NHS Human Services: Joseph Rocks, Chief Executive Officer

by HCE Exchange on May 6, 2011

The history of NHS Human Services dates back to the 1960s when President John F. Kennedy began providing federal funding for community health centers. As the Northwest Center, the organization was one of the first three mental health service units in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today they operate 670 facilities in seven states. They are one of the largest non-profit providers of human services. These services include programs in the areas of mental health, addictive diseases, intellectual and developmental disabilities, juvenile justice, autism, education and foster care.

Diversification and Specialization of Services

At first glance, NHS seems to provide a widely diverse slate of services. There is a philosophy behind their method, however.

“We look at the continuum of care in every single service line,” Joseph Rocks, CEO, said.

For instance, NHS currently has about 2,500 kids on the autism spectrum in their care. They begin by working with the autistic child at a young age, as do most providers in the country.

“For those who have to work with families of persons with autism, what is not recognized widely enough is that the entire family is affected.  For the siblings of the child with autism, and certainly for the parents, you end up with your life and needs centered on the attention of that one child,” Rocks said.

One answer they provide is day programs which allow families to return to some semblance of routine that may not be possible due to the constant care requirements of the child with autism. NHS currently is running 18 day programs for autistic children.

Then the child grows old enough for schooling.

“In too many instances… the public school systems, as much as they try, just don’t have the ability to give [the autistic student] in a normal classroom what they need,” Rocks said.

NHS now runs 10 specialized, private autism schools.

“It is not extraordinary for us to be waitlisted in the opening of a school by the time we open the door to the first student,” Rocks added. “We will continue to grow in this area.”

But what happens to the kids with autism as they become adults? Until recently, there was limited programming for these individuals beyond early childhood, so NHS began pilot programs to fill this need. By specializing in multiple areas, even when those areas seem to be so diversely separate in scope and need, they are able to further the continuum of care.

Rocks shared the following example: NHS has historically worked with individuals who have needed residential services after states have shut down their large state hospitals. “One of our first programs had six adult men. I believe the age range was 40 to 60, and they had a lifetime of being institutionalized. The state institution believed that these guys were mentally retarded, and the fact is they were autistic. When they came to us they had very little ability to articulate … they had no behavioral skills at all … a year in our program, and every one of those guys had the ability to articulate. They now live this remarkably recaptured life that should have been theirs for decades.”

“That’s the reward of the initial impression of diversification,” Rocks said. “We are diversified, but NHS is very explicit about our commitment to these two methods of growth—diversification and specialization—in order to provide a continuum of care.”

Growing by Reputation

As a non-profit organization, NHS has limited resources for marketing. “Our growth into newer states comes pretty predictably because someone knows that we specialize, and they have a need that they don’t find in their own state or their own provider community,” Rocks said.

They were selected to provide services in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina because of their reputation for providing community-based services in Pennsylvania.  The infrastructure in New Orleans had been decimated, and the city needed new models of care for the chronically mentally ill homeless because traditional forms of care were still not functioning.

“Once you excel and once people see the quality of care and your ability, the next question becomes, ‘What else do you guys do?’ In the last several months we have tripled our business in Louisiana,” Rocks said. “They want us to do more and more. They’ve currently got us at the table talking about an autism school. That is how we market.”

Becoming an Industry Leader in Technology

NHS is about $10 million into a technology investment that Rocks expects to result in the organization becoming the IT leader for its industry. They have heavily invested in Kronos to develop their state-of-the-art platform for human-resource management. They are working with NetSmart to develop an electronic client record, and they use a financial platform called Great Plains for their general ledger.

This sets NHS up to be a specialist in another service area, as well.

“We are in an industry replete with small providers. There is no way they have the access to capital, nor do they have the cash on hand to make that technology. Some of these providers are well-managed and they have a terrific mission,” Rocks said.

He predicts that the power of the NHS IT investment and platform is going to mean moving toward being the billing and accounts receivable manager for those smaller providers. “We’ll take their clinical record and put in the proper precautions and firewalls and confidentialities, and we’ll be able to hand them their client’s record.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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