Dear NYSRA Members,
After three full weeks on the job as the new President/CEO of NYSRA, I’ve had the pleasure to get to know many NYSRA members, either at The Rehabilitation Summit, through involvement with the OPWDD “rate rationalization” effort, or other avenues. However, for those of you who I have not yet met, I would like to formally introduce myself and provide you with some background information about myself.
My professional experience begins most recently at the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH), where I served as the Director of Planning with responsibility for meeting OMH’s statutory planning requirements and implementation of significant portions of the recently released OMH Regional Centers of Excellence plan. From 2010 to 2012, I was the Administrator of NYS’ Medicaid Infrastructure Grant (MIG), where I worked closely with NYSRA and other organizations pursuing opportunities to promote competitive employment for individuals with disabilities (most prominent being the New York Employment Services System [NYESS]). Prior to that, I served as the Director of Mental Hygiene Services in the NYS Executive Chamber – a capacity in which I worked very closely with NYSRA and its member organizations. From 2002 to 2007, I was the Director of Public Policy for the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS), helping to forge a collaborative partnership between MHANYS and NYSRA that remains strong today, as evidenced by the recent Transition Age Youth Institute. I began my professional career in the field of disability policy as the Legislative Director for the Assembly Mental Health Committee Chair, Marty Luster. Lastly, for many years, I served as a part-time Direct Support Professional (DSP), providing Residential and Community Habilitation supports to individuals with disabilities through the Center for Disability Services in Albany.
While my professional experiences have helped me understand the systems of care for people with disabilities, it is my personal experience as the sibling of an individual with a developmental disability that serves as the foundation for my perspective on disability policy matters. My brother, Christopher, lives in a house in Syracuse with three other individuals with Down syndrome. Additionally, OPWDD’s Consolidated Supports and Services program has provided Chris the opportunity to hire two outstanding part-time DSPs to assist him with a variety of community activities. These activities consist of numerous volunteer sites with organizations throughout the greater Syracuse community where Chris finds value in the work and where he has found people who value his contributions. Most recently, Christopher is pursuing part-time employment opportunities – an exciting development for all of us in his circle of support, and Christopher too!
When I agreed to come to NYSRA, I understood that I would face some difficult challenges and I would need to make some significant changes that would likely be uncomfortable at first – “growing pains,” if you will. However, I also knew that with these challenges and changes would come opportunities for both personal and professional growth, as well as the opportunity to improve supports for people with disabilities so that they may strive to achieve their own goals. Likewise, NYSRA members face significant challenges and changes. For example: 1) Governor Cuomo’s recent call for a “zero-growth” budget will require providers to do even more with less; 2) As we enter a managed care environment, it is anticipated that the demand for increased accountability, performance and demonstrated value on providers will reach a degree not previously encountered. Some challenges and changes require advocacy to prevent outright, because they are misguided or it is certain they will result in negative consequences. Others, while not easy or comfortable, are necessary parts of life, development, and survival – like my infant son just now cutting his first teeth. I firmly believe that the “growing pains” associated with rethinking and revising the way in which we support people with disabilities will ultimately result in the opportunity to further foster opportunities for independence, inclusion, employment and life-enrichment – that is the mission of NYSRA.
Thanks to the outstanding leadership of Jeff Wise, Jackie Negri, and the NYSRA Board of Directors, NYSRA is excellently positioned to navigate these changing and challenging times, as well as to create and capitalize upon opportunities. It is my hope and expectation that NYSRA will build upon its reputation as a credible and respected voice in the disability community to enter into meaningful and productive dialogue with leaders and decision makers about the changes, challenges and opportunities we face so that NYSRA members can provide high quality services. I can’t thank the NYSRA Board of Directors enough for providing me the opportunity to serve in this capacity – I am honored.
Over the next several months, I look forward to visiting NYSRA members around the state, to learn more about your organizations, the way in which you provide services, and the families and individuals you serve. Input from NYSRA members about the services NYSRA currently provides or should consider so that NYSRA can best support and represent your interests and needs are highly valued. You can share those thoughts and ideas with me either as I make my way around the state, via email at Michael@nyrehab.org or by telephone at 518-449-2976 x106. And of course, if at any point you wish to contact me about an issue on which you believe NYSRA may be able to provide assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I look forward to working with you and leading NYSRA to best serve you, so that you may best serve individuals with disabilities and their families.
Very truly yours,
Michael Seereiter, President & CEO