Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities

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Open Communication Enhances Relationships

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by Jeff Smith, Suncoast Regional Operations Manager

In part, the Suncoast Region’s success can be attributed to working in concert with state office.  The last three years, the regions have all experienced a better level of communication and support between them and state office.

I have always stated, and believe, that we are in this together with the individuals, their families, guardians and providers.  We have worked to open up communications locally with providers and it is enhancing our partnerships.  The communication allows everyone to look at things objectively, and we can become more proactive than reactive.  I believe that we have developed more trust and synergy in the interest of the people we all serve.  This is proven by the fact that providers are coming to us first when an issue arises, and together we are able to be proactive.

Full Staff by January

The Suncoast Region is the largest region in numbers of individuals served, which means more work. Last year’s legislative session gave us the ability to fill 17 vacant positions.  We were able to promote within, along with hiring new people with fresh ideas.  The Suncoast Region is on point to have the original 17 positions filled by January 1, 2016.

Morale soared throughout the region.  Leadership had recognized that staff were overtasked with heavy workloads covering assignments outside their original position’s duties.  This region processes at least 35-40 Significant Additional Need (SAN) requests monthly while working on another 100 in process regularly. Our crisis tool numbers are also enormous; with reviewing as many as 12-16 crisis packets per week.  We also licenses close to 400 homes and with three vacancies this is challenging.

This crisis tool process was recently changed, and regions now approve / deny the crisis packets without having to go to State Office for review and approval.  The re-engineered process expedites the approval / denial procedure of the crisis tools.  For quality assurance, there is the ability of state office to randomly select tools for their review.  Again this points to better communication and trust.

Remarkable Leadership Team


I’m so fortunate to have followed Ms. Williams as the Regional Operations Manager, and also to know that Director Palmer and Deputy Director for Operations Tom Rankin had confidence that I could continue the successful path of the Suncoast Region.  I am also fortunate and appreciative of my leadership team.

I have recently promoted two people from within for the clinical workstream lead and quality assurance workstream lead positions.


Cynthia Wilcher is the clinical workstream lead, and hit the ground running.  Cynthia worked as a licensing liaison prior to this appointment.  She has a very analytical mind and her first activity was to meet with each Questionnaire for Situational Information (QSI) assessor.  Cynthia is working her way through her units to ensure they know she is there for support and leadership as she is learning what it is they do.

Tracy- Craver-Brickley

The new quality assurance lead is Tracy Craver-Brickley.  She was appointed to this position with experience as a QSI assessor, a waiver liaison, an APD trainer and training lead, and her work with the Delmarva remediation process in her previous positions.  Tracy too hit the ground running and is working to ensure quality results meet expectations.


I can’t say enough about what Michael Taylor brings to the leadership team. Michael took on the challenge of a waitlist general revenue (GR) process re-engineering project. The project soon turned into a reality in the Suncoast Region.  Having the individual’s case files now in an electronic format was the most labor intensive part of the project.  Other regions have started to follow our lead and are scanning their files.

Another part of this project was the creation of an annualized status letter that replaced our short form support plan.  The letter is sent to the family / customer and provides demographic information, the waitlist category, possible links to community resources and offers the family / customer opportunities to respond and update their information. This also gives people an opportunity to let APD know what unmet need(s) they might have.  It is my understanding that all regions are using the annual survey letter at this time.

Suncoast Region’s general revenue support coordinators now work a round robin system, which creates a more equitable distribution of cases and workload.  It is a more balanced process and any one of the coordinators can now assist any given family because of their access to the electronic files.  Michael’s leadership made this happen.


Michael is also the lead for community-based care (CBC) organizations working with children involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Dependency Program.  Together with Deputy Regional Operations Manager Shelia Mott they have fostered communications with DCF and the CBC organizations.  They created a training module to present to the CBC case managers to enhance and educate them on APD and how to get these children services they may need.  This assignment also requires Michael to participate in many formal and informal conference calls throughout the month.  Michael also is the point person representing the region on the quarterly calls that involve the DCF and APD state offices.

Sheila recently started overseeing the forensics unit.  She has improved processes, systems within the region, imitated a comprehensive database and developed better communications with the Judicial Circuits in the Suncoast Region.  Again, having improved communication with the courts; we now have an opportunity to be proactive in the interest of those individuals involved with the judicial system.  Part of the success that Shelia has been able to develop is having a direct line contact person to communicate within the Pinellas County’s Public Defenders office.  She has personally met with judges and public defenders, participated in a judicial seminar with representatives from state office and people involved in the judicial system statewide and attended the Annual Guardian Ad Litem Conference representing APD in doing so.  The hope is that Shelia’s efforts will represent a systems process that other regions will be able to adopt and use.

Sheila was also selected to participate in two break-out sessions during this year’s DCF Children’s Summit in Orlando.  It goes without saying that Shelia represented APD and the Suncoast Region with excellence.


Rhonda Sloan is the waiver workstream lead for the Suncoast Region.  She is respected statewide for her knowledge and work ethic.  Rhonda definitely has the health, welfare and safety of the individuals we serve on the top of her priority list.  Rhonda has proven more successful than others when communicating with the individuals and their families.  The region often times will rely on her to handle some of the more difficult situations because of her ability to connect with parents and providers.  Rhonda is probably best recognized as having played a major role in the Consumer Directed Care Plus (CDC+) program, now a waiver of itself.  The trainings and many of the systems and tools currently in use were created when she was the statewide CDC+ representative.  She’s also the only regional representative that is working on the development of a new statewide pre-service training curriculum modular for waiver support coordinators.  Rhonda is the pinnacle for the delivery of Medicaid waiver services in the Suncoast Region.


Karen Hartlieb, Suncoast’s administrative workstream lead, has an abundance of knowledge and experience with the budget and finance processes of a state agency.  I have relied on her for interpretation and direction when it comes to that part of the region’s operation.  She is coordinating the closure of our St. Petersburg office.  It was impossible to anticipate what would be involved.  She has facilitated every aspect of the closure from soliciting moving bids, working with both Pinellas County and the City of St. Petersburg, overseeing the movement of staff to the Tampa Office, and working closely with state office’s general services staff.

Answering the Intake Phone


I went to the support staff who answered the in-coming phone lines to find out how we could decrease their frustration of having to break from their assigned duties to take their shift of answering one of the three in-coming lines for the region.  Working with the support staff has allowed the region to use one support staff for all in-coming calls.  Dorann Kimble now answers all the in-coming calls, and does what 10 other people were doing in three-hour shifts at least two days a week.  Dorann is knowledgeable about APD, our service array and available community resources.  I am thankful for the staff’s input and ideas to streamline this process. Support staff now focus on their assigned duties every day, all day.  We are very close to eliminating three phones lines and using a single toll-free phone number.

The success of this project exceeded my expectations.

 We are Successful

The agency’s successes, in my opinion, are in large part because of Director Palmer’s leadership and commitment to the people we serve, their families and guardians, the providers, and the agency’s staff.  The consistency of having the same director for three plus years has also been an asset to our success.  Initiatives brought forth during the Town Hall meetings are still alive; better serving of and compensation for our forensic individuals; better care for individuals as they age; and assisting our waiver providers to grow their businesses are only three such initiatives. She’s keeping these goals alive.

Working in partnership with families, guardians, providers, Family Care Council, and state office is working for the Suncoast Region!

We are in this together.

For more information about the Suncoast Region, please visit: http://apd.myflorida.com/region/suncoast/ .


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