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The ‘St. Louis Arc Advantage’ Is Distinct

By Elizabeth Sites, CQL Director of Organizational Excellence

When you interact with the team from the St. Louis Arc, you often hear them talk about the ‘St Louis Arc Advantage.’ Whether it’s the impact of their services, the positive culture cultivated across the agency, or the connections established throughout the community, it’s obvious that they are truly a leader, not just in the St. Louis area but around the country.

“Our success as an organization is attributed not only to our own efforts but the relationships we have with the people and families we support, our employees and volunteers, our community partners, and the greater St. Louis community as a whole.”

Mark A. Keeley, President and CEO, St. Louis Arc

I was lucky enough to see the ‘St. Louis Arc Advantage’ for myself as the lead reviewer during their recent accreditation. There are a seemingly endless number of examples of how the St. Louis Arc stands out as a human services organization.

They promote independence through their ‘Connect Program,’ which helps more than 50 people live on their own with limited supports. They advance employment outcomes with roughly 300 people securing a job in just the past four years alone, by connecting them with more than 175 businesses in the metropolitan area. They’re extremely responsive, as evidenced during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The St. Louis Arc quickly pivoted and implemented a menu of virtual services that were both creative and meaningful to the people that they support. From this shift, the organization is already planning on how they can build these changes into the framework of future service delivery.

These are just some transformative initiatives we were able to learn about during the St. Louis Arc’s accreditation review. Our team, including Katherine Dunbar, CQL’s Vice President of Services and Systems Excellence, and Quality Enhancement Specialists Jill Westring and Epp O’Neill, had plenty of opportunities to interact with organizational leadership, support staff, people receiving services, family members, and community members over the course of the accreditation review. This offered us the opportunity to find out what makes the St. Louis Arc genuinely distinct.

About The St. Louis Arc

Since 1950, the St. Louis Arc has been promoting an inclusive world for all people. The mission of the St. Louis Arc is to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families to lead better lives by providing a lifetime of high-quality services, family support and advocacy.

St. Louis Arc Logo

Today, the St. Louis Arc offers an array of programs including children’s services, respite services, summer pre-employment trainings, educational programs, employment supports, day services, residential services, assistive living, family supports, and more. Through these various programs, they serve more than 4,000 children, teens, and adults with autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, intellectual, and other developmental disabilities.

Another ‘Distinct’ Accreditation For St. Louis Arc

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CQL has shifted to virtual formats for carrying out the various components of accreditation, including the Basic Assurances® review, Personal Outcome Measures® interviews, visits with people receiving services, focus groups, and more. While we of course miss the in-person interactions that accreditation typically offers, we were delighted by the tremendous amount of coordination by the St. Louis Arc to make sure we had a comprehensive understanding of their organization.

Through hundreds of hours of planning by the St. Louis Arc staff, CQL had roughly 64 meetings with numerous stakeholders over the course of five days. This amounted to each of the CQL reviewers conducting between six to eight meetings per day! On top of the meetings, the St. Louis Arc provided access to more than 1,200 documents for our review process. This is all to say, the organization went to great lengths to ensure we understood the breadth of the ‘St. Louis Arc Advantage.’

There’s no question that accreditation in general – and especially this accreditation in particular – is a very demanding experience. But the St. Louis Arc delivered and their efforts not only paid off, but also are being acknowledged with an internationally-recognized designation.

Following months of preparation, numerous planning meetings with CQL, their week-long accreditation review, and an in-depth approval process, the St. Louis Arc officially achieved CQL’s Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation, With Distinction on April 2, 2021. This is a four-year accreditation term that encompasses the very highest standards that have been achieved by only a select number of organizations.

“Congratulations on achieving this accreditation. It truly illustrates the dedication the St. Louis Arc has to the individuals, families, and the community served.”

Kim Kopff, Productive Living Board (Partner of St. Louis Arc)

This is a truly commendable accomplishment by the St. Louis Arc, but it’s not even the first. Since 1983, St. Louis Arc has been accredited by CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership. Most recently in 2016, the St. Louis Arc had achieved their first term of Person-Centered Excellence Accreditation, With Distinction. In addition to accreditation, the St. Louis Arc is also a past recipient of a 2015 CQL Award of Excellence for their SUCCEED program. It’s an honor that they have continuously chosen us as their partner in ongoing organizational transformation.

An Inside Look At St. Louis Arc

To provide even greater insight into the organization we turned to Mark A. Keeley, President and CEO of the St. Louis Arc. We asked Mark a number of questions about their agency including its culture, impact on people, and recent accreditation.

What organizational values or practices are you most proud of?

As highlighted in our core values of respect, collaboration, and empowerment, our teams are committed to providing the highest quality supports and services with creativity, innovation, and consistency. This really was evident throughout the pandemic as our staff quickly converted services to meet the unique needs of the individuals and families we support in the safest possible way.

Our success as an organization is attributed not only to our own efforts but also the relationships we have with the people and families we support, our employees and volunteers, our community partners, and the greater St. Louis community as a whole.

The St. Louis Arc has embedded the Personal Outcome Measures® into all St. Louis Arc activities from entry, ongoing planning, and future goal setting. We accomplish this by including them in all trainings, planning tools, communications, policies, and procedures. As a result of these efforts, the Personal Outcome Measures® have become a natural part of the St. Louis Arc culture.

“Thank you for the work you do to ensure individuals and families continue to have consistent, quality services.”

Nate Head, St. Louis Office for Developmental Disability Resources (Partner of St. Louis Arc)

Why did you decide to pursue CQL Accreditation?

Periodically, the St. Louis Arc evaluates our accreditation options to ensure we are always pursuing the one that best fits with our mission and values. Since the early 1980’s, CQL has closely aligned with our mission and values. CQL consistently challenges us to grow as an organization.

How did you prepare for your CQL Accreditation?

The St. Louis Arc has a Quality Enhancement (QE) Committee which oversees our quality enhancement efforts on a daily basis. The QE Committee led initiatives to gather feedback from all stakeholders through surveys, documentation, workshops, and Personal Outcome Measures® interviews. The information gathered was used to complete four different self-assessments related to CQL standards. The self-assessments led to us submitting more than 1,200 documents to CQL and hosting 64 virtual meetings during our review week to validate our self-assessments.

What is the impact of accreditation on your organization?

The accreditation process helps us as an organization to realign our mission, vision, and values with our operational processes and quality enhancement strategies. CQL always challenges us to look at our services and supports through a lens of Appreciative Inquiry. The accreditation from CQL validates and impacts our employee retention efforts, strategic programmatic development, and ultimately the high quality, person-centered supports we provide.

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.