An Interview with Catherine Strode
The results of a needs assessment on services available to Denver residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities have been completed. Denver Human Services (DHS) has released the findings and is now in the process of seating an Advisory Council to recommend solutions. The assessment rated support for the use of Mill Levy funds for enhanced services was high, but cited key gaps in unmet needs. Denver Human Services Mill Levy Program Manager, Justin Sykes, explains the systemic challenges revealed in the needs assessment and discusses the next steps.
In the past, all Mill Levy monies were managed and distributed by Rocky Mountain Human Services. Going forward, Rocky Mountain Human Services will continue to manage and distribute the majority of the funding. Denver Human Services will manage a slice of the funds as well as approximately nine million unspent funds from prior years.
What was the reason for conducting a needs assessment?
The reason we conducted a needs assessment was because there is unspent Mill Levy money from prior years that is dedicated to providing services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who live in Denver. Going forward, there will be funding every year that is not committed to the Denver Community Centered Board, Rocky Mountain Human Services. We wanted to do the needs assessment to identify what are the greatest issues for Denver residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities. When we program these dollars from prior years as well as the new revenues in subsequent years, this will help us to orchestrate it in a way that is responsive to the needs of the community.
What did you learn from the needs assessment?
The top problems that were identified through the needs assessment were number one, affordable housing and number two, waiting list for services. Other top issues included: mental or behavioral health services, obtaining employment and transition from school to community/adult services. It is very likely that some, or all of these issues, will be addressed by the funding that is available. I cannot tell you how each will be addressed, or what the programs addressing each of these needs will look like. Denver Human Services (DHS) will establish an Advisory Council and the Advisory Council will make recommendations to us. DHS will evaluate and implement those recommendations.
As part of the needs assessment, we surveyed recipients, providers and others (e.g. self advocates) and asked how supportive people are of the current services being provided by the mill levy. Service areas included enhanced services from RMHS, community agency programs, individual annual plans and client assistance/individual requests. We found overall that people are quite satisfied. Across all providers of services with regard to the enhanced services Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) is providing, on a scale of one to ten, where 1 is the lowest level of support and 10 is the highest level of support, the average score for providers was a 7.7. When you look at the four different services across the different types of respondents to the survey, the scores were just over seven and just under nine in terms of how satisfied people were with those current services. That was very encouraging to us to see the way we are spending these dollars, for the most part, is supported by the community.
What are the next steps?
The next steps are two-fold. First, there will be an application on the DHS website to serve on the Advisory Council. That will be our first step towards appointing an Advisory Council. We do not have an end date on when we will stop accepting applications. Initially, we will accept applications through early November. DHS Executive Director Don Mares will review the applications and appoint persons to serve on the Advisory Council. Simultaneously with that effort, DHS will issue a Request for Information. Request for Information (“RFI”) will allow anyone in Denver with a good idea for how to better provide services to get that idea on the table. As soon as the Advisory Council is seated, we will hand over the RFIs for the Council to review. They will have the needs assessment. They will have the responses to the RFI. With that information, they will issue a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) for a particular or multiple services. This process is open-ended at this point and will hinge upon what the Advisory Council recommends.
The Council is going to be the one who represents the community, the stakeholders. We anticipate that the Advisory Council will recommend DHS issue an RFP for services related to affordable housing, obtaining employment, providing services to people on the wait list and mental/behavioral health services. In that case, DHS would be the entity issuing the RFP. We would rely on the Advisory Council to help us pick a vendor, and to vet the responses to the RFP. DHS would be doing the legwork of that process.
What measures will be in place for accountability and transparency in distributing the funds?
That is so important given the history with these dollars. Right now in the contract that DHS has with RMHS, they are required to report to us every month on over 30 performance metrics. What that allows us to do is track the number of intakes, the number of people receiving service coordination, the number of community engagement events they have hosted. In any given month it doesn’t tell you too much. However, if you look at those trends overtime you get a better understanding of whether the demand for a service is going up or down. RMHS is also required to provide a yearly report on services, how many people are being served, and outcomes. I am very confident that with the contracts we execute with providers, there will be strong reporting and accountability measures because that is so important with these dollars. If the dollars are not going to something that fulfills the need, our obligation is to put those dollars towards something else does meet that need.
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.