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Sep 8, 2022

Dee Torgerson, Director of VR General in Minnesota, joins Carol Pankow in the VRTAC-QM Studio to take a close look at VR service delivery through a post-pandemic lens. Dee presented at CSAVR and was part of the National Rehabilitation Leadership Institute (NRLI) that produced a paper titled, "Now is the Time: Advancing Services to Individuals with Disabilities by Reenvisioning VR Services."

The pandemic forced VR agencies to offer services in new and flexible ways to meet the evolving needs of individuals with disabilities and employers, and Dee and her team at Minnesota General rose to the occasion. Listen in as Dee talks about bringing her vision to life. 


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Full Transcript


Re-envisioning VR Service Delivery with Dee Torgerson- Minnesota General - Meeting People Where They Are At



Speaker: Manager Minute brought to you by the VRTAC for Quality Management, Conversations powered by VR, one manager at a time, one minute at a time. Here is your host Carol Pankow.


Carol: Well, welcome to the Manager Minute. Joining me in the studio today is Dee Torgerson, Director of VR General in Minnesota. So full disclosure, I have worked with Dee off and on since 2006 and two different agencies and in different capacities. And I've always been in awe of her stellar management skills and she is just an all around good human being. So Dee, thanks for joining me today. How are things going at Minnesota General?


Dee: Hey, Carol, you are too kind, but it's great to be with you talking with you today. Things are doing well at Minnesota General right now. We're in a good place. And of course, in Minnesota it's fall. So people are happy like it's the great Minnesota get together at the state fair. It's the Renaissance Festival, Labor Day weekend. People with young families, all the kids go back to school on Tuesday. So parents are ecstatic. So we are happy in Minnesota.


Carol: Well, for our listeners out there, you're going to get to hear two Minnesota accents. We laughed. You and I were like, Oh, they're going to get a whole lot of the Long O's today. So buckle, right? So D, you were part of the National Rehabilitation Leadership Institute that's also known as NRLI. And I was reading the paper your team wrote and I caught your presentation at CSAVR. Some of the things you were saying really intrigued me and I wanted to dig in further. Your group's paper was titled Now is the Time Advancing Services to Individuals with Disabilities by Re-envisioning VR Services Delivery. Your group talked about the challenges that started in 2014 with the passage of WIOA and the new requirements like Pre Employment Transition Services, Section 511., There was increased order selection and of course the pandemic was the cherry on the top. So all of this has created the situation where VR agencies must offer services in a new and flexible way to meet the evolving needs of individuals with disabilities and employers. So you had some really interesting things you're undertaking at Minnesota General. And I want to just let's dig in. So can you give the listeners a little perspective about Minnesota general? Like how many people do you serve, how many staff do you have and what's your overall budget?


Dee: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's interesting when we talk about VR, there are two significant time frames. We talk about pre WIOA and post WIOA and now we talk about pre pandemic and post pandemic. So it's like in VR, our world is centered around that time frame, but in Minnesota, so actually I'm coming up on three years as director in Minnesota, General VR. Prior to that I was a regional director. So I've been in the VR program about ten years, and prior to that I've always worked in some type of rehab, private, public nonprofit, had my own business for a while, you know, and at my age now we say over 25 years we don't want to say how long it really is. So it's been a long time. I have been in some type of VR system, but coming up in three years as director, one of the things when I came in as the director to this position in Minnesota general, actually at the time we had sort of this like flat leadership reporting structure. I had about 14 senior leaders reporting. To me, it was interesting. I thought it was pretty unmanageable. One of the things I put into place, it took me two years to get this into place, but I now have an executive leadership team I added two deputy director positions.

So one of them many of you probably worked with in the past, she's been with the Federal VR program for lots and lots of years. Chris McVay, she's our Deputy Director of Disability Employment Services. So essentially she oversees all of the field work. And then we had a new person come in to VR as a Deputy Director. She oversees our operations and partnerships. Michele Basham, And many of you will have an opportunity to meet with her coming up. And then another long term person who fills out our executive leadership team is Jennifer Koski, and she oversees our new quality assurance program. She's helped get that up and running, quality assurance and staff development. So Chris came on just less than a year ago. Michele is about six months in. It's a very new structure, so we're still settling into it. But as a director, it's fabulous to have that small, tight knit group that you can really dig into the details and get some things moving with. But a little bit about Minnesota General, we have about 365 staff. If we were fully staffed, we should have close to 400. We have about 50 vacancies which we have had for a very long time.


