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Susan Arwood Receives 2022 CQL President’s Award

Susan Arwood, Executive Director of Core Services of Northeast Tennessee, is being recognized by CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership with the first-ever President’s Award. This designation acknowledges Arwood’s impactful leadership skills, innovative practices, and fresh approaches to confronting some of the most complex issues in the human services field.  

“Susan’s an absolute trailblazer. When we get contacted by agencies looking for guidance from another provider, she is regularly one of the people we turn to,” says Mary Kay Rizzolo, President and CEO of CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership. “Her contributions go way beyond just philosophies. She’s putting practices in place that are producing real results in people’s lives.” 

From utilizing technology for supports to leveraging data for sparking change and addressing direct support professional (DSP) workforce challenges, Arwood continually conceptualizes and implements forward-thinking solutions. The President’s Award is a recognition of her actions to develop inventive tactics to take on long-standing problems. 

“Success is because of the amazing and talented team I have the privilege of working with every day at Core Services, as well as the invaluable roadmaps CQL, the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and others laid out for us to follow,” says Susan Arwood, Executive Director of Core Services of Northeast Tennessee. “Hopefully this award will bring awareness to all the wonderful resources and practices already defined that providers can follow to support the creation of great lives.” 

Transformative Approaches And Contributions 

Along with the cutting-edge practices referenced above, there are numerous examples of how Arwood perpetually guides her organization and the field as a whole to move forward. 

Embracing Person-Centered Practices 

Arwood has led Core Services of Northeast Tennessee in becoming an official ‘Person-Centered Organization’ by the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD). She also was the driving force behind the organization’s achievement of CQL’s Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation, With Distinction

Confronting DSP Workforce Issues 

By taking on turnover, improving recruitment, implementing career ladders, and embracing other DSP-related initiatives, Arwood has become a distinguished voice in addressing topics that DSPs face. Through her leadership, the organization has cut their turnover rate in half, reduced overtime by 35%, and increased wages to more than $15 per hour. 

Implementing Technology 

When DIDD launched its Enabling Technology program in 2017, Arwood embraced the opportunity to have Core Services become one of the first Enabling Technology Transformation Agency providers. This resulted in people supported utilizing technology to improve their independence and self-determination. 

Navigating COVID-19 

Throughout the pandemic, Arwood put multiple measures in place to keep people connected and help address hardships brought on by the health crisis. Whether it was drive-by water balloon fights, weekly Zoom calls, or producing humorous videos to raise spirits, Arwood was very attentive to the needs and desires of people supported, staff, and others during COVID-19. 

Leveraging Data 

Arwood excels in spearheading efforts to collect and evaluate data to advance quality improvement initiatives. She has prioritized trend analysis to assess where the agency is and especially where they want to go in the future; establishing benchmarks along the way to better understand if organizational objectives are being met. 

“Susan’s ‘let’s do it’ attitude has been a driving force for our agency,” adds Jessie Dunn, Case Manager of Northeast Tennessee. “Her leadership and willingness to chase greatness has come with many firsts for Core Services in the state of Tennessee.” 

About Core Services of Northeast Tennessee 

Core Services of Northeast Tennessee is a non-profit organization supporting people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in Northeast Tennessee across three counties. They offer a range of services involving supported living, employment, respite, personal assistance, funds management, nursing, and more. Core Services of Northeast Tennessee is licensed by the State of Tennessee Department of Health and Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD). 

The agency has completed Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities requirements for designation as a ‘Person-Centered Organization.’ They are also an “Enabling Technology Transformation Agency” and a provider mentor through the DIDD Tennessee Employment First Leadership Initiative (TEFLI).

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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.