Nysha Recent News

Hamaspik’s Proactive Staff Trainings Put ‘Person-centered’ Progress First

December 19, 2016

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Why wait until new regulations take effect?  Let’s start now!

That’s basically the concept conveyed by Eliezer “Lazer” Appel, Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Director of Quality Assurance.

At once barnstorming, charming and disarming, Mr. Appel’s personality perfectly suits his Hamaspik job, a set of responsibilities including ensuring that everyone else is doing their job.

It’s a position that might turn anyone other than the ever-smiling Appel into a source of pressure.

But the socially gifted policy enforcer is perfect for the job—which now also entails critically upgrading Hamaspik’s workforce, and well before those upgrades become mandatory.

Preemptive strike

On the morning of Tuesday, December 20th, some dozen-plus Hamaspik employees and managers converged on 8 Arcadian Drive in Spring Valley, New York, home to Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Arcadian Briderheim Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA).

They were the entire staff bodies of both the Arcadian and Grandview group homes, the former managed by longtime leader Shlomo Lebowitz and the latter by the capable Joel Schnitzer.

And the occasion was a pre-emptive, proactive staff training that was quite literally in-house.

Presided over by Lazer Appel, the group of hardworking workers was introduced to critical new values and viewpoints regarding the work they daily do.

The slideshow/video presentation introduced New York State’s new nine-point professional Code of Conduct for frontline employees and no less than seven person-centered Goals—themselves comprising nearly 60 Skills across 23 Competency categories.

Starting sometime this coming year, employees who work directly with New Yorkers with disabilities—like those at Arcadian, Grandview and all other Hamaspik group homes in three counties—will be evaluated regularly.

This is intended by the OPWDD to ensure familiarity and facility with the Code of Conduct and its attendant Competencies and Skills, fundamentally changing the nature of the industry with a permanent injection of professionalism (and a good polish of prestige).

The thorough and detailed evaluations, to which current employees will be subjected yearly (and new employees at the three-month and six-month points on their new jobs), are on tap to become mandatory across New York State in summer of 2017.

But as the freezing winter weather drew 2016 to a close, Lazer Appel was already warming Hamaspik up to the coming watershed change.

Changing an industry

In that watershed change whose germ sprouted several years ago, the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)—Hamaspik’s public-sector partner since its 1986 inception—is subjecting its frontline workforce to an ongoing fundamental transformation.

For some time now, employees once called “Direct Care Workers” have been rebranded as Direct Support Professionals.

The title change reflects New York’s current core value that people with intellectual and other disabilities are to be supported, not “cared for”—that they have choices no matter what their function level, and that staff are there to support and facilitate those person-centered decisions.

The sea change is not unlike the evolution of social work—an industry whose practitioners were seen decades ago as unskilled clock-punchers in contrast to today’s respected and educated careerists.

Upstaging the next stage

It’s Wednesday, December 21, 2016 and Lazer Appel is in the offices of the Gazette, describing the other day’s three-hour presentation—and the positive reaction of Hamaspik’s DSPs.

This past summer, top brass from across the agency were introduced by Appel to the OPWDD’s new ethos.  But yesterday was the frontliners’ turn, at least those at Arcadian and Grandview—and, the Quality Assurance cop reports, he enjoyed witnessing staff dissecting the practicalities of the new workplace culture.

Among other exchanges overheard, DSPs were heard discussing how one resident will now be given ample time in the morning to choose how to spend his day.

With Arcadian and Grandview’s crews now up to speed, Mr. Appel is setting his sights on training in his agency’s remaining group homes.  Working around the schedules of each, he’ll be hosting sessions in-house again.  He aims to be done within two months.

“Since it’s so important, I wanted to make it at a comfortable time and place for staff,” he adds, explaining why the trainings are being held in individual homes, not Hamaspik of Rockland County’s busy administrative hub.

And why not just wait until the changes become required?  Affably (and perhaps predictably) quips Appel: “Because I want to get it over!”