Beth Southorn, LifeSTEPS Executive Director and the newly elected chair of the American Association of Service Coordinators (AASC) recently sat down with AASC’s new president and CEO Michelle Missler for a conversation on the critical role AASC plays in the resident services field.
AASC is a professional resident services membership association and a national resource for service-enriched housing professionals. Its 3,800+ members assist elderly and disabled residents and families living in affordable housing communities to identify, locate and acquire the services and supports necessary to become and remain self-sufficient. AASC provides education, advocacy, best practices, leadership and networking opportunities for resident service providers.
As a member of AASC, LifeSTEPS participates in the organization’s highly effective resident services training, using our shared values and like-minded intervention approaches to train LifeSTEPS staff. LifeSTEPS’ thought leaders, including Beth, have played a key role in AASC’s training curriculum, speaking at AASC’s National Service Coordinator Conference and other educational programs on the subject of service coordination.
Here’s what Michelle had to say.
Q: As the new leader of AASC, can you tell us about your background and how you became involved with resident services?
My career has taken a journey that has come full circle and brought me back to where I started almost 20 years ago! I began my career as a service coordinator in 2003. That was my first interaction with this profession and as a young social worker, I immediately fell in love with service coordination. Following my time as a service coordinator, I continued to build my passion for the profession by moving into Quality Assurance for service coordinators and ended up leading a program providing this service to over 600 service coordinators nationwide. After 15 years, I pivoted from the field of service coordination and moved into health care collaboration where I gained incredible knowledge of the importance of addressing social determinants of health and collective impact. Prior to coming back to the service coordination profession at AASC, I was the director of the county aging services and learned a tremendous amount about local government and home and community-based service delivery. Service coordination has always been my passion and I am so excited to have returned to my roots to continue to advance this great profession!
Q: In which direction do you see the service coordination field heading? What’s ahead for service coordinators?
The work of service coordinators is imperative in helping vulnerable populations maintain affordable housing by addressing their social determinants of health. More than that, service coordinators are amazing relationship builders with their residents and within the communities at large. Service coordinators are phenomenal at helping reduce social isolation, improving health outcomes and positively impacting the overall quality of life for individuals. The future is bright for this profession to be seen as an integral partner to a variety of community, state and nationwide organizations.
Q: How does affordable housing work with services and supports?
Housing with services and supports equips residents with the connection to resources they need to stay in their homes. While some residents are aging in place within their affordable housing communities, they need support to do it successfully. Having a service coordinator who can locate nutritious food, transportation, and medical care drastically increases their likelihood of living independently. In fact, our research indicates that 93% of residents with service coordinators continued to live independently last year. Providing access to services and supports reduces the chance of a resident leaving their home for skilled care such as assisted living or a nursing home.
Q: Why are AASC’s services so important to residents of affordable housing?
For the last 22 years, AASC has served as an invaluable resource for service coordinators who work with residents in affordable housing. AASC provides unparalleled education, advocacy, networking opportunities and industry knowledge to over 3,800 service coordinators nationwide who serve more than half a million residents that reside in affordable housing.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the resident services field?
The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the vital work that service coordinators have been doing for decades. During the pandemic, service coordinators continued to do the important work of connecting residents to needed services, helping residents navigate changing health care programs and reducing social isolation. The importance of service coordination was undeniable during COVID-19 and continues to be today.
What sort of training and education does AASC offer to its service coordinator members?
HUD-funded service coordinators have specific training requirements that are tied to their funding. AASC has been the premier education organization to meet these training needs for HUD-funded service coordinators for more than 20 years. In addition to these required training topics, AASC is committed to offering timely training that is relevant to anyone who is in the supportive services profession. AASC provides these trainings through a variety of avenues such as our annual conference, webinars, on demand courses and our professional service coordinator certificate program through The Ohio State University.
Q: What are AASC’s top three 20022 policy priorities? How do you keep your members apprised of policy efforts and initiatives?
Our overarching policy goals each year are to: 1.) preserve existing federal funding and support for the service coordinator profession 2.) improve the processes, training, reporting, and overall standards related to service coordination and 3.) expand the reach of service coordination in affordable housing and beyond. We update our policy priorities and strategies each year but they always seem to fall into one of those three categories. For example, as part of our goal to support current service coordinators, we focused heavily on ensuring they had access to emergency support and funding through the CARES Act during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020. This year we’re focusing more on opportunities to reduce turnover as the job market shifts in response to the pandemic’s economic impacts.
We’ll publish the full list of our 2022 policy priorities in March. We encourage members to join us in our advocacy efforts through monthly Action Alerts, annual advocacy challenges and a public policy committee made up of AASC members.
Q: As President of AASC, what do you want people to know about your organization?
That is a big question! I think it is most important that we are seen as a leader in the industry and an advocate for the service coordination profession. As we move into the future, it is essential that AASC and our members are seen as great partners who are not only committed to improving the lives of individuals but professionals with demonstrated success in affordable housing communities across the country.