An update from Jody Levison-Johnson, COA President & CEO
January 6, 2021
As we welcome a new year and begin to move forward from the challenges of a year that looked dramatically different than any of us could have imagined, I remain hopeful for what 2021 will hold for us all. That is why I wanted to start the year off by sharing an update on the merger between the Council on Accreditation (COA) and the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance).
I am happy to share that at the end of 2020, the merger was approved by the boards of both organizations and by a majority of voting members of the Alliance. The vote capped a year-long exploration and four-month due diligence process overseen by both organizations.
While we continue to finalize the details of the merger, I will serve as president and CEO of both COA and the Alliance, and Susan Dreyfus will serve as senior advisor to me. Once finalized, I will serve as the President and CEO of the new organization, which will be headquartered in Washington, D.C.
More information will be coming soon about the offerings and pathways to engagement the new organization will provide for human and social service organizations, foundations, state associations, government entities, and all of those who make up the human and social service field and sector.
I look forward to continuing to engage with each of you in our quest to create a rigorous and responsive force that catalyzes the voices of the social sector and allows us to be both current and forward-looking. I will be holding a virtual Town Hall meeting later this month, so please be on the lookout for an invitation in the coming days. I look forward to seeing you there. As always, you can continue to view the most recent status updates on the COA and Alliance websites, including our most recent press release.
Thank you for your continued partnership, and here’s to an exciting year ahead and new beginnings.
November 20, 2020
I wanted to reach out and share some news regarding the potential merger between the Council on Accreditation (COA) and the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance). I am excited to share that both the COA and Alliance Boards voted unanimously to move forward with our potential merger.
Now that we have reached unanimous votes from both Boards, we will begin finalizing documentation, proceeding with the vote of the Alliance membership, and planning for integration and implementation – pending membership approval.
This new organization will be unifying, intrepid, just, and purposeful. It will take our field and sector to new heights and allow us to contribute in deeply meaningful ways to support people, organizations, and communities to thrive. As always, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns.
Jody Levison-Johnson, PhD, LCSW
COA President & CEO
August 25, 2020
We are pleased to share that the Council on Accreditation (COA)’s Board of Directors voted to move forward with plans to explore a merger with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities! The Alliance has always been a close partner, and was one of our founding organizations, together with the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). To learn more, visit the press release here, or watch the message from Jody Levison-Johnson, COA’s President & CEO, below.
Hello. I am Jody Levison-Johnson, the President and CEO of the Council on Accreditation.
I wanted to connect and share some news in one of the most personal ways possible right now.
These are unique and challenging times, and in this environment, I think each of us is learning that we need to find new ways of working – whether that be a shift to remote work, putting on a mask or other PPE, or changing the services we provide.
As you know, the Council on Accreditation has been doing the same. Our shift to remote work and virtual reviews are just two examples of how we are consistently adapting, looking forward, thinking about what’s on the horizon, and creating new and effective ways to respond.
Right now, what is going on around us requires us to innovate at a rapid pace. Fortunately, COA has been considering ways to innovate since my arrival in March of 2019. We have been thinking long and hard about the ways we can better support our accredited organizations and the broader field and sector.
With that as our backdrop – with a focus on what we can do to more deeply and meaningfully support you and strengthen your ability to improve the lives of those you serve – I am excited to announce that our Board of Directors has voted to move forward with a due diligence process to explore coming together with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities to form a new organization.
Many of you know the Alliance. In fact, they were one of COA’s founding organizations, back in 1977.
This exploration is the culmination of many months of extensive discussion about how we collectively could be so much more and recognizing that we MUST be so much more in order to meet your needs–to help you meet the pressing demands of our world today.
Human and social service organizations – whether public or private – must demonstrate excellence and achieve results. Accreditation is an integral part of it…and it is only a part. We can, through coming together, support our organizations and the field in so many more ways.
This is entirely consistent with what drew me to COA and with the vision of what we need to be. Coming together will allow us to create new pathways to engagement, add value to accreditation, and create an array of ways to help organizations of all sizes and levels of sophistication to have access to supports that were previously not available.
I also want to assure you that we will maintain the independence of accreditation in this new organization. Our focus will always be to ensure the relevance of accreditation standards to the work you’re doing, the rigor of our accreditation processes, and the results you are able to achieve on behalf of the people and communities you all represent.
We look forward to sharing more about this opportunity going forward.
Questions? Comments? Please reach out to us here.
The most vulnerable members of society have also been the hardest hit by the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The work of nonprofit organizations serving those populations continued largely uninterrupted over the past several months—despite sparse protective gear for staff, thinly-stretched funds, and minimal to no national guidance about how to safely proceed.
Behavioral health centers, foster care services, homeless and women’s shelters, and many other human and social services organizations have not shut down. They have been navigating urgent and rapidly changing issues on the fly to keep their essential staff safe as they deliver critical services.
The Council on Accreditation (COA) discussed the changes and challenges of recent months with eight of our Sponsoring Organizations, which are nonprofit membership bodies comprised of organizations that provide human and social services (many of whom are accredited by COA). Sponsoring Organizations serve as critical advisors to the COA, helping us understand the accreditation needs of provider agencies, industry trends, and environmental challenges within the human and social service landscape. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have played a central role in helping their member agencies figure out how to safely continue operating in unfamiliar terrain.
