An Interview with Catherine Strode
When Denver Human Services (DHS) released the findings of a needs assessment for individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities, one Denver nonprofit organization took it as validation of its work. As part of the needs assessment, Denver Human Services surveyed recipients, providers and others and asked how supportive people are of the current mill levy services being provided by Rocky Mountain Human Services. On a scale of one to ten, where 1 is the lowest level of support and 10 is the highest level of support, 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. Executive Director Sheri Repinski says the results of the needs assessment reflect that RMHS is on the right track and doing work that people value with Denver property tax mill levy dollars.
The report also highlighted key gaps in services and supports. Sheri Repinski addresses how RMHS is responding to the results of the needs assessment moving into the next year.
How will client assistance paid for by mill levy funds look different moving forward?
Mill Levy client assistance allows individuals to request services that are unique and individualized at any time these services are needed. It also includes family support and services that are in a person’s service plan. There’s concern we have shut the door on individual requests through client assistance or substantially limited what people can access. That is just not the case. We realized an increase in number of requests we received each month. These increased about 112 percent from January to June of 2018. Our trends in delivering services exceeded what we had in the budget. We developed a framework around it so it was more predictable and we could ensure funds would be available equitably across all individuals. The new framework we have developed will be helpful for individuals and families to understand what’s available to them. It will also give them an avenue to express concerns if they believe they have a need that is not being met. This framework will help offer clarity. It will help ensure we are being fair and equitable because we will be able to establish limits. We’ll be able to ensure that the services are sustainable.
What change in services come with the new framework?
Most of the services that were requested before will continue to be funded and it’s important that individuals continue to contact us so we can explore services to help them. There are a couple of places where the expenditures were higher than we expected so we’re making some changes. There are changes in rental assistance, moving expenses, and home repairs. Temporarily, if somebody requests rental assistance, we have not always been able to fund those requests. We are looking at a way to be able to do this moving forward. We’re aggressively pursuing additional options for families needing rent assistance. There’s a variety of options we’re looking at and believe we can go back and build a system that allows limited rental, deposit/moving assistance to be provided. We just need a little bit of time. There are limits to cultural passes (e.g. Museum of Nature and Science) and long term services. As for individuals who need behavioral therapy on a long term basis, we have not been able to approve them beyond the limit that we have set. We are exploring other avenues for them to receive this service. We will no longer be able to cover temporary shelter, travel expenses, purchasing a vehicle, vehicle repairs and furniture.
How will agency initiatives look different moving forward? ( For example, classes such as financial planning, yoga, etc.)
There are no changes to external initiatives at this time. We are in the process of documenting how agencies will be selected in the future. The process of selection for external initiatives has changed primarily to organize it within specific timelines. We’ll release announcements to the community outlining the procedures and timeline for submitting a proposal. Agencies will submit proposals like they did before but the due date will be the same for all applicants. The review process will include using a rubric where the proposals are all scored against the same criteria. The Community Advisory Council will review summaries of those proposals and provide a collective score that will be averaged into the total score. Establishing a regular process and schedule makes it predictable for us, the agencies, the public, and for the budget. We are hoping to release the proposal outline and timeline by late October. The contracts for proposals that are approved will be in place by January 1, 2019.
What is the allotted budget for each area?
External initiatives (for the period of July 1 to December 31 2018) is at about 1.8 million. Client assistance, that includes individual requests, family supports, and services developed in the service plan are at two million for the six months. After December 31, we will have a different budget that is yet to be set. Denver Human Services (DHS) has implemented a contract that reduces our contract amount by two million next year. We don’t know exactly how that will play out. That is yet to be determined.
Which programs will be given priority by RMHS?
We work closely with the Community Advisory Council so they can give us recommendations on how to set those priorities. We have received overwhelming support for the Client Assistance program. For External Initiatives, the Community Advisory Council met recently and identified housing, behavioral health, parent education and competitive employment are priorities.
What measures are in place to ensure all communities know about this available funding?
We focused a lot on communication and outreach so that all Denver residents who have intellectual or developmental disabilities are aware these services are available. This happens through a variety of ways. The most important way is directly through the Service Coordinator. The Service Coordinator has the responsibility to know about these services and how we can help with these funds. We’ve increased our communication through our social media and through our newsletters. All Board and Community Advisory Council meetings are open to the public. We are also scheduling community forums every quarter. What is new with our community forums is a focus of going out into the community, in places throughout the city as opposed to holding them at Rocky Mountain Human Services. Community forums will be focused on having the providers, those agencies delivering the services, available to provide an overview on what we can help with and answer questions. We are visiting with registered neighborhood organizations to make sure they know how to contact us and what services are available. We’re trying to get the word out as much as we can. We wanted to be sure we were connecting not only with those who were already receiving services, but with those who may not yet be receiving services, or know someone in need of services.
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.