Press-Republican

March 30, 2013

Agency aims to enrich lives of developmentally disabled

BY LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — PORT HENRY — Mountain Lake Services’ leader says the agency has a commitment to the people it serves and the communities where they live.

“We want to let people know what we’re all about, the good work we do,” Executive Director Martin Nephew said in a recent interview.

“We’re continually assessing ourselves to see what we’re doing right and what we need to get better at. We want to be a better agency.”

Nephew has worked for Mountain Lake Services for 21 years, two as executive director. Sitting in the conference room at the agency’s Port Henry headquarters, he leafed through documents that describe the human-services agency’s many programs.

Those include residential care for people with developmental disabilities, home- and family-based support; a summer day camp for children; supported employment; Medicaid service coordination; an early intervention program; Essex Industries, a sheltered workshop that makes picnic tables and canoe accessories; and Mountain Weavers Fiber Arts Guild, where hand-crafted baskets are made.

EMPLOYS HUNDREDS

Mountain Lake Services started in 1974 as the Essex County ARC. It now serves 521 people with developmental disabilities and employs 727 full- and part-time workers at locations throughout Essex County.

A private, nonprofit agency, it has an annual budget of $42 million, with most of its funding coming from the State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and Medicaid.

The agency has a starting wage of $11.25 an hour for entry-level positions.

“We’re the largest employer in the county,” Nephew said. “In the history of the agency, we’ve never had to have layoffs.”

Friday, after the state budget was finalized with 4.5 percent less funding for agencies that provide services to people with developmental disabilities, he said Mountain Lake was not intending to lay off any employees.

The state had yet to define where  would be made, Nephew said, but “we’re preparing for cuts ... wherever possible without sacrificing services.”

‘EXCELLENT NEIGHBOR’

Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava and other supervisors recently toured the agency’s facility in Port Henry, and he said they’re one of the best employers in the area.

“They’ve always been an excellent neighbor, never any issues. We feel fortunate to have them. They do an excellent job.”

Minerva Town Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey said Mountain Lake Services has a residential facility in her town.

“We love the house in Minerva. We go and have lunch with them all the time.”

CHANGED DIRECTION

Many of the people Mountain Lake Services serves come from state facilities for the developmentally disabled, which are gradually being phased out.

Director of Clinical Services Sarah Louer said the state has just 12 developmental centers left.

“Their goal is to close those. (Then) the goal is to place (people) in their county of origin. They are (also) given the option of being released into the community. It’s their choice.”

There are daily referrals to their agency, she said.

“We are a needs-based program. We don’t throw the world at them. We offer a la carte services. Keeping families together is our goal, not institutionalizing.”

ENRICHING LIVES

Mountain Lake Services has residences and day-habitation educational facilities in Port Henry, Moriah, Chesterfield, Keeseville, Willsboro, Lewis, Wilmington, Jay, Upper Jay, Lake Placid, Elizabethtown, Westport, Mineville, Crown Point, Ticonderoga, Severance, Schroon Lake and Minerva.

“We strive to enrich the lives of people with developmental disabilities,” Nephew said.

“We work diligently with the people we provide services to, to help them become integral members of their communities and achieve all that they are capable of.”

Email Lohr McKinstry:lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com