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Improving Lives by Improving Practices: Data Collection and Reporting at Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center
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In December 2010, Vermont’s Brattleboro Area Drop-In Center received the 2010 PATH Exemplary Practice Award for Data Collection and Reporting at the Biennial PATH Grantee Meeting. The award recognizes the agency for making significant improvements through data collection and reporting in the lives of the people it serves. (Author)
The Brattleboro Area Drop In Center (BADIC) is a leader in data collection strategies and reporting. For the past 22 years, Ms. Melinda Bussino has served as the BADIC executive director. The agency is a trailblazer in data collection and reporting, a source for best practices, and an instrumental leader in informing public policy at the local, State, and national levels. The BADIC continually improves its data collection and reporting, and Ms. Bussino was willing to share how the agency was able to progress to its current level of performance. The BADIC hopes its input will impact data collection and reporting methods for the PATH program.

The BADIC was one of the first PATH agencies in Vermont, and in the nation, to implement the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) as a part of its PATH data collection strategy. Starting in 2002, data quality has since become one of the agency’s best practices. The BADIC uncovered multiple ways to report real-time numbers for what is happening in the agency. As a result, the BADIC can generate reports to share with funders, policymakers, fellow providers, and consumers. Because they have the ability to pull data from HMIS, providers can more comprehensively understand the origin of the population with whom they work. Ms. Bussino mentioned how versatile HMIS can be for a provider. It can track how many bed nights there were in a year or track individual consumer outcomes, and use that information as a tool in case management to demonstrate consumer progress. There are countless valuable features HMIS can offer.

The BADIC’s efforts to improve its data reflect positively on the agency’s credibility. Data quality is at the heart of that goal. Those individuals who work with the BADIC see improvements in consumer outcomes because of their utilization of HMIS. Consumers have the benefit of more efficient treatment and are not asked repetitive personal questions because the information is already entered and stored in HMIS. Ms. Bussino commented that being able to have outreach workers give her feedback on what is and is not working well helps to improve service delivery to consumers. As a result, the agency is better able to build trust.

The BADIC implements HMIS into daily operations, increasing staff support and an understanding of how to continue improving service delivery. The agency utilizes innovative practices that translate data to tell a story. One practice involves scanning internal identification badges linked to individual consumers. These badges not only serve as a form of identification for individuals, but can be scanned when receiving a meal or items. When these badges are scanned, the agency easily receives information on the services it manages while recording data. This simplicity greatly reduces the time and work it would take for an individual to input information manually for services rendered.

Initially, staff at the BADIC thought inputting data into HMIS would increase their workload. Ms. Bussino commented that once the staff were able to see what comes out of putting the data into HMIS, they were really happy. Differences are now noticeable because of how the agency is able to perform its data collection. Staff can see that there are evident changes in data quality. They can generate reports and see if something missing or appears to be incorrect, and they can go in and fix it. Ms. Bussino also recognizes that there is even more progress still to be made, and is planning ahead for the future. In her view, “The next step is probably going to be staff out there in the field with electronic data devices to collect information right on the spot.” This method would eliminate the need to go back to the office to re-input data. There is no doubt that the BADIC is always working to improve the way it conducts its work.

The BADIC constantly has improvement in mind, but continues to focus efforts in areas that have a great impact on those with whom they work. One of the agency’s most significant improvements is documenting outcomes. Through the use of screening tools and a self-sufficiency matrix, staff can actually look and see how consumers progressed. Once staff obtain this information, it can be a tool in case management to show consumers how they made progress in a way that is meaningful to them. The ability to demonstrate the actions taken alongside next steps helps to emphasize consumer-centered services. The agency’s data collection and reporting efforts work to identify the needs of the consumer and how the agency can support those needs.

Ms. Bussino admits that the work of the agency is very data-driven, but there is a focus on delivering consumer-centered services. Having a staff that is trauma-informed with the ability to recognize that many consumers may have endured trauma is important to ensuring a consumer-centered environment. Ms. Bussino acknowledges part of the drive behind delivering a consumer-centered environment is attributed to the staff at BADIC all having experienced homelessness and challenges including substance abuse, mental health issues, and domestic violence. Ms. Bussino is very proud of all the personal and professional accomplishments of her staff.

In light of her experience with the staff at BADIC, she recommends that agencies have trauma-informed policy and employ consumers. In addition, being upfront with consumers about what the agency sets forth to accomplish is also important. Emphasizing that an agency has a caring approach will go far, along with explaining that the more data collected from consumers the better the services will fit their individual needs. In addition, the BADIC strives to do its best to adapt to what is comfortable for consumers to serve them best. The agency is willing to expand its efforts in the hope of learning on behalf of the behavioral health services field. Ms. Bussino states, “There’s nothing special about us,” but she, along with the staff at the BADIC, know that they do have an impact in the field of behavioral health services. The BADIC grasps opportunities to learn what will work for those in need.

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