Carol: That's a bunch.


Dee: That's a bunch, yes, We're in a similar situation as many other states. And honestly, right now it's a little bit of the perfect storm. We had a state hiring freeze. We really never were able to recover our positions after that. In Minnesota, we have had really low attrition and we didn't have a lot of retirements and then the pandemic hit all of that. Was amplified. We lost one of our strong VR Masters programs in Minnesota, lost one of our pipelines of people coming in. So we're experiencing all of the things many other states have been experiencing for a while, but it's sort of is all hitting us at once. So it's something I could talk about a little bit more later. But we're in a staffing crisis just like everyone else. Around the country in 2019. So again, pre-pandemic, we served about 16,000 people in Minnesota. This past year, the pandemic hit that decrease just like others had seen in 2022 program year. We served about 13,000. We are quickly edging up to close to. I expect that we will meet or surpass that 16,000 a month. In years past, we've served up to 18,000 folks.


Carol: Wow. Good on you. That's great. That's moving up. Is it changing, though, the group that's coming back in, is it more younger folk or what?


Dee: Yeah, it's changing. So we've seen sort of this gradual picking up of students that were serving. I would say it's gone from 40%, 50% recent years. Last couple of years, we've seen about 60% of who we serve are students. That's in addition to the pre potentially eligible that we're serving. And I'll tell you the new trend, we were just looking at our new applications, 75% of our new applications are students.


Carol: I mean, we've had a significant focus since, again, WIOA on serving those students. So Wow. That's significant.


Dee: in many ways it's not surprising, but there are a lot of needs, especially coming out of the pandemic.


Carol: So definitely you've been talking about kind of your pandemic numbers pre and post. So I'm sure too that the upswing in the students with schools being back and all of that and not just online, I'm sure all of that's played into those students coming back up.


Dee: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. I just wanted to comment real quickly about our budget. We have a actually a very healthy budget. In the past, we've had a lack of resources. We've had categories closed and now we have a lot of money, but I don't have staffing. So we've always had order of selection for many years. For a few years we had all categories closed for many years, like over ten years we had all but one category closed. In 2020. We were able to open up three or four categories. We still have our fourth category closed, which is those who don't have any functional limitations, the funding to open that up, but I don't have the staffing to open that up. So that's our situation right now. But we're sitting we have a healthy budget right now. We're budget of about 71 million.


Carol: Oh, wow. Good on you. Yeah, I didn't remember it being that big. That is big.


Dee: Yeah, we got re-allotment. We got everything. We asked for it. There's a lot of money available. As many of you know, our program income with the ticket to work, we earn nearly $6 million in program income, which is the most we've ever earned. And then, of course, we all got a bit of a bump in our 110 awards as well.


Carol: Yeah, pretty incredible.


Dee: And we have a healthy state match, which we're blessed to have.


Carol: Yeah, we've always been fortunate in Minnesota with that state match for sure. I know not all states have enjoyed that same benefit. That's just been a blessing to have that.


Dee: Right.


Carol: I know your group at NRLI really did a nice job outlining the current challenges facing VR. Can you talk more about those challenges that were outlined in that paper as it relates to Minnesota General?


Dee: Yeah, I can go a little more in depth at that. Actually, we wrote the paper. I was just looking back at the date. It was in October of 2021, so it's already been a year ago. So when I look at the challenges at the time, they're much different than the challenges we face right now. But they were the precipitous of us writing this paper and diving into that and really working on how do we re-envision across our nation the VR service delivery system. So I'll talk about what those challenges were at the time and perhaps talk a little bit about where we are right now. Certainly the challenges.

So as October 2021, we were still in the pandemic talking about what are things going to look like when we're coming out of the pandemic? How are we going to rebuild our system? We had, I think, as others have seen, to a sharp decrease, certainly a new applications. Many of the people who were already in our caseloads, we were serving, they're like, you know, I'm just going to wait and see how things turn out. I'm not ready to get out into the environment and work right now. So we had a lot of cases on hold. And of course, as you all know, the schools were in turmoil.

So there weren't a lot of I mean, people just weren't able to focus on our services. They're just trying to keep students educated at the time and that really was  the focus.


Carol: Yeah, absolutely.


