Meeting of the Board of Regents | December 2008
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 26, 2008
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 “Designing Our Future” recommendations that will continue to improve how VESID provides rehabilitation services in New York State.
The attached report is a follow-up to the December 2007 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 (VR) process and functions to meet changing needs, respond to changes in the larger federally funded vocational services system, and for better use of resources. 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 and interagency activities. An extensive status report on the implementation plan was presented at the December 2007 Board of Regents meeting, and a follow-up report on the new VR initiatives was presented in June 2008.
The intent of the “Designing Our Future” process 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, initially presented in January 2006, included 15 recommendations on ways to improve service delivery in New York State.
This report describes the actions and key initiatives that VESID has undertaken in response to the 15 recommendations made to improve VESID services to individuals with disabilities in New York State.
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 first 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 how the implementation of the “Designing Our Future,” driven by the four themes listed above, is impacting all areas of the vocational rehabilitation (VR) process.
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 three 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.
As indicated in the following chart, in three of the four areas, the objective of a three percent increase was achieved. However, while VESID did not meet its targeted goal of a three percent increase over the previous Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) for rehabilitations, the outcomes did increase during both FFY 06-07 and FFY 07-08. Prior to this time, VESID had not experienced an increase in outcomes since 2003.
Access to Services
The December 2007 “Designing Our Future” report provided details of a “Fast Track” pilot program developed to reduce the time required for VESID consumers to receive services. The pilot, which was implemented in three District Offices, 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 pilots were completed and were extremely successful.
As a result, this process is embedded in the new Unified Contract Services (UCS), expanding these services to all regions of the State. The new UCS will allow vendors to prepare eligibility information for review by VESID VRCs. Vendors will prepare all required documentation enabling VRCs to focus on counseling and plan development for individuals with disabilities. Additional details regarding UCS are provided in “Section E” of this Report.
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 invest in partnerships with public and private entities. 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.
NYS Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council (MISCC)
VESID has a strong interagency partnership presence in New York State and is an active participant in the NYS Most Integrated Setting Coordinating Council (MISCC). VESID is also chairing the Employment Committee of that Council. The MISCC Employment Committee consists of representatives from consumer, advocacy and statewide organizations, community rehabilitation programs, independent living centers, public schools and colleges and State agencies. Assistant Commissioner Edward Placke is serving as chair of the MISCC Employment Committee. Through his leadership, the MISCC Employment Committee adopted the following vision statement in May 2008:
All people can work. New York State, in partnership with the whole community, will exercise leadership to advance prospects for employment and economic self-sufficiency of all individuals with disabilities. Resources will be directed or redirected to realize this vision of integrated competitive employment. Individuals with disabilities will have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the economic vitality of the workforce. Employers will view individuals with disabilities as valued employees in their recruitment and hiring efforts.
In September 2008, the MISCC Employment Committee submitted a draft report to the NYS Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) with a comprehensive set of recommendations for closing the employment gap in New York State. OMRDD is currently gathering public comments before submitting its final report to the Governor and Legislature. VESID will continue to play a leadership role on the MISCC Employment Committee as priority recommendations are implemented.
VESID-DOL Disability Program Navigator MOU
VESID and the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) are in the process of negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for VESID to contribute toward the statewide Disability Program Navigator (DPN) initiative. VESID will contribute $1.2 Million in VR funds over the next two years to support the network of DPNs at the local workforce investment areas (LWIAs) across the State. The role of the DPN is to promote accessibility to the full range of “One Stop” system employment services for people with disabilities. VESID funding will support eight full-time equivalents, about 23 percent of the total $2,605,000 operating budget for the total Statewide DPN program for Program Year 2008.
Model Transition Program (MTP)
The Model Transition Program (MTP) provides funding for 60 projects that include more than 180 private and public high schools to develop school-wide plans, activities and programs to facilitate the transition of students with disabilities to postsecondary 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. At the end of this project, successful transition strategies will be identified and shared with high schools throughout the State. Over the period of the MTP, thousands of students with disabilities will be made eligible for vocational rehabilitation programs and services.
To assist in meeting the objectives of MTP projects, the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo provides training in key areas in support of these activities. Using data provided by the projects, Cornell University is working with VESID’s vocational rehabilitation administration to identify critical elements of the data collection, analysis and reporting processes.
