Gazebo Gazette

More than 20,000 Mississippians who have disabilities or are elderly receive services and support through five waiver programs administered by the Mississippi Division of Medicaid (DOM). To ensure those vulnerable populations receive the best possible care, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) School of Social Work is leading the way in training state caregivers to use person-centered practices.

In partnership with DOM, the Mississippi Person Centered Practices Initiative (MS-PCPI) has trained over 4,000 waiver support staff – from the Delta to the Gulf Coast – since March 2017.

“The USM School of Social Work is providing exceptional provider training that really touches people’s lives,” said Drew Snyder, DOM executive director. “We are grateful for their support in elevating the quality of care for individuals receiving Home and Community Based Services.”

By developing individualized care plans with specific details about each person’s unique likes, dislikes, strengths and goals, MS-PCPI trainers and state caregivers are improving the lives of Mississippians. Two members of the USM School of Social Work grant team are the only trainers in the state who have been nationally certified by The Learning Community for Person Centered Practices – Courtney Williams based in Hattiesburg, and Yolanda Green based in Long Beach.

In 1989, founders of the Learning Community realized individuals with developmental disabilities and challenging behaviors had frequently been labeled as “not ready” for life in the community when in fact they did have the capacity to live fuller lives than they were experiencing. The Learning Community designed a new lifestyle planning method to return positive control to these individuals.

The person-centered practices they developed have since become so widely recognized and supported that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a national mandate that all caregivers working with waiver recipients must adopt the person-centered approach by March 2023. The USM School of Social Work has also incorporated the practices into curriculum to prepare Southern Miss students for future jobs working with Medicaid waiver programs and providers.

MS-PCPI trainers work with Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) case managers – at state agencies and private businesses that run residential living facilities – who serve individuals receiving benefits from the following long-term care waivers: Assisted Living, Elderly and Disabled, Independent Living, Traumatic Brain Injury/Spinal Cord Injury, and Intellectual Disabilities/Developmental Disabilities.

The person-centered approach discourages the use of terms such as “patient” and “client” as a way to humanize and empower those being served. The approach focuses on trying to understand the person’s wants, needs and interests to help them regain or maintain residence within the community or pursue activities like competitive employment, dining out, shopping and attending church.

Katrina McDonald works for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health at Ellisville State School and serves as a support coordinator for those on Medicaid waivers. She feels the trainings are valuable for caregivers and those they serve.

“MS-PCPI is beneficial for everyone who works with individuals with developmental disabilities because you work through not only what the caregivers think is best, but also what the waiver recipients actually want for themselves,” McDonald said. “You can see their eyes light up because they know they’re being heard. They like the attention and gain a sense of pride when other people care about what they think and desire.”

MS-PCPI workshop participants have experienced improvements in their knowledge and skills, and after person-centered concepts have been implemented, satisfaction has increased for waiver recipients and their families.