Advocates plans for growth and chooses AFC Home
Advocates was founded in 1975 by the families and friends of Westborough State Hospital patients. They created a coffee shop on the hospital grounds where their loved ones could interact in a more normalized environment. This spirit of holistic engagement – viewing patients as people not defined by a disability – has continued throughout its history.
Soon after Advocates got its start, the Massachusetts legislature recognized the need for people with disabilities to have access to integrated, community-based, service-enhanced housing. In 1978, the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health selected Advocates to operate a residential program in Framingham for eight
people with mental illness.
Over the past four decades, Advocates has evolved into a comprehensive community-based agency that serves more than 30,000 adults, children, families and caregivers facing serious life challenges to live, work and thrive in their communities.
“Advocates is committed to supporting family caregivers. Since Adult Family Care is such a tremendous resource for families, expanding the service is a key priority.”
Today Advocates operates with a budget of over $100 million a year and serves people throughout Eastern and Central Massachusetts. Advocates provides a full continuum of clinical and social services that are flexible and culturally responsive, to best meet the needs of individuals with autism, brain injuries, intellectual/developmental disabilities, mental health challenges or substance use disorders. All family members are considered in Advocates’ comprehensive Family & Caregiver Services. Advocates offers direct supports for loved ones with disabilities – including day and employment supports, residential options, counseling and crisis intervention, and additional programs.
“We are a very mission-driven organization,” said Jeff Keilson, Senior Vice-President for Strategic Planning. “We support people with a range of abilities to live in the community and to achieve their hopes and dreams in a variety of different ways, through employment, home, relationships and other aspects of their lives.”
Advocates serves more than 3,000 families through three family support centers that provide resources for caregivers and families, and more than 450 individuals in their Adult Family Care program.
The Advocates Adult Family Care (often known as Adult Foster Care or AFC) program provides financial support, training and case management for families caring for an older family member or a loved one with a disability at home. The program is tailored to support each family’s unique needs and preferences, and honor and value cultural diversity, by serving a diverse population, including Chinese, Haitian, Vietnamese and Portuguese communities.
“Advocates is committed to supporting family caregivers. Since Adult Family Care is such a tremendous resource for families, expanding the service is a key priority.” said Keilson.
As the Adult Family Care program continued to grow, Advocates needed a better way to manage the paperwork necessary to meet MassHealth regulation and CARF accreditation. Advocates’ staff were using an older software system built for multiple departments and programs.
"Our staff used to need 8 hours a month to complete care plans. Last month they completed the entire task in just 2 hours."
AFC case managers were spending hours doing data entry work. AFC staff also had to log into a remote desktop, only to frequently run into problems connecting, especially when out on the road meeting members and caregivers.
“That was one of our biggest issues – you just couldn’t log on and do your work,” said Beth Gutierrez, Director of Adult Family Care at Advocates. “There were lots of phone calls to IT and sometimes you had to wait it out.”
Then after connecting to the system, the final frustration was trying to fit the program regulations into a generic system that was not specific to the needs of an AFC program. “We were excited to move to a system that was built specifically for AFC and the ever-changing needs of the program,” said Keilson.
“Annkissam was really responsive to our questions and needs. It really worked out well.”
The system Advocates was previously using contained an electronic member file, but a paper caregiver file. The reliance on paper created a strain on printing, auditing and maintaining content. The additional challenge was lost staff time battling traffic. Most weeks, staff were forced to drive to the Advocates’ office in advance of meetings simply to print out documents.
With an organization-wide focus on growing support programs for family caregivers, Advocates knew they needed a new data management system that empowered their staff to do more with caregivers and less managing administrative hurdles.
After a review of the available software programs on the market, Advocates chose to move to Annkissam’s AFC Home, a web-based solution created specifically for Massachusetts shared-living and Adult Family Care programs.
Solution and Benefits
Annkissam’s team worked with the Advocates staff over the next few months to transition data and tailor configurations. Advocates sought to minimize its administrative workload and improve the accuracy of critical program information being tracked and managed. “Annkissam was really responsive to our questions and needs. It really worked out well,” said Gutierrez, adding the Annkissam team was also upfront about “why we could or could not do something.”
Since AFC Home went live in March 2019, the new software system has met its expectations and then some, Gutierrez says.
One of the most significant improvements across the board includes access anywhere, anytime. The web-based access to the health record allows Advocates’ staff of case managers and nurses to quickly log in on their laptops or smartphones while out on appointments. “We can connect from anywhere and on any device securely.” Keilson added, “The complete electronic file has allowed us to have ease of access and ways to track paperwork and maintain compliance.”
With AFC Home, Advocates now has a fully electronic file in just one system. Data that previously had to be pulled together from an array of filing cabinets can now be gathered with a few keystrokes. At meetings with members, case managers can pull up-to-date information, including medical history, demographics and diagnoses that would previously have required a trip to the office. Physician contacts and appointments can be tracked plus automatic reminders for future dates can be set.
"We were excited to move to a system that was built specifically for AFC and the ever-changing needs of the program."
Moreover, caregiver files, previously stored in cumbersome cabinets, are instead connected digitally to the member files. “With AFC Home, caregivers have access to member’s health records and we can track health trends more easily in real-time,” said Keilson. He also noted having one cohesive and secure location saves on office equipment and auditing time as well.
AFC Home streamlined day to day activities. The workflows remind staff to upload documentation and the system generates electronic pre-populated Care Plans and PCP Order Forms. “Our staff used to need 8 hours a month to complete care plans,” explained Gutierrez. “Last month they completed the entire task in just 2 hours.”
In March of 2019, after a rigorous peer-review process, the Adult Family Care program received a three-year accreditation from the international accrediting body, CARF. “Software is supporting our growth and makes it a lot easier to maintain our accreditation,” said Keilson.
With the strong tracking platform to work from, Advocates now has quick access to key data for reports. The nonprofit is preparing to expand the reach of its AFC services by as much as 10 percent a year. The software makes it much easier to manage growth with an ability to look at outcomes reports and review trends for the long term. Keilson concludes, “We certainly see a lot of growth over the next year or two.”