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Employment and Community services Q&A: A look back with longtime surveyor Steve Hill

Note: As part of CARF’s 50th year anniversary celebration in 2016, we will be sharing snapshots of the industries in which we offer accreditation. This is part 3 of a series.

CARF’s managing director of employment and community services, Pete Hathaway, spoke with Steve Hill, CEO of ABC Inc. in Rochester, Minnesota. Steve has been a CARF surveyor for nearly 40 years, and recently announced that he will be retiring at the end of April 2016. Steve was asked to reflect on his time working and surveying in the employment and community services field.

Q: How did you first become familiar with CARF? What got you into surveying? Did you lose a bet?
A: [Laughs] No, actually. It was in the 1970s. I was working and living in Pennsylvania in the early 1970s, but moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho, in 1976 when I became the director of rehabilitation for an organization called Development Workshop, Inc. Both the director and assistant director, Dwight Whittiker and Lynne Hughes, were CARF surveyors. So they encouraged me to become a surveyor as well. It was 1977 or 1978 that I first started and went through my training.

Q: Development Workshop is actually still accredited.
A: That’s right. I was back in Idaho Falls this past summer and I know they just went through the survey process again, probably in the fall of 2015. They have maintained accreditation since before I was even there; since at least the early 1970s.

Q: Had you gone through a survey on the provider side in Pennsylvania or Idaho before you became a surveyor?
A: Yes. Actually two surveys. The first was when I lived in Pennsylvania, I helped them prepare of a CARF survey, but I actually left the organization before they were surveyed for the first time. And then two years after I moved to Idaho, we went through a survey. Robert McDaniels was our surveyor at the time. He also gave me a recommendation to become a surveyor. So that’s how I got into the business.

Q: And when did you transition from Idaho to Minnesota?
A: January 1980.

Q: So from 1980 until today, you have been running an accredited organization in Rochester, Minnesota?
A: That’s correct.

Q: That’s great. So what are a couple of significant changes in surveying from the 1970s compared to now from a surveyor’s perspective?
A: Well, it’s a lot more streamlined now. Even as you go through and review the standards and you meet with people, it is much more of a consultative process as opposed to back then. Back then, you spent an awful lot of your time reviewing documents and not meeting with people as much. It was primarily a document review, a file review for the consumers and if an organization was doing the programs side. There was some interaction with the staff and the participants, but not nearly as much as there is now. And of course with the refinements to the eChecklist, there is not nearly as much paper involved in the process now. That would be the biggest change, or improvement, that I have seen in the process.

Q: I remember those days because there wasn’t a template. Nobody carried laptops, cell phones, or any of those things that we take for granted now. Do you remember how different it was when the report writing was done by hand?
A: Oh yeah. I think we just had the report writer’s guide back then. In the guide, when you got to a specific standard, there was suggested wording for recommendations or suggestions or what have you. But certainly much more of a paper process than it is now. So, I do remember the old version of the report writing guide. There was one surveyor who I worked with a little later on who actually had a computer and could draw down a selection of recommendations or suggestions for every standard. He was an administrative guy so it didn’t help me much as I was doing the program side. But it was a pretty slick system that he had. That was probably back in the mid 1980s. That was kind of the forerunner to the system that we have now.

Q: Let’s switch gears a little within that same theme. What are the biggest changes in service delivery from the late 70s when you started surveying to now?
A: Well, back then, everything was pretty much center-based employment if you were doing employment services. There was very little that was done out in the community. Everything was kind of based around what they called back then ‘sheltered work.’ Some people still call it that. Today, you see a lot more community integration. You see people with more significant disabilities having the opportunity to work out in the community. I think that is a huge and significant change in how services are delivered.

Q: From a provider’s perspective, how has the funding changed from then to now; including things like accountability and reporting requirements?
A: It varies from state to state. But I think back then it was much more ‘locked in,’ if you will. If you were providing sheltered employment, for example in the state of Minnesota in the early 1980s, you were actually allocated an amount of dollars to serve. Now, it’s much more based on fee for service, hours of service provided, and so on.

Q: What are the top things you enjoy about surveying?
A: I think one is seeing different programs and learning from different programs and what they offer. You always learn something; either what to do or what not to do. You can learn from the mistakes people have made, or you can learn from the positive things they are doing in their programs. Another is the interaction with staff. In the last 25 years, I’ve done primarily just administrative surveying. But I think just interacting with other administrative people in the facilities, or as surveyors, you learn a lot from their experiences. I enjoy problem solving. A lot of times you run into the same problem no matter where you’re at, people are struggling with the same issues. Third, I do like going to different parts of the country and seeing different parts of the country. That’s always been a positive thing. I did a couple of surveys in San Francisco and remember going to some really good restaurants. The afterhours on a survey, it’s fun just socializing with the other surveyors.

