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Delaney: “No Better Example” of OPWDD “People First” Mission Than Hamaspik

Agency Acting Commissioner Gains First-hand Feel for Hamaspik at Introductory Visit

April 20, '15

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

There’s perhaps no better way to see what goes on at a human-services agency than to show up unannounced—or, at least, a good ten minutes before you’re scheduled to be announced.

Fortunately, though, what goes on at Hamaspik outside the visit of OPWDD Acting Commissioner Kerry A. Delaney is also what goes on at Hamaspik during the visit of Ms. Delaney.

Acting Commissioner Delaney, the new leader of the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), visited Hamaspik of Rockland County on April 14.

Arriving about a quarter-hour before her scheduled 10:30 a.m. appearance, Ms. Delaney was greeted at the front desk; she shortly found herself in the onsite Early Intervention (EI) program classroom.

The Acting Commissioner and entourage delightedly observed music therapist Orna Rubinstein work the magic of an electric harp on the gaggle of toddlers with developmental delays.

Sitting before a semicircle of rapt little boys and girls, Ms. Rubinstein sang out educational lyrics while Master Teacher Mrs. Reizy Weichbrod and staff stood by to assist.

The EI program, one of Hamaspik of Rockland County’s flagship offerings, is a key New York State Department of Health (DOH) initiative that gives thousands of tiny tots with developmental delays that critical early boost.

Regional OPWDD leader Joan Volpe, Deputy Commissioner for Person Centered Support JoAnn Lamphere and Special Assistant Neil A. Mitchell looked on, all smiles, as the kids clapped and reacted.

Back in the building’s main hallway, Ms. Delaney chatted with Hamaspik founder and Rockland County Executive Director Meyer Wertheimer, who pointed out the facility’s two wings.

The lower half currently houses offices and cubicles for HamaspikCare and Hamaspik Choice—while the upper half, housing OPWDD programs, Mr. Wertheimer told Ms. Delaney, is “yours.”

The Acting Commissioner and her party next took a walking tour of that wing, spending 20 minutes chatting with the men and women who drive its various departments.

First up was Supported Employment (SEMP) Director Shloime Kornbluh, who apprised the special guest of Hamaspik’s employment work for some two dozen people with disabilities.

All are gainfully employed in local or regional businesses, Kornbluh informed the state leader, such as pharmaceutical companies or restaurants. “No sheltered workshops!” he quipped.

Sheltered workshops are the subminimum-wage venues that are being shut down across the state and country as New York and other states progress to a more inclusive work environment.

The group next talked with Family Care Liaison Nachman Ciment about his work. “I’m hoping to have more of these conversations,” said Delaney. “It’s such an important program.”

Hamaspik of Rockland County MSC and Grandview Briderheim Manager Joel Schnitzer then shared a few words about his duties.  The visitors then moved on to Mr. Joel Horowitz.

Eight-year Hamaspik of Rockland County veteran Mr. Horowitz worked as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) before becoming Manager of the Wannamaker IRA residence.

Today, he serves as the agency’s Director of Day Services, which covers Day Habilitation and other daytime-based supports. “It’s great how long people are with the agency,” said Delaney.

Another long-time employee, Moshe Sabel, was happy to share his Director of Residential Services experiences, both for Hamaspik as Rockland County and, previously, Orange County.

Mr. Sabel talked about the drawbacks of the institutions of old compared to the contemporary Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA) model used for decades now by the OPWDD.

Ms. Delaney empathized with Mr. Sabel, touching upon her agency’s current push for even more person-centered housing. “It’s about the right setting… for people who need significant supports,” she said, “and for those who might want other options.”

Mr. Yaakov Grunwald, another Hamaspik Medicaid Service Coordinator (MSC), talked a bit with the group about the individuals he serves and their “colorful” range of needs.

Completing their rounds of the OPWDD-aligned Hamaspik offices led by Hamaspik MSC Supervisor Nechama Nissenbaum, Ms. Delaney also met and amiably chatted with: MSCs Mrs. Toby Bloch, Mrs. Bruchy Brill, Mrs. Bruchy Greenwald, and Mrs. Reiny Steif; Initial Service Coordinator Mrs. Yocheved Spiegel; EI Ongoing Service Coordinator (OSC) Mrs. Yehudit Fazilova; and IRA Nurse Kate Sussholtz, RN.

