United Arc contracts shift to ServiceNet because of Pathlight capacity concerns

THE GREENFIELD RECORDER

FRIDAY, AUGUST 13, 2021

TURNERS FALLS — Following an Aug. 2 meeting, the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS) ordered The United Arc’s Residential and Shared-Living program contracts be surrendered Sept. 20 to ServiceNet, rather than the original choice of Pathlight.

The United Arc, which was founded in 1951 and serves those in Franklin, Hampshire, Hampden and Worcester counties through its offices in Greenfield, Turners Falls, Holyoke and Athol, will surrender its contracts to ServiceNet, a Northampton-based mental health and human services organization. This decision came after Pathlight, a Springfield-based developmental disability support organization, notified the Department of Developmental Services July 28 that it did not have the capacity to absorb The United Arc’s contracts.

Bruce Biagi, president of The United Arc’s board of directors, said the state Department of Developmental Services made the final decision Aug. 2 to shift the contracts’ destination from Pathlight to ServiceNet. The original deadline remains intact.

“We’re all working at the present time against that Sept. 20 deadline, The United Arc, DDS and now ServiceNet,” Biagi said in a Zoom interview. “It’s a multi-armed effort by everyone involved.”

The surrender of The United Arc’s Residential and Shared-Living program contracts comes after a poor performance on an Office of Quality Enhancement review. The organization’s Individual Home Supports Program contract may also be surrendered, but the Department of Developmental Services will conduct another review at the Sept. 20 deadline before deciding if The United Arc may retain the contract.

Following the poor performance review, the United Arc’s board of directors voted to remove Executive Director Lynne Bielecki.

According to The United Arc’s website, the organization’s Residential Program is a 24-hour support system that supplies developmentally or intellectually disabled individuals with their own room in a group home. Its Shared-Living Program, which is described as an alternative to the Residential Program, provides an opportunity for community members to take one of The United Arc’s clients in and make them a part of their family. The Individual Home Supports Program helps people who live independently, while the other two programs provide in-home care.

Biagi said The United Arc has not received any official feedback on the steps it is taking to retain the Individual Home Supports Program.

“We’re waiting for definite feedback on that,” Biagi said. “Nothing in writing has come from DDS evaluating our progress.”

In a later email, Biagi said The United Arc’s Residential Program serves 14 individuals, the Shared-Living Program serves five individuals and the Individual Home Supports Program serves 44 people. The United Arc will also retain its contracts for Support Services and Family and Youth Services, which serves 500 people.

Biagi wrote in the email that even if the Individual Home Supports Program is surrendered, The United Arc can carry on as a smaller organization based on its Family and Youth Services.

“The services that are included under children and families are extensive, very successful and have a good potential for growth,” Biagi wrote.

Biagi said a lot of details are being pieced together for the transition and ServiceNet will absorb all assets involved with the Residential and Shared-Living contracts.

“It’s everything,” Biagi said. “Assets in terms of buildings, cars and, of course, the individuals we serve.”

He said ServiceNet is prepared for the task ahead and everyone involved in this process is prioritizing the individuals they serve.

“ServiceNet seems very efficient. … They seem much better able to recognize the extent of the job ahead and absorb it,” Biagi said. “For the individuals we serve, we still have the responsibility for their health and safety and I think that’s everyone’s desire — DDS, ServiceNet and The United Arc.”

Department of Developmental Services Ombudsman Chris Klaskin said Pathlight’s capacity limits were identified by “an internal review” and the organization notified the state later that it would not be able to absorb the contracts. Klaskin said the department had picked other organizations as a backup plan in case something like this happened.

“Prior to Pathlight, DDS had reached out to other agencies,” Klaskin said. “There was always a Plan B in case Pathlight wasn’t able to do it.”

Klaskin said the driving force of the selection of both Pathlight and ServiceNet was their strength as providers and their “local presence.”

“DDS focused on trying to keep a provider with a presence in the Greenfield, Deerfield area,” Klaskin said. “They have pretty strong service records with us and they’re fairly large agencies potentially with capacity.”

Marci Morris, ServiceNet’s head of operations for developmental and brain injury services, said the organization is “happy to help” the Department of Developmental Services and staff are “not anticipating” any strain on current programs or services. She added ServiceNet is hiring as many United Arc employees as it can, which will actually bolster its services.

“It can help enhance services we already support, especially in Franklin County,” Morris said. “We want to hire as many employees as we can. … It’s a good way to strengthen services.”

Morris said she is not aware of any previous partnership with The United Arc in the past and that the transition has been “amazing,” even with the shortened timeline.

“We definitely had to speed things up a bit,” Morris said. “I’m really impressed with my team here at ServiceNet and The United Arc.”

She said there is no timeline for when the transition will be finalized, but they will begin operations at the Sept. 20 deadline.

“Right now, we’re just working toward the Sept. 20 deadline,” Morris said. “We’re really happy to be able to help support these folks and continue their quality care.”

Reach Chris Larabee at clarabee@recorder.com.

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