For the past 30 years, WCMHS and Green Mountain Workforce (GMWF) have been pioneers in the development of comprehensive and individualized Supported Employment (SE) services in Vermont. They have built and enhanced SE services over this time; developing and adhering to principles that promote wellness and recovery through employment. They believe strongly in an integrated Community Support Program (CSP) delivery system, since much of the success for any client in employment can be a shared success with the other recovery-oriented support programs, and of course the individual client’s own efforts and strengths.
Green Mountain Workforce provides services that focus on supporting clients of the WCMHS Community Support Program seeking competitive employment and working toward a goal of enhancing their independence in the market place. These services include, but are not limited to; assessment, job development and placement, limited on-site training support, social skills training, off-site support which includes contact with an employer if appropriate, benefits counseling, and long term support with an eye towards helping an individual develop natural supports in and out of the workplace.
There is a dedicated and seasoned core staff that provides the range of services this program has to offer. Currently, Rhonna Gable, Heather Slayton, Jane Devereux and Paul Miller comprise the members of the GMWF team. They are hardworking, creative individuals who feel passionately about their mission. While much of this work has established and research vetted methodologies, such as the IPS (Individualized Placement and Support) model, GMWF staff believe deeply in their clients’ abilities and the value of the “dignity of risk”, which encourages clients, agency staff and particularly employers to take a chance on someone who is expressing an interest in employment. Staff provides individualized services, which requires creativity and flexibility and the willingness to work with a clients’ strengths and challenges so they can achieve a successful work experience.
reen Mountain Workforce serves approximately 110 CSP clients of WCMHS annually. The primary population served by the program ranges in age from 18 to 64. While the annual statewide average for CSP clients employed in the past 6 years has generally been in the 15%-20% range, GMWF has averaged between 22% and 32% during the same period. The consistent above-average performance of GMWF is a reflection of how long-term ongoing supports by the entire CSP system contribute to successful employment outcomes and stable community living over time.
GMWF also provides comprehensive benefits counseling to all CSP clients, with a particular focus on supporting clients who are eligible for the variety of work incentive programs that have been created over the past several years. By providing clients and case-managers information and assistance with basic Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and other anti-poverty programs, they help clients maintain a stable footing in their communities while developing and enhancing trust between the clients and the staff that will guide them through the changes in benefits that often occur when they become employed. Benefits counseling has positively impacted many clients’ concerns about taking the sometimes scary step into the world of employment.
Since 2010, GMWF has actively participated in the Agency of Human Service initiative known as Creative Workforce Solutions (CWS). Staff are regular attendees of the monthly CWS meeting which include SE staff from other Human Service agencies such as DOL (Department of Labor), DOC (Department of Corrections), DCF (Department of Children and Families), local schools and other agencies that serve a variety of individuals with disabilities. This collaboration has expanded GMWF’s employer outreach and in general has been a positive force in promoting SE throughout the region.
GMWF has assisted many clients over the years with taking big employment steps, as well as introducing clients who have never been employed to the benefit of making a contribution in their communities. It helps them in creating healthy expectations for themselves, and developing structure in their lives. Many clients report back how their psychiatric symptoms have reduced, or that they’ve gone to the movies with one of their co-workers, developing and building a life outside of the Mental Health system. Program staff believes that most people need to work to be well, but may not necessarily need to be well to work.
At one point, a CSP client became the Store Manager of a local feed and supply company in a nearby town. He received ongoing benefits counseling and support around the difficulties of transitioning into this new life, as well as support for the turmoil that accompanied this transition. Much of his difficulty stemmed from his interactions with the Social Security and Medicaid systems. He required intensive support and follow through around a myriad of correspondences and inaccurate calculations that are all too commonplace when someone with benefits goes to work full time. He managed to complete one year on this job successfully, transitioned off Medicaid onto his employers insurance, and is receiving reduced SSDI benefits as he is a participant in the BOND initiative through Social Security, which allows participants to exceed earnings that typically would eliminate their entire SSDI check.
Overall, many in our community can benefit from SE services. Aside from the benefit to clients who find new value and satisfaction from becoming employed, and the benefit to employers who find good workers, these individuals pay taxes into the system and have reduced Social Security and Welfare benefits which enhance the economy in general. On occasion, a client will work enough to earn their way off benefits entirely. The savings in Social Security payments from clients supported by GMWF, and other SE programs across the State of Vermont, amount to thousands of dollars each year.
There are several areas that GMWF and CSP staff plan to focus on in the next few years. Some of these items are:
- Vocational Resource Center- aka Job Club- a weekly drop-in offering to any CSP client interested in exploring employment at any level. Help with resume building, accessing job leads through web searches, assistance with online applications, and an opportunity for peers to share job acquisition stories with each other and support each other’s efforts
- Highlighting and sharing success stories- Success stories are naturally shared between clients at the Sunrise Recovery Center as well as the Vocational Resource Center. This type of sharing and dialogue between clients is encouraged in general. Staffs encourage group home staff and other support staff to support these discussions in vivo whenever possible
- System sensitization- While there are several work incentive programs available to eligible clients, often the departments that administer these work incentives are not as informed about their own regulations as one would hope. GMWF leadership and staff continue to provide feedback and support for bridging the gap in this understanding. The intention is to maximize the benefit of these work incentives by helping clients navigate the benefits systems as well as educate the workers in these systems to the importance of accuracy with the information they dispense, and communicating with our clients in a way that is encouraging of their work attempts. This past year some good connections were made with department supervisors at Medicaid that have streamlined resolution of some challenging benefits scenarios. There is still much work to be done in this arena, at both the State and local levels
- Continued involvement with CWS – GMWF will maintain a presence at monthly CWS meetings in the interest of building more employer relationships and keeping a coordinated and effective job development consortium alive and well in the Central Vermont area
- Strategic Plans- GMWF successfully completed 4 strategic employment plans developed over the past 5 years. These plans were: Fidelity Action Plan of 2010; The Strategic Plan for GMWF-2011; Statewide CSP SE Strategic Plan of 2011; and the Supported Employment Sustainability Plan (created by our SE Champion Case-Manager in 2012). The most recent Fidelity Review was done in November of 2016, with the report coming out this past July. Lots of planning, that hopefully will lead to continuing positive outcomes
- Based on a recent GMWF staff retreat, employment staff have been meeting individually with CSP case-managers to review their caseloads with a lens towards encouraging more clients who may not be vocalizing an interest in finding employment to consider this as a part of their Recovery work with the agency
Recovery is a broad term that can mean different things to many people. With the challenges of living with a mental illness, employment can seem an overwhelming prospect, but it has proven to be not only a good experience for someone working hard at managing their psychiatric symptoms, but a path towards wellness and a key component in the process of Recovery and the building or rebuilding of a successful life.