The World Around Us

from Mike Hyland, Venture President & CEO


Good morning Venture.  As you surely know, the world we live in has changed drastically in the past week as we have watched communities descend into chaos and senseless violence play out on live television after a man in Minnesota lost his life due to the actions of a person whose job is to help people.  The violence is frightening and obscures the important conversations about who we are as a country and how we need to truly find equality and safety for all.  During such a difficult time in our society, I am reminded of how this agency and others like it stand as beacons of hope.


Venture is, has always been, and will always be a safe place for all of our employees.  Everyone is important, every idea is an opportunity to make us better, and everyone’s experiences matter.  We celebrate our diversity and are grateful that we employ people from over 30 countries, each one of those professionals working to make a difference in someone’s life.  Our strength as an agency comes from people who are all different from each other working together to do the same thing: help those who need it.  I have watched in amazement for over two months as our nurses have worked tirelessly and seamlessly to keep people safe from the pandemic.  One department of people of different ages, different experiences, different beliefs and from different countries all doing the same work in order to help others.  This is one example but it highlights what happens here every day and that is what defines us.  Not our differences but the way we benefit from them in service to others.


The agency will continue to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone we employ and support.  We all come from different places but we ultimately end up being the same.  It is what makes us successful and is what we can all depend on when things around us get far too complicated.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed just about every facet of our lives from how we work to where we can go and even how we celebrate holidays.  Social distancing is new terminology that we are unlikely to ever forget and wearing facemasks in public has become commonplace now.  Something that hasn’t changed however is the remarkable dedication of people who have chosen careers that help others even in the darkest times.  Each day we see stories of overwhelmed doctors and nurses who work grueling hours under brutal conditions and EMTs who bravely assist people who are both sick and terrified.  Let us also remember an extraordinary group of professionals doing heroic things on behalf of others around the clock: those working in group homes.


Under normal circumstances, working in a group home presents many challenges, often without warning.  Coupling those challenges now with a virus that has stricken tens of thousands of people in Massachusetts creates a situation unlike any we have seen before.  Still, these exceptional people keep showing up every day to care for and help the individuals who need them now more than ever.  The folks who live in Venture group homes have seen their lives totally disrupted by COVID-19 and have essentially been isolated for more than 30 days now in an effort to protect them as much as possible.  That is more than a month of not being able to go to day programs, work, community activities, or other social gatherings with friends.  Most importantly, the people we support cannot even visit in person with their families right now.  The job of a direct support professional is hard enough without a national health crisis.  Now, the staff are also asked to fill the void left by the pandemic while somehow letting the people in our homes know they are safe.  That is asking an awful lot of people who have their own lives and families and yet it is a challenge our employees have taken on with the amazing skill, compassion, and professionalism they have always shown.  It is genuinely inspiring.


Every crisis brings an element of fear and a public health emergency increases that fear exponentially.  People working in essential jobs have always found ways to rise above that fear and help those in need.  We remember first responders in blizzards and hurricanes and we remember firefighters who race into buildings from which others are fleeing. We also remember medical professionals volunteering to go to war ravaged countries to treat strangers.  It would be more than sad if people don’t remember what our direct support professionals are doing around the clock during this crisis; it would be shameful.  Let’s all make it a point to recognize them and thank them whenever we get the chance.


~ Mike Hyland, President and CEO

Continuing Updates COVID-19

June 25, 2020

Parents, guardians, families & providers. You are invited to take part in our Virtual Town Hall on Wednesday, July 8th at 6:30pm. To get the meeting link, send your name and email address to: info@venturecs.org

During this meeting, the agency’s Program Operations Team will give families and guardians updates on what is happening in Venture’s residential and day programs. The plan is to hold these meetings at least quarterly throughout the year to improve the agency’s communication efforts.

We will discuss day hab reopening plans and visitation guidelines. We anticipate additional guidance from DDS and MassHealth, so we will be able to provide updated information. Please feel free to send me other topics that you would like discussed so that we can prepare a family-driven agenda. That agenda will be published prior to the email.

