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Nonprofit View: Penn-Mar Human Services embracing technology in challenging time

Gregory Miller, CEO of Penn Mar Human Services, in Freeland Maryland, talks with a individual with disabilities supported by Penn-Mar in Freeland Maryland September 13, 2018.
Gregory Miller, CEO of Penn Mar Human Services, in Freeland Maryland, talks with a individual with disabilities supported by Penn-Mar in Freeland Maryland September 13, 2018. (Ken Koons/Carroll County Times /)

The challenges continue.

Funding, workforce and technology are impacting what we do and how we at Penn-Mar Human Services do it like never before.

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In our world, the COVID-19 crisis has added additional complexity on how we provide and get paid for the services we deliver. States have developed a 28-page document dubbed “Appendix K” to redefine the funding landscape and provide alternative services to support people with disabilities in this new environment. These guidelines are giving us much-needed flexibility in how we deliver some of our services.

Our charge is to maximize our capacity to utilize innovative processes to provide individuals with the best support we can and provide team members with ongoing employment opportunities.

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So how are we doing this?

First, we are evaluating each individual’s needs and figuring out what supports we can provide to best fill those needs.

Technology is playing a huge role in our service delivery, from virtual employment supports to meaningful day programming that covers cooking and nutrition, travel, exercise, and skill building, just to name a few. And our operations, learning, and development folks are providing the resources and processes to make all of these ideas come alive.

One specific example was how our Customized Employment team in Carroll County immediately implemented remote employment supports — and it’s yielded incredible results.

Thankfully, the Westminster Employment Team and the people they support have been adapting together. “One of the things we’ve been doing is asking people, “What technology do you like?” and then finding what works best for them.

Once they tackled the accessibility issues, Westminster’s Employment Team got to work by planning with the people we support, their families, residential providers and employers.

They have been doing interactive videos where they discuss, plan and create employment plans with people, as well as doing virtual community mapping and creating lists of ideal jobs that fit the person’s interests, skills and conditions for success. Some of the other people we support are actually still working, because they have essential jobs in grocery stores, hospitals or other places. So the team touches base with them daily, trying to be there if they need support.

The frequent check-ins, job skill building, and resume and application work are just the tip of the remote employment supports iceberg. They have also leveraged technology to help find area businesses they didn’t even know existed.

One of the positive outcomes from this pandemic is that the technology capability at Penn-Mar is becoming enhanced in powerful ways. It will never replace vital human interactions but it is showing how pieces of the services we provide can be delivered with greater creativity and cost-effectiveness, and can improve outcomes.

Eventually we will transition back into full service. Our world may look different then, but we will definitely come out of this time of innovation and collaboration having learned some incredibly valuable lessons, capable of taking on whatever challenges are thrown our way.

Gregory T. Miller is CEO and president of Penn-Mar Human Services.

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