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State of HDI: Quality Improvement and Data with Laura Butler


[Patti] Hello, and welcome to the State of HDI, a podcast of the University of Kentucky Human Development Institute. I’m Patti Singleton, and in the studio with me today is Laura Butler, director of the Kentucky Core Indicators Project. Laura, it’s so good to have you here.

[Laura] Thanks, Patti. I’m happy to be here.

[Patti] Laura, today’s topic is on quality improvement and data. So, tell me about this project.

[Laura] So, the National Core Indicators is a project where we survey adults who are receiving services from the state. So, in Kentucky’s case, it’s two Medicaid waiver services, the Michelle P waiver and the supports for Community Living waiver. 48 other states also participate in the survey. And there are other surveys within the project as well.

[Patti] So, 48 states, that’s a lot of data. So, based on the data you’ve collected, and you’ve seen, how is Kentucky performing as compared to some of the other states?

[Laura] So, it depends on the items that we look at. And that is one of the things that our quality improvement committee does look at is to see how Kentucky does rank in terms of some different areas. They call them indicators for this survey and to see how Kentucky is performing nationally, and compared to some other states that might be benchmark states for us.

[Patti] And you mentioned a committee, can you tell me who is represented on that committee? 

[Laura] Yeah, so the committee is made up of some other HDI’ers, as well as some folks from different state agencies, including the division of developmental and intellectual disability, and also most importantly, family members of people who are receiving the services and people who are actually receiving the services.

[Patti] So, I assume this dataset can really help people with advocacy and policy efforts.

We’re seeing that happen more and more on a local and state level, which is really exciting. And then the data are also being used for federal quality management and assessment measures.

[Patti] So having such a large data set likely also gives a great picture of progress of people with disabilities over time. And so, what are some of those trends? 

[Laura] As with everything else, we saw changes during COVID. We did stop surveying in March 2020, when everything else stopped. But we did have about three fourths of our surveys completed at that point. So, we did look at that data as an immediate pre pandemic snapshot. And so, we – like the rest of the country – saw people, fewer people working, fewer people spending time in the community, things like that. But we’ve seen a really significant rebound in that in the last year. The survey has changed somewhat, it does change in response to different things that are going on in the community. So, there are survey questions that have been added to measure what is called often the final rule or the settings rule that Medicaid has. And that’s about how people live as you would think with the settings rule. Those are newer questions. So, we’re seeing some changes there. As people, as agencies and providers try to get in line with that role. We see other changes as well in terms of employment, it goes up and down. Other items in terms of people who have meaningful relationships, or people who feel lonely, those go up and down. But generally, we see positive trends for Kentuckians in those items.

[Patti] I certainly think a lot of people have probably a stress response when we think about data. And so, tell me how this project is making data into information we can all use.

[Laura] Yeah, so it’s really important for us that people use the data, the big survey that we use is collected directly from people who are receiving the services. So, it is a really important perspective. So, we want to see it used. So, what we do is present the data in a number of different ways. We have just the data tables for people who are really into just raw data and looking at that. We have those out there. Then we also work to create some easy-read documents. The National – National Core Indicators folks do that as well with a larger data, but we do it with the data that we see here in Kentucky and specifically with the items that the quality improvement committee looks at. So, we work with people with disabilities to help us develop those and make sure that they work for a different variety of people. So, we probably have some that are meant for provider agencies, some that are meant for people who are receiving services, others that can be used for policymakers.

[Patti] And we’ll make sure that we have links to those in the show notes today. So finally, what changes do you see in the future?

[Laura] So, it’s really hard to tell. I think the national folks that design the survey are really responsive to what is happening in the community and what’s happening with policy and politics, honestly. And so, as things change, we’ll see that change as well. One of the issues that’s really big right now is getting enough people to provide services. So, the workforce of people who are providing services is really challenging right now. And that really impacts the quality of life for people who are receiving these services. So, we’re seeing right now the emphasis on that workforce, the direct support professionals, and we’re seeing a lot of emphasis on making sure that those people are retained and paid well and treated well, and we do have a survey. It’s called the State of the Workforce survey that’s specific to measuring that in terms of compensation and retention of the direct support professionals.

[Patti] Well, Laura, it was so great to sit down with you today and learn more about your project.

[Laura] Thanks for having me, Patti.