Dee: Yeah. And so we because we've always had at least 50% or more of our services going to students. We had invested in technologies including laptops and cell phones and some other things for those. So about half of our staff in Minnesota were already equipped with many of those mobile devices and trained on them, but half were not. So that was the challenge, just getting all of the technologies available. I think everybody experienced this. It was hard just to get the equipment and then training people to use that equipment and all of the new software’s and making shifts and the policies and learning about electronic signatures and implementing all of that. So it's a steep learning curve. And, you know, it's not just about getting that equipment out there. You have to have somebody managing all that, managing those assets, helping to do the training, helping to get the equipment in people's hands. Fortunately, I had a great team working on that. We were able to get those technologies out to the other half of all of our staff pretty quickly while we were all working remote.


Carol: Good for you. I know some states said they had to send staff home with their desktops. like it was just a nightmare, getting that networked through. So I wondered how that went, because we all know sometimes that I.T. purchasing can take a hot minute.


Dee: Yeah. And we did a little bit of that, too, with desktops. Luckily, we didn't have to do a lot of that. We did a little bit of it. I remember the day so clearly it was a Friday afternoon. Y'all got to be out and you have to set up everybody and they need to be working in their home by Monday at noon. Ok, I mean, you know, and we did it and we ramp up and it was bumpy. It certainly was bumpy in the beginning. But now we're in a really good place with that. Lots of technologies we built electronic signatures and other new policies and ways of doing the work into our systems. So I think one or the other significant challenges in Minnesota is we VR general in Minnesota. We were heavily embedded into our one stop systems like for many years. There was a big effort about 20 years ago I think maybe more to embed., many people still talk about it. Remember that, to embed us into those one stop systems. So in Minnesota we have 18 comprehensive sites, but we have over 50 locations all across the state and we were in about 40 of those locations. And again, I would say VR, like we had the most staff, we had the most space, we were paying the most money, we were heavily supporting those physical locations. So when we were all out teleworking and we're like, there's a lot of things changing.

We need to do this differently. We need to shrink our space. We need to have people working in a hybrid environment. People need to get out in the community and meet people where they're at. So we knew that would include, as our leases expired, reexamining our physical footprint. And that was no easy task to take on because of sort of how the system was set up in Minnesota. And frankly, we couldn't have done it without our broader agency support in doing that work. So we did a lot of prep work, we did talking points. We met with all of our workforce development partners. And I won't say that it went really smooth because they didn't like the even though the message made sense and we were doing the right thing, they didn't like the message and they weren't ready to make those same changes that we were moving ahead with. So it was bumpy, but it has settled down a little bit. We've actually vacated only about seven sites across the state. We're still in about 30 different sites, but we continue to reevaluate that. And now we're finally a year into this, starting to hear some of those workforce development partners say, you know, we get that vision. We're looking at shifting services and models also. But it's taken a year of very intensive strategic work to get to that point.


Wow. That's significant.  Well, it's been tough because that was a very political situation, too, in Minnesota,


Dee: very political. We had to give our governor's office a heads up. There was letters and phone calls to our commissioner and governor. We knew that would happen. So we were able to give them a heads up with that. But that still made it really difficult. So it was absolutely very political. I think the other when I'm thinking about challenges at the time, as many of you know, in the midst of the pandemic, we had the George Floyd murders and civil unrest, much of which originated in Minneapolis. And that certainly was impactful to a lot of what we've done. We also have reports in Minnesota just about the inequities in employment. We're doing great. We have the best unemployment rate in the nation. However, there is absolute definite inequities in that employment rate when you're looking at people from other cultures and people of diverse backgrounds. So that's been also a huge focus area for us in Minnesota, in our agency overall and within VRS. And we had to really think about those underserved communities. And how are we reaching out to them? And one of the things we know is that they don't just stumble into a one stop center. We have a new American team that we're working with, a lot of those different cultures. They're not trusting of government and government locations. So we knew that we had to get out in the communities. We had to meet people where they were comfortable in order to make a difference in that. So that was a huge kind of incentive or motivator reason why we wanted to do that.


Carol: We learned from you with your new Americans team. I know when I was at the blind agency, definitely we had met with your team and took some really valuable lessons to help us as we were working with our specific group of folks. So they were spot on good people.


