More than 100 people came together at the Black Box Theatre to advocate for the human services workforce
PEABODY, MA – On Friday, April 1, Incompass Human Services joined six other northeast Massachusetts human services agencies to host elected officials at the annual “Northeast Human Services Advocacy Breakfast” at the Black Box Theatre in Peabody, MA. Given the fact that it was April Fool’s Day, the theme of the 2022 breakfast was “It’s No Joke,” with a robust policy agenda focused on the workforce crisis in the state’s human services industry.
More than 100 people attended the breakfast that was catered by the Breaking Grounds Café, a social enterprise operated by the Northeast Arc. Speakers included Senator Joann Lovely, Peabody Mayor Ted Bettencourt, Centerboard program director Martina Campbell, and Northeast Arc family member Carol McGee – whose sister receives services from the Northeast Arc. The breakfast was co-sponsored by a consortium of human services providers:
Human services leaders are asking for an increase to the Chapter 257 Rate Reserve that would bring wages to $20.30/hour
Northeast Arc CEO JoAnn Simons, Bridgewell CEO Chris Tuttle, NFI Massachusetts CEO Lydia Todd, and Incompass CEO Jean Phelps also made remarks in support of the workforce.
“We’re specifically asking lawmakers to set aside funds to raise the starting wage for human service workers,” remarked Tuttle.
Incompass CEO Jean Phelps at the podium.
Phelps, who had just returned from Washington, D.C. where she attended the Disability Policy Seminar, recalled words from Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley that stuck with her that morning. “It would be great if we didn’t have to weaponize our trauma around disability to adequately support our services.”
Incompass Human Services and the six other human services agencies sponsoring the event used the venue to highlight the major policy initiative being championed by The Collaborative – an increase of $581.6 million for the Chapter 257 Rate Reserve. This increase is a necessary investment in the human services industry, as it would bring wages up to a more competitive $20.30 an hour.
“Without this increase, we’re going to continue to lose workers to Amazon and to the state, and we won’t be able to offer the services and supports that the vulnerable people we serve rely on,” Todd told the crowd.
Speakers focused on the important work that human services workers perform, and the lives they touch
A high point of the morning was the legislative panel, which was moderated by Arc of Massachusetts CEO Leo Sarkisian. The panelists included:
Senator JoAnn Lovely
Representative Jamie Belsito addresses the crowd.
Senator Bruce Tarr
Senator Brendan Crighton
Representative Paul Tucker
Representative Dan Cahill
Representative Jamie Belsito
Representative Thomas Walsh
Representative Sally Kerans
“This is about dignity. This is about respect. This is about our communities. This is about our vulnerable populations,” said Representative Belsito in her remarks advocating for more support for the critical workers in the human services field.
Picking up on that theme, Representative Tucker remarked that “they do it because they have a passion for helping people and working with some really special folks. No headlines. No accolades. Sometimes they might get a pat on the back, but that doesn’t pay the bills.”
Representative Walsh added that “we have a terrific group of legislators here who really do hear your message…and we have a tremendous respect for the work that you do.”
Last year’s breakfast was cancelled due to the pandemic, so this was a momentous morning
Attendees remarked on what an uplifting morning it was, and how much they appreciated being in-person given that last year’s breakfast was cancelled due to the pandemic. Senator Diana DiZoglio and former Senator Richard Tisei were also in attendance, as were numerous human services workers, families, and caregivers.
The legislative panel and human services leaders take a moment to strike a pose after a lively panel discussion.
“How come I’m not crying?” Sandy wondered as she set up her son’s new room. Because transitioning your child to residential living doesn’t have to be a devastating experience! Especially when the staff are committed to making the house a home for your loved one.
Understandably, Sandy and Kevin were reluctant as they arrived at the latest living arrangement for their son, Craig. While they trusted the process, there was still a sense of dread. They had pictured a more solemn, barren home before they had toured the new group home-run operated Incompass Human Services.
Transitioning Craig to residential living was not a decision that Sandy and Kevin took lightly. It is every parent’s hope that they can meet every one of their child’s needs. But as Craig grew over the years, so did his needs. Safety concerns, behavioral difficulties, and food restrictions became more prevalent. Perhaps it wasn’t what they imagined for themselves when Craig was born, but his quality of life was their top priority. So, they reimagined their family’s reality.