During the first academic year, significant progress has been made in the implementation of transition activities, formation of partnerships, training, and data collection/analysis. As reported by Cornell University, MTP has generated extensive individual student data regarding participating student demographics, employment and postsecondary preparation, VESID referrals, and collaborative service delivery. As of June 2008, a total of 9,454 students have received transition services; over half of those were expected to achieve a Regents Diploma. Highlights include:
- Sixty-five percent (6,104) of the MTP students had measurable postsecondary goals in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).
- Sixty-one percent (5,769) of students participate in career development activities.
- Nineteen percent (1,782) of MTP students participated in paid/unpaid work experiences, most of this being part-time work.
- Eighteen percent (1,664) of MTP students participated in activities aimed to facilitate transition to postsecondary education. Most of these were college information nights and assistance with college applications.
- More than 3,000 referrals to VESID have been made.
CUNY LEADS Update - Linking Employment, Academics, and Disability Services
An MOU has been developed with the City University of New York (CUNY), providing funding to 17 campuses throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Through this MOU, VESID and CUNY are collaborating to provide employment-related services to students with disabilities enrolled on designated CUNY campuses. Funds are being used to support employment teams to provide services on each campus, facilitating both the educational and employment process of students with disabilities with the goal of competitive employment.
VESID is providing: eligibility determination; assistance in obtaining disability documentation in order to establish eligibility (i.e. authorize testing); purchase of assistive technology; tuition assistance; textbooks; specialized transportation; fees for additional tutoring; job placement assistance; and additional services as per “individualized plan for employment.”
CUNY is providing: an additional counselor on each campus; outreach to identify students with disabilities on campus; provision of academic advisement/support; career counseling, job readiness skills, internship assistance; assistance in obtaining disability documentation at no cost to student; and a connection to VESID for eligible students.
The Linking Employment, Academics, and Disability Services (LEADS) initiative has been fully operational for less than two semesters. Both the CUNY and VESID teams have reported positive results in the following areas:
- Extensive training, collaboration, and marketing have yielded results quicker than
anticipated. For example, college students with disabilities are accessing VESID services more readily.
- CUNY counselors are assisting VESID counselors with the application and eligibility processes resulting in high quality referrals to VESID and a streamlined process to IPE development.
- More than 600 referrals have been made to VESID since March 2008.
In the coming months, plans are underway to market the LEADS initiative to MTPs and other high schools in NYC, Long Island, and other surrounding counties. This would inform students with disabilities and their families about the availability of services and other supports throughout the CUNY system. The LEADS program could be a viable option for students considering CUNY as they plan for transition from high school to college.
One Stop Pilot
The New York City One Stop Project continues to address the employment needs of individuals with disabilities by joining the combined resources of VESID and the New York City Department of Small Business Services. The initial objective of the project involved the establishment of VESID as the vocational rehabilitation component at each of the New York City Workforce One Career Centers (One Stops). These centers were created as part of the Workforce Investment Act and continue to offer a central location where the public can obtain information on employment opportunities, including job training programs and job placement services. At this time, our initial objective has been met in that all of the One Stop Centers have VESID counselors who are available to provide services for consumers with disabilities.
As a partner at the One Stop, VESID works in collaboration with the NYC Department of Small Business Services, CUNY, the NYC Workforce Investment Board, the NYS Department of Labor, and other community providers. Co-location of VESID counselors at each of the five NYC One Stop locations has ensured that consumers have access to the highest quality vocational rehabilitation services in a timely fashion. The combined resources of the collaborating partners have resulted in a number of service enhancements including:
- The development of specialized services for transitioning youth including summer youth employment opportunities, a youth leadership program, and specialized linkages with CUNY for transitioning students with disabilities.
- A specialized placement resource that is designed to meet the needs of employers within a specific industry such as Trucking, Busing, and Airport transportation.
- Coordination of services provided by VESID counselors and other One Stop staff. This process has involved extensive in-staff training, as well as community orientation sessions that have been provided at both VESID and One Stop locations. This coordination has been particularly effective when VESID counselors have combined their expertise in disability services with the One Stop placement staff that have expertise in locating specific job leads for our mutual consumers.
- Sharing of data related to employment opportunities and joint program development to meet the job placement needs of consumers with disabilities has enabled us to improve employment outcomes at a time when the economy has presented significant challenges.
