February 5, 2018
Executive Profile

MidState Arc's Fields aims for client independence, state savings

HBJ Photo | John Stearns
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
Pamela Fields, CEO of MidState Arc, shows an aquaponics greenhouse located inside the agency's Meriden headquarters. The farm teaches clients work skills growing and maintaining vegetables that are used by the agency's on-site restaurant, The Arc Eatery.

VIEW: Executive Profile: Pamela Fields

Pamela Fields

CEO, MidState Arc.

Highest education: MBA with nonprofit concentration, Springfield College, 2013.

Executive insights: Run the organization as a team and be open to different ideas and perspectives. The organization has to work together.

Pamela Fields is excited by a freedom movement for clients of organizations like hers, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"It's where we were heading all those years, our whole careers, and we're going to see it, we're there," said Fields, CEO of MidState Arc, formerly Arc of Meriden-Wallingford, which helps people in a 27-town area from New Britain to Milford.

She's referring to transitioning clients from "segregated" settings, where they stay with others with intellectual disabilities and staff paid to care for them, to more independence. It's part of a shift for nonprofit agencies like MidState Arc from a care model to support model, as mandated in 2014 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), "to live in the community with full access to everything, just like you have and just like I have," she said.

That complements Arc's human-rights client philosophy. Fields puts it as: "The lives they want to live, not the lives we think they should be living."

While organizations have until 2022 to meet CMS's mandate, MidState Arc is well on its way, thanks in part to exploiting technology that helps some clients live more independently and, for those who are able, function better at work. MidState Arc also is saving the state money shifting clients away from group homes staffed 24/7.

MidState Arc has about 300 clients. Of those, 50 are in 12 group homes, and Fields estimates about two-thirds of them can transition to independent living with technology monitoring everything from medicine adherence to in-home movement patterns.

If something's awry, technology alerts staff to call or visit. Reducing clients needing 24-hour, on-site staff frees them to handle additional clients, Fields said.

MidState Arc saved the state roughly $400,000 from 2014 to 2017 as it began tech-assisted transitions of a few clients from group homes and by moving clients from more costly out-of-state locations into group homes. Eight more client transitions this year could produce annualized savings of $250,000 to $500,000, Fields said.

"I believe we are the solution to that budget crisis because if we start to change the way we do business, it's going to automatically save the state money," said Fields, whose agency, like others receiving state support, has faced tighter funding.

MidState Arc, with a roughly $11.5 million budget, gets 98 percent of its funding through the state Department of Development Services.

Knowing funding pressures won't likely ease, the agency is exploring widening its client and revenue base to include people with traumatic brain injuries, who have needs similar to existing clients, and services for the elderly, who also demonstrate similar needs.

In its employment program, MidState Arc has enjoyed success training and placing clients in restaurant and retail jobs. It operates The Arc Eatery at its Meriden headquarters, where clients learn food-service skills.

Clients who can't work are transitioning from segregated day programs into the community for volunteer activities and interaction.

Overseeing growth

Seeing clients obtain more independence pleases Fields, who's spent her life around people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including a cousin and uncle. Fields volunteered for the agency in the 1970s (her aunt ran it 23 years from about 1973 to 1996), began working there in 1978 after high school and ran an agency group home her cousin entered.

She left for another agency, then returned.

"I always say this agency has its own soul," said Fields, CEO since 2002.

She has overseen significant growth since then, when the budget was about $3.5 million. As the agency grew, so did its complexity. Realizing her limitations, Fields told the board she could leave and it could hire a more skilled director, or help her get an MBA. The board chose the latter.

MidState Arc board member Pauline Bouffard said Fields is compassionate toward clients and driven to help them achieve independence, listens to them and families, is active legislatively and collaborative.

"If she's in a room and she's talking about the individuals, you can see on her face how motivated she is to provide the services that individuals with developmental disabilities are looking for," Bouffard said.

Fields, 58, has three grown children — a daughter in the Air Force stationed in Afghanistan, a daughter in Fields' profession at Continuum of Care in New Haven, and son in a medical laboratory job in Virginia — and six grandchildren. Her 15-year partner, Todd French, has three grandchildren, making nine between them. Fields enjoys gardening, and she and French like snowshoeing and kayaking.

When her career eventually sunsets, most clients will have integrated into their broader communities.

"I'm really excited as I reach the last tenure of my career that I'm going to be part of the civil rights movement to finally get them free, to finally get them out of segregated settings," Fields said.

Check out the video clip above of Pamela Fields' interview at hartfordbusiness.com.

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