Dee: So that was a huge part of it. And then of course, Minnesota is right in line with all of the federal data about the gradual decreasing enrollments, and we are decreasing outcomes, all of those things. And it's like we can't keep doing what we've been doing because we're going to get more of the same. We have to change some things up and we have to do some things differently. And in VR and the federal program, there's such a focus on informed choice. Yet we never gave people a choice of how, when, where they receive services like you come in at this timeslot Monday through Friday. Actually, typically this was more like two days a week between the hours of eight and 4:30. You got to show up at my office and you got to get there. And we live in Minnesota and I'm telling you, Minnesota in January, it is brutal. I mean, thinking about the physical barriers that people have to go through, we serve, most of whom we serve are people with mental health challenges. That's been consistent over the years. It's still remains true. So we're working with people who have anxiety disorders and all sorts of mental health disorders that are already barriers to them getting out, navigating the landscape, finding transportation. We're trying to serve people who don't have resources. They don't have transportation ways to get to our offices. Those are issues that we had to find a different way to address that.


Carol: Well, knowing you, I love that you like to reflect and you're so great at laying out a vision. So what is that vision you have for service delivery for Minnesota General?


Dee: You know, Carol, I was thinking back to you and I worked at a previous agency together many, many, many, many years ago. And I think both of us have always had a passion for customer service. I came from private industry nonprofits where you had to focus on that or you could not be successful, or if you ran your own business, that has to be at the forefront of everything you do or you're going to fail. And I felt like that was sort of missing in VR. Like we got so caught up in all the other things and processes and things we forget about the person that we're serving. And in Minnesota, we actually had implemented a huge strategy around providing person centered services. Now most people in VR and I will tell you, most people in general VR said, I already do that. That is not true..


Carol: It wasn't Necessarily true


Dee: Because sometimes we get caught up and all of these other things. So when we were even in a previous agency, I don't remember the name of the video, but you implemented that because again, we're trying to get people to focus on the customer. It's the  fish video philosophy.


Carol: Fish philosophy. Yeah. And I was doing that whole how we could provide good customer service even though we're the government. I did that training all over. In fact, I brought it to SSB, I did it there and I have done it actually since in my AT work as well. Oh funny.


Dee: And that's just I mean, again, that's one of the things I'm just so passionate about. It is one of the reasons I came into government in the first place is I thought, you know, we can do things better. And if we focus on the people that we're serving, we can do better. So that really has been the basis that sort of like when I talk about my vision, that's what it's about and it's about meeting people where they are again, overcoming all of the barriers that we talked about. We have to figure out how to meet people where they choose. We have to give them choice in the beginning of the process or the rest of it doesn't even matter. We don't give them choice, get them connected, get them engaged right away. As soon as that first phone call, that first time they're walking through the door, that first time they're connected with someone, none of the rest of it matters because we're not going to get them connected, interested or engaged.


Carol: Yeah. Then on the other end, they're the people that you're closing them out because you can't find them, you know, and they're no longer interested.


Dee: And that also we have to go find them. We have to go find them, and we have to make connections with the people that they trust. And it really is about empowering. That's part of our mission statement. Empower Youth and Adults with Disabilities. How do you empower them? Empower them by giving them choices and meeting with them where they're most comfortable. And it makes a difference. You as the counselor, like you get better, quicker, faster engagement. You get better information. You get a better relationship, better collaborative relationships. So that really was, I think, sort of the focus point of my vision. And the other part of it, it's about timing. Like, you know, have that vision for quite a while, but the timing isn't always right. Sometimes you need to wait for the right moment. And I'm telling you, coming out of a pandemic, we had everybody already teleworking. Our agency had done surveys of our staff. 90% of our staff wanted to continue to telework. That's significant. If we would have tried to make everybody go back into the offices full time and we had every counselor had a large office somewhere, they were all in their offices. If they weren't out in the schools providing services, they were in their offices meeting with participants. That is how we were set up pre-pandemic.


Carol: Oh yeah, I remember your group, we were working on that whole like remote work policy telework. Before that, before I left the agency in 19, I remember being in a meeting with you and I remember staff going, We can't do that. We can't work from home. We can't do any of that. There's going to be workers comp, nothing like a pandemic to show everybody actually you can get work done from home. It was so interesting.


Dee: Absolutely. You can, and, like meeting people virtually like we continue to do that as part of our service option. It has to be part of the service option. We have to give people choice. You want to meet in person, you want to meet virtually. Do you want to meet? We just chat over the phone and get our work done because and again, think about all of the barriers that people have. It has greatly increased our engagement with many other types of populations that we weren't as engaged with and parents and families, busy parents and families, they're like, This is so awesome. We would have come to VRS much sooner if we knew that we could connect this easily. So we have to continue that. There is no way we could not go back to the way that things were before.


