Friday, April 26 | Human Services, Partnerships and Collaboration, Thought Leadership

The IDD Summit Part 3: Expert Panel on Workforce Satisfaction

By Tricia Zerger, Senior Director, Human Services

As we gear up for the second annual IDD Summit, I want to touch on some key points from our first-ever Summit in 2023. With IDD and particularly autism services growing at a fast pace, we felt it was important to give direct support professionals (DSPs) an insight into advancing technologies, expert thought leadership, legislative developments and key strategies for sustainability and growth.


Our agenda consisted of a state-of-the-industry overview, the latest federal and state legislative activity, a provider panel discussion and demonstrations of two technology solutions to help with the number one challenge in IDD care: recruiting and retaining DSPs. Joining me was an all-star lineup of industry experts including:


·      Virginia Gabby, Executive Director for IDD Program Development at Merakey

·      Erin McCloskey, CIO and Co-Leader of Operations at Youth Consultation Service

·      Jamie Pagliaro, Executive Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at RethinkFirst

·      Donna Wilson, Senior Director for State Partnership and Innovation at ANCOR

·      Ken Winston, Director of IDD Service at Integral Care

·      Jen Gray, Director of Solution Consulting at Netsmart and Former IDD Clinician

·      Alan Ortego, Vice President of Engineering for Bells at Netsmart

·      David Strocchia, Senior Vice President for Human Services at Netsmart


In this blog series, I’ll detail what each of these experts had to share, and hope you’ll join us for our 2024 IDD Summit.


In case you missed the first two installments, read them at the links below:

Part 1: Strategic Planning and Legislative Updates

Part 2: Partnership and Innovation


Part 3: Expert Panel on Workforce Satisfaction


Expert Panel


Prior to joining Netsmart, Jen Gray worked as a clinical supervisor, developing expertise in autism care. Jen sat down with our panel of IDD thought leaders to discuss optimizing your workforce for satisfaction and success.


·      Merakey (Virginia Gabby) is a leader in nonprofit, community-based human services. For more than 50 years, they’ve provided care to over 50,000 individuals and families across service lines: IDD, adult behavioral health, children and families, veterans assistance, pharmacy services and more. Merakey is located in twelve different states and aims to be a nationally recognized provider of the highest quality. IDD service lines include e community-based services, adult training facilities, home and community habilitation, behavioral support services, smart homes, video triage, adult autism and housing services, and community living.


·      Integral Care (Ken Winston) offers an array of services in Greater Austin (Travis County) spanning IDD, integrated behavioral health, 24/7 crisis response, substance use treatment, residential services, homeless and housing services and more. Integral is committed to person-centered, trauma-informed, culturally competent care, crossing language barriers with multiple interpreters. For IDD, one of the top objectives is to help clients live in the least restricted environment in the community safely, with the tools they need to thrive.


·      Youth Consultation Service (Erin McCloskey) was established in 1918 and has expanded to include residential and community services, with a strong focus on community inclusion. Located in Newark, NJ, and Camden County, YCS operates forty-five residential programs including dedicated IDD homes, treatment homes, crisis stabilization and adaptive search services. There are two special education schools in Northern New Jersey, plus a clinic specializing in infant and early childhood, mental health and IDD. YCS has partnered with several universities and providers to reach underserved populations.





No discussion of workforce challenges is complete without addressing diversity, inclusion and equity. Especially during a staffing shortage, it’s important to make all people feel welcome and excited to apply.


Integral care started with a time-tested strategy: raising wages to $20 per hour. That brought applicants in the door, but Integral has traditionally focused on diversity within the community. “It’s not directly related to hiring but it is related to retention,” said Ken Winston. “Is this an environment that's inclusive? Is this an environment where I can find not just job satisfaction, but that I know that I'm part of a community?”


So Integral made creating racial health and equity one of their strategic goals for the new fiscal year.  They’ve made application easier through a one-click process. And they allow interested candidates to schedule time for pre-interview information. These actions contribute to a more inclusive process, which signals to potential candidates that inclusion matters.


Tailoring Your Hiring Process


Merakey has taken an innovative approach to hiring that lets applicants shape the process. This includes surveys of current staff, clarity about career path versus job (along with supports like college assistance programs), simplifying the application process based on talking to real applicants. “It’s not just one size fits all,” said Virginia Gabby.


YCS also surveyed their staff and asked what career development opportunities they wanted. The answer was a more personal connection––so after the pandemic, YCS moved their interviews off Zoom and conducted them face to face. They worked to build rapport with staff before their first day of work. “And we really focused on our internship experience,” said Erin McCloskey. “If you can get the intern to form that relationship with the company, and with the sites and with the program directors, then it just becomes your own sort of filter feeder.”


 Retention Begins Before Hiring


YCS has a 28-day onboarding process. That’s why they bring new hires onsite and help them feel settled. Not only that, they build mentoring relationships for the first ten weeks. Engagement is also a priority with Merakey, where they use the lengthy onboarding window to bring people into the fold of their culture––and show they’re advocating for their IDD teams. Integral has an employee advisory council who take a direct role in how the workplace is structured. That includes suggesting and implementing benefits, such as pet insurance, child care, elder care, student loan repayment and specialized practices for LGBTQ staff. Recently, staff lobbied for pay while being supervised for licensure hours. It’s all part of going the extra mile to create an inclusive culture where employees feel valued and listened to.


A Case Management Approach


Merakey created an extensive and innovative pilot, where hiring was approached like case management. A cross-functional team of operational leaders, recruitment professionals and credentialing specialist started each candidate with an intake/needs assessment interview. Next, they engaged in service planning––how could they meet that candidate’s needs during the recruitment process? They monitored and did check-ins, and once the candidate was through, they staged an evaluation. What was the new employee’s experience like? How could the recruitment process at Merakey improve?


The pilot ran for six months, and the Merakey team discovered that not only was recruitment on the rise, so was retention. Virginia Gabby cited “consistent and constant communication” as key to the process––keeping the client engaged. And if an applicant didn't quite meet the qualifications, the recruitment team would explain how they could receive that qualification. At least one candidate took the advice, developed the needed skills, and called back months later to request another interview. This time, they got the job.


Train for Success


Because the IDD field has changed so much in the last 10-20 years, YCS noticed a divide between newer and more seasoned DSPs. To streamline training, they began to emphasize evidence-based practice. This adds professional rigor to their services, improves outcomes and ensures that everyone is on the same page. Integral developed a 90-day shadowing process which gave them daily face time with their supervisors. At Merakey, all managers take ten minutes a week to discuss the topics that resonate with them the most.



What’s Next?


Our industry experts can’t wait for you to join us at the next IDD Summit.  Until then, here are a few recommended next steps:


·      Create an automation roadmap for your organization

·      Stay up to date on industry trends

·      Become a member of ANCOR by visiting their website, or sign up for ANCOR notifications and alerts

·      Expand your competitive strategy for employee recruitment, faster onboarding and retention

·      Reach out to Netsmart if you’re interested in any of the technology discussed here


Our first IDD Summit was a resounding success. We look forward to your participation in future education and advocacy for the IDD community.


Meet the Author

Tricia Zerger Blog Photo
Tricia Zerger · Senior Director, Human Services

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