Benchmark Transitions — Supplement 2

Continuation of Bulleted Items Regarding Benchmark Transitions.

 

Living Accommodations

The apartments provided by Benchmark accommodate all Extended Care and Transitional clients, and also Independent Living clients who do not elect to obtain their own housing off campus, or are waiting for something to become available. Benchmark has two separate gender specific apartment groups for this purpose.  They are fully staffed at any time students are present, including awake staff overnight. Staff have right of entry into the apartments. Apartments may have up to three bedrooms and house up to six residents. The agenda in the apartments is not just providing a place to live but also educating residents regarding how to live cooperatively with others.

Lunches are provided at the Outpatient Center; otherwise apartment residents prepare their own meals in the apartments with staff support and direction as needed.

In our experience, this is one of the more highly structured offerings among young adult programs.  Program participants are grouped in apartment placement according to gender, of course, and how far along in the program. Extended Care people are likely to share apartments with other extended care people, Transitional with Transitional, and Independent Living with Independent Living.

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Partial Hospitalization (PH)

PH involves 6 to 8 hours of clinical services 5 to 7 days per week. This time is entirely taken up with work under the clinical rubric required for insurance coverage at this most intensive level of outpatient clinical service.  This clinical service may be offered as either a substance abuse/ addiction service or a general mental health service.

This is a bit of a departure from the way service was provided prior to structuring for maximum access to insurance coverage, and leaves little time for other activities in support of the the client's individual goals. What has changed is that for the first month of Extended Care, the service provided must conform to licensing and insurance requirements. Much of what had always been done in that first month can fit in but the specific requirements do matter.

Then the initial programming for participants who had just entered Benchmark was just as structured but with a mixture of clinical and non-clinical service. For the client who remains in the program for at least three months, the total clinical exposure would be about the same, spread more evenly over three months, with more clinical time during the third month than we see when the clinical rubric is followed. Suggestion for families without insurance coverage: Inquire about adjusting to levels of service consistent with practices prior to adopting the insurance rubric.  We are not predicting that Benchmark would agree to this but it could lead to an interesting discussion.

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Transitional Living

This is the historic offering of Benchmark on which its great reputation is based. Guidance through the Transitional Living or Transitional Care process is under the direction of life coaches who may or may not be qualified to be therapists, but their role is different even if they are fully qualified to function as therapists. It is more of a teaching and mentoring role to equip residents to have the life skills to live independently and productively. It is also a setting where young adults can practice the use of what they have gained in therapy as they apply those gains to real life experiences. Participants in this phase receive non-clinical services described below and continue to live in Benchmark's apartments.

Benchmark's Transitional Living programming touches all the important bases to get lives moving productively. Services in Transitional Living, broadly speaking, developing the skills to succeed as an independent adult.  At the core of this process is a Life Coach. These life coaches are well trained. In addition to having a wide variety of resources at their disposal, these life coaches have the time and ability to get to know each student and identify needs that are not likely to be addressed effectively by the services routinely available at Benchmark. With the support of the team at Benchmark, the life coach will identify what is needed and then how to get it done.  As Benchmark students progress through the program, they spend more and more time away from the program itself and in town.

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Non-Clinical Services

As Benchmark has changed over the years, the practical, down to earth services that do not currently fit what insurance companies and some others think of as clinical, have remained an ever present constant. (We disagree with the insurance companies on this and assume Benchmark does to0, because these "non-clinical" services appear to us to improve outcomes from the clinical services dramatically)  See our page on insurance coverage, especially "Services Covered" and "Authorized Lengths of Stay."  Many young adult programs offer very respectable services in education, job readiness, work support, managing a household, etc. to a degree of quality which allows us to refer to those programs. However we have consistently experienced our highest level of confidence in Benchmark's ability to address the widest variety of needs of this kind, especially when surprises occur.

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Education 

Benchmark students have access to a range of community colleges, four year colleges, and online courses. Benchmark is happy to work with super bright college students and college bound students, but also encourages realistic career oriented education for students not expecting to seek a four year college degree. We take nothing away the fine work that Benchmark does with talented students with no specific learning disabilities. However, the historic and continuing learning support resource for students with significant learning differences is as fine an operation as we know of, including by comparison with some very fine specialty educational institutions which concentrate on learning disabilities.