We will be conducting the meeting virtual town hall style. All participants will be muted to reduce distraction from background noises. In addition to agenda items, we will enable the chat feature so that we can address any questions or concerns families may have at the end of the formal agenda.

We hope you can join us!


June 22, 2020

#dontcutusout

As you may know, Venture and other human services providers are feeling the financial effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Due to increased staffing costs for shelter in place and quarantine coverage and the need to purchase additional personal protective equipment to keep people healthy and safe, we are looking for continued fiscal support from our funders.

We are asking for your assistance to let our legislators in Massachusetts know how vital it is to continue to support Venture and our sister agencies. Following is a link to The Arc of Massachusetts’s website. There is a simple online form to fill out which will go to Governor Baker, Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Spilka to let them know how important safety net funding is and that as their constituent, you support it. Thank you in advance for your help! https://bit.ly/2VjTTtR


June 15, 2020

Parents, guardians, families & providers. Please take our brief survey for the re-opening of our three day programs. Your feedback is essential and appreciated!


June 8, 2020

VISITATION GUIDELINES: Please find the guidance that Venture received from the Department of Developmental Services about visitation resuming in our residential programs. Venture is bound to minimally uphold these guidelines. While I encourage you to read the entire document, here are the highlights:


VISITS:

  • Visitations must be scheduled in advance
  • Visitations can last no longer than 30 minutes
  • Visitations must occur outside
  • Visitations will be monitored by Venture staff

VISITORS:

  • Visitors must wear face masks
  • Visitors must practice social distancing. This means no hugging, hand holding or other common signs of physical affection and maintaining a physical distance of at least 6 feet from your loved one.
  • Visitors cannot enter the home for any reason
  • Visitors must submit to pre-visit screening, which includes a temperature check at the program. If the visitor has a fever over 100F, they will not be allowed to visit

LIMITATIONS

  • Only two people can visit at a time
  • Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous 14 days or has been ordered by their healthcare provider to quarantine cannot visit
  • Visitors who experience COVID-19 symptoms (shortness of breath, fever, cough, chills, sore throat, muscle pain, loss of taste/smell) or test positive for COVID-19 up to 2 days after the visit must contact the home so that residents can be monitored for COVID-19 and tested as necessary.

If your loved one will have difficulty with the limitation on visits, we ask that you refrain from visiting until restrictions are lifted further. Some people we support may have challenging behavior when faced with not being able to hug loved ones, visiting for short amounts of time, and not being able to leave the program with loved ones.


We know that these limitations are challenging. We hope that our collective continued vigilance will keep your loved ones and the very dedicated staff who care for them healthy and safe. As such, we are unable to make any exceptions to this policy until we receive further direction from the Department of Developmental Services.


Thank you in advance for your understanding.


April 23, 2020

Venture in the Sturbridge Villager


April 11, 2020

Venture in the local news:

SPECTRUM TV WORCESTER

WPRI 12 PROVIDENCE


April 9, 2020

Message to all Venture Staff from Mike

Good morning Venture.  Today I’m reaching out to tell you how grateful the agency and everyone else connected to us is for all of the work that you all continue doing.  Today marks the 25th day that we have all been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m sure for a great many of us it feels even longer.  We have seen a total of 3 positive tests in separate programs among the people we support and I would suggest that the relatively small number is a testament to the skillful work being done in each of our programs.  The individuals were hospitalized and at least 2 have recovered well enough to be close to discharge.  Shannon, our Director of Nursing, is working directly with the hospitals to manage safe transition plans back to the agency when the time is appropriate.  Our quarantine center in Sturbridge is ready to deploy if and when needed after a water issue this week.  Big shout outs to the people in our Facilities Department for immediately digging in to a huge mess in order to make the facility available again.  It was not an easy task.


Unfortunately, we have had a couple of employees also test positive to date and we all wish them a complete recovery as quickly as possible.  We will of course be reaching out to them to see how they are doing and what they may need.  Several staff have also needed to be quarantined at home due to possible exposure and we certainly hope their 14 days pass peacefully and without any symptoms of the virus.  We continue to get guidance from several sources every day and we know that each agency in the state is facing the same challenges we are.  Fortunately, most agencies are communicating and sharing ideas and resources with each other, which is a nice change of pace.


