By Kristen Baughman, CQL Quality Enhancement Specialist
The Arc of Davidson County, Inc., like many of our other organizations we have featured in our success stories, has a strong culture of dignity and respect. The organization is well known in the Lexington, NC area for treating people as people first and is a great source of education and community advocacy. The organization supports over 40 people who are working and has a strong volunteer program which enhances the strong community connection they have.
CQL had the opportunity to spend time with people within the newly renovated Bridges Day Program. This hub truly works as a bridge to connect people with their community in the way that they chose. During the visit people excitedly came in and out from various places such as line dancing, the library, jobs, volunteering and the YMCA. Bridges offers flexible scheduling to meet various preferences of people and oftentimes they’ll meet back together at lunch to discuss things going on in the afternoon. It was great to see everyone so engaged and watch people supported, alongside staff, researching what was happening in the area.
Visits to the homes of people they support were also indicative of their goal to provide high quality, individualized support for people to live their most independent lives. They were so excited and eager to show off their bedrooms, which were decorated exactly as they chose – down to having their own large screen televisions and cozy recliner. The people supported were clearly in charge and took over everything from answering the phone, cooking, and showing off their favorite parts of their home. The energy in the home was super fun and very convivial!
All the homes CQL was able to visit were wonderfully similar in the fact that everyone who lived there were so inviting to us and seemed to have so much fun together, joking and talking about their days and romantic relationships. Everything was decorated according to their own tastes, felt very comfortable, and like a home! I had so many lovely conversations with people, excited to show me their rooms and show off family pictures, mementos, and accomplishments.
Through their programs, The Arc of Davidson County offers support to people with disabilities in living independent and fulfilling lives and that is clearly evident based on what we saw and through conversations with staff and people utilizing their programs.
About The Arc of Davidson County
The Arc of Davidson County, located in Lexington, North Carolina, was founded in 1951 by families of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and was formally incorporated in 1964. In 1970, the members voted to open a daycare center. With the help of the Davidson County 4-H Extension office in 1976, The Arc organized the first 4-H program in the state for people with disabilities. The Arc of Davidson County then opened its first office two years later, staffed by volunteers.
Today, in addition to their day and residential services, The Arc of Davidson County provides a range of supports and resources from an initial diagnosis to school advocacy, as well as employment services and even summer camps.
The Arc of Davidson County recently achieved their reaccreditation in Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation. We asked Teresa McKeon, The Arc of Davidson County Executive Director, a series of questions about who they are as an organization, along with their experience with the CQL Accreditation process.
What are some notable changes in your organization over the last several years?
Since the 1980s, the agency delivered residential services only. In 2014, we launched numerous non-residential services and, in particular, Employment Supports has exploded. Between Vocational Rehabilitation services and Medicaid funded Supported Employment, we support 40 people in competitive wage employment. Despite the pandemic, people were fulfilling their dreams of earning money in an integrated environment.
June 2020, we supported a total of 49 people. Currently, we have the privilege of assisting 127 people in fulfilling their dreams. Our Bridges Day program, a true hub and spoke model, has grown threefold since then.
In order to continually strive for Person-Centered Excellence, we’ve doubled our team, now employing close to 50 individuals who are passionate about ensuring people have every opportunity to live the lives they choose.
What are your goals as an organization?
The dreams and aspirations of the people we support must always remain front and center. We envision a future when we are “needed” less and less, thanks to societal shifts. We aim to be a bottom-up rather than a top-down agency, encouraging our frontline workers to be more actively involved in decision-making processes.
We have made a conscious effort to validate outcomes that are of value to the person as opposed to service units. This is a regular topic of conversation in Leadership Team meetings as we challenge one another to continue to pursue outcomes versus goals.
There are still too many people who are unaware of services and supports they could utilize, so our advocacy and outreach continue to be a focal point. We don’t intend to be the answer for everyone, but we can assist folks in better understanding how to navigate the system to know what choices they do have.
Encouraging self-advocates to develop their voices is primary. We look toward a future led more by people we support and frontline workers to more tangibly shape the goals of the agency.
What organizational values or practices are you most proud of?
People hire us – we work for them. Every team member is committed to this philosophy and are passionate about facilitating opportunities for folks to learn how best to advocate for themselves as well as others who may not yet have their voice. We welcome being challenged by people we support – that reminds us who is in the driver’s seat.
Person-centeredness is crucial to all we do. The first question we ask, when discussing change, is what is the impact on the people we support? Naturally, we must be always aware of health and safety, but Dignity of Risk is inherent in the decision-making processes as well. This can make for some fascinating conversations among team members as risk often seems at odds with safety. However, without some element of risk, how can we grow?
How do you measure quality at your organization?
All person-centered outcomes are mapped to Basic Assurances® as well as the eight Quality of Life indicators within our electronic health records platform. In addition to offering anecdotal evidence of quality, this data provides a clear window into how well we are really doing in supporting folks in living their best lives.
Annually, all stakeholders are surveyed for their feedback. This information provides a window into what we do well, and also where we need to make improvements.
Why did you decide to pursue CQL Accreditation?
The agency has been accredited by CQL since 2011, as the mission of CQL is most closely aligned with our philosophies. In 2015, we sought to become accredited in Person-Centered Excellence and we have maintained that level of accreditation ever since. Placing the person at the center of all that we do keeps us on the correct course.
How did you prepare for your CQL Accreditation?
Team members who have participated in previous accreditations felt strongly that they more fully understood why we do what we do through hands-on involvement in the entire process. Therefore, we involved all members of the leadership team across both residential and non-residential departments for the Basic Assurances® self-assessment. This process encompassed several months where newer Team members had the opportunity to learn from seasoned team members. Once the self-assessments were delivered, the team met regularly so that all could feel reasonably comfortable with the upcoming visit. All were involved in planning the week, including developing lists of invitees for the numerous focus and stakeholder meetings.
What is the impact of accreditation on your employees and people you support?
Team members felt a tremendous sense of pride in achieving Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation, had a greater understanding of the agency at large, and were validated in knowing the agency they work for doesn’t settle for “just good enough.”
Participating in the accreditation process has been empowering for people to have their voices heard, taken seriously and with respect. Accreditation is who we are as an agency. Unless you are already striving to meet certain standards, you cannot simply “make it up” for the short term. Truly being person-centered in all things, understanding that “nothing about me without me” is not just a platitude, integrating all voices – it’s a continual process. People tell us they value our agency because it “feels good to have staff that support us.”
How have the Basic Assurances® (BA) improved your systems and practices?
One Team member described Basic Assurances® in this manner: “Basic Assurances® are the backbone of our value system and serve as a check and balance to what we do. They serve as a guidepost and a validation to our service provision.”
Monitoring Basic Assurances® causes us to look in a micro-manner not only at service delivery, but most importantly, the perception people we support have on the impact of those services. We dig deeper into what each Basic Assurances® factor really means to each person – not only their understanding of each factor. People may say they experience dignity and respect, but what does that actually mean to each person and how do they define those values? We are on a continual journey to ensure people are provided frequent opportunities to learn what they value and how best we can support them.
How do you envision the future of your partnership with CQL?
As we continue to grow, both in terms of people we support as well as direct supports, we anticipate continued CQL Accreditation and resources on best practices. CQL’s mission perfectly aligns with our mission, which is to provides opportunities for people with IDD to learn, live, work, and play in society.
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.
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