Meeting of the Board of Regents | November 2007
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Rebecca H. Cort
Designing Our Future
New Vocational Rehabilitation Initiatives
November 16, 2007
Goals 1, 2 & 4
Issue for Discussion
The implementation of the VESID “Designing Our Future” recommendations.
Reason for Consideration
To inform the Regents and obtain their support for the actions being taken to implement the Design recommendations that will significantly change how VESID provides rehabilitation services in New York State.
The attached report is a follow-up to the May 2006 presentation of the implementation of the VESID “Designing our Future” recommendations, and will focus on outcomes of the activities and key initiatives that took place during the past year designed to expand VESID services to individuals with disabilities.
In November 2003, VESID presented to the Board of Regents a plan to review the design of its vocational rehabilitation process and functions to meet changing needs, respond to changes in the larger federally funded vocational services system, and for better use of resources. The intent was to follow up on redesign efforts made over the past 15 years and to conduct a comprehensive examination of VESID’s vocational rehabilitation program with input from consumers, staff, providers, employers, public agency partners, and other stakeholders. The “Designing Our Future” report was presented in January 2006. In May 2006, VESID presented a plan to implement its recommendations. Since May 2006, VESID has taken steps to implement the “Designing Our Future” plan, as well as initiating several key initiatives.
The “Designing Our Future” report included 15 recommendations on ways to improve service delivery in New York State. The implementation plan concentrates on several key themes of the recommendations:
- Improved marketing of VESID services to consumers and businesses;
- Enhanced collaboration with stakeholders;
- Expanded and diversified outreach to consumers; and
- Redesigned District Office staffing structures.
This report describes several key initiatives that VESID has undertaken with USNY partners and other State agencies that will assist in improving services and employment opportunities to individuals with disabilities through collaborative partnerships with stakeholders and expanded outreach to consumers.
The Board of Regents will continue to support VESID’s “Designing Our Future” Initiative and Implementation Plan.
Timetable for Implementation
With Regents support, the described activities will continue to move forward.
DESIGNING OUR FUTURE IMPLEMENTATION PLAN – UPDATE
In May 2006, the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) presented a plan to the Board of Regents for implementing recommendations to design the future of vocational rehabilitation in New York State. The implementation plan outlined the actions and initiatives VESID would undertake to implement the 15 recommendations identified in the “Designing Our Future” report, which was presented to the Board of Regents in January 2006.
The recommendations centered around four key themes:
- Improved marketing of VESID services to consumers and businesses;
- Enhanced collaboration with stakeholders;
- Expanded and diversified outreach to consumers; and
- Redesigned District Office staffing structures.
Since January 2006, VESID has experienced significant growth in its consumer base, an increase in outcomes, expansion of partnerships, restructuring of VESID District Offices, improved communication internally and externally, and expanded use of technology.
This report describes the actions and key initiatives that VESID has undertaken internally and externally with The University of the State of New York (USNY) partners and other State agencies to improve VESID services to individuals with disabilities in New York State.
A. Successful Outcomes
One of the main concerns for VESID was the continual decline in the number of consumers entering the system and the number of individuals with disabilities being successfully placed in employment. It has been generally recognized that it takes approximately two years for an individual to move through the vocational rehabilitation system from intake to employment.
The initial goal was to improve VESID performance in the following areas by 3 percent over the 2005-06 results:
- Application for Services;
- Eligibility determinations;
- Individual Plans for Employment (IPEs); and
- Outcomes, number of individuals with disabilities placed in employment.
GOAL – (06-07 FFY)
*While VESID did not meet its targeted goal of 13,689 or 3 percent of FFY 05-06 (13,292), the outcome for FFY 06-07 (13,198) represents a 2 percent increase over the previous year. This is the first time VESID has increased outcomes since 2003.