The essence of this reality was captured perfectly the first time that Sandy and Kevin walked into the residence. “To whoever designed this home – wow. It was homey, comforting, and brought us a sense of peace,” said Sandy. She likened it to a vacation that they had taken in Italy. Stepping out of the airport initially and being overwhelmed with a sense of awe.
When asked if Craig felt the same way about the home, his parents explained that he uses alternative methods of communication because he is nonverbal. But they knew he was comfortable. “He sat down on the couch like he’s always lived there,” said Kevin.
Incompass group home residents are very thoughtfully chosen with the individual’s needs in mind. “We know that moving into a new home is a huge adjustment for families and their loved ones,” said Oscar Gyamfi Legendre, Assistant Director of Residential Services at Incompass. “We take pride in listening to family members and learning some of the routines of their loved ones because nobody knows our new resident better than them.”
Craig is on the autism spectrum, along with the rest of his housemates. Staff on each shift are specially trained in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and can anticipate and effectively address difficulties that arise because of the staff to resident ratio. Naturally, the acclimation to a new environment can be a bumpy one. Sandy and Kevin were proactive in making the transition as seamless as possible, creating a book so that staff could get to know Craig better. As well as recording videos of them preparing meals that are within his restrictive diet.
“Not only were they receptive to our input, but they also acknowledged that it would help to maintain Craig’s quality of life. And make it even better,” said Kevin.
They were blown away by the staff’s commitment to the individuals and their attention to detail. Along with his autism diagnosis, Craig also lives with epilepsy. This means that safety precautions are of the utmost importance. Staff arranged for Craig to have a lower bed frame to help reduce the risk of injury if he had a seizure while sleeping, and the floors were carpeted to help with impact. Ample opportunities for leisure, both in and out of the home, are provided for individuals including an air hockey table, treadmill, and a wonderful swing in the backyard for nicer days.
Sandy and Kevin credited two Incompass Care Champions for their memorable experience moving Craig into his Tyngsboro home. Legendre and Daniel Nginyayu, House Manager. As they said their goodbyes for the day, Nginyayu insisted, “Everything is taken care of.”
We could go on and on, but we’ll leave you with these words from Sandy and Kevin instead,
“We know now that we have found our son’s forever home.”
The Chairman of the COVID task force, Al Frugoli, sent the message below to Incompass staff last week on January 28, 2021.
Dear Care Champions:
The numbers are in! We were able to vaccinate 177 staff and individuals this week during our vaccination clinics with Long Term Pharmacy Solutions (LTPS)! Woohoo!!! We are so grateful that so many of you were able to receive the first dose of the vaccine this week, and we will be in touch with details for the February booster shot clinics in the coming weeks.
In this week’s task force update, we’re sharing a recap of our first Incompass vaccine clinics, important resources on the statewide vaccination process, and updates on our own COVID protocols.
The Vaccine Clinic:
The LTPS team has conducted a number of these clinics, and remarked on how impressed they were with our team! The clinical tandem of Alicia Mordach and Chris Snell specifically want to recognize a few members of the team who went above and beyond to ensure we had a smooth process:
The consensus among Care Champions was some sore arms the next day for sure, but no major side-effects from the shot. Our group home residents were fortunate that our highly-skilled residential nursing team was in the observation room keeping an eye on them after their shot and monitoring them this week:
For those who couldn’t attend and wish to be vaccinated, all individual-facing Incompass staff are now eligible to receive the vaccine under the latest Phase 1 guidelines. While we’re actively working with LTPS to procure more doses for another clinic, at this time we don’t know when – or if – we’ll be able to hold another one. The state has opened numerous vaccine clinics where eligible members of the population can sign up to be vaccinated. While not every clinic requires it, if you need proof of employment, you can reach out to human resources.
You can view a list of vaccine clinic locations here, and download the self-attestation form for eligibility here. I recommend you pay close attention to the criteria at each individual site, as some are restricted to residents of a town/city or are only serving senior citizens. Nearly all of them require an appointment to be made in advance through the listed website as well; they aren’t accepting walk-ins. The Governor announced this week that he anticipates having 165 clinics statewide by the end of next month, so check back regularly as more sites in our area hopefully come online.
COVID Safety Protocols, Testing, and Updates:
Remember, while this is an important step forward, everyone who has received the vaccine must continue to follow all of the COVID protocols at Incompass. The vaccine does not prevent the spread of coronavirus, so wearing a mask, socially distancing, reporting symptoms, etc. is critical to protect not only yourself but those around you. (And remember that KN95 masks must be worn at all times in program areas.) We’ll continue to do this #ForEachOther, as the health and safety of all of you and the people you support remains our top priority.