We wanted to take a moment to recognize their work and highlight the innovation and creativity that emerged during this difficult time. Their stories illustrate best practices in “continuous evolution” and “resilience” that help organizations push through difficult times.
High levels of uncertainty have been a constant since March. Every organization has had to re-evaluate priorities and re-direct resources accordingly.
“One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned from the past few months is the concept of truly listening to members. Never has that been more critical,” said Mohini Venkatesh, Vice President of Business Strategy at the National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council). “We had to figure out how to represent the full continuum of experience of our members —from those serving wealthy communities to the underserved—in an environment where everyone’s experience was highly variant and changing fast.”
High-frequency membership surveys and town hall meetings facilitated by the CEO of National Council helped them keep the biggest challenges facing members front and center. Members’ inability to access to personal protective equipment (PPE) surfaced as a high priority early on. A survey of its members found that nearly 83% of behavioral health organizations did not have enough PPE for two months of operations.
When National Council put out a mass call to its members about PPE, it received requests for roughly 2 million masks within 48 hours. Although completely outside of its normal focus, National Council moved quickly to find a manufacturer and contractor that could fulfill and distribute its’ members PPE order.
The Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA) also went into action to provide PPE for its members after hearing safety concerns from agencies that interact with high-risk senior populations and hospice patients. It collaborated with several other organizations to do a group bulk purchase of PPE.
Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA)who serves millions of people per year, has distributed $6.1 million to agencies for COVID-19-related disaster grants and helped providing PPE, delivering almost 2 million face masks, 650 gallons of hand sanitizer, and gloves, masks, shields, and gowns. Across their network of facilities, they have seen a 50%-70% increase in clients seeking assistance including a broader demographic than low-income and poor households that traditionally walk through their doors including an increase in middle-class families who lost their jobs as the pandemic surged.
Collaboration was also central to the work of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), a nonprofit financial counseling organization, as states started to lockdown. With many Americans facing sudden unemployment or a dramatic reduction in work hours, financial stresses were running high – people needed short-term relief from paying credit card bills, mortgages, and other debts.
NFCC recognized that consumers needed an immediate short-term solution, regardless of where they sought counseling. They took a lead role in collaborating with other nonprofit credit counseling agencies, credit card issuers, lenders, and regulators to develop a national emergency payment relief program. The program allowed consumers to skip payments without penalties or damage to their credit rating.
“We experienced five years-worth of progress in a period of five weeks,” said Bruce McClary, Vice President of Marketing for NFCC. “It would have been an impossible goal to achieve if we had not already built strong relationships with key industry stakeholders and developed a solid communication framework.”
Facilitating communication and problem-solving
One of the top priorities for nearly every organization we interviewed was facilitating communications between its members to problem-solve.
The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (Alliance), which is comprised of a variety of nonprofit human services organizations and state associations, initiated regular pulse surveys to assess members’ most immediate needs. The lack of guidance about how to deal with rapidly changing COVID-19 developments was a major stress point.
“Being nimble and taking risks with our communication strategies was crucial,” said Lenore Schell, Senior Vice President of Strategic Business Innovation at the Alliance. “Our guiding principal was to act as the facilitators, not the experts. We launched webinars in the early stages of the pandemic knowing we had few answers to provide, but it created an environment of trust for dialogue with and between members.”
The Association of Children’s Residential Centers (ACRC) also positioned itself as a communications hub for its members, which are residential centers for children. They couldn’t close down services and had to quickly figure out how to keep residents and staff safe in a setting where it is nearly impossible to social distance.
“Meeting the needs of behaviorally challenged young people is already tough work. And the COVID-19 pandemic created additional complexity at every level,” said Kari Sisson, Executive Director of the ACRC. “We quickly realized that the field needed a way to safely exchange information to develop policies, procedures, and best practices – and learn from others’ experiences.”
Affinity groups that were created before the pandemic served as a critical information-exchange for members. An affinity group that served kids with autism and severe brain injuries was able to learn a great deal from an agency in Massachusetts that was hit hard by COVID-19 – it helped peers think through how to plan for adjustments to family visit polices, establishing isolation units, and other safety issues.
Providing opportunities for peer collaboration became an immediate focal point for the Child Welfare League of America as well; it is comprised of agencies that serve vulnerable children and families. In the early stages of the pandemic, they gathered a small group of agencies from the hardest-hit states including New York and Washington to discuss challenges and lessons learned. CWLA also initiated “open mic” weekly conversations to let all member agencies voice their struggles and exchange information about what was working.
“We became a funnel for information for the industry, helping members navigate how to put new policies and protocols into place,” said Julie Collins, Vice President of Practice Excellence for CWLA. “We are still receiving daily inquiries from agencies about how others are dealing with specific issues.”
CWLA shared the intelligence from its various forums with its entire network of members via webinars and best practice newsletters. Topics spanned a wide range of issues from helping foster parents manage e-learning to guidance on recruiting and training staff virtually to establishing protocols for an employee that tests positive for COVID-19. They also arranged for Congressional representatives to hear directly from small agencies about their concerns.
