By Aaron Atkinson, Director of Quality Enhancement
The mission of The Arc Baltimore is to provide advocacy and high quality, life-changing supports to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines quality as: how good or bad something is; a characteristic or feature that someone or something has; something that can be noticed as a part of a person or thing; a high level of value or excellence. If you are like me, after reading Merriam Webster’s definition, you probably are left still wondering what quality really means, and what high quality supports look like.
The reality is that each and every person who is affiliated with The Arc Baltimore, whether as an employee, volunteer, board member, business associate, or supported individual, has his or her own definition of what quality means and what quality looks like. Herein lies the challenge, what measures can we take to ensure that quality is uniformly understood and applied? Just like many of life’s questions, there is no easy, one size fits all, answer.
That said, one way to consistently provide high quality supports, is to have a plan. Here at The Arc Baltimore there are numerous plans, but the one I would like to highlight is the Quality Enhancement Plan, also referred to as the QE Plan. The QE Plan has many goals, which act as waymarks, helping to guide The Arc Baltimore on its path of continuous quality improvement. One goal within the QE Plan, is to improve the quality of services by seeking the input of staff and supported individuals. To reach this goal, we created quality enhancement workgroups.
Quality Enhancement workgroups are comprised of supported individuals and direct support professionals; the facilitators of the workgroups are all direct support professionals. Currently, the Woodlawn, Dundalk, Lochridge, Towson, Seton and Homeland employment centers, as well as the Supported Employment, Project Search, and Community Living programs have active workgroups; Family Living will create a workgroup this spring. Workgroups meet each quarter, but some have chosen to meet on a monthly basis because they have found the experience so empowering and beneficial.
Workgroups discuss many topics during their meetings, including how the Individual Plan process could improve with increased involvement of direct support professionals, ways communication could improve, and the quality of sites and services. Facilitators take meeting minutes and submit them to the director of the Quality Enhancement Division. The minutes are summarized and added to the QE Plan, which is then presented to the QE Committee. The QE committee meets on a quarterly basis and membership consists of leadership staff, board members and self-advocates. The quarterly and annual QE plan results are also posted to The Arc Baltimore’s website. Additionally, the director of the Quality Enhancement Division and the facilitators meet every quarter, at which time the director of Quality Enhancement updates the facilitators on progress towards prior agenda items and discusses new agenda items.
The purpose of the workgroups is twofold. One purpose is to improve services provided by The Arc Baltimore by refining the communication between direct support professionals, supported individuals, and management. The other purpose is to empower direct support professionals and supported individuals, by providing them an additional venue where they can share their thoughts and ideas. The concept is built upon the understanding that empowered staff and supported individuals help enhance the quality of existing supports and services. This is accomplished by providing staff and supported individuals’ forums to talk about the concept of quality and the opportunity to translate those discussions into action.