By Mark Stevens
They say all good things must come to an end. For The Resource Center, the Balancing Incentive Program, or BIP, was one of those things. But even though the program has expired, its legacy and unprecedented record of accomplishment will live on and serve as an example to others for years to come.
Through BIP, The Resource Center and Lutheran Jamestown were able to support many people, who are elderly or have disabilities, to be able to live independently.
“We were sad to see it go,” Beth Jermain, TRC’s Support Option Administrator and BIP Project Manager, said of the program. “One of the reasons why this program worked was because there was so much flexibility.”
“Extremely sad to see it go, but I think we’ve all learned so much and our toolbox is extremely full from this,” said Nikki Brunecz, Clinical Care Coordinator.
BIP started in 2014 as a collaboration between TRC and Lutheran Jamestown. Both organizations were excited to partner on such an important community initiative.
“This was a unique opportunity to partner with Lutheran and also to provide support to many individuals who may have been falling through the cracks and struggling to remain independent,” said Heather C. Brown, Assistant Executive Director and the leader of the BIP project.
“Together we were able to create meaningful outcomes for individuals in our community who were wanting to retain or regain their independence,” said Tom Holt, Lutheran’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “By sharing our strengths and resources, together our two organizations, each with long and rich histories of meeting our community’s needs, we were able to achieve our goals of helping people stay in their homes, and avoid costly placements.”
The local BIP project initially was funded through a $375,000 innovation grant from the New York State Department of Health. BIP provided a way to meet the needs of underserved populations in rural areas of the state. The BIP initiative was designed to allow people to either become more independent or remain in a more independent setting. Project leaders say the grant’s original focus was to assist participants with their medication and diabetes management.
“But because of the flexibility, the grant allowed us to expand that scope and help people remain independent,” said Terri Johnson, TRC’s Director of Employment and Community-Based Services.
“The intention was to mitigate the barriers with the use of staff, problem resolution and technology,” said Jermain, “to save Medicaid money and fill in the gaps by providing services to people in the community and helping people who wanted to live on their own, live on their own.”
People like Allyson Sanders of Jamestown. Allyson was born with cerebral palsy and has been receiving support from The Resource Center for quite some time. She recently had been living on Barrows Street in the city with some friends, and over time she came to dislike the stressful living situation.
“And I basically decided I want to get out on my own,” she said.
Allyson was referred to BIP. She was one of about 180 people the program helped during its tenure. But it didn’t start out that way. When the program was still in its infancy, there were about 15 people involved.
“We’d get referrals, and then we’d meet with the person. We’d talk about and assess their basic needs, physical health, family, and social,” said Brunecz.
Once that was established, each person had the opportunity to select a life coach. After reading the life coaches’ individual profiles, Allyson chose Tabatha Stenstrom. Tabatha started with BIP in February 2016, but she has been employed with The Resource Center for about 10 years. Like the other coaches, Tabatha provides an array of services intended to provide people what they need anywhere, anytime, without state regulatory constraints.
“It’s very rewarding to know I’m really making a big difference in someone’s life and that there are not a whole lot of regulations,” said Stenstrom. “Working with BIP helped me feel good about myself to help people move ahead with their lives. And it gives them the confidence to know they can do things on their own.”
Within four months, Stenstrom secured Allyson a new apartment, helped her move out of the old one and provided her with the tools she needs to live on her own.
“She’s been really helpful,” said Allyson. “I just like my space and do things I like to do, like hang out with my friends and go to the places I like to go.”
“We have people’s backs. I think that’s a big part of it; we have people’s backs. When people are told they can’t, they can’t, they can’t,” said Jermain. “We try to empower people to make their decisions and get that support.”
Another member of that support team was Jennifer Herron. She too was a life coach who got involved with BIP in October 2014.
“I think what the program taught me the most was to listen to people – their wants and needs.” said Herron.
She has worked with a number of people and does whatever she can to help them move their lives forward. At the same time, they are equally appreciative of her efforts and credit their success to her.
“Very rewarding,” Herron said of the program’s impact. “Helping somebody go from here to there is just an amazing feeling. And to be able to just help them and watch them is inspiring.”
In addition to helping people gain independence, another benefit of BIP was the amount of money it saved the Medicaid system. Project leaders say BIP saved more than $3 million locally by moving some people out of nursing homes to living on their own, helping them take their medications and providing supports that kept them from having to go to the emergency room.
“This project exceeded all expectations and went far and above what was expected of a grant of this nature,” said Nicole L. Schaffer of the New York State Department of Health. “With a relatively modest budget, The Resource Center was also able to demonstrate considerable health care savings.”
“That was huge for the community and the state,” said Johnson.
So huge in fact that once the grant initially expired in December 2015, TRC was one of four agencies state-wide that received a year’s extension and another $397,000.
“That allowed us to sustain it and serve a lot more people that we wouldn’t have been able to support,” Johnson added.
“This program was given an extension beyond the original time frame due in part to The Resource Center’s adept delivery of the proposed program as written in the work plan, prompt and consistent communication, and professionalism,” Schaffer said.
“It allowed us to be open to new ideas, think differently and be more creative, because we weren’t tied to a specific regulation or criteria to enhance their independence. “
To help people maintain that independence in anticipation of the program’s end, project leaders developed sustainability plans for people transitioning to other TRC services, while some people do not need any more assistance.
“It’s actually heart-wrenching to see it end. I have helped and supported so many people since February (2016), and so the thought of not doing that really does hurt,” said Tabatha.
“We’ve just been able to do so much with very limited regulations, to do things outside the box. It worked well. I’m glad we had the opportunity to help as many people as we have reach independence in their own home,” said Herron.
Project leaders are now in the process of collecting all of the data, calculating the savings and compiling the success stories for the state Department of Health.
“To see the growth and to know I was a part of it, it’s a really wonderful opportunity. We’ve helped so many people and made so many connections,” Brunecz added.
“I have had the opportunity to see and hear about so many success stories and how the team has touched so many lives during the project,” said Brown. “Even though the funding may officially end, the key concepts these team members have developed will continue on in a variety of other ways here at TRC. And life coaching is an approach we plan to grow at this agency.”
Brown adds she and Johnson recently traveled to Albany to attend the official BIP grant close-out session and hear about the many other project successes from across the state.
“I was very proud to showcase our team and their hard work. We were provided encouragement to strive to tell our story to various funders and try our hardest to ensure the key pieces of the project continue,” said Brown.
The hope now is that the state recognizes the success as well as the value of the program, and offers it again.
“The professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication of the staff to the spirit of the effort was unparalleled. Hopefully, the value of this initiative will be recognized and replicated in the time ahead,” said Phyllis Howard of the NYS Department of Health.
“I would absolutely love to see the program come back, but it’s really going to take funding from the state for it to make that happen,” said Johnson. “I think this one was probably my favorite out of any grant project that I’ve worked on. Because of the flexibility, it allowed the staff to do things they wouldn’t be able to do under a traditional program. We served far more people than we had planned.”
“Several people are now on their feet, and on their path, the right path, of where they want to go,” said Jermain.