Oklahoma is a particularly challenging state to live in if you or someone in your family has a disability. But even among the state’s few employment opportunities, high Direct Support Professional (DSP) turnover, and a long wait list for services, Tulsa’s A New Leaf still manages to shine as a service provision leader by any state’s measure. Since 1979, ANL has provided top-tier services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and has managed to support exponential growth in recent years.
ANL’s initial service model was a single greenhouse providing vocational services to 2 people. Today, they provide in-home and residential services as well, which increased their full client list from 60 in 2011 to 325 today. Their exponential growth is thanks in large part to board leadership and CEO Mary Ogle. Since assuming her position nine years ago, Ogle has prioritized growing ANL—a goal not for its own sake, but to fulfill her promise never to deny anyone services.
Their growth shows no sign of slowing, especially since they finished raising funds for 58 new homes one year ahead of schedule. A village-style neighborhood of 58 units will offer safe housing under an affordable housing tax credit; they are currently waiting for approval to provide services under Medicaid’s Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) wavier.
ANL’s DSP staff are exceptionally stable in the midst of a national workforce crisis. An alarming number of the country’s DSPs are leaving their jobs, with most studies reporting around 50% turnover within a year. ANL’s rate in 2019 was just 22%—a remarkably low figure in most states, particularly Oklahoma. They accomplish this by offering a higher wage than any other provider in the state, as well as staff development initiatives like offering regular trainings and emphasizing DSPs’ professional development.
Through the COVID-19 pandemic, ANL’s work has adapted creatively to the drastic circumstances. Tulsa’s mayor ordered residents to shelter in place on March 28, forcing ANL’s community- and center-based employment programs to close. They have continued to support all 130 of their clients from these areas though, providing regular check-ins via phone, Facebook Live, even in-person conversations from clients’ driveways. Considering how precariously people with I/DD are forced to live with regard to personal finances, ANL managed to provide a critical support by paying their employment program participants through May. ANL’s shops have also recently begun to partially re-open. Ogle and ANL’s other leaders continue paying their success forward as well, advocating for legislation both at the federal and state levels, including participating in the #DSPsAreEssential campaign around Congress’s CARES Act.
Interestingly, the challenges presented by the coronavirus demonstrate ANL’s commitment to their community. While their staff are as fearful and at risk as much as nearly anyone, they continue to provide invaluable opportunities for socialization and even payment for the people they support. The shelter in place reveals that ANL’s contribution is not just the work and money afforded to clients, but more importantly the opportunity for connection and guidance through developmental challenges. These opportunities may not be thought of at the same level of importance as providing residential services or assistance with basic daily living tasks, but ANL takes them just as seriously.
By Jonathan Neidorf (Assistant to the TFC Board)
President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. 2017. Report to the President 2017: America’s Direct Support Workforce Crisis. Retrieved April 22, 2020 (nadsp.org).
United Cerebral Palsy and ANCOR. 2020. The Case for Inclusion 2020: Key Findings Report. Retrieved April 22, 2020 (caseforinclusion.org).