Rehab news spoke with Lisa Alford following her first two weeks on the job as the new director of the SAIL program. “Listen in” on the conversation here:
RN: Lisa, you’ve now been the SAIL director for two weeks after spending 25 years in VR. Has this change in direction been difficult in any way for you?
Alford: I started my career with VR working transition cases, and I have devoted a lot of my time to working with persons with significant disabilities and in Supported Employment, so this move to SAIL represents a natural progression for me. Beyond that, we are looking to greatly expand the VR/SAIL hybrid cases which Kathy Fountain has had so much success with in recent years. The idea is to provide an opportunity to work for people who rarely, if ever, even consider work a viable option. This hybrid approach is so exciting to me, and I think it was fortuitous of Karen Coffey to choose Kathy as assistant director of the program before she left. Going forward, Kathy will definitely help shape this initiative and help provide new opportunities for the persons with most significant disabilities served by our SAIL program.
RN: Given your background, I know you bring quite a bit to the SAIL program. In your opinion, what one thing uniquely qualifies you to head the program?
Alford: I’d like to think that I bring a fresh perspective to SAIL. I have a lot of experience in managing budgets, and being able to properly manage a budget is a big part of successfully doing this job. It’s more than that, though – meeting our staff, understanding my staff’s perspective – if I can motivate them to always give their best to the people we serve and help them achieve their maximum potential, then I am truly doing what I set out to do. I can’t narrow it down much more because I need to be all of that and more.
RN: What about your challenges? Surely there is a learning curve associated with moving from one division to another.
Alford: Oh sure, there is a learning curve. I need to be more familiar with the Medicaid waiver system than I am currently, but our recent Medicaid audit was a crash course in providing me with knowledge of how the waivers work. Even though I had to jump into this job feet-first, the audit was a fabulous learning opportunity for me. We faced three auditors for three days, and it was during their visit that I learned all about the many expectations of the program. There’s so much more I need to know, but for a supervisor still in a transition mode between two programs, my involvement in the audit was a great starting point for me.
RN: What is on your short-list of things that you would like to accomplish over the next few months?
Alford: Right now, I’m scheduling visits all over the state to meet my staff. I really want to get to know them and understand where they’re coming from – to hear their concerns and meet their needs. Of course, this is something that’s easier to accomplish when your staff is under one roof rather than all over the state, but getting out is something I enjoy doing. Another project we are working on is moving to a paperless system. This project is proving a bit more difficult because we need to ensure the same level of compliance as with traditional forms. I’m currently working with Computer Services to develop the paperless tools to do our job more efficiently. That way, we can devote more attention to our consumers and less time to filing paperwork.
RN: Earlier you mentioned an increased focus on hybrid VR/SAIL caseloads. I know through previous conversations with VR assistant commissioners James Myrick and Curtis Glisson, there is also a desire from VR to partner more often with SAIL. What are some of the biggest benefits of working with VR in building this hybrid approach?
Alford: I think it’s mutually beneficial for both programs and to the consumers we both serve. Recently, there’s been a big push in VR to focus efforts on individuals with the most-significant disabilities. Likewise, VR counselors are very savvy about allocation of resources, so there are several areas where we can help each other out. The most important takeaway from all of this is collaborating with VR is an easy way to automatically expand each group’s knowledge bases.
RN: But doesn’t the hybrid approach confuse or blur the lines between each division’s different roles in serving our consumers?
Alford: Well, every employee of ADRS regardless of division faces the same mission: to enable Alabama’s children and adults with disabilities to achieve their maximum potential. If blurring those lines is necessary to reach that goal, then that’s exactly what we’ll do. With that said, I know that my SAIL staff is passionate about providing basic necessities to people to help them stay in their homes and communities. This role SAIL plays is one that’s very different from the role VR plays to assist clients in achieving success at work. What SAIL does is critical to clients’ health and safety. That’s a heavy responsibility we all take very seriously, and that’s something you won’t see change. Something that will change, however, is the opening of a door to new possibilities. Employment is a real option for many people who are served by SAIL, and that is exciting for those who may have never considered that as something that’s possible.
RN: Where do you envision the SAIL program being in five years?
Alford: That’s a really interesting question because I’m still very much focused on the short-term and trying to figure out the next five weeks. Long-term, I do want to see this division use technology to its fullest, and our plans to go paperless are just the tip of the iceberg in that respect.
RN: And where do you stand on that project to become completely paperless?
Alford: This is something that will take us many months to complete. I am working hand-in-hand with Computer Services to digitally scan our paper files and scanners were delivered to each of our offices the last week of July. From there, we can build a library for e-filing our papers. I suppose you could say that we are still in a preliminary phase or research mode as a whole, but we’re working with Medicaid to ensure that our digital paperwork meets all requirements and would essentially be the same as the original documents. Technology, when implemented correctly, saves a great deal of time. If it’s handled sloppily, you just have yourself a bigger headache. We’re taking the time to do it right the first time.