Carol: That's awesome. So as you're implementing this vision, what kind of like roadblocks or challenges have you faced along the way and how are you addressing those?


Dee: Well, that's a great question. I mean, you talked about some of them, just the telework people. I mean, obviously, we could do virtual services and we could still do them well. We had to adapt and change a lot of things quickly. And the pandemic, frankly, helped us to do that and to do that quickly.


Carol: Silver lining.


Dee: The silver lining, I mean, that is and that's what I'm talking about. Timing like that was the time. It still is the time to make those changes. I would say the biggest challenge is sort of that one step center challenges. That was a huge challenge that we had to work through just any kind of change we were coming off of all the changes we had to implement in WIOA and we're changing the whole direction of services and a lot of things. And then we had the pandemic and then we're implementing because we needed to these different ways of providing services. We had to get pretty good at change management pretty quickly and understand it well and staff are still they talk about change fatigue and it's like, I get it. But we also have to hire people for that kind of flexibility and people who have that same vision or can easily, you know, understand and take on that vision. One of the things, as part of our new service delivery strategy that we decided to do in Minnesota was because we did actually surveys of our customers that we serve. But one of the ways that people want to be served, they want to continue to come into our offices and meet with us. But as equally important to them was us coming into their homes and providing services. Now, I come from the private industry. We I mean, I did that for 30 years. I met with people in their homes. It was just part of that world. It has never been a part of the federal VR program world.


Carol: Except on the blind agency,.


Dee: Except on the blind agencies.


Carol: We were use to doing that!


Dee: You're right. We're used to and we learned a lot from you. And we actually worked with Natasha Jerde is there now and now we work super closely with her and she actually helped us sort of implement some of these in-home services. But you're right, services has been doing it forever. Lots of other state agencies, but not certainly not Minnesota General VR. It was a very new concept to people. There was a ton of fear around it and I thought, Whoa, this will be awesome. We're going to do in-home services. Whoa, nobody else? Nobody else was woaing  about that. There was actually a lot of fear, a lot of barriers. We've been working on that piece for over a year and we had to, of course, wait until things loosened up around the pandemic. I wasn't going to layer that on top of all of the other craziness. So we're trying to figure out coming out of the pandemic, but we're now piloting we have a group of champions and we have some initial policy developed and we're piloting it this fall. I do expect, like if you come back and talk to me two or three years from now, it's just going to be part of what we do and we will have gotten across and gotten over those barriers and challenge.


Carol: Well, I'm confident you will make that happen for sure, because with your woo. I know that. Woo.


Dee: woo. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I'm looking forward to when that is just one of the many ways that we provide services to people, because I think it's important and of course what we're hearing to the people that we serve is that it is indeed important.


Carol: So you mentioned doing the survey, and I know I was super intrigued when you talked to me about that before, and actually you had shared it with me and I sent it to some other states because they were wanting to do something similar. But what did that survey of the customers tell you? Were there any kind of surprises in there?


Dee: Yeah, I think it was less surprises and more about just reaffirming that people want services in a variety of different ways. So we did the survey and it was with our current participants. We did it in spring of 22, so just recently and we had over 1000 people complete the survey. So it was a fairly good response. It's always limitations in a survey. We had to do it through email at the time and it was those that we were currently serving. But one of the things that came out is that most people, most respondents, 41% prefer some hybrid model. They want to meet in person once in a while, but not all the time. They want to meet virtually. They want to connect with us by phone, connect with us electronically. I don't think that was much of a surprise. What was a little bit surprising to me, about 31% wanted. Only online services like that was a pretty high number. But also at the time, that was the way that we were connecting with people as well. And the other thing we asked was locations like where you want to meet and meeting in our offices, 45% wanted to have the option to meet in our offices and 40% to me that's a high number. 40% wanted us to be able to meet with them in their own homes. And then the third type was community locations.


Carol: I can completely believe that. When you think about Minnesota, though, like you said, our weather, it sucks, you know, and so...


Dee: right.


Carol: People are dragging through. They're going to the bus and then they had to change buses and then get to the place and check in. And then they're late and the counselor comes up and then they're mad at them. Like, well, they were very dedicated to get here because they were late for the appointment, not realizing like there is a blizzard and they're trudging through the snow and it's horrid.