Students who have not graduated high school frequently attend the Redlands Adult School. Back at the Outpatient Center, also currently known as the "Outpatient and Learning Center," Benchmark offers  educational support services that are notable for at least two areas: educational planning that includes but is certainly not limited to guidance in accessing the educational resources in the area and support services to help students succeed in the courses they take.  The latter support services range from simple help in organizing to intensive learning support for those with learning differences or disabilities. Many programs offer similar supports; few offer it with Benchmark's intensity, variety, and expertise.  

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Job Readiness 

For many young adults who have had problems and are well on the road to a stable, positive, very well respected lifestyle, and are motivated to do so, accepting the structure and discipline of the work-a-day world can bring many challenges. Benchmark assigns tasks to students with both to test their readiness to accept workday responsibilities and to instill work ethic. The usual procedures at Benchmark have the side benefit of preparing students to handle simple home repairs and some other tasks competently. As the students progress through the program, they are supported in obtaining local employment, starting with volunteer work if appropriate.  All of this is done with the support of life coaches, of who help with career planning.  As the students progress through the program, time commitment either to employment or to education becomes a major part of each student's day.        

Benchmark assigns tasks to students with both to test their readiness to accept workday responsibilities and to instill work ethic. The usual procedures at Benchmark have the side benefit of preparing students to handle simple home repairs competently. As the students progress through the program, they are supported in obtaining local employment, starting with volunteer work if appropriate. All of this is done with the support of life coaches, who help with career planning. As the students progress through the program, time commitment either to employment or to education becomes a major part of each student's day.

The unusual part of this is the emphasis on developing work ethic before the students seek actual work opportunities off property. Benchmark usually assigns specific projects to students early in the transition process so that they can build their work ethic under staff supervision. When those students apply for jobs in the community, if appropriate, Benchmark staff can speak directly to that student's skill and job readiness, as it has been tested in the program. That aspect of job readiness programing is very unusual; we actually know of no other program doing it that way.

One coach at Benchmark had his group of young men he was coaching appear in a coat and tie each time the group met. That was this coach's own personal approach; not a Benchmark policy. We are not certain that continues to this day. But it serves as a good illustration of the creativity of the Benchmark staff.

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Work Experience  

Benchmark coaches are "on deck" to guide these young men and women through these challenges. Although Benchmark participants are well prepared when they seek entry into the job market, the support continues. The coaches provide guidance through resume building (perhaps that was back up in Job Readiness), finding leads on who is hiring, interviewing, etc. When the participants are actually in job placement, the coaches are available to provide guidance as issues arise, which they will.  

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Housekeeping     

On National News this week (October 2017) from one of the major networks, we were treated to a surprise feature in which we learned that major companies, especially in the home appliance business, were investing in teaching opportunities so that upwardly mobile young adults could learn how to do their own laundry, cook simple meals, and attend to other basic responsibilities of life that older generations take for granted. That caught us "old people" at FamilyLight quite by surprise.  Benchmark residents learn these things well from the "Extended Care" time in the program forward, due to the fact of living in the Benchmark apartments under 24-7 staff supervision.  All apartment residents share in these duties. Where a resident does not know how to complete an expected task, Benchmark staff or another resident will demonstrate what needs to be done and how to do it, as may be appropriate to the existing situation. 

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Home Repair   

From the beginning, Benchmark put great emphasis on Home Repair skills. We think the emphasis on this back in the old days led people to think incorrectly that this was strictly a vocational program and not appropriate to college bound students. People who cannot take care of minor repairs themselves are headed for a very expensive lifestyle.  The learning process on home repair also gives great learning experiences with work ethic.

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Home Finance  

Most young adult programs we know of do a fine job with this.  Budgeting, balancing a checkbook, benefits of starting young to save, etc. are important to a successful lifestyle. Benchmark is right in there.     

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Cooking  cook

Most young adult programs are set up so that participants learn to cook, by reason of the fact that they live in an apartment, not a hotel with room service. In some places this seems to work by the "sink or swim" approach.  Others give very hands on direction in menu planning, food purchasing, and food preparation.  Benchmark takes this an extra step with Culinary Arts programming.  It is not enough to be able to prepare food at home; at Benchmark this is also about gaining the skill to do quality food preparation commercially.  