To date, 305 individuals with disabilities have been served by this program. Of this group, 47 individuals have been successful in obtaining employment and the other individuals are enrolled in training programs, college, and job placement activities. The project continues to meet our objectives. We are looking forward to increased numbers of consumers utilizing the services of VESID and other One Stop partners as we continue this highly effective partnership.
VESID has worked with the State Education Department’s (SED) Office of Human Resources Management to develop a staffing plan, including recommended staffing ratios that will support the functions of the VESID District Office and the role of the VRC in meeting the critical responsibilities of determining eligibility, developing employment goals, and securing employment outcomes for consumers. To date, three of the District Offices are staffed at their recommended ratio. Waivers continue to be submitted in order to bring the other District Offices up to their recommended ratio where possible. VESID continues to recruit candidates under Section 55-B of the Civil Service Law. This option does not require Division of the Budget approval. Timely approval to fill vacancies is essential in order for VESID to accomplish its critical work.
E. Business Processes
VESID had 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, was been completed over a year ago. The procurement of the second phase, which involves the creation of the purchasing system, is currently on hold pending VESID’s ability to obtain the services of a project manager and pending an independent validation and verification (IV&V) as required by OFT. It is anticipated that Phase 2 may take up to three years to complete once it starts.
In the interim, SED’s Office of Management Services (OMS) and VESID have collaborated to streamline payment processes for hundreds of VESID's VR contracts for consumer services. This process involved the development of statewide standards for service documentation and payment requirements which are now resulting in expedited payments to vendors. As additional consumer services contracts are added, this new payment process will be used.
The primary method to purchase disability-related services for persons with disabilities services is through United Contracted Services (UCS). The current UCS contracts will expire on December 31, 2008. The “Designing Our Future” initiative recognized that the current contract VESID uses to purchase services does not: offer sufficient consumer choice options; adequately compensate for services purchased; assess provider effectiveness, which is critical in assisting VESID in making informed decisions regarding all providers, both current and new; or allow for the timely approval for new providers based on consumer need. The new UCS will address these issues for many of the key disability-related services that are purchased from vendors.
The new UCS contract process is the result of the collaborative efforts of VESID staff, SED Fiscal Management, and the rehabilitation provider community. Throughout this process, VESID and SED staff met with staff from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) to discuss the design concept, results of the benchmarking efforts, methods developed to determine the allocation of units, and notification of vendors. These meetings proved invaluable in providing guidance for the project and ensuring that we were developing a system that would be acceptable to OSC.
Currently, VESID staff is conducting training sessions regarding the new UCS with follow-up meetings to be scheduled at the local level regarding implementation. A detailed report on UCS was provided to the VESID Committee in October 2008.
- Training and Professional Development
As was reported in “Section E,” the new UCS contract makes new services available and reimburses providers at more appropriate rates leading to better consumer choices. Training will include instruction on new services and implementation.
VESID District Office Administration has realigned its recruitment initiatives with its training activities to form a new unit called Recruitment, Training and Staff Development. One of the first initiatives this new unit is undertaking is the development of a VRC traineeship. VESID staff is working with Human Resources to develop this traineeship to ensure VESID remains competitive in the recruitment of VRCs in the face of a national shortage of qualified candidates.
As a follow up to “Designing Our Future,” VESID’s Recruitment, Training and Staff Development Unit worked with Information Technology Services (ITS) to provide a Technology Training for all VESID staff in June 2008. Workshops were developed to address training needs that had been identified by staff during “Designing Our Future” and included Calcium Calendar (web-based calendar); Excel Tips for Working with Spreadsheets, several Groupwise workshops, several CaMS (VESID’s case management system) workshops, tips to properly completing travel forms, a policy question and answer session and an opportunity to meeting ITS help desk staff. Staff was enthusiastic about this training opportunity and attendance was high.
VESID has historically relied on the federally supported the Rehabilitation Continuing Education Program (RCEP) managed by the State University of New York at Buffalo for staff development and training related to certification of VRCs. As of December 15, 2008, RCEP will be discontinued by the federal government. Due the discontinuance of RCEP and the limited capacity of the Recruitment, Training and Staff Development Unit, we are exploring ways to develop a mechanism to continue staff development and certification-based training for VRCs.
