An Erie-based nonprofit is now operating Bedford County’s prevocational programs for adults with intellectual disabilities and behavioral health challenges.
The Barber National Institute recently took over the operations of the Bedford-Somerset Developmental and Behavioral Health Services’ prevocational community participation supports programs, formerly known as workshops.
“Due to federal and state regulations, DBHS was required to divest some of its programs,” said Mary Piatt-Bruner, administrator of Bedford-Somerset DBHS. “With this program transition, all the required county operated programs have been divested.”
The Barber Institute took over the operations on Jan. 17, but the change has been in the works for nearly two years, according to Thad Jackman, director of Barber’s southwest regional programs.
Jackman said the first year of the process was a consultation project between Barber and Bedford-Somerset DBHS to develop a plan to get the agency in compliance with changing state and federal regulations.
“We spent a year working with them, learning their system, and getting them to be compliant with the changes in regulations,” Jackman said.
Much of the changes have involved moving away from in-house “workshop” programs to having participants take on roles in the community.
“The focus is on changing the workshop setting,” Jackman said. “Moving folks out to become more involved in the community. The goal is to have less time behind the walls of the building.”
Jackman said the program participants either get part time work or volunteer hours with different businesses and organizations in the community.
After the consultation period, the Barber Institute was selected to become of the provider of the programs.
“We appreciate Barber accepting the responsibility and ensuring continuity of care for our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable population,” Piatt-Bruner said.
Bedford County Commissioner Paul Crooks said a private contractor was needed to comply with state regulations, but said the county could have handled it itself.
“We’ve had to continually divest what we’ve been doing because somebody in the state seems to think you can’t assess somebody and provide the services.”
Crooks said the state, if it believed something inappropriate was happening, should contact the counties “and we’ll take care of it.”
The commissioners from the two counties will have oversight of the programs.
“I think Barber does a fairly good job,” Crooks said. “It’s just the whole issue of what appears to be the state doesn’t trust anybody to do anything.”
Jackman said the Barber Institute wanted to change as little as possible with the service in Bedford County and worked to implement the changes slowly.
“A lot of changes at once can be scary for families,” he said.
Barber and Bedford-Somerset DBHS administrators began meeting with with adults and their families in early October at programs in both Bedford and Somerset to begin discussions about the transition.
“It’s gone incredibly smoothly,” Jackman said. “I would say because we were mostly able to retain the existing staff.”
Fourteen staff workers chose to retain their jobs in the two counties. Barber hired three new employees in Bedford and six in Somerset.
The prevocational programs support 44 adults in Bedford and 53 adults in Somerset. Jackman said the ages of the adults in Bedford range from the early 30s to people in their 70s.
Jackman said clients have individualized schedules through the program, some attending five days per week. He said the ultimate goal of the program is to get people involved in the community and to prepare them for the workforce.
“Our hope is to get them into the community,” he said. “So if they go from attending five days per week to one day per week because they landed a job at REI or some other local business — that’s fantastic.”
The Barber National Institute was founded in 1952 by Erie educator Dr. Gertrude A. Barber and now annually serves more than 6,100 children and adults with autism, intellectual disabilities and behavioral health challenges and their families. The agency also operates in Erie, Warren and Forrest counties, as well as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.