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Other Life Skills

Some of the Life Skills that are addressed at Benchmark are quite common at other young adult programs. Benchmark stands out in two ways: It puts more energy than most into those skills that pertain to responsible management of a home and has more flexibility to adjust what is emphasized to individual needs. We encourage you to see Benchmark's own page on life skills (verified October 18, 2017)

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Independent Living

This phase of a young adult's time at Benchmark is strictly adapted to the desires and needs of each young adult who participates in this phase.  At this point, the participant arranges for services as desired and needed. Many Benchmark's graduates move on to a university or a job in another city or on to the next phase of life and never become part of Independent Living.  Those who do might continue to live in Benchmark's apartments or in their own place in the surrounding cities and towns.  Frequently, participants continue to live in Benchmark apartments until they find their own place. Generally, Benchmark will continue to offer supportive services for as long as desired or needed. uuuuu

Students completing the Transitional Living program at Benchmark may then move into Independent Living. Independent Living services are extremely flexible. Participants may continue to live in Benchmark Housing under similar conditions as those in Extended Care or Transitional Living.  Or they may live in a location "off property" that they arrange for themselves or their families arrange for them. The services provided in Independent Living are largely "a la carte" and completely based on the individual needs of that person

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Rates/ Costs/  Payment   

(This bullet and the next two are based on our current understanding, October 2017. Do not act on this without independent verifying with Benchmark Admissions) Although we are obviously very positive about the changes Benchmark has made so that Benchmark families can get financial help from their insurance, we urge caution when the ONLY financial resources are insurance or other resources are quite limited. If you are in this situation and interested in Benchmark talk to Benchmark Admissions. They can help you to work with your insurance company to get as much information as possible about what your can expect, as well as helping to maximize financial assistance from all sources. We believe that Benchmark is best for young adults who can follow up the extended care phase which is not usually paid for by insurance.

Benchmark has always been reasonably priced for what it was and is. Families working with Benchmark need to be alert to additional costs beyond Benchmark's fees.  The most obvious example is educational opportunities.  Any and all educational services provided by Benchmark are included in Benchmark's fees. But courses at a nearby college or university will likely create an additional cost.  Where insurance benefits can be accessed, it is rarely possible to estimate accurately, in advance, exactly what insurance will cover.

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Maximizing Insurance payment 

Maximizing Insurance payment  What we write in this bullet is accurate to the best of our ability in October 2017,  but the legislation about health insurance and the attitudes about mental health coverage are both currently "moving targets." What we write today -- accurately for today -- may be entirely different tomorrow.  With the expenditure you could be facing, it is probably wise to invest in a consultation with an attorney with experience in making insurance companies pay coverage they do not want to pay before you do anything else.

If  you choose not to do that, at least start by inquiring of your own insurance company what benefits you have for residential treatment and/ or inpatient substance abuse rehab. If they respond that they do cover those service in whole or in part, then inquire about programming "in-network." They will most likely target programs that appear to provide a short term "fix." If you believe as we do that short term fixes do not work out well with young adults who demonstrate a need for this kind of service, you definitely do need legal advice before moving ahead.  Currently (October 2017) our clients who are using attorneys in these situations are getting more financial support from insurance than would have happened without legal help.  We hope this pattern changes in the near future,  but it is what we see currently.

One important point: we are not comfortable with the non-attorney services that contract with some programs to help clients to maximize benefits, especially the ones operating on contingency payment (they get a percentage of the benefits they access but have no other fees). Many programs are contracting with such services currently. Firms paid on contingency are are paid by what they collect, so they have the highest motivation to get money for the client. Right? Wrong!  What we see is  these firms cherry picking the cases that will produce the greatest reward for the least work. So far, October 2017, we see the best results from attorneys on a straight fee basis.

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We disagree with some of our colleagues on a few points. 

