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Focus on Human Services: Why Include the Voice of the Client in Your Quality Improvement Process?

Client surveys are costly and ineffective.  Why do I need to do it?  I know what the people I serve think and need…

If your organization receives state or federal funding – either directly or indirectly – there are three simple reasons:
1.    It’s required
2.    It’s desired
3.    It makes a difference

It’s Required
The federal government and most state governments require that organizations which are provided funding for services for people with developmental disabilities, seniors and people with mental health concerns require organizations to provide evidence that the funding is used for services that benefit the people served.  The federal government requires state agencies to report about Early Start Services, Medicaid and Medicare funding, etc.  For state funding, government agencies or government-contracted agencies must provide proof of accountability – that desired results are being achieved with the funds provided.

In California, pursuant to the Lanterman Act which governs serves for people with developmental disabilities, the Welfare and Institutions Code states that “…It is the intent of the Legislature that agencies serving people with developmental disabilities shall produce evidence that their services have resulted in consumer or family empowerment and in more independent and normal lives for the persons served…”

Organizations are required to “produce evidence”.  How do they do this?  Some evidence, such as incidence reports, can be provided through data tracked in information systems.  Some evidence can be provided through financial analysis.  However, only the consumer or family can truly say if they are more empowered, independent, and productive.  Collecting feedback from the people your organization serves is a critical component of Quality Improvement.

It’s Desired
Today many Boards of Directors of non-profit organizations, as well as state agencies recognize that client information is vital in informing strategic planning and ensuring that client needs are met efficiently and effectively.  In order to serve a community, organizations and agencies must listen to the community.  Because these organizations are committed to meet human needs and because human needs are constantly evolving and changing, it is critical to understand what the needs are and periodically to understand how they are changing.

While many people who work in these organizations interact regularly with clients and are “in touch” with their needs, it is important to be able to quantify the needs.  If there is a perceived need by 10 people served by one person, is that representative of the entire population?  Or is simply happenstance that all ten people need the same thing?  Is it worth making a system-wide change based on this need?  Or is it more prudent to address this need more individually?  Collecting information from the people you serve in a systematic, consistent, controlled way can help answer these questions and provide guidance to an organization on how and where to invest time, money and human resources.

In addition, client feedback is valuable in strategic planning.  In a time when government budgets are being stretched to fund so many worthy and necessary services and the numbers of clients needing services are increasing, no organization has a surplus of funding.  For that reason, organizations must be smart with the funding they have.  It cannot be spent on services and supports which are only marginally needed.  It cannot be wasted on efficient or ineffective service delivery.  Organizations must target their spending and capitalize on, maximize best practices – what is working.  The bottom line is quality services and meeting the needs of the people we serve.

It Makes a Difference
A wise man once stated that although many people train for careers for money, prestige or tradition, people in human services tend to be “called” to their career.  They are a special and unique breed of people who care passionately about people.  So often however, the demands of the job are wearing, the problems seem enormous and it is easy to lose sight of the important work we are doing.  Their service to people makes a difference.  Hearing from clients directly is an important reminder about what we are working towards and the goals we are working for.

Take a minute now to read the mission statement of your organization.  Does it speak to the empowerment and independence of the people you serve?  Their quality of life? Their independence and connection with community?  What is the best way to know how well your organization is living its mission?  By asking the people you serve.

Posted in Quality Improvement, Voice of Client.

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