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Core Values Come To Life At The Arc of Cape May County

By Betsy Burns, CQL Quality Enhancement Specialist

I had the opportunity to serve as the lead CQL reviewer during the recent accreditation of The Arc of Cape May County. They’re a human services organization providing supports to hundreds of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) across Cape May County and beyond, in the State of New Jersey. One immediate observation by both myself and my colleague Kristen Heichel, was their focus on the organization’s five core values:

  1. People First
  2. Equity
  3. Community
  4. Self-Determination
  5. Diversity

There were numerous examples of how they ensure those core values come to life. For instance:

  • The organization did an excellent job keeping people safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. All staff were committed to ensuring that people were supported with their safety in mind. The DSPs were described as “essential heroes” and should take pride in the fantastic job with zero people getting the virus. In addition, the organization has worked hard to ensure that people have access to electronic devices to stay connected with people during the pandemic.
  • The Arc of Cape May County took a hard stance against sub-minimum wage work and support people to have real, meaningful jobs. To this end, the organization created excellent partnerships in the community with the Chamber of Commerce, The Cape May Resorts conglomerate, and other business stakeholders, which will lead to innovative jobs for people supported by the organization.
  • As an organization, the Arc of Cape May County has a culture of respect, is committed to a high level of respectful communication, and has successfully engaged people to be part of the board of directors and organizational committees.
  • The organization provides comprehensive, holistic health care which is person-centered, and it is committed to providing high-quality health supports and behavioral health services. The organization has a strong clinical team that is well-versed in trauma-informed care.
  • The organization works diligently to partner with many community organizations within the Cape May community and New Jersey. Through its social media presence on multiple platforms, the organization is applauded for its diligence in this area, realizing the importance of building strong community partnerships to increase relationships and build social capital.
  • In 2020, The Arc finalized a three-year strategic plan that guides the agency to enhance operations that include improving billing and quality assurance infrastructure, preparing for the people’s changing needs, proactively addressing the workforce, and looking at diversifying revenue.

“Evaluating how we as an organization are aligned with person-centered principles was an opportunity to get better at providing people with optimal supports.”

Leslie Long, Chief Executive Officer, The Arc of Cape May County

It was exciting to see that those core values didn’t just exist on paper, but were making a tangible impact on the lives of people supported, families, community members, employees, and the organization as a whole. Beyond that, the fact that The Arc of Cape May County actively seeks out an evaluation of their services and how their core values play out in practice, is an embodiment of who they are as an organization.

About The Arc of Cape May County

Along with their core values, The Arc of Cape May County is guided by their mission which “promotes and protects the human rights of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.”

Logo of The Arc of Cape May County

They’ve been carrying out that mission for decades. Founded in 1961, The Arc of Cape May County was created by a group of parents who wanted to help their children with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) live fulfilling lives. Now, the organization has grown to support roughly 250 people through a variety of offerings including residential services, family supports, day programs, supported employment, and advocacy initiatives.

A Second Accreditation Term For The Arc of Cape May County

As you’ll read later, their devotion to continuously improving their supports was a catalyst for their pursuit of accreditation. Due to that inherent desire to reach a higher standard in human services, they took the entire process very seriously. They put a ton of time into it and committed a lot of internal resources. To prepare for the accreditation, The Arc of Cape May County set up weekly discussions to work through each of the Basic Assurances® factors, identifying their plan to improve systems and practices.

During the accreditation itself, they ensured all stakeholders played a part – from their board of directors, to staff, people supported, and family members. Family members and board members commented on how the organization looks at positive change and improvement. They shared with CQL, “We need The Arc. They embrace the future and work to support each person to tap into their potential, wishes, and desires. The culture is positive, proactive, and respectful for everyone involved. There is joy at The Arc of Cape May County.”

It all paid off. On March 12, 2021, The Arc of Cape May County formally achieved Quality Assurances Accreditation – the organization’s second accreditation term with CQL. It was a pleasure working with everyone from the organization and seeing first-hand all of the amazing work that builds off of their powerful core values.

It is clear to CQL that people affiliated with The Arc of Cape May County share the same goals, determination, and commitment to enhance the quality of life for people and their families through direct services, advocacy, empowerment, education, and prevention. In fact, The Arc of Cape May County recently celebrated its 60th anniversary through a campaign titled, “Come Together”. The title was inspired by the support from the community that ensures all people are empowered to live, work, and thrive in their chosen communities.

