By David Zauche, Director of Health Care Collaboratives
Earlier this month, the Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative held a first-ever training conference for leadership and program staff in Pray, Montana. Led by Lutheran Services in America, the Collaborative supports underserved rural communities in Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana, connecting vulnerable older adults to services and supports they need to enhance their quality of life and maintain their independence. While 2019 marks the fourth consecutive year that the Collaborative has worked together to provide services to rural seniors, the entire team had not previously gathered in person to meet one another, learn together, and cross-pollinate strategies and ideas.
The goal of the conference was to provide a training, networking and teambuilding experience to equip Collaborative staff with new skills and tools to improve service delivery. Participants learned about the five senior services programs Collaborative members are offering in their communities: Aging Life Care, Remote Caregiver, Friends in the Kitchen, Volunteer Companions, and At Home. One session focused on an innovative service coordination program, LSA Senior Connect, which addresses social determinants of health and links older adults to resources in their communities. LSA Senior Connect service coordinators assess client needs, define goals, and actively engage seniors in self-managing their chronic conditions.
Participants discussed the Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative program evaluation process in a segment led by North Dakota State University, the Collaborative’s evaluator. They received instruction in a novel communications strategy that guides conversations with potential service recipients. It models a questioning approach that asks what services are desired and why, but always probes to deeper levels of thought, emotion, and motivation. Collaborative members also learned about Simply Connect, a secure software platform that stores client information including needs assessments, personal goals, and service plans. Additionally, the group benefited from a site visit to St. John’s United in Billings, Montana.
One of the highlights of the conference was the Collaborative’s introduction to Wilder Research, a new partner that will provide two services to the project. First, Wilder staff will serve as a second independent evaluator, assessing the effectiveness of the Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative and helping us understand how the collaborative learning model works and how it addresses the complex challenges of aging in rural communities. Second, the Wilder team will offer program sustainability services. Conference participants completed surveys beforehand to provide Wilder staff with an assessment of program sustainability thinking and planning to date. During the conference, they facilitated a session in which the Collaborative brainstormed and prioritized program sustainability barriers and solutions, including funding sources and community partnerships. For 35 years, Wilder Research has worked with a wide range of aging services organizations to provide training, coaching, facilitation, and evaluation services. The Collaborative values this new partnership.
Finally, the Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative 2019 conference was well-received by those who attended. Staff feedback includes the following remarks:
- Hearing from and connecting with others who are working toward a common goal is motivating.
- It was encouraging to hear about how senior programs are changing and growing. It also showed me the importance of doing the surveys and having the research to show the benefits of our program.
- Just the fact that we have been encouraged to think about sustainability is going to help us a lot.
- Good networking. It feels like we are a "team" now.
- It was great to see, hear and learn from others. The successes and struggles are all experiences to share. From this, we can learn from each other, troubleshoot and network in future.
- It encouraged me to think more deeply about the challenges and successes of program sustainability.
- Meeting colleagues from other Great Plains states was an amazing benefit. It will be easier to connect and collaborate in the future.
- In a future conference I would like to learn more about program sustainability and technology best practices in rural aging.
- What a fun group of people to work and learn together!