Partnering in a changed world: the Network Operations Learning Collaborative

Aging and Disability Business Institute logoEditor’s note: The John A. Hartford Foundation, the Administration for Community Living and The SCAN Foundation fund the Aging and Disability Business Institute, led by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a). The mission of The Aging and Disability Business Institute is to build and strengthen partnerships between aging and disability community-based organizations (CBO) and the healthcare system. As partners in the Institute, ASA and n4a are collaborating on a series of six articles and case studies in Generations Today that highlight community-based integrated care networks.

This past January, the Aging and Disability Business Institute (the Business Institute) at n4a, with funding from the Administration for Community Living (ACL), launched the Network Operations Learning Collaborative (NetOps LC). The Collaborative provides community-based integrated care networks and network lead entities with the knowledge and skills to build and strengthen their networks’ operations, infrastructure and sustainability, in order to deliver home and community-based services through contracts with healthcare entities.

The NetOps LC is focused on networks that are past the initial development phase in their partnerships, though all network participants are in varied stages of those partnerships. (Editor’s Note: The Collaborative’s activities, scheduled to run from January through June, were paused due to the impacts of COVID-19; the schedule now runs through the end of August.)

The Collaborative’s curricula, delivered via monthly webinars, provides access to expert faculty who nurture Collaborative participants’ development efforts. NetOps was geared to help CBOs to grow into positions as Network Lead Entities that can then lead other CBOs in a community-based integrated care network—the overall aim being to modernize the entire aging and disability network.

The Curricula

In the initial webinar in January, participants learned how to set up a leadership structure, hearing firsthand from three networks that are already engaged in doing so. In each succeeding month, a new network presented and shared varied levels of expertise.

“We recognize that one of the hallmarks of Learning Collaboratives is that experts [the Collaborative members] are there in the room,” said Marisa Scala-Foley, director of n4a’s Aging and Disability Business Institute. “Having members within the Learning Collaborative see how others have dealt with various situations, no matter their stage of development, can help provide answers to particular situations posed by other members,” she added.

In the initial webinar, Collaborative members told organizers what they were hoping to get out of the Collaborative; this helped organizers to understand members’ progress in their development work as well as common challenges and successes. For instance, although the curriculum covered specific necessities people had within their individual networks, there was much discussion around the need for startup funds, especially to support IT structure.

Other main takeaways involved what members wanted to gain from the Collaborative network’s knowledge base, including information about IT infrastructure, contracting, developing a value proposition and building buy-in from healthcare communities and within CBO memberships. Collaborative members also wanted help with marketing strategies to further their networks’ reach.

Experts are there in the room, as Collaborative members.

As stated above, the curriculum for NetOps began in January with an introductory discussion and considerations for the lead entity; February covered financial considerations, including financing network infrastructure cost-modeling, and the do’s and don’ts of assessing contracts. May curriculum covered insurance and liabilities; June covered IT and infrastructure, a brief overview of health IT requirements and tools that exist for assessing different software packages and compliance concerns (including HIPAA IT); and July curricula covered quality assurance and service delivery training, contracting requirements, evaluating metrics for core performing members and increasing engagement between the nine members of the Collaborative. In August, Collaborative members will present the full operations plan, including action steps to move their plan forward, to the group for feedback.

Post sessions, Collaborative members received homework assignments in the form of thought exercises about what they had learned, key questions for their networking, takeaways from the webinar and how they might translate what they had learned into action.

“We want the Collaborative to be useful for participants in terms of identifying what steps they need to take immediately and what to do over the longer-term to get their networks up to speed on that [webinar’s] specific topic,” said Karol Tapias, deputy director of the Aging and Disability Business Institute. Collaborative members are asked guiding questions, and then tasked with selecting short- and interim-term goals for their organization’s partnership related to that topic. According to Tapias, all instruction is hyper local and useful to their members’ networks.

After the initial webinar, n4a reached out with questions to Collaborative members on selected topics to collect feedback on the curriculum; information was gathered via two sets of one-on-one calls to elicit more personalized discussion and to learn about any pressing needs members hoped to have addressed and how they could connect with additional resources.

As for measuring the Collaborative’s outcomes, members are being asked if they are progressing on the goals they set for themselves and, if so, how the Collaborative is helping them to fulfill those goals.

The Collaborative in a Changed World

Beyond the delay imposed by the advent of the coronavirus, Tapias hopes to reconvene Collaborative members to discover what has changed in their worlds and how their work has evolved. “This work becomes even more important in the long term than ever before,” said Tapias. “Integrated care is even more critical when people are staying at home all the time.”

The Business Institute leadership is thinking about the stories and innovations they’ve heard that have come out of networks in response to COVID-19. They are pondering how to build those innovations into CBO networks’ value propositions as these organizations continue to seek partnerships with healthcare entities.

“We know tremendous innovation is happening, but we need to harvest those lessons learned in the field, and within the context of existing contracts between CBOs and health plans. It’s an opportunity for increased, stronger partnerships between the two worlds,” said Scala-Foley.