June 28, 2017

Our State of the Science seminar on rural VR well attended and informative

Over 120 individuals registered for our 2017 State of the Science event, “Effective Rural Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Job Development.” The live, participatory webinar was held June 22, 2017 and was attended by State Vocational Rehabilitation staff and administrators, researchers and job development providers from around the country. For those who missed or were unable to register for the live session, an archived recording of the webinar is now available.

The agenda featured a presentation on RTC:Rural employment research by Dr. Catherine Ipsen, RTC:Rural Director of Rural Employment Research followed by a panel discussion. Panelists included: Betsy Hopkins, Director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation at the Maine Department of Labor; Mimi Schafer, Rehabilitation Area Manager for Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services; Jessica Adams, Program Manager for Community Connections, Inc.; Joe Xavier, Director of the California Department of Rehabilitation; and Dr. Susan Foley, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Panelist bios can be viewed here: State of the Science webinar features a panel of experts from the VR field.

Dr. Catherine Ipsen headshot

Dr. Catherine Ipsen, Rural Institute Associate Director and RTC:Rural Employment Project Director

To begin the webinar, Dr. Ipsen shared RTC:Rural demographic research by Research Associates Lillie Greiman and Andrew Myers regarding rural disparities. Using American Community Survey data, Greiman and Myers examined differences in rates of poverty, employment, and those out of the labor force for people with and without disabilities in rural and urban areas.

Dr. Ipsen then presented work on two RTC:Rural employment research projects: Premature Exit from VR Services and Rural Contracted Services. “Access to timely job development services is vital to keeping people engaged in the VR program,” said Dr. Ipsen. “Many providers, however, are reluctant to serve rural areas due to barriers imposed by distance, economic opportunity, and VR payment and referral models.”

The majority of Dr. Ipsen’s presentation focused on current RTC:Rural research examining job development contracted services, and how different delivery models used by VR agencies to deliver services may impact the availability of services in rural areas. Dr. Ipsen and RTC:Rural Research Associate Rebecca Goe conducted qualitative interviews with 40 VR agencies in 35 different states on VR service delivery, which focused on the agencies’ use of performance-based benchmarks and fee-for-service funding models. Though their analysis is not yet complete, Dr. Ipsen shared their initial interview results, including the advantages and disadvantages of the two different funding models, and implications for VR cases and service delivery in rural areas.

Headshots of the event panelists - names listed in caption

Panelists for the event “Effective Rural Vocational Rehabilitation Job Development” clockwise from top left: Betsy Hopkins, Jessica Adams, Mimi Schafer, Dr. Susan Foley and Joe Xavier

Following Dr. Ipsen’s presentation, the five panelists shared their experiences and perspectives as VR agency directors, managers, and researchers. Panelist Dr. Susan Foley remarked, “I think Vocational Rehabilitation has a big role to play in the current economic conditions in the U.S. and may be at the forefront of moving people from out of the work force back into economic life of their towns and communities.”

Panelists Betsy Hopkins, Mimi Schafer, Jessica Adams, and Joe Xavier discussed some of the models and strategies their agencies have used to deliver services and the effectiveness of those different models, especially in rural areas. “The providers are really willing to work with us” to serve rural areas in Minnesota, said Schafer. “You would think that it might be a bad thing they are the only show in town, but a lot of times it’s a little bit easier to get together at the table and try to problem-solve how we are going to do some of this work together.”

Panelists discussed what they have done with their agencies, what models they have used to deliver services, and the effectiveness of those different models. They also highlighted the need for adaptability and creativity in serving clients in rural communities. “We really need to have that adaptability to meet the unique individual need of each person, no matter where they are,” said Xavier. “We certainly need to have the flexibility to deliver services, and as you heard from the other panel members and from Catherine, [this is especially important in areas] where you may not have a lot of providers, or you may not have a particular skill set that is necessary.”

Overall, the webinar lasted about 90 minutes, and shared both research and personal experiences of those working in the field, and discussed strengths and weaknesses of different delivery models as well as the use of incentives to serve rural areas. “I was energized to hear how different VR agencies are strategizing to overcome barriers to improve rural service delivery,” said Dr. Ipsen.

Click here to view the webinar archive page including the event recording and presentation slides. Questions about the seminar or RTC:Rural Employment research can be sent to Dr. Catherine Ipsen. Questions for the panelists can be directed to RTC:Rural, and will be forwarded on to the panelists.