As you know, almost all Venture homes are essentially sheltering in place right now in an effort minimize the exposure risk to the individuals we support, many of whom have considerable medical issues.  It is absolutely humbling to see so many of our staff step in to do everything in their power to keep these people safe.  Our advocacy is entirely focused now on helping the workforce, including employees who temporarily have no hours because they have been unable to shelter in place.  Congress will soon be debating another stimulus package and we have been aggressive in making sure that this one specifically identifies direct care professionals and their supervisors as a group that needs immediate financial support.  Several people in the Senate have agreed that this should be a priority and that is promising.  In terms of safety, Venture and other providers are pushing for mobile COVID-19 testing that can be deployed to homes.  DDS is trying to finalize an initiative that would do just this and allow testing to be brought directly to individuals and employees.  Of course, we continue to leave no stone unturned to acquire protective equipment for staff and we have orders for gowns and masks, at least some of which we hope to have in-house next week.  We will keep working with other agencies to create a stockpile of these items and will not stop working with the state and federal government to remember our employees and the their need for protection as they do such amazing work. 


Thank you for all your efforts, not just in the past 25 days but every day all year long!


April 4, 2020

As of April 4, 2020 Venture has 3 individuals out of 300 that are hospitalized.  All safety protocols are in place.


April 3, 2020

On April 3, 2020 a fake Facebook profile posted false COVID-19 information throughout our page with the intent to harm the reputation of the agency. Please be assured that Venture has protocols in place to protect the health and safety of all people we support as well as our staff of more than 800.  These protocols are evaluated and updated daily to keep up with the ever-evolving situation.  In our effort of transparency, we will keep updated statistics posted on our website for reference. Our staff continues to provide outstanding supports to all in our care and for that, we thank them greatly!


March 31, 2020

Per guidance from the state, the Venture office will continue to have very limited access through May 4th. This includes all training being cancelled through 5/4/2020. (please see 3/23 post)


March 26, 2020

Dear Parents, Guardians and Families,


I am writing to update you on Venture Community Services’ new visitation policy. This policy follows the guidance put forth by Jane Ryder, Commissioner of the Department of Developmental Service. I have included a copy of the memo that was issued by Commissioner Ryder for your convenience.


Until the threat of COVID 19 is resolved, Venture will allow no visitors to any of its program locations. In addition, we are prohibiting visitation with friends and family. The only exception to this visitation policy will be in end of life circumstances, with express advanced permission from Venture management.


If you wish to pick your loved one up, unfortunately we will not be able to accept them back into our program until these pandemic restrictions have been lifted. If you choose to do so, please contact the program manager so that we can make appropriate arrangements for a long term family visit.
We are enforcing these restrictions until further notice to limit exposure to the virus. While restrictive, it is being done in an attempt to preserve the health of the people that Venture supports and our very dedicated staff who provide those services. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Best regards, 

Pam Sampson, Chief Program Officer


March 23, 2020

As many of you may have heard by now, Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order requiring all businesses and organizations that do not provide “COVID-19 Essential Services” to close their physical workplaces and facilities to workers, customers and the public as of Tuesday, March 24th at noon until Tuesday, April 7th at noon. As a result of this order and similar to the approach of following the state’s lead in regards to inclement weather delays and closing, we will be limiting access to the main office.

Staff who need to meet with someone in the main office are free to schedule an appointment, as many of the people that work in the administrative office will be doing so remotely. Even though we may not be physically in the office, we are available via, phone, email and teleconferencing in an effort to ensure that your questions and concerns get addressed.  The agency will continue to stockpile supplies during this period and be responsible for delivering items to programs as needed.


March 19, 2020

Shout out to all of #teamventure for stepping up to the plate and continuing to pitch in where needed. We sincerely appreciate your unwavering commitment!    Behind the scenes here, we continue to purchase, inventory and deliver food and supplies to all of our residences to ensure everyone has what they need.

