Nysha Recent News

Embracing Future, Hamaspik Moves to ‘Support, not Care’ of People with Disabilities

April 11, 2016  

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette


Furthering Industry Shift, Agency Retrains Managers in New Person-centered Values

Leading the nation once again, New York State’s official disability-services body is now deep into a paradigm shift in how people with disabilities are provided with care.

But the sea change at the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), the latest from the state that created the Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA) group-home model, is about something far bigger than how caregivers view care.

It’s about seeing it as support, not care.

And at Hamaspik, an OPWDD non-profit partner since its inception, introducing staff once again to that shift was the order of the day this past February 16th.

Breaking down barriers

What’s happening at the OPWDD now, in plain English, is that you don’t care for people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities—you support them.

There was a time not long ago that discrimination, isolation and the resulting unfairness was acceptable.

Society was largely provincial: The so-called “normal” and “retarded,” the mainstream and institutionalized, the abled and disabled.  Institutions and their concomitant isolation bolstered that notion.

Geraldo Rivera, intrepid reporter in the 1970s, triggered the tsunami that eventually washed that all away with his exposure of shocking conditions at New York’s Willowbrook institution.

By the early 2010s, the progressive arc of history had bent to the point where not only was there widespread integration for people with disabilities, but the beginning of seeing them just as people—and the end of seeing them primarily for their disabilities.

Reinterpreting care

In what’s known industry-wise as the medical model, disabilities are (or were) seen as a problem that needs a solution.  The support model largely turns that on its head.

The support model posits that people with disabilities aren’t “broken” and don’t need to be “fixed.”

As a matter of fact, the new approach largely posits that disabilities not be recognized in the first place, much as a person with full mental function and, say, partial paralysis, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, is fully embraced and integrated.  Gov. Abbott uses a wheelchair and lives a full life, one of the country’s few state chief executives to serve despite significant disability.

(Perhaps the first was New York’s very own Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the WWII-era U.S. President and polio survivor who served as Governor from 1929 to 1932 despite using a wheelchair.)

Under the support model, individuals are to be supported by their immediate circle—and granted the fullest possible freedom of choice to the extent practicable.

Professional values

To realize its new goal of transforming its statewide philosophy, the OPWDD tapped the National Alliance for Direct Support Professionals (NADSP) to create and execute a retraining curriculum.

Led by disability industry veteran Joseph “Joe” MacBeth, who personally leads many of his organization’s training consultations, the NADSP is currently in the process of bringing the state agency—and all its partner non-profits like Hamaspik—up to speed.

Hamaspik’s first encounter with the NADSP and the OPWDD’s new approach towards disability actually occurred last year, when Mr. MacBeth led a first training on the premises of Hamaspik of Rockland County.  That day-long introductory session was geared for the agency’s entire command hierarchy, including its Executive Directors.

As spring sprung this year, Hamaspik’s second session had about three dozen front-line managers from across the agency spend the day with the NADSP for an informative presentation.

Present for the day-long training were directors of Hamaspik’s group residences, Day Habilitation (Day Hab) programs and Community Habilitation (Com Hab) programs.

Unlike last year’s introductory session, this year’s NADSP was focused on imparting credentialed skills and training, via the aforementioned managers, to Hamaspik’s front-line Direct Support Professionals (DSPs).

Those would be the men and women serving as the OPWDD’s collective hands and heart and who, until the start of this sea change a relatively short time ago, were known as Direct Care Workers (DCWs).

Specifically, Hamaspik’s February training session with the NADSP was geared towards bringing agency DSPs up to speed in the OPWDD’s Code of Ethics for Direct Support Professionals, a nine-part code developed by the NADSP that lays out modern DSPs’ dos and don’ts.

A Code of Competence

The first and perhaps most-critical rule is the first: Person-Centered Supports.

Elaborating on this, the Code states: “As a DSP, my first allegiance is to the person I support; all other activities and functions I perform flow from this allegiance.”

The Code calls for the DSP’s every direct interaction to be informed by that outlook with such language as “Honor the personality, preferences, culture and gifts of people who cannot speak by seeking other ways of understanding them,” and “Provide advocacy when the needs of the system override those of the individual(s) I support.”

The remaining components of the code are centered on such staples as promoting physical and emotional wellbeing, maintaining integrity, responsibility and confidentiality, respect, self-determination, and advocacy.

The Code also includes assisting the people whom the DSP supports in developing and maintaining their own personal relationships, free of the DSP’s personal beliefs or impressions.

The newest frontier

“Competency + Ethics = Outcomes: Creating a Culture of Competency” was the daylong event’s official title.

And working interactively with an involved and spirited crowd, the NADSP instructors first walked their captive audience through the “The Emerging Roles and Expectations of the Direct Support Workforce,” an opening session that dwelt upon how to best support people with disabilities to make informed decisions.

That was followed by a series of real-life scenarios that reflect the new values of equality, freedom and personal choice.

The presentation used short videos and electronic slides throughout, not to mention a series of impressively in-tune cultural nuances reflecting Orthodox community culture and sensitivities.

Real-examples involving such religious-life staples as chulent, the beloved traditional Shabbos stew, or the nighttime Maariv prayer services, were more than a little amusing to the crowd—but indicative of the NADSP’s dedication to speaking its audiences’ language and getting the job done right.

The first of two afternoon sessions explained the OPWDD’s new Core Competencies, a standardized set of guidelines that inform and define professional DSP behavior and skills. The Core Competencies, in which all New York State DSPs will eventually need to be credentialed and regularly recertified, was adopted by the OPWDD with NADSP assistance.

“You’re not a parent,” Hamaspik of Rockland County Director of Quality Assurance Eliezer (“Lazer”) Appel later said to the Gazette, summing up the training’s overarching message of replacing care of individuals with disabilities with support.  “You’re a friend.”

Hamaspik has long incorporated a genuine love and caring for the individuals it serves in its regular programming.  With the new training, that love and caring are poised to move up to the next new level.