“Weight of Waiting” Video Premiere

The “Weight of Waiting” video was part of the Northeast Advocacy Legislative Breakfast that Incompass hosted with a coalition of other human service agencies on March 31, 2023. These are but three stories of countless ones just like it across the state and even within Incompass.

  • Peter Orrall and Lisa Tulipani Orrall – Northeast Arc
  • Judith Montes de Oca – NFI Massachusetts, Inc.
  • Donald Duggan Jr., and Diana Slaney-Duggan – NFI Massachusetts, Inc.

Recap Of The 2023 Legislative Breakfast

Recap Of The 2023 Legislative Breakfast

On Friday, March 31, Incompass Human Services joined eight other northeastern MA human service agencies to hold an advocacy breakfast, calling on legislators to meet the growing demands in human services. The event’s theme was the “Weight of Waiting,” which aimed to demonstrate how the lack of access to critical human services is having detrimental effects on individuals and families in the Commonwealth. The quality of life and livelihoods of the vulnerable population we support are being threatened, and we must do better.

We were honored to be joined by:

  • Senator Joan Lovely (Second Essex District)
  • Representative Dan Cahill (10th Essex District)
  • Representative Kristin Kassner (2nd Essex District)
  • Representative Sally Kerans (13th Essex District)
  • Representative Tom Walsh (12 Essex District)

An enormous thank you to everyone who attended and all those who continue to advocate on behalf of the population we serve. Our collective goal as part of this breakfast was to advocate for support of Governor Healy’s proposed budget and the continued need for more resources to address the needs of human services organizations and those we serve, many of who are still waiting to return to services after the pandemic.

Though events like these only happen a few times a year, advocacy never stops. Agencies like ours can’t afford to take a break while we are hearing cries from families while simultaneously coping with a staffing crisis.

Senator Joan Lovely had this to say, ” I’m honored to offer remarks at the Northeast Human Service Providers Legislative Breakfast on behalf of the #NorthShoreMA delegation to thank our human service workers for their dedication to the critical work helping assisting our most vulnerable residents. I will continue to advocate for improved wages for these valuable workers.” Her support of the bills on Beacon Hill that will lead to a living wage for all of the human service workers in the state means so much!

Incompass CEO, and event MC, Jean Phelps offered some profound words on the “Weight of Waiting” and the “profound impact of being a caregiver.” Representative Sally Kerans echoed those same sentiments while sitting on the legislative panel, “We value the legacy of people who care for our loved ones.”

The highlight of the morning was the premiere the “Weight of Waiting” video that highlighted three families from Northeast Arc, and NFI Massachusetts, Inc. There wasn’t a dry eye in the building as the families shared their struggles. Our advocacy efforts are that much more impactful when we can highlight real life stories. We are incredibly grateful to the families for sharing such vulnerable moments with us. The video will be shared separately, so be sure to check it out!




Women in Leadership: Front and Center at Incompass

Women in Leadership: Front and Center at Incompass

What does it mean to you to be a woman in a leadership position? This is what we asked two Care Champions who were recently promoted at Incompass Human Services. Kelly Trickett is joining the executive leadership team at Incompass as Chief Operating Officer. Heather Mantell is going into her second year with a notable promotion as Director of Family & Community Services.

“To be a female leader is exciting to me.  Both personally and professionally, it means being the best version of me there is. It’s providing support to those around me and on my team. It’s being a team player, taking initiative, working hard, listening, making decisions, and being the driving force of change where change is needed.  It’s a whole lot of things but most importantly it’s being a role model to others who want to be leaders too,” says Trickett.

Mantell echoed similar sentiments when asked what the promotion meant to her, “I hope that they can trust me and understand my commitment to them as well as the people we serve.”

Trust. Support. Mentorship. All themes that play into the bigger purpose of strengthening the Care Champion culture at Incompass. Trickett speaks on the goals she has set for herself as she steps into her new role as COO, “I want to develop trusting relationships with the care champions at Incompass, emphasize and show the importance of teamwork, and make people feel inspired and motivated to continue to do what they do best when it comes to providing the best care possible to the people we serve.”

Trickett joined the agency four years ago and has proved to have a keen eye for innovation during her time here. Mantell is relatively new to the agency, bringing a fresh perspective and enthusiasm to the programs she’s been charged with including the Brain Injury Community Center. Both women share a vision for the agency’s future, one rooted in maintaining the quality of programs while identifying opportunities for growth.

“I am so pleased that we have such talented and dedicated leaders within the organization who are capable and ready to move into new and challenging roles with us,” says Incompass Chief Executive Officer Jean Phelps.

Please join us in congratulating Kelly and Heather on their new roles!

COO Kelly Trickett, left, and Director of Family & Community Services Heather Mantell, right.

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.

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?