Moving Mountains Best Practices
2003 Award WinnerTitle

ELM Homes

For Excellence in Redesigning Human Resource Practices for Direct Support Professionals 
Since the development of one ICF/MR program in 1979, Gene and Bonnie Miller (Co-founders of ELM HOMES), have experienced considerable growth in their business. The first program was developed in response to the need for community services as people left the state hospitals. ELM Homes now serves 250 individuals at 55 sites with about 450 employees in ten counties in South Central Minnesota. ELM Homes’ services and programs include a variety of residential services that meet the needs of people with developmental disabilities and related conditions. In addition, ELM Homes has developed a daycare center licensed for 62 children.

Having learned about competency-based job descriptions and training programs, Kellie Miller, daughter of Gene and Bonnie and Director of Human Resources, set out in 1998 on a major systems change initiative. The vision was to align the Community Support Skills Standards with the direct care staff job descriptions and to develop a career advancement system. A volunteer work group of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), frontline supervisors, program managers, and administrative personnel spent several months deciding what modifications were needed to make their job descriptions using the national skill standards as a framework. They also looked at what performance measures would work most effectively with the newly developed job descriptions. 

After many months of exciting yet challenging work, including a pilot-testing period, the new system was rolled out during the summer of 1999. As they worked together creating new job descriptions and performance indicators, they also created a career advancement system. This new promotion program included three different levels of expertise and performance for direct support workers: entry level-Residential Instructor, second level-Advanced Residential Instructor, and third level-Certified Residential Instructor. ELM Homes personnel, reflecting on their intense and satisfying accomplishments said, “The first year of the new job descriptions was a time of high feedback and involvement, as well as fine-tuning and buy-in by all ELM Homes’ personnel.” 

People involved with ELM Homes, including administrators, managers, supervisors, DSPs, family members and county personnel were very excited by the change. Now, ELM Homes’ staff have a heightened awareness of the CSSS. Overall, staff competency has increased and the quality of life for individuals has improved. ELM Homes believes this new process honors employee initiative and longevity through more professional job responsibilities, increased wages, and better career advancement opportunities. This system change initiative puts a “cutting edge” movement into action in Minnesota, and across the country, that enhances the status and professionalism of DSPs. 

Other outcomes related to the ELM homes change initiative include –

  • Employees regularly enroll in a community college program, the Community Supports Program, that bases its curriculum on the CSSS. Many employees have made advancements in ELM Homes’ career development program due, in part, to this program.
  • New and existing DSPs have reviewed, discussed, and signed a pledge that they will abide by the Code of Ethics developed by NADSP. In addition, the Code has been integrated into ELM Homes’ orientation and training programs.
  • Executives and administrative personnel of ELM Homes have signed the Moving Mountains Workforce Poster, developed by NADSP, that commits their organization to support and act on the principles of workforce development for DSPs.

The future for ELM Homes includes: revising the training program to be based on the CSSS and the ELM Homes job descriptions and performance appraisal and career advancement systems, aligning the training with the national apprenticeship model, and working closely with the Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota (Minnesota’s chapter of the NADSP) to develop a voluntary credentialing system that aligns with the apprenticeship model

For more information contact Kellie Miller Nagel, ELM HOMES, 14595 Highway 14 East, P.O. Box 489, Waseca, Minnesota 56093, (507) 835-1146.