Access to Services – Fast Track
In an effort to reduce the time required for VESID consumers to receive services, several offices initiated a “Fast Track” pilot program. The pilot involved contracting with community rehabilitation providers or independent contractors to prepare eligibility information for review by VESID Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors (VRCs). The goal of this process was to ensure that all required documentation would be available when the VESID counselor met with the consumer. The counselor and consumer would be able to begin development of the Individual Plan for Employment (IPE) more quickly and initiate referral for appropriate training and/or job placement services. The offices that were chosen to participate in the pilot were located in urban (Manhattan), suburban (Hauppauge), and rural (Utica-Gloversville) areas. The pilot phase has been completed and this service will continue in the above District Offices. The findings of the pilots indicated that:
- The community programs with a larger number of consumer referrals experienced greater success;
- Training on VESID intake and eligibility policies was critical; and
- Community programs that assigned dedicated staff coupled with a VESID liaison resulted in a more timely and quality referral packet.
In regard to the last finding, the frequent turnover in staff in the community agency proved to be an ongoing challenge for both VESID and the agency. The results of the Fast Track pilot were positive. Fast Track will be expanded in the next year and will be included in the new Unified Contract Service process. Additional factors are being explored to ensure that internal controls are met as contracted providers facilitate a consumer’s access to VESID services.
C. Partnerships and New Initiatives
The employment rate for people with disabilities in New York State is 33.5 percent as compared to 76 percent of people without disabilities (Cornell University RRTC on Disability Demographics and Statistics, 2006 Disability Status Report: New York). The challenge for New York State is to close the employment gap by increasing the number of individuals with disabilities entering the workforce. To ensure this outcome, VESID must partner with other stakeholders. It is through leveraging of resources and collaboration of efforts that individuals with disabilities will be able to fully participate in employment opportunities available in the State of New York.
VESID is partnering with the City University of New York (CUNY), New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), New York State Division of Parole (DOP), One Stops of New York City and designated high schools to implement the following initiatives developed to assist New Yorkers with disabilities in entering the workforce. In total, $68.7 million of Section 110 federal funds will be invested in these partnerships. As a result, the number of individuals with disabilities served by VESID is expected to increase by more than 17,000 over the next three years.
Model Transition Program (MTP)
The Model Transition Program (MTP) provides funding for 60 projects that include 140 private and public high schools to develop school-wide plans to facilitate the transition of students with disabilities to post-secondary placements. These placements include college, vocational training programs and competitive employment with and without supports. The primary goal of the MTP is to facilitate future employment opportunities for students with disabilities. The 60 projects responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP) and represent high schools from urban, suburban and rural areas. At the end of this three-year project, successful transition strategies will be identified and shared with high schools throughout the State.
Each of the 60 projects has a variety of community partners that include two-year colleges, four-year colleges, Independent Living Centers (ILCs) Chambers of Commerce, community rehabilitation programs and vocational training programs. Parents also play an integral role in each of the projects.
VESID has partnered with Cornell University and the University of Buffalo in the implementation of the MTP. Cornell University will provide support to the MTP projects regarding data collection and analysis. Further, Cornell University is conducting the evaluation of the MTP with a sustainability study. The University of Buffalo provides the training for each of the projects. Training consists of topics related to vocational rehabilitation and the transition process.
Each of the project teams has begun hiring staff, meeting with partners, and reviewing their MTP with the local VESID District Office. Over the three-year period of the MTP, over 12,000 students with disabilities are expected to be made eligible for vocational rehabilitation programs and services. Funding for this initiative is $56 million.
Employment Services for College Students Program
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been developed with the City University of New York (CUNY), providing funding to 18 campuses throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Through this MOU, VESID and CUNY will collaborate to provide employment-related services to students with disabilities enrolled on designated CUNY campuses. Funds will be used to establish employment teams on each campus to facilitate both the educational and employment process of students with disabilities with the goal of competitive employment.
Each employment team will consist of three professionals and provide related services and skills that include guidance and counseling, work experience, internships and job placement. The employment teams will collaborate with the local vocational rehabilitation (VR) offices in facilitating the VR eligibility process. CUNY will also partner with local community vocational rehabilitation programs in conjunction with the VESID District Offices to address employment outcomes.
