Optimal Awarded Evaluation of the Summer Food Service Program Participant Characteristics

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in their efforts to reach out to small businesses, awarded Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal) a contract to study and prepare a report which documents the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) providers and participant characteristics. The SFSP was designed to ensure that children who benefit from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) do not experience a nutrition gap during the summer months when schools are not in session.

The project is composed of several major tasks:

    • Conduct a census of State Agencies from the 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and collect data from nationally representative samples of sponsors and sites.
    • Administer a sub-study of state and local SFSP staff from high and low-participation states to examine the differences in participation in SFSP and factors that affect participation by sponsors and children.
    • Conduct interviews with parents/caregivers of participants to augment the census and sub-study data, to gather descriptive information on the reasons their children participate in SFSP programs, how often the children attend SFSP sites, what could improve levels of attendance, and how the parents/caregivers of participants heard about the program.

The last major evaluation of the characteristics and impact of SFSP was released in 2003. There have been some significant policy changes to SFSP since 2003 that could impact participation in the program by children, sponsors, and sites. The research team will collect and analyze data to examine issues that pertain to how the SFSP operates on the State, sponsor, site and participant levels. As health and budget concerns increase, it is especially important that food programs directed toward children are structured as efficiently as possible to achieve the intended effects.

Optimal Solutions Group Appraised at CMMI Level 3 – Services

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Optimal Solutions Group, LLC today announced that it has been appraised at level 3 for Services (SVC) of the CMMI Institute’s Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI)®. The appraisal was performed by Abridge Technology. CMMI is a capability improvement framework that provides organizations with the essential elements of effective processes that ultimately improve their performance. An appraisal at maturity level 3 indicates the organization is performing at a “defined” level. At this level, processes are well characterized and understood, and are described in standards, procedures, tools, and methods.

CMMI Institute (CMMIInstitute.com) is the global leader in the advancement of best practices in people, process, and technology. The Institute provides the tools and support for organizations to benchmark their capabilities and build maturity by comparing their operations to best practices and identifying performance gaps. For over 25 years, thousands of high-performing organizations in a variety of industries, including aerospace, finance, health services, software, defense, transportation, and telecommunications, have earned a CMMI maturity level rating and proved they are capable business partners and suppliers. To learn more about how CMMI can help your organization elevate performance, visit CMMIinstitute.com.

Optimal Solutions Group Appraised at CMMI Level 3 – Development

Optimal Solutions Group, LLC today announced that it has been appraised at level 3 for Development (DEV) of the CMMI Institute’s Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI)®. The appraisal was performed by Abridge Technology. CMMI is a capability improvement framework that provides organizations with the essential elements of effective processes that ultimately improve their performance. » Read more

Occupation-specific Collaboration Among Local Stakeholders Key to Energizing Baltimore’s Economic Growth, New Study Finds

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Even before the current economic crisis hit the United States, the decline of domestic manufacturing, the rise of globalization, and increased competition for good jobs had created unprecedented challenges for low-skill American workers. These challenges have disproportionately affected older industrial metropolitan areas such as Baltimore, where the unemployment spiked to 5.8% in December – its highest rate this decade.1 In a time when companies are downsizing and Americans’ budgets are stretched, it becomes even more beneficial to local business and community leaders to educate and train low-skill workers in employment clusters unique to their metropolitan area.

“Collaborative partnerships represent the first step in a regional workforce development strategy that fosters employment opportunities for low-skill workers,” according to a new report, Employment Options for Low-Skill Workers in the Baltimore Metropolitan Area, produced by Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal). The research team included Laurel Davis, MCP, Joe Parilla, John Foster-Bey, MBA, and Mark Turner, PhD.

To strengthen local efforts in recruiting, training, and retaining low-skill workers, the authors suggest creating regionally focused, occupation-specific task forces that emphasize communication and collaboration among the region’s educational, government, nonprofit, and philanthropic institutions. The specific occupations that appear to be the most viable options for low-skill workers in the Baltimore metropolitan area fall within six broad categories: health care, automotive services, construction trades and heavy equipment operations, food service and hospitality, professional services, and sales. This timely research, funded by the Ford Foundation, aims to provide Baltimore area business leaders and policymakers with additional tools to use when making key workforce development decisions.

“Occupation-specific collaboration among these local stakeholders is paramount to providing job opportunities for the Baltimore region’s less-skilled population,” according to the report, which suggests a framework for coordinating strategies to include:

Concentrating recruiting efforts to make low-skill workers aware of available education and training options;

Emphasizing collaboration among training programs to address redundancies and gaps in the regional education and job training infrastructure;

Facilitating dialogue between employers and trainers to create programs that address skill deficiencies, provide remedial training, and outline career paths that clearly delineate connections between training and job placement; and

Pooling the collective knowledge and resources of workforce development agencies across jurisdictions.

The report also notes that three key strategies are necessary for the success of the establishment of any workforce intermediary: support from employers driven by employee demand; financial backing from the local philanthropic community; and dynamic, well-connected leadership.

The researchers used a methodology (adopted from a report by Jobs for the Future) to select locally relevant job clusters for low-skill workers in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Researchers at Optimal then performed a multi-stage analysis—focusing on local growth occupations, refining the list through risk analysis, and further refining the occupations via interviews with local community and business leaders—to select the most viable employment options within the Baltimore metropolitan area. “The 10 occupations identified through this study provide reasonable entry wages and an opportunity to grow wages over time,” according to the report. “These jobs represent the potential for careers.”