A portion of our staging area to ensure everyone has what they need.

March 17, 2020

Message From Our CEO

Good afternoon Venture.  I wanted to take a few moments to reach out to you today with an update on the ways in which the agency is monitoring and responding to the COVID 19 situation.  It is a topic that dominates every headline and it is important that we all remain well informed.  To date, there are no cases of any employees or individuals associated with the agency having been diagnosed with the virus.  This is not surprising given the relatively low incidence of infection across Massachusetts, which is a state with more than 7 million residents.  At this point, fewer than 200 people have been diagnosed or presumed to be infected.  Things certainly change daily but right now, that is the impact on the state.


Venture has implemented a number of steps to enhance safety for all of our employees while they do the amazing work they have always done. We opted to close our day programs out of a sense of extreme caution and to limit the number of people with whom those we support have contact.  We also engaged a professional cleaning company to sanitize the offices regularly and we are prepared to send companies to homes as needed should it be required.  In addition, Venture is working daily to stockpile a variety of supplies that can be deployed to homes that need them.  This can be done in a way that does not require staff from programs to be pulled away from the invaluable work they are continuing to do.  The agency is also receiving ongoing communications regarding the virus from multiple sources several times a day so that we can remain responsive in real time.  Our information comes from our trade association, ANCOR, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and an international law firm.  The updates we get guide all of our decisions and come from the most informed sources in the country.  We also monitor what is happening in other agencies in Massachusetts and have already offered some best practices to agencies who have asked for help.


While this seems like a scary time for everyone, I am confident we can all get through it together.  In the past six and a half years, I have seen our workforce do truly incredible things and we have unwavering faith in the skill and commitment of this extraordinary group of professionals.  We will continue to supply each of you with the information and tools to manage this unique situation and we will advocate seven days a week for the state and federal government to recognize all that you do.  I would be remiss if I did not mention this agency’s great thanks to so many people who have done so much already.  Group home staff and managers who show up every day to help others and Day Hab staff who willingly changed jobs on the fly and went to homes to continue supporting our individuals are truly what has always been best at our agency.  Facilities staff and drivers who have already volunteered to do whatever it takes to support the homes and the staff who are working so hard are truly inspiring.  Our I.T. department and Program Directors are working tirelessly to make sure our infrastructure supports our growing need and the people in H.R and Accounting are constantly adapting to speed up all of the functions that support programs.  In short, everyone who reads this has a reason to be proud of the work you are doing under trying circumstances and each person is doing exceptional things that never go unnoticed.


We will continue to update you as things happen and, most importantly, we will continue to recognize and appreciate all that you do.

Mike


March 16, 2020

Day Program Closure

Effective Monday, March 16th, all Venture Community Day Programs will be closed until further notice. All Day Program employees should report to their respective programs on March 16 at usual time to discuss residential coverage and deployment. Admin and transportation staff to report as usual. Thank you for your commitment while we continue to provide needed services to the people we support. We are taking these measures out of an abundance of caution and based on guidance issued by the state related to large gatherings. We will continue to update as we have more information.


March 12, 2020

For Parents, Guardians, Providers

Dear Parents, Guardians and Providers,


I am writing to let you know the steps that Venture Community Services is taking to respond to the threat of COVID- 19 illness. In addition to typical disease prevention techniques and protocols, Venture is implementing the following steps to prevent the spread of the virus to the people that we support and the staff who we employ:


  • Purchasing additional cleaning and sanitation supplies for each program that Venture operates
  • Purchasing additional personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks for each program that Venture operates
  • Implementing additional COVID-19 specific cleaning protocols. These protocols were developed by the Director of Nursing with specific adherence to medical cleanliness guidelines and will be implemented on each shift
  • Implementation of professional deep cleaning of each day habilitation program site twice weekly. This cleaning will supplement the daily cleaning that already occurs in these programs
  • Implementation of professional deep cleaning of our residential programs that support medically fragile individuals weekly to supplement daily cleaning that already occurs in these programs
  • Implementation of sanitation and wipe down of each agency van before and after each use. Sanitizing supplies and hand sanitizer will be stocked in each vehicle in case it is needed during use
  • Staff training in the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and flu and appropriate response to these symptoms in our day and residential programs. Literature about this topic has been posted in each of our programs
  • Staff training in proper hand washing techniques. Literature about this topic has been posted in each of our programs
  • Limiting outings in the community where large groups may gather
  • Upon signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and/or flu, individuals’ PCP office will be contacted for further instruction about treatment
  • A COVID-19 response team will convene upon positive or presumed positive diagnosis of COVID-19 to respond to the needs of the specific program and individual receiving supports. This team will consist of senior staff from agency operations, nursing and clinical services
  • The Director of Nursing is developing a Quarantine Protocol, should the need arise, to effectively quarantine individuals for the recommended 14 day period

We are confident that these steps will aid in preventing the occurrence of COVID-19 in our programs, for the people we support and our very dedicated work force. Venture is also collaborating with other agencies and the Commonwealth.   In order to keep you updated on the latest developments, we will be posting updates on our website venturecs.org and on our Facebook page.


Best regards,

Mike Hyland, President & CEO

New VP of HR

We are pleased to announce that Shaunna Monts is our new Vice President of Human Resources & Professional Development.  In this role, Shaunna will oversee all of the agency’s HR initiatives compliance, while ensuring HR is aligned with Venture’s vision.

 Shaunna brings over 15 years of professional experience to Venture and has a strong history of human resource management that includes strategic initiatives, employee retention programs, labor relations, policy management and employee development.

She most recently served as The Director of Human Resources for Wellmore Behavioral Health where she served an employee base of 350 people who provided clinical and home-based treatment to those in need.  Shaunna has also held positions in the HR field at Community Health Resources, The Metropolitan District and American Medical Response.  She has served on the Diversity Committee of the Human Resources Association of Central Connecticut, the African- American Affairs Commission and on the board of Jewish Family Services.

 “We are very pleased to have Shaunna join our Senior Management Team,” said Venture President & CEO Mike Hyland.  “Shauna brings a wealth of experience and a commitment to Venture’s workforce and mission.”

Shaunna received a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Development & Family Resources from University of Connecticut in Storrs and a Master of Science in Healthcare Administration from the University of New Haven as well as a Master of Business Administration from the University of Hartford in West Hartford, CT.

Investing in our Employees

Venture is beginning its second year of the Mentor Program, a series designed to strengthen and empower our workforce through a group mentoring approach that offers the opportunity to learn from expert guest speakers, connect with agency leadership, and engage in meaningful discussion with peers.  Our employees are what make it possible to fulfill our mission, and we are committed to providing opportunities to staff members of all levels.

Participants will be able to fine-tune skills such as leadership, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, networking, career development, and more.  The program seeks to provide insight about thriving within the human services sector and offers an opportunity for professional growth.  Our main goal is to invest in our employees, which will ultimately lead to the improvement of services for the individuals we support and contribute to the professionalization of the human services industry as a whole.  Additionally, each participant will be matched with a member of the agency’s senior leadership team that will offer support during the program.

We are proud to be hosting some very knowledgeable professionals from our community who will be speaking to the group about various topics.  This fall, we begin the program with a presentation by Christine Singer, who has years of experience in consulting and conducting workshops for companies, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and human services providers.  She will offer insight to the group about communication and conflict management.  We are also excited to welcome Chris Tieri from Sturbridge’s own Idea Agency to talk about strategies for career advancement and personal brand development.

To date, three of last year’s Mentor Program participants have gone on to complete advanced degrees, four have been promoted at Venture, and two have experienced career advancement outside of the agency.  We are very proud of their success, and we look forward to helping this year’s participants develop their skills, gain confidence, and experience career growth as well.

Is this the Final Assault on Medicaid?

By Mike Hyland, President and CEO

With the year half over already, the U.S. Senate is working furiously to pass a bill that overhauls the Affordable Care Act before Congress recesses for the July 4th holiday.  A bill written in complete secrecy by just 13 members of the 100-member Senate is finally making its way to all of the people who will ultimately vote on it next week and, like the bill passed by the House of Representatives last month, the details are alarming.