Currently, VESID has included in its caseload approximately 10 percent of students with disabilities enrolled at CUNY. This initiative is designed to increase to approximately 40 percent the percentage of students with disabilities enrolled in CUNY who are supported by VESID. It is expected that 3,000 students with disabilities over a three-year period will become VR eligible and available for competitive employment. CUNY has begun to hire staff and collaborate with the VESID District Offices to develop strategies and timelines. Funding for this initiative is $7.8 million.
Employment of Inmates with Disabilities Returning to Communities
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is being developed with the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DoCS) and the New York State Division of Parole (DOP), through which VESID, DoCS and DOP will collaborate on referral, training and placement activities for inmates with disabilities returning to the community. In addition, counseling and guidance regarding housing, benefits, and transportation will be provided. This initiative will be implemented in New York City, Nassau, Suffolk, and Erie counties for targeted inmate populations determined eligible for VESID services and involved in pre-release activities.
The objective of this MOU is to successfully place former inmates with disabilities in sustained employment, thereby reducing recidivism and affecting reintegration. Recidivism of inmates with disabilities is primarily based on lack of employment that is impacted by housing, entitlement benefits, community medical supports, and clinical treatment. This population of New Yorkers continues to be underserved. It is expected that through this partnership, DoCS, DOP, and VESID will close the above gaps by developing a coordinated process for interagency cross training, data sharing/analysis, communication and problem solving.
Approximately 2,000 inmates will be eligible for VESID services under this program. Funding for this initiative is $2 million for DoCS and $2.5 million for DOP over a two-year period, beginning in January 2008. The expectation of 1,600 inmates with disabilities trained and employed via this MOU will reduce recidivism, which will save the State approximately $25,000,000 over two years.
The objective of the One Stop pilot project is to establish VESID as the vocational rehabilitation component of the New York City Workforce Career Center System (One Stop Center). One Stop Centers were created as part of the Workforce Investment Act to offer a central location where the public could obtain information on employment opportunities such as job openings and training programs.
VESID’s role in the One Stop is to ensure that job seekers with disabilities are adequately prepared to allow the One Stops to provide well-trained individuals with disabilities to meet the needs of the New York City workforce. VESID’s partners include the New York State Department of Labor, the New York City Department of Small Business Services, the New York City WIB, the City University of New York, and the Disabilities Program Navigators.
To meet the above goals, funds are being provided to co-locate Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors (VRCs) at the five main One Stop Centers located in each of the five New York City boroughs and an affiliate Center at LaGuardia Community College, and for the following activities to support individuals with disabilities who enter the One Stop system:
- The development of policies and procedures that meet the workforce development needs as well as the needs of individuals with disabilities seeking employment;
- Training the One Stop Center partners to better provide services to individuals with disabilities;
- Increasing accessibility of the One Stop Center application and combining other applications;
- Sharing data related to consumer and employment opportunities; and
- VESID and these partners have agreed to leverage different funding streams to provide shared consumers with combined Individual Training Account (ITA) funding and VESID funding and support to obtain training and employment.
Approximately 160 individuals with disabilities have been served since Spring 2007 and 19 individuals with disabilities have been placed in competitive employment. It is expected that the caseload will increase to almost 300 by February 2008. Funding for this project is $400,000 for the first year. Since this is a pilot, progress and outcomes will be evaluated over the next year. At that time, a decision will be made on whether or not to allocate additional funds to continue the project.
D. Staffing and Service Delivery
VESID has worked with the Department’s Office of Human Resources to develop a staffing plan, including staffing ratios, which would support the functions of the VESID District Office and the role of the VRC in meeting critical responsibilities of determining eligibility, developing employment goals, and securing employment outcomes for consumers. To date, eleven of the fifteen District Offices have staff and/or approved waivers to bring them up to the recommended staffing ratios.
