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July 16, 2013

Valley social service agency reps get time with FSSA officials

TERRE HAUTE — Representatives of about 25 Wabash Valley social service agencies each had personal “facetime” with newly-appointed officials of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration on Monday.

They met with Debra Minott, the new FSSA secretary under Gov. Mike Pence, and Nicole Norvell, the director of FSSA’s division of disability and rehabilitative services, at Indiana State University.

Minott and Norvell “are new to FSSA and we thought it would be nice to bring them to Terre Haute to be introduced to the various agencies that work in the Wabash Valley,” said Mary Ann Clark, co-chair of DAWG, or the Disability Awareness Work Group, one of the event sponsors.

Each agency, separately, had the opportunity to meet with Minott and Norvell to introduce themselves and raise issues or concerns.

Minott said she appreciated the invitation.  “It seems that at least in the recent history of our agency, we have not spent very much time reaching out to our partners. I want them to really understand I value what they do,” she said after the event had concluded. “It’s worth it to me … to spend time with them and hear what is on their minds.”

When she began the job five months ago, “I realized there was so much I needed to learn,” Minott said. She believes the best way to learn is to meet with agencies that provide those services funded by FSSA.

FSSA is a health care and social service funding agency. It deals with aging services, disability services, food stamps and TANF, mental health/addiction and Medicaid.

Issues raised “were very specific to the type of service,” Minott said.

“A number of folks came forward to identify what they see as potential gaps in services” and hope FSSA can help them find additional funding, she said

Some raised questions about the direction of FSSA, particularly with regard to some of the issues affecting those who have developmental disabilities. “They hope to get some further clarity,” Minott said.

The agency representatives also provided “suggestions of ways to improve,” Norvell said. “It’s harder sometimes at a state level to always know what is going on at a kind of ground level. So those were good takeaways from discussions.”

As far as changes regarding those with developmental disabilities, those who attended wanted to know more about a prior initiative by the state to have less institutions in Indiana; by federal definition, a group home is considered an institution, Norvell said.

“There were some initiatives about minimizing the number of group homes so you have less institutions, and people being served more in the community,” Norvell said. She and Minott were asked about the status of those changes.

Providers will be contacted in the next several weeks to talk about that issue, Norvell said. The biggest concern is whether it will be mandated, and most don’t want it mandated, she said.

“We are looking at making sure decisions are sound on behalf of consumers and that we are taking all factors into consideration before making any massive system changes,” Norvell said.

State officials want input from stakeholders, she said.  

Minott also told those assembled that the agency is reorganizing.

The goal is “to minimize the silos that have risen over time between the various [FSSA] divisions,” Minott said.

The intent “is to act much more as one unified agency,” Minott said. In the past, the five divisions “have tended to operate like  they are their own agencies.”

The visit was sponsored by Hamilton Center, ISU’s Blumberg Center, the Business Leadership Network-Wabash Valley and DAWG.

Among those attending was Anita Bean, executive director of ResCare/Normal Life of Terre Haute. She appreciated the opportunity to introduce the agency and its services.

“The individuals we serve are served 100 percent, pretty much, by Medicaid dollars, and any changes [FSSA] makes affects our business and the lives of those we serve,” she said.

Myra Wilkey, of Mental Health America of Vigo County, said one of her agency’s goals was “to make them aware of some things that could use improvement.”

Greg Allen, referral liaison at Hamilton Center, said he looked forward to meeting the new FSSA secretary, and Hamilton Center “looks forward to having a working relationship with her.”

Despite budgetary constraints, “We’re  committed to providing quality services to the consumer,” Allen said. “We have a mutual interest in serving the consumers.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

 

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