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How Can Matching Service Registries Increase Their Impact?

April 22, 2019

Editor’s note: This article is the final installment in a three-part series highlighting online matching service registries around the country.

In Minnesota, as demand for personal care aides has soared, it has become harder to find new workers. From 2007 to 2017, the number of personal care jobs rose from 28,290 to 72,080, fueled by a growing population of older adults, among other factors. Over the same period, personal care job vacancies shot up from 210 to 6,620. In this context, nearly one in ten personal care jobs (8 percent) were vacant in 2017—twice the vacancy rate for all other occupations.

To address the worsening workforce shortage, Minnesota established a matching service registry in June 2017 called Direct Support Connect. Other institutions (like Centers for Independent Living) provide offline matching services in person and over the phone, but this web-based registry allows consumers and workers to independently post and reply to personal care jobs without relying on a third party. The intent of this new tool was to increase choice for consumers who self-direct their services, as well as decrease turnover and job vacancies by helping consumers and workers establish employment relationships that are better suited for both parties.

Since the registry launched, the state has registered new users at a rapid pace. However, one key question remains unanswered: is the registry achieving its desired impact? To explore this question, the Minnesota Department of Human Services recently focused on collecting user feedback, which will be used to strengthen the registry and deepen its impact.

I learned more about Direct Support Connect in an interview with Andrea Werlinger, a supervisor at the Minnesota Department of Human Services who administers the registry. She described how the registry started, the challenges they have faced, and their plans to better meet the needs of consumers and workers alike.

How did Direct Support Connect get started?

In 2013, the registry was legislatively mandated with broad support. The state, consumer advocates, and the local labor union believed an online matching service registry would improve workforce recruitment and retention by giving more control over employment to workers and consumers who self-direct their services. They hoped workers would use the registry to maximize their hours, and that consumers would have more choice in whom they hire, as well as optimize their chances of forming strong, long-term bonds with prospective workers.

The timing of the official launch of the registry was complicated. With funding through the 2015 collective bargaining agreement between the state and SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, the Minnesota Board on Aging launched the registry in 2017. However, since the registry was serving both older adults and people with disabilities, oversight shifted from the Board to our department, the Disability Services Division at the Minnesota Department of Human Services. We rebranded and relaunched the registry in May 2018.

What makes Direct Support Connect unique?

The platform is free for all workers and consumers who self-direct their services. Because Direct Support Connect is state-funded, we do not charge any fees, which sets us apart from many of the private registries and job boards that are available nationwide.

We also integrate the registry with other state systems. We ask workers to include on their profiles their unique Minnesota provider identification number, which confirms to consumers that workers have completed state-required training and a background check. We also encourage workers to list their learner identification numbers from DirectCourse, our state-funded online training program. Using this number, our staff can verify that workers have completed elective coursework and add that information to their profiles.

What were the main barriers that you faced in launching the registry?

In the beginning, timing was our biggest challenge. Due to the legislative mandate, the funding schedule, and the urgent need for this tool, the registry was developed and launched in just one year. There wasn’t ample time to thoroughly test its features and functionality with potential users. As a result, there are some limitations with the registry in practice.

How are you addressing those challenges?

Recognizing that we missed an opportunity when the registry first launched, we’re focused now on gathering user feedback. To help us identify ways to improve the registry’s functionality, we recently administered a series of surveys to Direct Support Connect users, including our Virtual Insight Panel, a volunteer group of people with disabilities and their family members administered through Disability Hub MN.

As one example of why this rigorous engagement is important, we learned that consumers have a hard time advertising open shifts on the registry. Currently, consumers can only advertise their weekly needs by day of the week and general time of day. For example, they can advertise a daytime opening (6:00 am to 3:00 pm) on Mondays, but they cannot advertise a shift from 7:00 am to 9:00 am, nor can they post openings for specific Mondays. This poses a recruitment barrier, as workers need precise scheduling information from consumers when applying for jobs. In response to that feedback, we plan to roll out a new job board function to promote connections among workers and consumers with particular scheduling needs.

What has been the impact of your matching service registry?

Currently, we have over 1,700 active accounts on the site. We’ve recruited 1,000 of those users in the past year alone—thanks especially to social media campaigns. And while consumers and family members have highlighted opportunities to improve the registry, they have also expressed appreciation for this resource.

In the future, after we implement the job board and related data collection systems, we will be able to capture the most important measures of success: the number consumers who hire workers and the number of workers who find employment. We’re excited to use those data to see how the registry has changed lives, and to identify areas where we can make further improvements.

What is one hope you have for the future of consumer direction?

In Minnesota, we’re working hard to make sure consumer-directed services are widely available and accessible. But Medicaid home care programs are often difficult to navigate for consumers—benefits are complex and workers are hard to find, among other barriers. I would like our consumer-directed programs to allow individuals to make informed decisions about their supports without depending on us, so they can truly achieve self-reliance. Direct Support Connect reflects that commitment to independence—it gives consumers the tools that they need to find and form trustful, enduring bonds with workers.

For an online map of matching service registries around the country, click here.

This blog series was funded with support from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (Grant No. H133B130034/90RT5026) through the Community Living Policy Center at the University of California, San Francisco.

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