horrified as was Ozi E and Alex Moiwoh. Oscar then calmly says. “It’s ok, they’re family”. I then calmly proceeded with the meeting as if nothing happened. Fantastic.

And then of course Kidnapping Thompson Stephens’ truck and relocating it to the DCF parking lot where it got a makeover with caution tape and saran wrap. Thank you DCF for calling the police – I had to explain to them that it’s April fools week because it happened on Tuesday. He seemed puzzled; I can’t imagine why!

Kwasi and Susan have yet to see their offices so I look forward to their return to the magic. Oscar said he was going to share some of his balloons. Gosh I hope he has enough.

Oscar actually told the gentleman that cleans to make sure he didn’t clean up the balloons in his office because he wanted them there all week. He said he loved it. He was the first one blessed on Monday!!

It was nice to hear laughter at the office after such a long time. It felt like the good old days.

Already planning for next year!

-Angie

Greater Lowell Community Foundation Awards 9K to Incompass

Greater Lowell Community Foundation Awards 9K to Incompass

Incompass Human Services was pleased to receive a grant of $9,000 from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation (GLCF) towards the purchase of rapid test kits at the height of the Omicron surge. The immediate availability of this critical resource made a world of difference for both our direct care staff and the vulnerable population of individuals that they are supporting in our programs and residential homes.

Without the generosity of funders, such as GLCF, we would not have been able to sustain an essential workforce comprised of direct support professionals, program nurses, and managers over these past two years. Looking back to the late summer of 2020, we were in the midst of a sudden suspension of day programs and community-based activities. GLCF stepped in during that time, allowing us to continue to provide high-quality residential care and virtual supports to our community.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have managed to keep the number of positive cases relatively low. Just as we were settling into the idea that we could return to some type of normal within programs, Omnicron unexpectedly overwhelmed us. Knowing that we have the support of an incredible partner like Greater Lowell Community Foundation has provided a tremendous amount of relief. Their continued support of our mission does not go unnoticed.  ” says CEO Jean Phelps.

For more information on GLCF’s mission and its open grant cycles visit www.glcfoundation.org.

 

We cannot keep asking more of human services workers

We cannot keep asking more of human services workers

by Jean Phelps, CEO, Incompass Human Services and President, New England Human Services Collaborative

Staffing crisis. Worker shortage. “The Great Resignation.” Over the past year, a variation of these phrases has been presented in news stories and op-eds to citizens of the Commonwealth, describing the challenges that businesses are facing to return services to pre-pandemic levels. In the human services industry, we were facing a “workforce crisis” for years before COVID began. Low rates of reimbursement and a shrinking labor pool had driven industry vacancy rates to 40% or more by the end of 2019…then came COVID.

Today our programs cannot operate at full capacity because we do not have enough staff to serve those in need. We have a long waitlist of individuals and families who are frustrated with waiting to return to the programs that we had to close because of pandemic restrictions in 2020. Others are seeking placement into a program for the first time having graduated from special education and are seeking adult supports and services. As someone who has dedicated my entire 36-year career to this work, this scenario is heartbreaking; for want of staff, Incompass would be serving these folks.

Given that the human services workforce provides support to one out of every ten people in Massachusetts, the current staffing shortages in our field have real consequences for the people we support. Incompass Human Services has provided critical supports to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities throughout greater Lowell and greater Lawrence for over 65 years.  Every Incompass staff person, who we proudly call our Care Champions, no matter their role, is motivated to make a positive impact on our community. Their dedication and focus ensure that we can deliver on our mission to empower the people we support, even under the most challenging of circumstances. But Incompass (and other similar organizations) are facing unprecedented challenges to recruit and hire Care Champions to deliver the supports that the people we serve deserve.

Right now, the path to resuming a full complement of services is still not clear, and our ability to impact compensation to incentivize employment in human services is limited. While our highly skilled staff are dedicated – and we do enjoy a healthy rate of employee longevity – the fact is that the pay scale in the human services field is not competitive. Even after the infusion of short-term governmental COVID-based relief funding, we don’t have the ability to adequately compensate our current workforce or hire new workers. Approximately 98% of funding for Incompass Human Services comes from state contracts with direct billing to the state, and those reimbursement rates are determined through a rate-setting process by the state of Massachusetts. Ultimately those rates determine the salaries we can pay our Care Champions.

While we have been fortunate to receive American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that were disbursed to front-line employees in the form of one-time retention bonuses and other limited compensation the ARPA funds are short-term. To have a meaningful and permanent impact on the workforce, funding to raise salaries must be given permanently, or we will continue to struggle to recruit and retain staff.

Consider that the poverty level for a family of four in Massachusetts is $26,508 according to the 2021 MassHealth income standards. And the median wage for a Massachusetts human services worker is $27,736 according to the Providers’ Council. Given that the Providers’ Council report cites the median wage in all other industries in Massachusetts as $40,557, recruiting staff for this work – an essential, person-facing job that is both rewarding and demanding – is becoming an impossible task.

Keep in mind, that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the consumer price index (CPI) increased by 7.5% in January from a year ago, so the wage gap is growing. While companies in the private sector can offer more generous compensation packages to attract new workers human services organizations like Incompass that are tasked with caring for those who are most vulnerable are not able to “charge more” or “give smaller portions” to offset costs or offer competitive compensation. As a result, too many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who rely on our services continue to be without a program.

Through it all, the Care Champions at Incompass Human have been the most awe-inspiring group of people I have ever been around. While we rightly acknowledge and show gratitude to the front-line workers who have been working in our community throughout the pandemic, those direct support professionals who do this work are invisible heroes. They are not seen on the nightly news under their PPE, they are not celebrated as the “essential” workers that they are, they are not even recognized by the federal department of labor as an occupation worthy of classification. Yet the 300 Incompass Care Champions do their jobs because they genuinely and deeply care about the people they support and appreciate the relationships they have forged over the years.

We cannot keep asking the human services workforce to accept a wage that devalues who they are and what they do. We cannot minimize the role that direct support professionals fill in our communities. We cannot ignore the fact that these hourly workers are skilled professionals who are caregivers, skill-builders, activity specialists, meal preparers, and lifesavers. We cannot keep messaging families and caregivers that we do not have the staff to support their loved ones to be served in one of our programs.

We must truthfully and realistically acknowledge that in order to do right by persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, our seniors, people with physical disabilities, people suffering from substance abuse, families facing food insecurity, we must first do what’s right for the people who support them.

Mahatma Gandhi’s words resonate with me “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.  How will we be measured if we don’t lift up the workforce that supports the most vulnerable?