Dee: Right, that is absolutely it. Yeah. We talked a little bit in the survey, too, about barriers people have to services. And again, that was a little surprising to me. The top barriers, stress and anxiety was one of the top barriers. We have to be able to address that with people and help people feel calmer in order to be able to engage with them. Lack of transportation was one of them and at the time again, it was spring of 2022. So we're still in the pandemic or towards the end of it, but lack of jobs that people wanted to apply for. So the survey was a piece in time. And one of the questions we had is, how do you know people want services this way? So let's ask them. Let's find out.


Carol: Yeah. So that was brilliant. That is brilliant.


Dee: And it's something we will build in. We know that we need to check this occasionally. We need to find a way to reach out to people besides email. To get broader perspectives. We need to also do some similar surveys to people who didn't get engaged with their services and find out sort of what the barriers were there. So more to do on this survey, but I thought it was a good start and gave us some good information to start with.


Carol: Well, absolutely, because I know other folks have been really wrestling with they don't know what the service delivery model should be. And when you shared that with me, I was talking to them because everybody's assuming, well, clients all want to come to the office. Well, maybe not. You know, maybe not. So asking is the best way to find out for your state what needs to happen? Because, again, every state is very different. Some are small, some are big. There's lots of geographic and urban rural issues and all of that. I just think such a fundamental place to start.


Dee: Yeah.


Carol: You know, I was wondering, you speaking, we've been talking pandemic. So how is long COVID impacted you and are you starting to see customers coming in with long COVID?


Dee: We are. We actually started to see customers come in pretty early. With long COVID. We don't have a good way of tracking that data. We can get to it and take a little bit of work and we will be looking at it. But I know anecdotally because I ask as I'm meeting with folks around the state, that is not an unfamiliar new disability. We're seeing quite a few people come in now with long COVID.


Carol: Yeah, we've been doing some work on that at the VRTAC., Roseann Ashby is a consultant on our team, formerly with RSA for decades. She is fabulous, but she has really dug into the long-covid and how it impacts VR and how do you work with that and eligibility and all of that. And she's actually recording a webinar a little bit later this month that will be available for folks to listen to.


Dee: That's awesome.


Carol: Yeah, she's got some great info on that.


Dee: Yeah. And again, I think it's an area that we could do some more focus and reach out towards because we're just getting the people that happen to come in but not necessarily focusing on it. So I look forward to hearing that.


Carol: Oh yeah. So what kind of lessons are you learning along the way as you're trying to pivot. You've got a pretty big ship there. If you would have 400 staff, if you have them, and from 16 to 18000 individuals that you're serving and all of that. But have there been any kind of those aha moments or kind of key lessons you've learned as you've been trying to re-envision this new way?


Dee: Yeah, I mean, a few things. You know, most of my background was in working and running smaller organizations. So as you talk about a big ship like it's definitely different running a big ship and making those turns and making those changes. A few things, learning along the way, whatever you implement, any change, whether it doesn't, even if it's a great idea and people want the change, you are still going to have a third of the people who are, whew, this is awesome. A third of the people who are on the fence and undecided and a third of the people who are going to work against you and detract and do nothing but complain. So one of the things that's been so important is to make sure you're hearing from all of those people, because I'll say even before we did, for instance, a survey of staff, 90% of staff wanted to work. The loudest voices we heard from were those who didn't want to telework. They're like, Let me back in my office. I need to be in my office. I have to see people in my offices. If that is the only voice I would have listened to, I would have had a really bad perspective of what was going on across the agency.


Carol: Good point, good point.


So third point, I had to work really hard to make sure we're hearing the whole, hearing all of the voices and to do some different things. And it's not one way to do that. There's multiple ways that we've had to do to make sure we're hearing about the whole and I would say the other just huge learning and huge lesson is making sure that people understand the why and not just like a quick thing like that. They deeply understand the why and that everything you do connects back to your mission, whatever your mission is, you know, our mission serving participants, people have to understand that and know one of the great things about working in VR, one of the reasons I love being here is because of people we hire. They're not the best paid. They're not I mean, we have pretty good benefits and things, but they're mission driven people. They're here because they love the work that we do. So you have to tap into that and have to make sure that they are able to make those connections and understand the why.


