Innovation in the Time of COVID-19
A Message from the Secretary and the Director....
The COVID-19 pandemic gave the Illinois Department of Human Services' Division of Rehabilitation Services (IDHS/DRS) an opportunity to restore and reinvent itself while building capabilities for a sustainable future. In doing so, DRS stayed true to its mission "to assist individuals with disabilities in achieving their goals of employment, education, and independent living." The Division immediately implemented measures to protect the health and safety of staff, customers, and the communities it serves. DRS made necessary technical investments to move our staff to a remote working environment to ensure complete continuity of service. Even in the face of the challenges presented by the pandemic DRS added to its demonstrated track record of excellence in customer care and innovative services and supports in a myriad of ways, including but not limited to:
- Activating a mass texting program to provide critical information instantly to customers and their families and providers.
- Hosting town hall meetings for customers and providers and sharing targeted surveys to gain feedback to ensure customer needs were met and diverse voices heard during the unprecedented times brought on by the pandemic.
- Transitioned the Home Services Program's predominantly face-to-face program model into a virtual model to ensure the continuation of services and the safety of the customers, providers and the HSP field staff. This shift required additional flexibilities including electronic delivery of forms, communications and signature allowances, which ultimately lead to shorter wait times for services and more efficient utilization of staff time. These programmatic flexibilities are supported by the Appendix K amendment applicable to all 1915(c) Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waivers.
- Expanding Independent Living services statewide to all 102 counties in Illinois to address unserved and underserved counties.
- Despite an economic downturn, the Vocational Rehabilitation Program achieved robust numbers of placements of individuals with disabilities into competitive and integrated employment. Further, the Division provided additional critical financial assistance to our community partners to allow for additional follow up and support services during times of unemployment and remote learning.
- Completing long overdue facility improvements in its educational and training facilities as well as upgrading technology support and resources to allow students to be successful using a remote learning environment.
- In coordination with our partners, the Illinois Care Connections program provided much needed devices to our isolated seniors allowing them to maintain contact with loved ones without comprising their health.
- The pandemic changed how the Bureau of Disability Determination Services offered Psychological Consultative Examinations and Hearing Appeals to claimants. Claimants had a choice whether they preferred to wait until Consultative Examinations resumed or if they preferred to be examined via tele-video. The same choice was offered for claimants waiting on their Hearings Appeals if they wanted to have their hearing conducted via tele-video or wait until Hearings resume later in 2022.
These innovations are not just in response to the present pandemic, but have led to systematic change. These demonstrated efforts suggests that in the future, other big real-world challenges can also be tackled with a sense of urgency through innovation. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to revolutionize services to all Illinoisans with disabilities.
We are extremely proud of the many accomplishments across the Division over the last year. While many of the innovations and accomplishments described above were initiated by the pandemic, they are consistent with the guiding vision of IDHS for the future. We are proud of the adaptability, determination, resilience, and sense of urgency DRS staff have shown during these challenging times. By increasing availability and use of technology in our programs, we better position ourselves to meet the needs of our customers, providers, and other partners. It is truly an honor to serve the people of Illinois, and to have the opportunity to provide the necessary supports and services to Illinoisans with disabilities so that they can live independent and empowered lives. We very much look forward to building on the successes of the past year and continuing to serve the people of our state, always committed to ensuring that Help is Here-wherever you are.
Grace B. Hou, Secretary
Illinois Department of Human Services
Rahnee K. Patrick, Director
Division of Rehabilitation Services