Q: Have you ever made friendships with other surveyors over the years? That’s something that I recall from my time as a surveyor and that people talk about all the time; That camaraderie.
A: Yeah, some over the years. I wouldn’t say I’ve had a long standing friendship, like I call them up every other week. But at conferences, it’s good to get together with people you’ve surveyed with before.

Q: What advice would you give to a new surveyor today?
A: Go in to each survey with an open mind. Don’t expect people or organizations to do everything the same way you do it, or that your way is the only acceptable way to do things. Go in with the idea to learn, but also to be able to apply the standards. Be willing to ask questions, be consultative, and understand their culture. I think that’s an important thing. Also, don’t go into it expecting to get rich [Laughs].

Q: Anything that you would tell new surveyors to watch out for, be leery of, etc.? Being from Minnesota, I imagine you have seen some travel problems.
A: I’ve had some travel issues in the past. Don’t always expect to get home when you planned to get home. I remember one time I was surveying in the Midwest, I think in Michigan. I had to make a transfer on a flight in Marshfield, Wisconsin, into Rochester, Minnesota.  It was a small plane. I think I had flown out of Ann Arbor. I got stuck in Marshfield for two days because of a snowstorm. That was many years ago, and probably I was only three hours from home. But I got stuck in Marshfield for two days, you know. You run into those kinds of things.

Q: What was the strangest thing that ever happened to you on a survey?
A: I did a survey one time in a neighboring state. They took me on a tour of the place and I wanted to know where their utility room was. The director quickly said its ‘right over there.’ But I wanted to see it. He was saying, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ you know. He didn’t want me to go in there. I said, ‘Well, I’d like to take a look and make sure that you have the clearances around the boiler,’ or whatever they had at that time. When he opened the door, you couldn’t walk into the utility room because it was stacked up with I don’t know how many hundreds of cases of centennial beer that they had made with their logo on it that they hadn’t sold during the town’s centennial celebration. That was pretty strange. They got a recommendation on that one.

Q: You haven’t done anything like deliver a baby in the parking lot of a Motel 6?
A: [Laughs] No, not me.

Q: What other stories would you like to share from your time as a surveyor?
A: I can tell you a little experience from when I did my training. As I mentioned, that was in 1977 or 1978. It was the first year after CARF started doing the training outside of Chicago. We did our training in Brownsville, Texas. It was also the first year they used the training structured after the Cornell model. It was kind of a simulated survey. We were the first group to go through that. From Idaho, I had to fly to Dallas and then to Brownsville on a smaller plane. It was during the time when people were hijacking planes to Cuba. So I was on the plane, and there was a ruckus in the back. I’m just a country boy from Idaho, you know, so it got my attention. I turned around and there was a couple of big cowboys, and two other guys who looked like they were from the big city, I guess, and they were kind of jostling back and forth. The stewardess came up and she got the two city guys and escorted them up to the front and sat them down, then put the two cowboys in the back of the plane. Everyone else was kind of ‘oh, what’s going on here?’ You know, you’re up in the air thinking we’re going to get hijacked to Cuba. Anyway, the flight went fine and I got off the plane and went to the hotel where the training was going to take place. Then we were supposed to meet at a restaurant with the group going through the training. When I got to the restaurant, the two people that were the CARF trainers at that time were the same two city boys that got escorted to the front of the plane.

Q: [Laughs]. Wow, things were a little different 40 years ago. Did you ever figure out what the hurrah was about, did they ever tell you what the disagreement was?
A: [Laughs] I don’t know.

Q: As a final question, is there something in the industry you would like to see, or that you have been proud to see and would like to continue, over the next 50 years?
A: The idea of people moving toward more integrated worksites. That type of thing, I think, would be the best thing to continue. Continuing to have options where people can choose the services and programs they feel meet their needs. Those are the most important things. I think a lot of times the choices that people have are really not their choices. They are the choices of the bureaucrats, or the professional advocates, or whatever. I think it’s really important to get it back to the person and what they feel they and their families need.

Q: Thank you, Steve, and congratulations on your retirement. It gives hope to the rest of us.
A: [Laughs]. Yup, thank you, Pete.

3/10/2016
(50th Anniversary,Employment and Community Services)


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Congratulations on your upcoming retirement Steve!!

Posted by: Lynn Noren at 3/10/2016 1:52:31 PM

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