Against the backdrop of the current economic climate, low-skill workers in the Baltimore metropolitan area face stark challenges to obtaining good jobs in the 21st century economy. The report maintains that a competitive regional economy is not possible without a skilled, capable workforce. For Baltimore, this has historically meant attracting high-skill, college-educated workers to the region. However, building a sustainable economy also requires facilitating the movement of low-skilled Baltimoreans into viable jobs within sustainable industries. “A regional focus to occupation-specific workforce development recognizes that the movement of goods, people, and services is not limited by city boundaries or school districts,” Optimal researchers write. “Strategies that provide employment opportunities for low-skill workers in an increasingly regional economy must be created using regional coordination.” By identifying strategies for moving low-skill workers into viable career paths, this report represents a first step in this process.

Findings from the first phase of this study were presented at the Urban Affairs Association Conference in Spring 2008 and published in Retooling for Growth: Building a 21st Century Economy in America’s Older Industrial Areas (McGahey, RM, and Vey, JS, eds. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2008).

Download the full report.

1 “Civilian Labor Force, Employment & Unemployment By Place of Residence (LAUS) – Baltimore-Towson, Maryland Metropolitan Statistical Area (includes Baltimore City, and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and Queen Anne’s counties).” Career and Workforce Information. Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. 2008. 23 February 2009.

Optimal Studies Employment Clusters for Low-Skilled Workers

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In June 2006, Optimal Solutions Group (Optimal) was awarded a grant from the Ford Foundation to perform analysis leading to the identification of employment clusters for low-skilled workers. The grant requires Optimal researchers to utilize past research in the field to create customized models for a maximum of five metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) with the highest need for intervention. The final reports, which will be in a case study format, will include the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, and the resulting identification of viable job clusters. The case studies will also include detailed discussion of potential policy implications associated with employing low-skilled workers.

The project will be directed by Optimal’s President and CEO, Mark Turner, Ph.D., and will be managed by Laurel Davis, M.C.P., a Research Analyst II at Optimal. For further information about the Ford Foundation, visit http://www.fordfound.org/.

Optimal Observes Medicare’s 50th Anniversary

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) observed Medicare’s 50th anniversary in July of 2015. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the insurance program for retired persons into the Social Security Act on July 30, 1965. Since then, Medicare has included benefits for speech, physical, and chiropractic therapy; benefits for younger people who have permanent disabilities, end-stage renal disease, or suffer from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; hospice care; and most recently, prescription drugs.

In Medicare’s first year, 19 million people were covered. Today, more than 55 million people are covered. Medicare has been credited with the decline in the elderly poverty rate and the creation of thousands of jobs. Medicare has benefited from the Affordable Care Act because beneficiaries don’t have to pay out-of-pocket for preventative screenings, annual wellness visits, or personalized preventative plans. It is estimated that by the time the last of the Baby Boomers reach 65, close to 80 million people will be covered by Medicare. While Medicare’s growth has been a relied upon benefit for millions who need it, it also focuses on delivering cost-effective quality healthcare.

To observe Medicare’s anniversary, Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal) held a Brown Bag birthday celebration, complete with balloons and learning activities on July 24, 2015, where project teams that work with CMS spoke about the program, its history, and the role Optimal plays in Medicare’s continuing development. Optimal’s CMS projects include the Ombudsman Program Support contract, the Evaluation and Oversight of Qualified Independent Contractors contract, the Part C and Part D Reporting Requirements Data Validation contracts, and the Learning System Data Management contract.

Optimal Solutions Group, LLC is Awarded CMS Learning System Data Management Contract Real-Time Data Collection, Analysis, and Reporting

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI)’s Learning and Diffusion Group (LDG) awarded Optimal Solutions Group, LLC (Optimal) the Learning System Data Management (LSDM) Project. Under this project, Optimal is developing a system for standardizing and collecting learning event data from each CMMI’s healthcare innovation models to meet Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) reporting requirements.

Congress created CMMI under the Affordable Care Act and charged it with developing, testing, and implementing new health care models that improve health care delivery, provide improved health status for CMS beneficiaries, and lower costs. LDG (within the CMMI), is responsible for assisting model teams with developing robust learning systems built on a foundation of improvement science. In an effort to optimize the models’ outcomes, these learning systems are designed to share lessons learned and best practices in terms of model implementation and administration. Each model has a learning system designed to address the unique needs of that model.

As part of developing standard operating procedures for real-time data collection and reporting, Optimal is developing the LSDM Data Management, Analysis and Reporting System (DMARS) using its proprietary customizable software, Revelo™. The online database application will be hosted in a CMS environment and is currently making its way through the CMS approval process based on the Federal Information Security Management Act and the National Institute of Standards and Technology requirements and standards. In the interim, Optimal has implemented a secure manual data collection protocol Optimal provides training and technical assistance to stakeholders. It also maintains the LSDM community on the CMS Connect tool, and a collaboration site.

CMS Approves Optimal’s Authority to Operate

Optimal is pleased to announce that it has received its second Authority to Operate (ATO) from the Acting CIO and Director of the Office of Information Technology (OIT) at CMS for the Learning System Data Management (LSDM) Data Management, Analysis and Reporting System (DMARS) system. » Read more

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