The Resource Center honors staff for efforts at increasing independence

Submitted Photo Pictured are, from left, sitting, Jen Herron, Bob Warner, Tabatha Stenstrom and Daniel Ortega; and, standing, Nikki Brunecz, Pam Nordin, Beth Jermain, Terri Johnson, Heather Brown and Sue Woods.

The Resource Center recently honored eight employees who helped people with disabilities to become more independent, a successful project that also saved millions of dollars in Medicaid expenses.

On March 28, The Resource Center presented its Quarterly Agency-Wide Staff Appreciation Award to eight employees for their efforts in operating TRC’s version of the Balancing Incentive Program: Nichole Brunecz, Jennifer Herron, Beth Jermain, Terri Johnson, Daniel Ortega, Tabatha Stenstrom, Robert Warner and Sue Woods. The employees were honored at a luncheon held in their honor at TRC’s administrative offices in Celoron.

Mark Morton, assistant executive director for employee relations, welcomed those in attendance and shared some history about the Balancing Incentive Program, also known as BIP. BIP, an initiative of the Affordable Care Act, began in 2014 with a goal of reducing the amount of Medicaid money being spent on costly institutional care in favor of developing less expensive community-based care options.

TRC’s was one of 54 proposals approved by the New York State Department of Health. For its project, The Resource Center partnered with Lutheran of Jamestown to try to reduce system costs by improving medication and diabetes management with a goal of keeping people from using high-cost services such as emergency room visits, hospitalizations and other intensive service interventions. TRC and Lutheran also sought to have people live in less costly housing situations.

Morton said the TRC/Lutheran collaboration involved developing a team approach. The people who were key to the project’s success were the four life coaches (Herron, Ortega, Stenstrom and Warner), who provided supports in a person-centered way. The coaches supported people with remembering to attend appointments with their health care providers and obtaining transportation to and from the appointments. The coaches also were available to facilitate communication between a person and his or her health care provider, and then helping people to develop ways to follow their doctor’s orders regarding their medications.

“The life coaches were able to individually assist each person to mitigate barriers in a way that worked for them, which has a positive effect on their health care,” Morton said. “People were feeling better about their health and feeling more comfortable about using their health care providers as the preferred choice of treatment, instead of going to the emergency room.”

In addition to the life coaches, the team approach involved a care coordinator (Brunecz) who assessed each person to determine individual goals, as well as identify the supports currently being received and any gaps in services. Brunecz also assisted each person in choosing a life coach. A project coordinator (Jermain, TRC’s support option administrator), project director (Johnson, TRC’s director of employment and community-based services) and cost accountant (Woods) rounded out the BIP team.

TRC’s initial BIP effort ran from August 2014 to September 2015. Because the project was so successful, the TRC/Lutheran collaboration was one of four projects state-wide that were given an extension of time – and money – in order to deliver even more positive results. The extension ran from October 2015 to December 2016.

In total, 168 people were assisted through the local BIP initiative, greatly surpassing the original target of 50 people, said Heather C. Brown, TRC assistant executive director. She cited some measurements of the program’s success:

Ten people transitioned from living in congregate settings to living on their own.

Of 63 people who were identified for inclusion in BIP because they were not taking their medications as prescribed, 52 were successful in developing plans to keep them on their proper medication regimen.

Of 20 people who were not effectively managing their diabetes, 15 are now successfully doing so.

In addition to making a positive difference in people’s lives, BIP resulted in significant cost savings. Brown said that between TRC’s original BIP project award and the extension, The Resource Center received $772,581 to operate the program. She said that while the final numbers have yet to be tallied, it appears that the TRC/Lutheran collaboration saved about $5 million in Medicaid money because of the reduction in the cost of so-called institutional care. Spending $772,581 to save $5 million was a good investment of BIP money, she said.

Brown added that about $70,000 was spent on items (medication planners, chair lifts, security features, technology) that could facilitate the ability of BIP participants to live more independently. She said TRC would not have been able to buy those items if not for the BIP money, and this underscores the point that often, a little bit of money can make a big difference in someone’s life.

“It doesn’t take buckets of money sometimes,” she said, “it just takes a little bit of help for people who are falling through the cracks.”

In thanking the BIP team members for their efforts, Brown said the project had made her prouder than any other initiative in which she’s been involved during her 23-year career at The Resource Center.

“This has been such a wonderful project,” she said.

That view was echoed by Johnson, who has been with The Resource Center since 2001.

“This team, out of all the teams that I’ve worked with, has shown the most amount of growth and working together,” she said.

Pam Nordin, Lutheran’s assistant administrator, also praised the BIP team members. “What a great team,” she said. “Your work did not go unnoticed.”