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OPWDD member helps keep ‘the system’ working well

It’s very gratifying to be recognized by our peers for the work we do. PEF member Chad Willis got a taste of that recently when he was honored as the 2017 Central Office Employee of the Year at the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.

But he’s just too busy doing and enjoying his job to spend much time thinking about awards. In fact, Willis said his recognition is due in part to the relationships he has built with so many other hard working employees that he is well known.

Willis has 11 years of state service and is a “resources reimbursement program development specialist 2.”

Willis describes himself as “kind of a buffer and a liaison” between different groups of employees. He works for the Department of Enterprise Solutions in the Revenue Support Field Offices (RSFO) unit, which is responsible for oversight of nine RSFOs from Buffalo to Long Island.

“The field offices develop and maintain benefits and entitlements , such as Medicaid, Medicare and Supplemental Security Income attached to each of the individuals served by OPWDD,” Willis said. “These benefits support the individuals, provide spending money and help them live richer lives.” The RSFOs also operate as a Medicaid district and bill on behalf of OPWDD for services provided, as well as act as liaison with the state and regional operations offices and hundreds of private service providers.

It’s a complex web of laws, rules and regulations mainly from the federal level that directly affect the individual recipients and all of the public and private agencies and workers who provide their services. Those laws, rules and regs are subject to frequent change, and the computer programs that track and account for them need to keep changing with them.

Willis, who works out of an office in Rome, NY, said he is constantly meeting and talking with the service providers, following the changing laws, rules and regs and then working with the technical staff to identify and implement the needed software changes.

“We track everything about the needs and services for each individual client and how each of those services is paid,” he said.

“I’m kind of a systems guy, because I’m somebody who ‘gets’ systems and understands that everything we do at OPWDD is connected. We determine how well the system is functioning and we’re involved when we need to explain some necessary changes to the information technology employees,” Willis said.

His co-workers who nominated Willis for the recognition said he was instrumental in the successful outcome of OPWDD’s Social Security Agency Compliance Review in August 2017. They also said he works to develop policies, procedures and trainings that enable OPWDD staff to better serve individuals in state operations and he is “the backbone” of the annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment process within the RSFOs.

“Because of his proactive and detail-oriented approach to this time-consuming and important project, other employees’ jobs are made easier,” they said, and added his willingness to stop and help co-workers is appreciated along with his dedication to always maintaining a professional appearance even on “casual Fridays.”

Willis’ familiarity with the benefits for individuals served by OPWDD was a major factor in his appointment in 2016 to the Regional Long Term Care Council.

Always looking for better ways to do things, including his own job, Willis applied for and was accepted to participate in the Statewide Leadership Development Program in 2016. Participants in that program each undertake a project related to their state job, and Willis chose to update the RSFOs’ antiquated TABS (Tracking and Benefits System) Reports Manual to ensure the reports in each section are conducive to maximum efficiency.

“We’ve done a lot of work to the manual,” Willis said. “It’s still a work in progress. We are constantly working on it.”

Willis said the Leadership Development Program “really is a great program. It was a powerful and very inspiring experience. I learned how to ask the right questions. It helped to open our eyes to be doing it with employees from other state agencies, and I made a great contact with an IT systems person. I still turn to her sometimes for advice or help, and she sends me information.

Although his work is very detailed, Willis said change is the dominant factor and “every year you seem to find more to do.”

— Sherry Halbrook

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