A Greater Understanding Of The Arc of Cape May County

Aside from sharing my own experiences about The Arc of Cape May County, I also wanted to gather more direct information about their organization and their emphasis on holistically improving quality across their services. To gain that insight, we asked Leslie Long, Chief Executive Officer of The Arc of Cape May County a series of questions. Here’s what Leslie had to share with us.

What are some notable changes in your organization over the last several years?

In December of 2019, The Arc of Cape May County hired a new CEO that transformed the organization to focus on the homes and support services that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) utilize. This began with an assessment of the needs of those that we currently serve, people we will serve in the near future, and gaps in what we will need long-term as an organization. Our focus over the past several years has included upgrading the homes we manage, enhancing day habilitation services to focus on community-based and skill-acquisition learning, and improving competitive employment opportunities. In order to accomplish these objectives, we needed to re-evaluate staffing needs, assistive technology, properties, and financial sustainability.

Over the last several years, we have made a concerted effort to show the community the value and benefits of supporting and working with people with IDD. In 2019, our agency received a grant from the Kessler Foundation that provided funding for the agency to build a cohort of businesses to provide training and education about how to hire and retain people with disabilities. This process started a shift in the community’s mindset which looked at supported employment as an act of charity rather than a benefit for hiring reliable future employees.

The agency has also put into place systems that ensure we are focused on meeting individual wants and needs. In early 2020, the agency instituted a clinical team whose primary focus is supporting the whole wellbeing of the people we support, from their living environments to behavioral and health supports.

Woman sitting at a kitchen table looking at a tablet

Why did you decide to pursue CQL Accreditation?

Our agency wanted to ensure our operations and policies aligned with a person-centered philosophy. We also wanted to show families, the community, and the state that The Arc of Cape May County is formally validated as providing the highest quality of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It was important to align ourselves with an accreditor who not only understood the human services field, but also could provide meaningful strategies and metrics that could elevate our programs.”

Leslie Long, Chief Executive Officer, The Arc of Cape May County

When we began researching different accrediting bodies, it was critical that they had a deep understanding of serving people with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings and had facilitators that have experienced working in different positions at an agency. There are many factors and streams of knowledge that comes in running an agency providing supports for people with IDD. It was important to align ourselves with an accreditor who not only understood the human services field, but also could provide meaningful strategies and metrics that could elevate our programs. CQL not only met those requirements, but have truly become our partners over the last three years.

How did you prepare for your CQL Accreditation?

The preparation for CQL started before our first accreditation process. Evaluating how we as an organization are aligned with person-centered principles was an opportunity to get better at providing people with optimal supports. We developed committees and continued those committees as we prepared for the next accreditation process. In addition, we lived by the policy and procedures that would be aligned with CQL as a North Star.

What is the impact of your accreditation?

The impact was felt throughout the organization including the Board of Directors. We were vetted by a group of standards and professionals that gave us the go-ahead to continue with our positive support and address policies and procedures that are not best practice.

Two men wearing masks and sitting down while holding their 'thumbs up'

The initial announcement was met with resounding enthusiasm and celebration at the hard-earned achievement. During the process of preparing, employees were engaged in all activities that helped in improving our services. We are confident that accreditation has also offered us a better understanding of how important the process is to the people we support.

How have the Personal Outcome Measures® affected person-centeredness at your organization?

Having the opportunity to use an interview process that is focused on the communication needs of a person is invaluable. From the process to the questions, the Personal Outcome Measures® ensures that we are meeting the needs of the person from their perspective. It’s authentic.

Talking one-on-one with someone supported requires understanding, guidance, and training to get the most accurate information from them. The interviews allowed us to improve our ability to collect good and accurate data and help fulfill a person’s wants and needs according to them.

How do you measure quality at your organization?

There are multiple ways that we measure quality including traditional means such as licensing surveys, inspection reports, committee reviews, data on staff turnover, exit reviews, family surveys, focus groups, as well as tools used in the CQL Accreditation process.

The Arc of Cape May County utilizes the CQL PORTAL Data System for managing accreditation documentation and progress. We will also be utilizing PORTAL for Personal Outcome Measures® interviews of people supported by The Arc of Cape May County. Our agency will be implementing the reporting features of PORTAL to measure the impact of our strategies and ensure we are tracking the effectiveness of policies and procedures.

How do you envision the future of your partnership with CQL?

Continuous quality improvement in all facets of our organization requires a mutual understanding of the constantly evolving best practices. We are confident that CQL’s leadership team will always point us in the right direction and be transparent and truthful with us.

Have questions about CQL Accreditation?

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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.