We are aware of some parents and some professionals backing away from Benchmark because of a perception that it is too structured and/ or operating for a lower functioning population.  We agree that SOME young adults will benefit from a less structured setting. We also agree that Benchmark, during the "Extended Care" phase is more structured than the entry point in many other young adult programs.  Our experience suggests that parents understandably have difficulty absorbing the degree to which their adult son or daughter has gotten into. We see many more examples of a family underestimating a son or daughter's level of need than overestimating it -- except when decisions are made in a moment of anger. A moment of anger is never a good time to make a major decision.

Quite commonly, families have problems seeing the level of difficulty of the young adult at issue here. They will endorse a less structured setting because they are looking at their perception of comfort rather than the best choices for the best outcome on this.

We know professional referral people whom we generally respect who have come away from Benchmark with a perception of Benchmark being appropriate for primarily for lower functioning people. Several realities contribute to that.

  • When families and professional referral people visit the facility and have a chance to hear from current students, mostly they only have the opportunity to interact with relatively recent arrivals, not those who have been in the program long enough to have been significantly impacted.  Those who have been in the program longer are generally out in the community dealing with employment, job readiness, and education.
  • In addition, the availability of services for those who are not four year college bound (and/ or those who have four year college degree potential but don't yet realize that) lead to the unrealistic conclusion serving those students compromises the ability to serve the academically talented. We have referred some top academic talent to Benchmark with very positive outcome.
  • In the past some the program components that look like weak version of vocational training have been really for purposes of developing a work ethic and in some cases, learning to handle household repairs.

We think one of Benchmark's greatest assets is sometimes a liability. Founder Jayne Longnecker Harper has a tremendous talent in working with parents who need guidance in interacting with their young adult son or daughter, especially with parents who have difficulty in keeping the son or daughter motivated to working with the program. That directness in communication is now part of the culture of Benchmark. Some parents resent the delivery of a clear message.  One parent put it this way: "I would like to kill the Benchmark staff, if they hadn't saved my son's life." You will not always like what they have to say, but you do need to listen carefully and do as they say. In a situation where you believe their recommendation is wrong, say that and learn their reasoning before you choose not to follow.  The same is true of her daughters and the entire Benchmark staff, who reflect Jayne's thinking. But we think more frequently a move to a less structured option is based on what we think is faulty reasoning regarding the needs of the young person and/ or misunderstanding of the student population at Benchmark.

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Summary  

The strength and success of Benchmark has always been about the creativity of the staff team that adapts to every client as a new challenge and, to some degree, a new approach. To be fair about, this is one place where we experience some difference between Jayne and the younger generation. As the younger generation becomes more influential, we see less inclination -- in the admission process -- to commit to young adults who simply may not fit into the existing group, but rather concentrating more specifically on those that they think are the ones who gain the most from Benchmark. But once admitted, they show the same dedication to that person that has always been the signature of Benchmark, and apply whatever creativity that might be necessary to achieve success. Those that are not admitted because of this are assisted in finding a more appropriate venue, keeping in mind that currently (written in October 2017) more varieties of young adult programming are available than was true when Benchmark was founded.

Some challenging young adults require originality more than others.  In this field, the term "individualization" is overused and under accomplished. In too many programs the (perhaps unconscious) attempt that seems to occur is to fit any new client into some rubric which has seemed to work in the past. Even in programs that are very genuine in their belief that they are individualized, what "individualized" actually means in practice is that they have a variety of rubrics to offer. One problem with that approach is that those programs are at a bit of a loss when they get a client who clearly does not fit any given rubric. But it is not just the outliers that benefit from the individualization at Benchmark. Jayne, in particular, in our experience, is looking first for what makes each client different and special, even when it seems that the client presents a pattern they have seen over and over again.

Benchmark Transitions is a family business which the founder is gradually passing to the next generation. If Benchmark Transitions is to maintain its quality in this process, the founder needs to realize that her son and three daughters are very different people from her and from each other and will not bring all of her talents to the business but are very bright, dedicated people who have the potential to bring entirely new talents and skills to the business. The younger generation needs to accept the fact that they are not their mother. We don't expect the younger generation to be less competent, but we do expect some shift in the strengths and weaknesses as the mantle continues to be passed. As that happens we further anticipate that the net competence will continue to grow. We believe Jayne and her son and daughters do understand this and are taking it into account as they move ahead.

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Last updated November 3, 2017

 

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