Of paramount concern is the Senate’s plan to mirror the bill passed by the House that significantly cut Medicaid over a ten-year period, while also converting it to a block grant.  It is not just an assault on Medicaid, but an unequivocal betrayal of people with developmental disabilities and the hard-working men and women who support them in the community.  With Governor Baker already asserting that this legislation will cost Massachusetts billions if enacted, the Commonwealth will find itself in a position where draconian cuts to basic supports will be inevitable.  The human service industry already struggles to hire people, and will now be gutted even further.  The funds available to increase wages will disappear.  There have been months of advocacy that have taken place to educate the White House and Congress about what these cuts will do to people with disabilities, as well as the professionals dedicated to helping them.  Both the proposed Senate and House bills represent that the people who wrote them and voted for them just don’t care.  They know that services for people with disabilities will be cut and that pay for direct care professionals will freeze. Their actions prove they truly don’t give a damn.  How did we allow our society to get here?  If there is one thing that elected officials should be able to agree upon, it is the duty to protect people with disabilities and the too-long-taken-for-granted workforce that helps them.  Instead, President Trump and leadership in the House and Senate have chosen to abandon them and dedicate dollars that currently support these groups to the most affluent in our country via a tax cut.  Perhaps worst of all, these actions come following a promise from candidates that, if elected, they would protect Medicaid and the disabled.  Obviously, it was a lie from the start.

There is still a process that these bills must go through before becoming law.  Essentially, the House and the Senate must find a way to reconcile the two bills into one and send it to the White House to be signed.  It is my hope that people will flood lawmakers like never before with phone calls and emails that decry this horrific dismissal of people in need.  We should inundate our lawmakers with the notion that people with disabilities have the right to live safely in local communities.  We must also remember the professionals who are dedicated to supporting them.  So many people have worked way too hard, for far too long, under grueling circumstances to be so blithely abandoned in favor of millionaires and stubborn ideology.  Gandhi once said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.  If one believes this, it would seem that we are dangerously close to failing the test.

Announcing ADDP Awards for Venture Employees

Venture Community Services is proud to announce that two dedicated employees received awards at this year’s ADDP Conference and Expo on May 4 at the DCU Center in Worcester. Annmarie Addesa has won the Direct Support Professional Award for the Central region and Lindsey Dezotell was presented with the Continuing Education Scholarship Award.

Annmarie offers dignity and respect to the individuals she supports in her professional role at Venture Community Services. She follows procedures and policies while still paying close attention to the safety, health and happiness of the individuals she supports.  She works with the community to create new opportunities and groups for individuals both in her house and throughout the agency.  Her Splash Day at the Attleboro Art Museum allowed individuals from several Venture homes to gather and create expressive art. She is a standout during these events, making sure everyone is involved and enjoying their time with others.  Annmarie is always supportive of individuals served while ensuring that they are also able to be as independent as possible. “Annmarie is an example of everything this field needs in the means of direct care staff,” said Rahjene Berrio, House Manager at Venture Community Services. “She is caring, creative and supportive of all individuals she supports and proves time and time again her commitment to providing them with the opportunity to live the most fulfilling life possible.”

Lindsey has advanced from Residential Counselor to her current position as Staff Trainer, where she guides new staff and continues to encourage them in their new roles. Lindsey also is a full-time student at Bay Path University, where she pursuing a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. She is passionate about investing in families and working with people with disabilities. “In her entry role, as a 19-year-old, Lindsey quickly demonstrated a hunger to gain more knowledge about bettering the lives of the people around her,” said Walter J. Davenport, Training Coordinator at Venture Community Services. “Because of her willingness to share her own learning disability, Lindsey was able to support me in creating a work environment that allowed team members to become more sensitive to fellow co-workers with disabilities, as well as the disabilities of the people we were supporting”.

The Framingham-based Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers is committed to ensuring, strengthening and promoting the viability of community-based organizations that support people with developmental disabilities and their families.


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