In addition, four District Offices piloted several combinations of staffing structures to identify best practices for improving office productivity through the use of a team approach consisting of a Senior Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Assistant, and a Keyboard Specialist. The pilots also explored the role of a contract provider in performing intake activities. The participating offices were Brooklyn, Buffalo, Albany, and Utica – Gloversville Satellite. While each office pilot varied in approach, there were common themes in their recommendations. Since staff was being asked to assume expanded roles and learn new approaches for delivery of services, it is essential that the following be considered when implementing the service delivery model:
- Training should be provided on the roles and functions of the VRC, VRCA, and KBS.
- Implementation of the model should be done gradually to minimize any resistance to change.
- The use of shared decision-making and team building techniques, as well as recognition of accomplishments will help to improve the level of trust among staff and with outside stakeholder.
- It is critical that the units are staffed as discussed in the staffing ratios. Productivity is lost when a position is vacant for a period of time while waiting the completion of the waiver approval and hiring process.
E. Business Processes
VESID has begun developing a new Case Procurement to Payment System (CaPPS). The first phase of this project, to determine business needs and a design for a new system has been completed. The procurement of the second phase which involves the creation of the purchasing system is currently underway. It is anticipated that Phase 2 may take up to 2 years to complete. In the interim, SED’s Office of Management Services (OMS) and VESID have collaborated to streamline payment processes for some of VESID's current Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) contracts. This process involves the development of statewide standards for service documentation and payment requirements which will result in expedited payments to vendors. As additional contracts are added, this new payment process will be used.
VESID is also conducting a detailed analysis and redefinition of its Unified Contract Services (UCS) process. A workgroup was developed consisting of VESID and USNY staff and outside stakeholders. The charge to the group was to consolidate VESID’s current definitions into streamlined service definitions that were reflective of the current and projected service needs. The recommendations from this work group have been used as the starting point for a complete redesign of the UCS system. VESID is exploring a new process for rating responses to the Request for Proposals (RFP), certification of vendors and methodology for determining service rates. It is expected that this new UCS contract process will significantly change how VESID purchases services and will ultimately improve consumer access to services and VESID outcomes. The effective date for the new process is January 2009.
- Training and Professional Development
VESID's Training Unit had been reduced from a staff of seven to a staff of three as a result of retirements. With the support of the Office of Human Resources, VESID was able to hire additional staff expanding to the unit to five staff persons. The training unit is responsible for coordinating training and staff development opportunities for staff statewide.
To ensure all VESID staff received training on the components of the “Designing our Future” initiative, a staff retreat was held. In October and December of 2006, VESID VR staff met in Saratoga Springs to discuss the future of VESID VR services. This statewide meeting offered an opportunity for staff to share information on the “Designing Our Future” initiatives, the pilots for: improving access to VESID services; restructuring of VESID District Offices; proposed measures for success; partnerships with outside stakeholders, marketing of VESID services; and proposed technological supports. Futurist, Dr. Edward Barlow, was the keynote speaker offering key considerations for employment opportunities of the future. The retreat also enabled staff to meet and share office processes and practices across the State. Approximately 600 VESID VR staff attended the Retreat.
VESID staff was provided an opportunity to test various technological enhancements during the “Designing Our Future” Retreat. As a result of a statewide assessment of staff equipment needs, VESID was able to provide the following:
- All counselors whose job requires them to travel received a new laptop with wireless capabilities which allowed staff access to VESID's Case Management System (CaMS) from any wireless office, hot spot, etc, in New York State. Additional docking stations and printers were distributed in the field in areas accessible to staff.
- Portable printers were purchased for each office for staff use while in the field.
- Management staff received a personal printer to aid in processing confidential materials.
- Samples of laptop cases on wheels, locking case folder files, and a folding cart were purchased and demonstrated to staff at the “Designing Our Future” conference. Staff had an opportunity to touch, feel, and select the tools that would best meet their needs. One staff person who received a laptop case on wheels said “she feels like she now has a mobile office.”
- Minimum equipment standards were established so each District Office and Satellite Office was equipped with a color laser printer, scanner, additional fax machine, LCD projector and new TV. This equipment is used for group orientation, marketing meetings, seminars, etc.