Carol: Yeah, we're the people-people.


Dee: the people-people, the huggers, as you used to say.


Carol: Although there's a few non huggers amongst us like don't touch me.


Dee: I know. Yeah.


Carol: So what kind of suggestions or advice would you give to others as they're going to re-envision the way they deliver services? People are just struggling across the country with what to do. We've got to do something different. We know numbers are kind of tanking and we've got to bounce back. We got to come back and do this differently.


Dee: Yeah, definitely. And yet to be seen. I mean, we're implementing these changes. We're in the midst of it. They don't necessarily have the data yet to show that it's successful, but I hope that we'll have the data a few years from now to show that it's clearly been successful. But we'll see. Again, I just think we can't keep doing what we were doing. We have to do some things differently. And if ever there was a time, a perfect time to make some of these changes, I really think that now is that time to do that. We're all in a hiring crisis, and so it's time to sort of relook at who we're hiring and make sure that we're hiring the right people to do those jobs, and that it's not just people who are good at managing the cases, doing the kind of the casework pieces, like you really have to have people who have that focus on customer service and willingness to focus on that and flexibility. We're in an environment is not going to be the way things were many, many years ago. I mean, VR was very, very, very, very stable with very little changes that it just is not. The current environment is not going to be the way of the future. We're going to be faced with constant changes, those that come at us and we have to adapt to and those that we need to implement in order to keep our programs viable. And I'd say just expect resistance and know you have to build that into your strategies and your plans. It's just always going to be a part of any changes. And to be thinking about the data like what is the data we do need to be tracking in order to show that this has made a difference or made an impact.


Carol: I like that and continuing to kind of tell the story because that's the only way RSA Congress people can know what's going on. They look at the data like what's happening to this program. And I think the way the world has evolved, especially like pandemic, I mean, everybody was ordering from Amazon, holy smokes, you know, instant. Nobody's going out anywhere. We all have everything coming to our house. People are just really used to this instant delivery. They want to binge watch Netflix. They want to get it all right now. They don't want to wait. String it out over six months.


Dee: I want to go chat with somebody and get an instant response. I don't want to wait two weeks for somebody To get back.


Carol: That's right. That's right. You are Spot on.


Dee: And that telling the new story is so important. And it's something like, honestly, we're struggling with a bit here, too, in Minnesota because common performance measures don't do it. The data we're tracking and reporting on doesn't do it, like how do we tell the new story? So in Minnesota, it's about the students. Those are long term results. We don't have instant results. We're on our ways to tell that story in Minnesota. Another factor is we had the highest number of subminimum wage earners. Now we're down to number two. So we're making slow progress. That is not a place that we want to be, however. But we've gone from five years ago of serving almost zero people with developmental disabilities ICD, to it is now our number three category of, number three disability area that we're serving. So huge change, huge shift in who we're serving. And again, we're doing customized employment. It's very intensive wraparound supports that we're providing. It's more long term. How do we tell that story? Because we can't do it in the typical ways. So that's a new challenge for us.


Carol: Absolutely. But you've got the right people. You got Kari Marsh there. She can figure that out, but she is so good.


Dee: That's true.


Carol: She will figure out how to make that data.


Dee: She is fabulous. Yeah.


Carol: If our listeners are interested in seeing your paper that your group did, is there anywhere it's posted or where would maybe be the best way they could get that?


Dee: So it was a part of NRLI, who, by the way,, they're taking new applications for the new cohort. It is an awesome experience. So NRLI, which is part of San Diego State University. My understanding is they're going to be posting those papers soon on their website. Otherwise, one of the leaders of that program is Fred McFarland and he said if anybody's interested, they can email him as well. So F M C f a r l a n at SDSU dot edu.


Carol: Excellent. That'll be awesome. Well, I look forward to having you back in a year or so to find out how your data is looking and how everything is going with this implementation. I think it's cool, but you always have to start somewhere, you know, when you have these kind of visions and that's the important thing you get to actually try it and not discount like this isn't going to work before you even go there, so good for you.


Dee: Absolutely. Well, thank you. I so appreciate. Obviously, we love talking about these kinds of things, so I appreciate the time to be able to talk about that. And again, I can't wait to see where we are in a year or two from now.


Carol: Yeah.


Dee:  I think it's exciting time.


Carol: Me too. That's awesome. All right. Have a great day.


Dee: Thanks, Bye bye.



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