Walk-through is Key to Understanding and Involving the Customer

Submitted by: 03/28/2014 by Maureen Fitzgerald

Larisa Traga, MSW, ASW, CAP was one of the lucky winners of a copy of The NIATx Model: Process Improvement for Behavioral Health, the prize for taking the “Test Your NIATx Knowledge” Challenge in the January issue of the NIATx E-news.

As a treatment specialist for Juvenile Drug Court with the Alcohol, Drug, and Mental Health Services of the County of Santa Barbara, California, Ms. Traga wears a few different hats

Larisa conducts county-wide interviews with first time adolescent offenders to assess them for co-occurring symptoms and substance abuse disorders. She uses a variety of screening tools to determine the offenders’ suitability for drug court, and also makes recommendations for further evaluation, mentoring, or job training, depending on the client’s needs.

In her role as a member of the Resource Support Team, Larisa provides assessment, case management, crisis intervention and therapeutic services at the Santa Maria county site where ADMHS co-locates services to DSS (department of social services).

“I work with clients in the welfare-to-work program to help them with any mental health, substance abuse, housing or family issues that might be creating barriers to employment,” she explains.

She also provides training and technical assistance on evidence-based practices such as (Matrix Model, Motivational Interviewing) to various community-based organizations in the county that provide substance abuse treatment services.

Ms. Traga was introduced to the NIATx model in 2009, through the California Regional NIATx/ACTION Campaign Learning Collaborative. In this project Beth Rutkowski of the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs/Pacific Southwest Addiction Technology Center and Kim Johnson, NIATx Deputy Director, conducted a series of one-day trainings on the NIATx model at five California sites. Monthly teleconference calls on the NIATx model followed the trainings.

Ms. Traga says she was immediately drawn to the NIATx model because of its effectiveness. “I’ve found it to be a great model for process improvement and have used it in my work since that initial training,” she says.

As part of the 2009 training experience, she conducted a number of walk-throughs at perinatal treatment provider sites in the county. “This helped me to understand what clients go through,” says Larisa.

When Ms. Traga began to work with adolescent treatment providers, she used the NIATx principle “Understand and involve the customer” in a project to assess services countywide.

Ms. Traga worked closely with the providers to conduct needs assessment of the juvenile drug court treatment programs. She also asked the minors involved in the programs for their feedback on the system. After learning that the services were inconsistent across the county, Ms. Traga gathered data and created a matrix of the services being provided countywide.

“I was then able to come up with a strategy for standardizing the program so that all of the juvenile drug court treatment programs would provide the same treatment across the county.”

Larisa has also incorporated the NIATx principle to understand and involve the customer in her current caseload of therapy and case management.

“With therapy clients, I request feedback from the client at the end of each session and use that feedback to improve my services,” she says, adding that the feedback always helps her make changes tailored to the clients’ needs.

By requesting similar feedback from case management clients, Ms. Traga learned that clients want more regular contact rather than “as needed.”  “As a result, I now meet with each of my clients within a month of opening the case then once every six weeks, depending on the client’s case management needs.”

Ms. Traga is excited about a countywide systems change project underway at Santa Barbara County. “Our county leadership is very supportive of quality improvement techniques such as NIATx,” adds Ms. Traga. She has done trainings on how to do a walk-through and conducting a rapid-cycle change project. “It’s an exciting time at the County of Santa Barbara, and I’m happy about being able to be part of it.”

Ms. Traga says she’s looking forward to reading The NIATx Model. “Continuous quality improvement models such as NIATx are imperative in any entity that delivers services and are the only way to ensure meaningful impact in the lives of the people we serve”.

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