G. 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 developed a plan to expand its Quality Assurance/Monitoring Unit to ensure compliance with federal and State Laws, internal controls and VESID policies and procedures. This unit is also responsible for monitoring vendor services to ensure compliance with contractual agreements.
The planned expansion of staff for the unit has not been fully realized. However, other changes have occurred. VESID, through the Quality Assurance/Monitoring Unit, has:
- Modified its supported employment provider review forms and process;
- Conducted 57 agency reviews using the new forms and process;
- Initiated monitoring of District Office supported employment records;
- Conducted 14 District Office reviews of supported employment records;
- Developed a prototype of a vendor report card for supported employment service providers;
- Initiated monitoring of payment procedures for certain contracted services (Interpreters, Private Colleges, ReTech-vehicle modification, and Psychologists);
- Conducted 12 district office reviews of contracted service payments; and
- Conducted a statewide review of 350 District Office files focused on ensuring that the Eligibility and Significance of Disability policies were implemented correctly.
Staff has been working to refine efforts with the employer database system that allows staff to track what employers are hiring our consumers; targeting industry-specific employers; build targeted lists for mail and call campaigns; create company profile reports. This database is expected to provide data that will lead to a comprehensive marketing plan that will be finalized this spring.
VESID and the State Rehabilitation Council (SRC) will be working with Public Broadcasting station WMHT and the renowned show “The Bottom Line” to produce an Employer-to-Employer Forum. This forum is intended to inform employers who have not hired a diverse workforce on the “win-win” aspect of hiring persons with disabilities and the value added nature employing diverse individuals, who happen to be disabled. It is expected this joint activity with the SRC will produce a 30-minute show that will have statewide impact and there are post-production plans to use the show to create a DVD with embedded resources for employers on tax credits (federal and State), and information regarding employment and training opportunities.
A tri-fold was developed to provide State and federal government officials, employers and other partners with success stories and updates on VESID’s progress with the employment outcomes, annualized earnings, VESID’s role in transitioning of youth and Vocational Rehabilitation’s return on investment.
VESID collaborated with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR) to nationally showcase vocational rehabilitation via WMHT's (PBS) local production of Mr. John Robinson's personal story. Mr. Robinson is Director of Corporate Support at WMHT in upstate New York, and was born a congenital amputee. The documentary will focus on the foundation built through Mr. Robinson’s education, access to vocational rehabilitation services and his continued successes, struggles and perseverance obtaining a job and building a family. CSAVR has agreed to sponsor the WMHT production as a marketing tool that will give vocational rehabilitation national exposure.
VESID has joined with three other SED divisions (Troops to Teachers, career and technical education and student support services) to mutually support these veterans’ services on behalf SED. For example, Troops to Teachers has partnered with VESID at job fairs for veterans. VESID and its SED veteran counterparts have signed on to a statewide veterans and family interagency collaborative under the leadership of the NYS Division of Veterans Affairs and the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). This statewide initiative is engaged in crafting and implementing a State Plan for New York’s Veterans and Families. The effort is focused on four priority areas for veterans and their families:
- Create a sustained infrastructure to address multiple needs;
- Facilitate engagement and involvement of returning veterans and their families;
- Increase the political and public commitment to services; and
- Develop cultural competencies and improve quality of services.
VESID supported the successful passage of State legislation to advance employment and training opportunities for veterans including: an expansion of the Civil Service 55-c program that promotes affirmative hiring practices for veterans in State government and passage of the State GI bill tuition assistance program that provides full tuition for SUNY/CUNY institutions of higher education.
VESID has initiated ongoing outreach to veterans with a particular emphasis on returning veterans with disabling conditions from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). This campaign includes a consistent VESID presence at veterans’ job fairs and veteran Stand Down events across the State. Efforts are underway to develop a comprehensive veterans’ services web page linking VESID consumers with a wide range of underutilized veteran/family employment-oriented service options for all branches of service and reserves.
VESID has convened an internal workgroup representing all levels of the vocational rehabilitation service system to identify best practices and gaps in services. The action plan will promote best practices statewide and identify new services and/or strategies for effective veterans’ services.
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. In addition, VESID will continue its work with The Center for Essential Management Services to develop a survey on the impact of “Designing Our Future” initiatives on service delivery. The results of this survey should be available in Fall 2009.