An investigation into allegations about employees at the Monett Area Extended Employment (Sheltered) Workshop led to a finding of "no evidence of misconduct." The conclusion was announced at a meeting of the Workshop board on July 13.
Director Mica Plummer said she had spoken with the handicapped clients, support staff, employees and parents.
"It seems that there was some miscommunication and misunderstanding by all parties involved," Plummer said. "As far as 'he says, she says,' we will just have to agree to disagree."
Allegations about the conduct of staff employed to run Workshop operations were raised by workers who assist the handicapped clients. Accounts of verbal abuse and failure to perform specific duties for handicapped clients were each reviewed by Plummer.
Most of the support staff who raised the issue are not employed by the Workshop. Families of the handicapped clients contract for the services of outside staff through a self-directed program supervised by the Missouri Department of Mental Health's Division of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. Others work for the Arc of the Ozarks.
At a board meeting on June 15, Plummer acknowledged there was a tension with support staff who accompany handicapped clients to the Workshop but who do not answer to Workshop staff. She said many sheltered workshops no longer allow separate support staff because of accountability questions. Several support staff accused Plummer of trying to eliminate their jobs.
"The board of directors and I want to see these programs work and keep our employees working," Plummer said Wednesday. "We have made up a list of rules for non-Workshop staff, which they will receive along with a copy of our handbook. All non-Workshop staff will be expected to follow these rules."
Plummer prepared separate guidelines for self-directed supervision (SDS) staff, those employed by Arc of the Ozarks and the job shadowing participants who come from the Southwest Area Career Center (SWACC). Supervisors from each program were present to discuss the changes.
The supervisors welcomed the better defined terms. Some asked for additional clarification.
Wanda Lefler, who coordinates 90 SDS staff for the Department of Mental Health in the multi-county territory overseen by the Joplin Regional Center, said the parents are the employers of record for the support staff. Plummer said she speaks to parents when she has concerns about support staff.
Robin Boring, with Arc of the Ozarks, said Arc employees are overseen by Patty Reed, who answers to Boring. Geneva Blue, with SWACC, said school staff have specific roles, mostly in teaching students how to be self-directed employees in the future. Problems with any of the job shadow staff should be directed to her.
Blue said school staff work to provide less instruction as the year progresses. Their goal is to develop self-directed employees who can enter the workforce after leaving school. Those with other physical handicaps, such as mobility, may be accompanied by a para-professional as well to address needs other than employment skills.
The Career Center may send from six to nine employees to the Workshop in the coming school year, Blue said. Because students come to SWACC from 14 school district, some may live outside of the Monett Workshop's service area and may not be able to seek employment in Monett after leaving school.
"We hope that if everyone is on the same page, we will not have these problems in the future," Plummer said.
One of the parents asked if her SDS employee would be allowed to return to the Workshop with the new rules. Plummer said as long as the rules were followed, she expected no problems.
Only SDS workers have the specific directive to assist handicapped clients to do their job. Arc employees' main purpose is to help with personal issues like eating. Plummer said the Workshop welcomes any effort from support staff that encourages handicapped clients to do their jobs better, though such direction may not be required.
Workshop board member Jane James said before any program involving support staff was terminated, proper channels would be followed to address concerns about specific staff members.
Since the June meeting, two employees of the Workshop were dismissed. Plummer told The Times the terminations were not connected to complaints voiced at the previous meeting. Concerns about the performance of each employee went back for at least a year.
"We are a board," said Chairman Mike Hemphill. "We're not here every day. That's why we have a manager and staff. If a manager says a person can't be here, we will accept that. It's not up to the board to decide who works and who doesn't.
"I think we've gotten better by long strides," Hemphill continued. "Financially, we're on much more solid ground than we've ever been."
A parent of a handicapped client who has been a client at the Workshop for more than 30 years said she finds the operation is now the best run that she has ever seen.
The new work rules were being distributed July 14. Plummer said a new handbook, last revised in 2002, was being prepared and would be handed out as well. Support staff will be required to sign an agreement to follow the newly outlined procedures.