On that note, day programs in our Parker Street facility were suspended yesterday for 14 days after we got word of a positive staff test on Monday. The staff member is asymptomatic but had reported interactions with each of our three Parker cohorts in the days prior to the positive test. We are following our own protocols around exposure – meaning that each of the cohorts and respective DSPs are undergoing testing and need to isolate until February 8 to prevent an outbreak. The day program facilities will also undergo a deep cleaning during this period. We are working on engaging with our participants virtually over the next two weeks to help with the transition, and look forward to welcoming them back!
These are difficult decisions, but taking the necessary precautions is our best defense against an outbreak. And your continued cooperation and vigilance is absolutely a key reason for our success.
That’s all for this week! Keep getting tested. Keep being vigilant. Keep self-reporting. And keep being hopeful. While Chelmsford and Lawrence remain in the “high-risk” designation, the statewide positivity rate dropped below 5.0% last week for the first time since November, and we’re hopeful that’s a sign of things to come. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that we will gather again someday and it will be something to celebrate!
“The end of 2019 is upon us… but the truth of the matter is, I’m far too excited about the year ahead for LifeLinks CLASS to look back!” –Jean Phelps, December 16, 2019
Dear Incompass Family:
Yep, that quote was me one year ago! Actually, last year I was writing my annual message to all of you from England, where I spent the holidays with my new grandson! And that was on the heels of another fun Annual Holiday Party at Lenzi’s! So yeah, safe to say my quote about 2020 hasn’t aged well, to say the least (including the LifeLinks CLASS reference)!
So I thought I should take the opposite approach this year in my holiday message to you. I know it was a challenging year, but I’m going to look back. Because despite the hardships, we have a lot to be proud of.
First and foremost, my heart goes out to anyone who’s been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those who have lost loved ones. And to our Care Champions who continue to work on the front lines at the height of the pandemic to provide care and support to the people we serve: thank you. You are not only essential, but you are an inspiration to so many at Incompass and beyond!
I think at some point down the line, when people ask me the theme of 2020, I’m going to say “overcoming.” We faced every obstacle you could imagine this year. And we faced it head-on…as a team. And our community is better for it.
But let’s not forget…we managed to take several steps forward along the way. I mean, look at this list!
and most importantly, we all worked together with our COVID-19 task force to keep all of our individuals and staff safe and healthy!
Now, did we have some setbacks? You bet. But you know what? The way we rose to the challenge this year and dusted ourselves off every time we were knocked down, tells me something about Incompass Care Champions.
We are resilient. We are dedicated. And we are stronger together.
I want you all to enjoy the holiday season. I know it will be different this year, but memories will still be made. So be safe, be happy, and be smart. And get ready for the year ahead. The vaccines are coming. And we will be able to be together again…I promise.
Happy New Year!
In the midst of this pandemic, caravans have become a familiar way to preserve our sense of community – connecting with loved ones and celebrating milestones. A week ago today, the Care Champions Caravan traveled to all 16 of the LifeLinks CLASS group homes to thank our direct support professionals for the incredible dedication they exemplify every day.
Chris Snell, Clinical Director, talks about how the idea came together after speaking with a group home manager, “As he [Simon] spoke to the depths of those struggles it slowly became clear that he was conveying concerns not for himself, but for the safety and well-being of the people that live in the group homes he manages. That conversation opened our eyes to the magnitude of the selflessness our frontline professionals engage in every day during these trying times.” There was a consensus across the leadership team that we needed to show our appreciation in a big way. “Our homes are designed and maintained to blend in with others in the neighborhood. We work very hard at this. The goal here though was the opposite; to shine the brightest spotlight on each of these 16 programs so they stood out,” explains Angela Otieno, Director of Residential Services.
Thanks to a generous donation by Boston Bean Coffee Company, we were able to surprise each of our group homes with care packages. The caravan was met with cheers and waving hands – described by staff as “spectaculous” and “uplifting”. Neighbors even joined in on the fun!
“Our gratitude knows no bounds,” says CEO Jean Phelps. “Our direct support professionals, managers, and nursing staff have willingly and selflessly worked to ensure the safety and health of our residents while keeping them engaged and supported during the Covid-19 pandemic. We always knew that LifeLinks CLASS staff are the best of the best, these past several weeks have proven it over and over. We are proud to salute our care champions and to thank them through this small gesture of our love and appreciation.”