By Betsy Burns, CQL Quality Enhancement Specialist
The Adirondack Arc has been around for more than 50 years. CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has had the honor to partner with the provider organization for more than two decades of that history. Since 2000, The Adirondack Arc has achieved CQL Accreditation, demonstrating a strong commitment to ongoing transformation a steadfast focus on services that are centered on people’s individual hopes, dreams, and desires.
About The Adirondack Arc
Founded in 1969, The Adirondack Arc was established by a group of parents who were seeking out essential services for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Over its decades-long history, the organization has grown and expanded its current offerings to include programs for children, residential supports, and day habilitation.
The Adirondack Arc continues to be driven by its mission “to provide opportunities to people with developmental disabilities to live a full and meaningful life through improved supports in all areas of life.” Today, The Adirondack Arc provides services to more than 150 people in Tupper Lake, NY and surrounding areas in multiple counties.
Best Practices At The Adirondack Arc
During the organization’s current accreditation term, I have been able to support them through both their initial accreditation review, and more recently, their second follow-up visit earlier this summer. They’re devoted to helping people receiving services live fulfilling and meaningful lives, and take specific steps to make that a reality. Across the organization and at all levels, The Adirondack Arc has strong systems and practices in place. There are so many examples of this.
The organization really focuses on supporting people and listening to what they want in their lives through well-written support plans. These plans define the Adirondack Arc’s interactions with people and are built around supporting the attainment of personal outcomes determined by the person. They are not static documents. They ensure that the plan is regularly reviewed so it remains relevant.
The Adirondack Arc conducts an annual review of guardianship, representative payee, and scope of advocacy with the person and their support team. There is a Human Rights Committee that does a vigorous review of representative payee status, including informed consent, assessments, and justification. The organization also provides resources and information for people about guardianship.
They have robust training for staff in both orientation and ongoing professional development. During focus groups, direct support professionals (DSPs) and frontline supervisors told me that training at the organization is excellent. They shared that the organizational leadership team is exceptional in the context of support and communication. The organization is now working to develop additional training for employees and education for people supported about topics like intimate relationships, sexual relationships, and sexual identity.
Their Person-Centered Excellence Plans help guide the agency’s services, the investment in CQL Certification has strengthened the organization’s person-centered discovery, and its use of data allows them to track progress and make adjustments along the way. The Adirondack Arc has made a concerted effort over the course of decades to allocate time, energy, and resources to improving quality, and the benefits of this are so clear. It has become an embedded part of who the organization is and what they’re all about.
Reflections From The Adirondack Arc
To learn more about the organization and their journey over more than a half a century, we asked them a series of questions. Jennifer Stavenhagen, Director of Quality & Incident Management for The Adirondack Arc, was able to provide this additional insight into the agency’s history, their experiences with accreditation, and the partnership they’ve embraced with all of us at CQL.
What organizational values or practices are you most proud of?
Being a learning organization is vital to who we are. We value our ability in identifying problems and trying different ways to fix them.
We also strive to treat people we support with the utmost dignity and respect – we want people to be well treated, we want people to be safe, we want people to have choices, we want people to achieve their dreams.
Incorporating the people we support into everything we do here is a long-standing practice we truly value. People are involved in our workgroup committees, educate others, recruit staff, and give input to employee recognition. They are the center of this organization.
We were the first organization to become accredited by CQL in New York State. This achievement helped develop our agency culture – we were part of something bigger than just our small agency in the Adirondacks. We were part of a movement to support people to have full, amazing lives driven by the people themselves.
How does your organizational mission impact your services, practices, people supported, etc.?
Our mission is the driving force behind everything we do at The Adirondack Arc. By focusing on providing people with a full life, a meaningful life, a life they design, this impacts every aspect of the organization.
Why did you decide to pursue CQL Accreditation 20+ years ago?
Our CEO really pushed CQL Accreditation to improve the quality of life for people we support. What CQL Accreditation brought to the table helped employees question “Are we doing enough for people? Can we do more?”
At the time, this was a huge undertaking for the agency and it transformed The Adirondack Arc into not just an organization that cares for the people with intellectual disabilities but an organization which supports people to live their lives, their way.
What are a few notable changes in your organization since your first accreditation, roughly 20 years ago?
It may be better to focus on what hasn’t changed in the last 20 years! Some of the employees are the same – there is notable longevity amongst our employees. Many of the people we support are the same as well – we’ve supported children who are now adults. What also hasn’t changed is the passion and vigorous review of our systems and procedures we undergo preparing for accreditation.
We have been through six accreditation terms with CQL. Our agency culture drives us to provide the best for the people we support, so CQL Accreditation motivates and energizes the entire organization.
How has accreditation helped improve your services and people’s lives the last couple decades?
Many of our Person-Centered Excellence Plans have been fully incorporated into agency culture. We take our accreditation as an opportunity for organizational growth, development, and at times, a reset to focus on what’s most important to us – to provide people the opportunity to live full and meaningful lives.
The accreditation process always brings it back to the stories we share of our successes. When we think about improving the lives of people we support, we think of when we reunited people with lost family members – people who hadn’t seen them for decades, family who thought the person had passed away. These stories of reunion are some of our proudest over the years.
How have the Personal Outcome Measures® affected person-centeredness at your organization?
The Personal Outcome Measures® (POM) is the foundation for which all things are built at The Adirondack Arc. Over the past 20 years, we’ve used the POM in various ways such as taking action, shifting agency policy, developing plans, and celebrating goals. We use the POM to determine if we are living our mission.
When we support a person who isn’t living the life they envision, it’s those supports that can really change things around for people. By truly listening to people, we’re able to provide those supports they want and need. The POM help us achieve this with people.
How have the Basic Assurances® improved your systems and practices?
The Basic Assurances® have challenged us over the years to have those hard conversations addressing questions like “How will this work? Is this the direction the agency wants to take? What do the people supported want? Are we asking the right questions? Do we have a process in place to address this?” It is through these hard conversations we develop strong systems and create better practices which, over time, come to define who we are as an agency.
How do you envision the future of your partnership with CQL?
What we love about our partnership with CQL is how we can be who we are with them. This is our organization, this is how we approach life and services, and this is what works for us. CQL makes no attempt to change that, but only pushes us to think bigger and better. We envision this freedom and respect to continue in future accreditations.
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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.
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