As the COVID-19 lockdown hit different parts of the U.S., health and human service agencies had to abruptly transition as much as possible to virtual mode, often with little warning. Telehealth services suddenly became the norm instead of the exception.
“Initially, the government and insurance providers were only allowing telehealth services that used both video and audio capabilities. We had to help our agencies fight for allowing telephone-only services,” said Reuben Rotman, CEO and President of Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (NJHSA). “There are big segments of the population that don’t have access to a computer or the internet, or they simply don’t know how to use it.”
For example, one of the agencies under NJHSA was working with a patient suffering from agoraphobia who had not left her house for nearly a year. Her therapist was able to counsel her via Zoom sessions – a more relaxing environment for the patient – and actively workshop steps that reduced her anxiety about getting into her car.
Although shifting to telehealth so quickly presented numerous challenges, it is also brought to light the effectiveness of alternative approaches.
“Telehealth is helping agencies live the true value of person-centered care – delivering treatment remotely to those who prefer that option,” said Venkatesh of National Council. “While many questions linger, the rapid deregulation of telehealth opened the flood gates. It’s clear that virtual services have great value, and we’ll need to help regulators understand the need for a hybrid model moving forward.”
Nancy Ronquillo, CEO of Children’s Home Society of America, the oldest network of child-welfare agencies in the U.S., said that their members expressed similar sentiments about shifting to virtual visits and counseling with families. “For some families, doing a 15-minute phone call a few times per week instead of a one-hour home visit with an agency worked much better,” said Ronquillo. “When agencies were freed from their traditional boundaries, it helped them test and realize how alternative strategies can work better for some kids and families.”
Health and human service agencies were overwhelmed with the logistics of managing day-to-day operations, leaving little room for them to process new developments. Many of the organizations we interviewed took on this “processing” role, serving as a source of clarity on fast-moving critical issues.
When the U.S. Small Business Administration announced details about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, Children’s Home Society of America provided immediate guidance to its members so they could quickly plug into the application process. They also facilitated one-on-one calls between CEOs of its member agencies to troubleshoot the nuts and bolts of working with banks on the loans.
At (CCUSA), they have continued to push throughout the pandemic for the availability of stimulus funds and increased funding for programs like the Emergency Food and Shelter Program to support the most vulnerable of populations.
The Alliance sent communications about PPP almost daily, highlighting key details about eligibility, deadlines, and how the process worked. Many of the Alliance’s members said that without those communications, they would have missed out on the PPP loans.
Uncertainty continues to linger for the foreseeable future. Short-term changes are putting long-running challenges into sharp focus, giving nonprofit organizations a chance to think more creatively about how they deliver value to those they serve. We are inspired by the spirit of collaboration and resilience within the nonprofit world to continue to serve while tackling unforeseen challenges.
COA’s President and CEO, Jody Levison-Johnson recognizes that COVID-19 has been and will continue to be a game changing experience. “COA is continuing to evolve to ensure that our standards and processes provide the greatest impact on the people and communities served by human and social service organizations. We thank the entire COA community for all of the work being done during these challenging times to ensure the continuity and quality of service delivery to the most vulnerable of populations.”
If we can be of any assistance, please let us know how we can help.
We formally announced today the addition of our fourteenth Sponsoring Organization, the National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council), the unifying voice of America’s health care organizations that deliver mental health and addictions treatment and services.
COA Sponsoring Organizations are separately incorporated, nonprofit national membership bodies comprised of organizations that provide services that are accredited by COA. They share a goal of enhancing the well-being of individuals, families, and communities internationally through the advancement of best practices. Each Sponsoring Organization is represented on COA’s Sponsor Advisory Council (SAC), which advises the chief executive officer (CEO) and provides feedback on COA’s standards and processes.
In addition to having a representative on COA’s Sponsor Advisory Council, members of National Council will receive a 25% discount on their COA accreditation fee.
Jody Levison-Johnson, COA’s President and CEO shared, “I couldn’t be happier about this new partnership with the National Council. The depth and breadth of their knowledge, and their membership will help enhance COA’s ability to advance best practices in behavioral health through accreditation. We are so fortunate to have forged this new collaboration with such a strong leader in the behavioral health field.”
COA and National Council will collaborate on standards development, public policy, and translating trends in the behavioral health field to standards for providing quality services to communities.
“The National Council is thrilled to be a partnering with COA. As a membership organization, our priority is to help behavioral health providers deliver high quality, reliable care to those they serve, and this collaboration will help us further achieve that goal,” said Chuck Ingoglia, National Council’s President & CEO. “Together, we will tackle complex issues and identify vulnerabilities to improve the lives of those we serve.”
About the National Council for Behavioral Health
The National Council for Behavioral Health is the unifying voice of America’s health care organizations that deliver mental health and addictions treatment and services. Together with our 3,326 member organizations serving over 10 million adults, children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions, the National Council is committed to all Americans having access to comprehensive, high-quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery. The National Council introduced Mental Health First Aid USA and more than 2 million Americans have been trained.