The group was also greeted by Mrs. Tzivia Frommer, Director of Hamaspik of Rockland County’s Nursing Home Transition/Diversion (NHTD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) niche programs.

In the onsite Hamaspik Terrace social hall, the Acting Commissioner and her team got to personally meet the heart of Hamaspik: the individuals the agency actually serves day to day.

A group of young men and women with various intellectual and other disabilities had gathered to greet the head of the agency that makes possible the services and supports they regularly get.  Ms. Delaney took pleasure in greeting, and being greeted by, several of the ladies and gentlemen.

One young man proudly declared “manager!” when asked what he does at his bakery job, prompting goodhearted chuckles all around.  One young lady even complimented Ms. Delaney for her jewelry. “Everyone is so happy!” the OPWDD head noted.

The visitors then toured the offices of Hamaspik Care, the agency’s licensed home-care services agency (LHCSA) launched in 2011 in Rockland County and now serving Orange and Kings, too.

Among the nearly two dozen staffers encountered were Westchester Branch Manager Bill Barry, Director of Patient Services Rena Milgraum, RN and Field Nurse Sara Simchi, RN.

On hand to introduce them to each employee were HamaspikCare Downstate Regional Director Mordechai Wolhendler and Yoel Bernath, the former HamaspikCare administrator.

Mr. Bernath, who now heads the Hamaspik Choice managed long-term care (MLTC) plan, has been with Hamaspik for well over a decade in a number of key positions.

As they made their way down the hall from office to office and from cubicle to cubicle, Bernath offered a running commentary spanning all things HamaspikCare and later, Hamaspik Choice.

It was in the next section of the building’s lower wing, as a matter of fact, where an informal but critical discussion unfolded around the experience and authority of Hamaspik Choice.

That MLTC, which rose as the agency’s response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state Medicaid redesign efforts, now consists of a comprehensive plan treating its patients with a full range of benefits.

It was helpful for Hamaspik to have first launched and gained invaluable experience with HamaspikCare, its in-house home-care agency, noted Bernath as they made their rounds—meeting, for example, Nurse Care Managers Simi Gluck, RN and Ruth Sternfield, RN.

Today, the Hamaspik Choice network of some 700 providers cares for people ranging in age “from 18 to 120,” as Bernath later put it, and who require, per requirement, more than 120 days of community-based long term care services.

Asked what the agency learned from prior home-care experience, Bernath cited three items: an organically interlinked office in which all offices share all necessary member information, quickly resolving all cash-flow issues for providers, and responsiveness to patients.

As if to illustrate the point, Nurse Care Manager Gluck was overheard taking a call while the visitors chatted nearby: “Good afternoon!  Thank you for calling Hamaspik Choice.  This is Simi.  How may I help you?”

The discussion segued into disenrollment, with a staffer telling the guests that some Hamaspik Choice members actually leaving because they had gotten better.

“That’s the best outcome!” commented Ms. Lamphere.

Bernath responded by citing a recent New York Daily News article entitled “The Cuomo Miracle,” the point of which was that “it’s really working,” with “it” being the Governor’s healthcare changes.

Conversation next drifted to the OPWDD’s long-term plans of introducing Developmental Disabilities Individual Support and Care Coordination Organizations (DISCOs).

The DISCOs, managed-care organizations in the works for some time now, would do for New York State disability care what other managed- care models are doing for general healthcare.

Visitors and hosts briefly discussed some of the challenges faced by potential DISCO providers, which include convincing providers to join DISCO networks and allaying their financial fears.

The visiting contingent then met with Coordinator of Provider Relations Mrs. Beilu Schwartz, who briefly filled them in on her daily duties working with doctors, medical groups and the like.

The group said hello to Yvette Windsor, a recent Hamaspik Choice hire with 25 years’ industry experience.  Ms. Windsor, the MLTC’s Intake and Enrollment Specialist, brings to the table an extensive disability background at the Family Empowerment Council and other positions.

Coordinator of Intake and Enrollment Mrs. Raizy Mermelstein also spent a few moments sharing about her current role. Mrs. Mermelstein has been with Hamaspik for over 13 years.