- Several offices with outdated phone systems ordered new systems with basic features such as “Caller ID” and message lights indicating voicemail.
- Full size copy machines were ordered and installed in eleven offices. Smaller copy machines will be purchased in the future and located in areas where financial records, invoices, and receipts are copied and stored.
H. Quality Assurance and Monitoring Unit
In response to the recommendations set forth in the final report for the 2004 SED audit of “VESID Internal Controls over the Procurement and Payment of Goods and Services,” VESID initiated a plan to expand its Quality Assurance and Monitoring Unit to ensure staff compliance with Federal and State Laws, internal controls and VESID policies and procedures. This unit is also responsible for the monitoring of vendor services to ensure compliance with contractual agreements. Since that report VESID has:
- Hired three additional monitoring staff including the Manager of the Unit;
- Developed a supported employment work group consisting of internal and external stakeholders to design protocols for monitoring the Supported Employment Program;
- Developed protocols for conducting reviews of District Office consumer cases to ensure compliance with policies and procedures; and
- Received a grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) to develop a system for monitoring contracted service providers. The process would include a provider “report card” outlining the results of the provider performance in meeting the provisions of their contract for review by both the consumer and VESID staff.
- Conducted a fact-finding review of how vendors provide services in four key service delivery areas:
- Diagnostic Vocational Evaluation (DVE);
- Work Adjustment Training (WAT);
- Fast Track; and
- Job Placement and Performance-based placement.
VESID needed to design a strategy for advertising who we are and what we do for consumers and businesses. One of the first steps in the design of the marketing strategy was to identify the employers who were currently hiring VESID consumers and developing a statewide employer database. VESID purchased an internet-based employer database system that allows for the monthly update of employer information. Through this system, VESID will be able to:
- Identify employers who have hired consumers;
- Target industry specific employers;
- Build targeted lists for mail and call campaigns; and
- Create company profile reports.
VESID is piloting this software during the next year. The resulting information will be used to develop a comprehensive marketing plan targeted to employers.
A marketing workgroup was also convened to conduct an analysis of VESID’s current marketing strategies and make recommendations for a new plan. This group consisted of representatives from VESID staff, USNY, and businesses. The group has not completed its charge. VESID is in the process of restructuring the composition of the group and has secured the assistance of the SED Office of Organizational Effectiveness in redefining the charge and planning for the next meeting. A meeting will be scheduled with the new workgroup by January 2008.
VESID has begun collaborations with The Center for Essential Management Services (CEMS) to assess the effectiveness of the “Designing Our Future” initiatives on the quality of VESID services, outcomes, and organizational culture. CEMS has worked with each of the pilot areas on the development of criteria to evaluate success.
A Satisfaction Survey of consumers who were successfully placed in employment and those whose cases were closed without obtaining employment yielded the following findings:
- 77 percent of the employed respondents feel they have achieved a better quality of life.
- 70 percent of the employed respondents indicate that because of their job they feel more financially independent.
- 75 percent of the employed respondents reported being satisfied with their jobs.
- 85 percent of the respondents indicated they would recommend VESID to another person.
- 91 percent of the respondents indicated that they were treated courteously by counseling staff and 94 percent indicated they were treated courteously by reception staff.
VESID will continue to work with CEMS on:
- Convening of an Exemplary Counselor Focus Group to assist in the identification of counselor skills and techniques that lead to strong case management and positive outcomes. The results of this focus group will be available in February 2008.
- The development of a survey for consumers currently in the VESID system.
- Analyzing data on consumers whose cases were closed without obtaining employment.
- A study of the organizational culture of VESID will be conducted in Spring 2008.
III. Next Steps:
VESID will continue to implement the activities and initiatives described above. The overarching goal is to improve outcomes through a systematic approach to improving staff development and staff support, technological enhancements, collaborations with State business, and community partners, effective business practices, and efficient quality assurance measures.