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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

New Start Celebrates 25 Years of Service to the Severely Disabled

In the 25 years New Start Home Health Care, Inc. has assisted people with spinal cord injuries there have been good times and bad times. The bad came in 1987, when New Start came close to shutting its doors when the Department of Health Services investigated violations of state regulations. The good came late last month when more than 200 people gathered at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City to help founder Mary Williams celebrate New Start’s 25th anniversary. With the day-to-day operations handled by a long-time employee, Williams concentrates on the development of policies and procedures to help New Start meet the mandate of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires the state to provide community-based services for the disabled. She is writing a manual so that others can learn from her quarter century of experience serving severely disabled people who live in residential settings. “I’m ready to teach and hand over the way to give more [disabled] people the opportunity to be in the community,” Williams said. New Start serves 24 clients through four group homes located in the San Fernando Valley. The company’s Northridge headquarters are in a 4,000-square foot space that has one wall of the reception area lined with awards and certificates of recognition. A separate medical equipment company providing ventilators to clients is based in Simi Valley. Williams puts her clients and employees first, which can be a challenge when dealing with the regulations and slow processing of paperwork common to dealing with Medi-Cal, said Martha Perez, New Start’s administrator. After a change in billing codes in November resulted in late payments, Williams put all of her resources into meeting the payroll, Perez said. “It’s not easy running a company with 90 percent of the patients on Medi-Cal,” said Perez, who has been with New Start for nearly two decades. “Mary had a good heart for doing that.” New Start is not a typical business, said Ken Keller, who got to know Williams through her membership in the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Renaissance Executive Forum, an organization for business professionals. Unlike, say, a hospital or nursing home, Williams has clients for life; people who want to be productive members of society and not warehoused somewhere, Keller said. “A lot of what she has done is to educate people in positions of political responsibility,” Keller said. Trained as a nurse, Williams left her position at the rehabilitation center at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in 1982 to strike out on her own with New Start. The following year she had her first client in a halfway home and in 1984, she garnered media attention when she took in a teenage girl from Colorado whose spine had been shattered in a car accident. The early years of running the company provided challenges. After expanding to 12 clients in 1986, the Department of Health Services told Williams she was not licensed to provide the services she was giving. That problem was solved by working with state lawmakers to pass the Congregated Living Health Care Facilities Law. In 1987, the state threatened to shut her down after receiving allegations of violations that Williams traced to a person working for her. The near-crisis caused Williams and husband Vincent to sell their Valley home in order to keep the company afloat. They also had to consolidate clients from three group homes into two and respond to their board of directors who had voted to dissolve the company. Instead of giving in, Williams weathered the tough times. She and Vincent bought out the interest of the two other board members to become the owners of New Start. She resolved the issues with the state following an investigation. Most important to her was providing for her clients, none of whom wanted to return to a hospital setting. “If I didn’t go on, I’d live it in my mind that I didn’t try that hard,” Williams said. From the start, the goal of New Start was creating a system of care to take severely disabled people out of institutions. Williams and her staff teach their clients how to take control of their lives and be part of a family, rather than a being a burden on family members. Williams admits that it is tough to deal with her clients because so many are young people who have lost the physical ability to do anything, yet still feel they have much to accomplish in their lives. New Start clientele includes students who graduated high school and moved on to college; two teachers severely injured in accidents who returned to teaching from their wheelchairs; and a woman who raised a daughter on her own and earned a college degree. “Just because they are in a wheelchair doesn’t mean their brains have disappeared,” Williams said. “They still have wants and needs.”

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