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Tuesday, Dec 6, 2022
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Top Nonprofit Helps Developmentally Disabled

Topping the Business Journal’s annual list of the largest Valley-area nonprofit organizations once again this year was the North Los Angeles County Regional Center, or NLACRC. With $433 million in expenditures, the Center led handily — the No. 2 nonprofit on the Business Journal’s list was Child Care Resource Center with $213 million in expenditures, just half that of NLACRC. The Business Journal’s list begins on page 15. So what exactly does the Valley’s highest-funded nonprofit do with that big budget? NLACRC coordinates services for individuals with developmental disabilities as well as their families. Qualifying conditions include all intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders that originate in individuals before the age of 18. “Really our end goal is to assist individuals in living independent, productive lives in their home communities,” said Ruth Janka, the center’s deputy director. Lanterman Act The North L.A. center is contracted and funded by the state under the Lanterman Act, a California law that defines the rights of people with developmental disabilities, charges regional centers with the advocacy and protection of those rights and establishes a service system for those centers to meet the needs of the developmentally disabled throughout the state. NLACRC is one of 21 such regional centers in California and currently serves more than 27,000 individuals in the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys. However, NLACRC – and every other state regional center – is not a service provider. It owns no medical facilities and employs no caretakers. Rather, its staff of 343 service coordinators are responsible for identifying personalized service needs on a case-by-case basis, then connecting individuals, or “consumers,” with a network of roughly 1,000 end service providers — businesses that include clinical psychologists, acute care hospitals, physical therapists, day cares, speech pathologists, nurses and more. It also provides funding so those individuals can access the care they need and, in some cases, helps families access services through generic resources such as Medi-Cal. Funding challenges NLACRC is contracted by California’s Department of Developmental Services, which allocates the Center’s funding each year. Most of that funding comes from the state’s general fund, while the rest, about 40 percent, comes through the federal government’s Medicaid Home and Community Based Services Waiver program. “All the publicly funded entities compete for a finite amount of dollars, so regional centers are competing with the Department of Public Social Services, the Department of Education and others for funding. It’s really at the discretion of the legislative process as to the amount of funding that is allocated,” said Janka. “We engage in legislative advocacy for the funding we need.” That means NLACRC’s funding depends heavily on California’s fiscal position from year to year, as well as the priorities of the legislature. “Even though California is in a strong fiscal state at the moment, we did not secure all of the funding that we advocated for (this year),” Janka explained. “Our advocacy efforts were successful in that there was an 8.2 percent increase for a significant number of service providers. However, regional centers’ operations budgets did not receive an increase in funding.” The regional center receives funding in two pots. One is for operations and covers expenses such as rent and employee compensation. The other is for funding services to the center’s consumers. In terms of operations, Janka said, regional centers remain underfunded. A major hindrance to operational funding is a core staffing formula used by DDS to determine how much money the regional center receives for each employee’s annual salary. The problem? It hasn’t been updated since the 1980s — it is based on salaries that are decades old and haven’t been adjusted for inflation. “It’ll say, ‘you can hire one service coordinator for $35,000,’ but we can’t hire a service coordinator for $35,000. These aren’t firm numbers, but it might cost us $55,000,” said Director of Finance Vini Montague. “We don’t receive sufficient funding to hire enough staff to meet the required staff-to-consumer ratios.” Janka added: “We continue to advocate for a revision of that methodology so regional centers are able to secure the number of staff and the different types of positions needed.” The other pot of funding — the one to pay service vendors to provide care for its customers — is under pressure from the rising minimum wage standard in Los Angeles. “We are able to reimburse our providers at the state minimum wage, but local minimum wage is higher than the state minimum wage. Our providers unfortunately have to absorb that cost,” said Janka. “They’re calling it the minimum wage quirk.” Though nonprofits are not required to publicly disclose their financials, NLACRC’s fiscal details are freely available via the center’s website, including its Form-990, which breaks down the center’s funding, and its annual audits. Corporate governance Like many nonprofits, NLACRC’s corporate governance comprises a board of trustees whose members receive no compensation. Board members rotate yearly, but always consist of individuals with experience in developmental disability services, legal or financial systems. Half of the board must have children in the developmental disability system, while a quarter must have developmental disabilities themselves. NLACRC also requires the board’s ethnic profile to accurately reflect the demographic community it serves. There are currently 19 board members, though a new board will phase in on June 30 with a few additions and subtractions. The board operates mainly through a series of committees. “Those committees do the heavy lifting in terms of reviewing any issues that are before them,” said Janka. A consumer services committee, for example, reviews policies and how the center implements statutory requirements for service delivery. A community engagement committee sends board members to town hall meetings to learn about the needs and preferences of the many locales the center serves. An administrative affairs committee looks at human resources issues and reviews expenditures and projected income. These and other committees work in tandem to determine how the center can best operate currently and in the future. Right now, preparing for the future means using technology to streamline work. “We’re digitizing our records and moving towards an electronic document management system,” said NLACRC Consumer Services Director Jesse Weller.

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