S&H to privatize, hires director

SIDNEY — S&H Products, the sheltered workshop that has been operated by the Shelby County Board of Developmental Disabilities (SCBDD) since 1977, will be a separate, nonprofit entity by Oct. 1.

According to Laura Zureich, superintendent of SCBDD, the change has been mandated by the Center for Medicaid Services, which “changed some rules in March 2014.”

S&H has also hired a new director, Michelle Herndon, of Piqua, who will take the reins beginning Aug. 10.

“S&H has embraced the changes that are coming in the industry and embraced the creative abundance model, which I agree with,” Herndon told the Sidney Daily News Wednesday. “I’m looking forward to taking the step of doing what’s right because it’s right and not because it’s a mandate.”

Herndon has a Bachelor of Mortuary Science from the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science and multiple certifications in developmental disabilities. A licensed funeral director, she has been the developmental services coordinator at Riverside of Miami County for the last 10 years.

“We were very impressed with her,” said Marian Spicer, chairwoman of the S&H Board of Directors.

Herndon will assume an organization in transition.

Most of the services S&H provides are supported by Medicaid waivers, which fund 60 percent of the cost of those services. County tax dollars from SCBDD provide the rest. SCBDD also funds other organizations that provide services to clients with developmental disabilities. Because SCBDD operates S&H and provides its funding, the Center for Medicaid Services has said that is a conflict of interest on the part of SCBDD.

Another area of conflict of interest is the monitoring of the staff’s provision of those services. Staff at S&H Products are employees of SCBDD. And other staff of SCBDD are charged with monitoring the S&H staff to make sure the funds SCBDD and Medicaid provide are paying for the services they’re supposed to support. That puts SCBDD in charge of monitoring itself.

Shelby County is not the only place where these conditions occur. They have been common practice throughout the country, which is why the federal mandate to change has come into play. County boards nationwide can no longer operate sheltered workshops.

“The feds gave all states one year to submit a transition plan and five years to put the plan in place,” Zureich said.

S&H already operated partially as a nonprofit organization in order to offer employment in its production shops to people with disabilities; therefore, establishing a nonprofit entity was not necessary. But moving full responsibility to the S&H board and making the staff employees of S&H rather than of SCBDD necessitated careful planning and implementation.

Susan Dlouhy, president of Norwich Consulting Services, was hired in July 2014 to serve as S&H interim director and to help the S&H board figure out what direction to take.

“The decision to privatize was made. I was brought in to help the board decide if they were going to be the provider or if someone else would run (S&H),” Dlouhy said.

A transition committee comprising two members of the SCBDD board, two members of the S&H board, staff from each agency, Dlouhy and Zureich have been meeting monthly to create a plan and map out steps to be taken in each following month. They hoped that the transition would occur gradually and without any change for the people receiving services, and so far, that seems to be working.

Considering the S&H staff was also a prime concern. By Oct. 1, the staff will be employees of a nonprofit, no longer employees of a county agency.

“We’ve worked hard to protect the staff,” Zureich said. “Salaries, retirement, health insurance will be the same (as they have been).” S&H will set its own employee policies, so vacation and sick leave may change, she noted. “But the big things stay the same.”

The biggest change will be for employees who were hired to provide transportation. Some of them drove buses for Shelby Hills preschool as well as for S&H. Shelby Hills will continue to be operated by SCBDD. So drivers had to decide whether to work for two, separate organizations or to have fewer driving hours by working only to get Shelby Hills children to the preschool during nine months of the year.

On a more global level, the transition has opened up an opportunity for S&H to rebrand itself as an independent entity, Dlouhy said.

“That creates an opportunity to be known in the community,” she added. There are federal requirements to provide community opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, and the S&H board has embraced the concept.

“I think it means more opportunities for people served by the organization,” Spicer said. “Instead of having a narrow set of options for those individuals, they can find out what they enjoy and they can find out how to translate that into jobs or opportunities in the community. The staff is doing so well about helping them find out about the skills they have and opportunities where they can be involved in the community. Folks are learning, for instance, that, ‘if I can sell vegetables at the farmer’s market, I’m learning how to talk with people. If I can talk with people, I can look at other types of jobs.’”

The committee has not neglected the families of the people the agencies serve as it works to implement its plans: public information sessions have been offered regularly for about a year.

So far, S&H’s transition from being a program of SCBDD to being its own entity has been very smooth, Dlouhy, Spicer and Zureich agree. Dlouhy credits Zureich’s transparency in working with the S&H staff to keep them informed and involved in each step of the process.

“She’s one of the best superintendents in the state,” Dlouhy said.

Zureich noted that Shelby County is not the first Ohio county to go through this transition. Twenty-two others have already completed it. One of them is Champaign County, where Zureich also serves as superintendent, so the group has had the benefit of her experiences there. Another is Preble County, which created a project tracker that has proved useful.

Herndon is eager to join the endeavor.

“I like to think we’re living through history right now. It’s an exciting time for people with disabilities. It’s an exciting opportunity that I’m looking forward to,” Herndon said. “The challenges are a matter of positives — finding the right path to get to the best place.”

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824. Follow her on Twitter @PASpeelmanSDN.