Making their way out of the Hamaspik Choice wing, visitors also met Maureen White, who along with Jay Wagner serves as one of the MLTC’s Outreach Specialists.

Ms. White also brings her years of experience with the upstate Ulster County Department of Social Services (DSS) to bear in her additional responsibility as Enrollment Specialist.

On the way out, the group passed a supply area, where Mr. Bernath pointed out the agencies’ convenient fridge magnets and other items. “You can’t beat that!” commented Ms. Delaney.

Moments later, the visiting contingent found itself seated in the Hamaspik Terrace on-site social hall, where a welcome brunch complete with oversized greeting banner had been waiting.

Longtime Special Events Coordinator Mrs. Brenda Katina took the podium to officially greet the visitors, opening the social event with the theme of changing seasons, emphasizing spring.

Hamaspik’s overview video was then screened, giving guests and employees—who filled the hall to welcome the guests—a refreshing and invigorating look at everything Hamaspik does.

Key executive Bernath then took the floor to provide the OPWDD leaders with an overview of Hamaspik Choice’s performance to date—the MLTC’s 700-plus active providers, for example.

Bernath also mentioned that Hamaspik Choice provided over 3,000 member months of service in Year 2014 alone—and a correspondingly vast number of claims, too. What’s more, the MLTC filed an “overwhelmingly positive” 93-percent satisfaction rate in its semiannual patient survey.

“We see the DISCO as a great opportunity to take Hamaspik Choice to the next level,” ended Bernath, referring to the OPWDD’s managed-care project. “We’re ready for the challenge.”

Joel Freund, Executive Director of Hamaspik of Kings County, followed Bernath at the podium.  Mr. Freund conveyed Hamaspik’s earnest interest in working with the Acting Commissioner in the months ahead—but joked that, with a sizable waiting list of individuals with disabilities both inside and outside the communities in need of housing, “you’ll have to build us a new IRA!”

Executive Director Moses Wertheimer of Hamaspik of Orange County next formally welcomed Ms. Delaney in the name of the hundreds of people with special needs serviced by the agency.

Individuals with disabilities are able to live safely and securely thanks to the OPWDD, Wertheimer noted.  Next mentioning the Acting Commissioner’s background as a legal aide to the Governor, he quipped that while it’s always good to know the judge, the case for disability services is even better argued when the leader of the OPWDD is an attorney herself.

Hamaspik founder and Rockland County Executive Director Meyer Wertheimer wrapped up Hamaspik’s presentations, taking the stand to welcome Ms. Delaney to the family. “At Hamaspik, there is only family,” Mr. Wertheimer asserted, correctly. 

The agency father took note of the fact that Hamaspik has weathered numerous transitions, both within and without, since its 1987 founding, but now faces its biggest change what with the advent of the DISCO managed-care model.  “We were integrated before there was ‘integration,’ Mr. Wertheimer said. “We’re only here for one reason—for the people we serve.”

The agency leader also took the opportunity to call for the retention of Medicaid Service Coordination (MSC) services within provider agencies.  Hamaspik has excelled at MSC service since its inception; the projected DISCO managed-care model would have Service Coordination run by agencies outside of those currently providing it.

Emcee Katina then invited Acting Commissioner Delaney to share a few words.

In her brief and heartfelt remarks, Ms. Delaney thanked the agency for its welcome, then reiterated Mr. Wertheimer’s assertion that Hamaspik is a family.

“At the OPWDD, our mission is ‘Putting People First,’ ” said Delaney, “and I can think of no better example of that in action then what I saw here today.”

Underscoring that point, the Acting Commissioner mentioned the staff and their happy charges at EI, the care and concern for individuals in the Day Hab program, and the overarching family atmosphere.

“It is a testament to the strength of this organization,” Ms. Delaney concluded, adding that Hamaspik and the OPWDD, which share a years-long, hand-in-hand relationship, “will continue to change lives.”

Hudson Valley Developmental Disabilities Regional Office (DDRO) Director Joan Volpe perhaps best wrapped up both Ms. Delaney’s words and the overall atmosphere.

Asked to briefly address the event, Ms. Volpe spoke for herself—and for every Hamaspik DSP caring for people with disabilities at group homes late nights or early mornings, or toiling for that one big breakthrough at EI or any one of Hamaspik’s many services and supports—in saying, “What I feel is love.”