Phillips Leads Services Division Through Busy Times
Dr. Curtis Phillips
Dr. Curtis Phillips is the new IDRPP Service Division director—and he comes to the job at a busy time.
The division, which includes Up to 3, South East Early Intervention, the Employability Clinic and Stride Services, has programs operating in several Utah regions. Plans are in place to grow even more. “We’re expanding throughout the state to more rural areas,” he said.
Phillips follows in the footsteps of Sue Olsen, who stepped down earlier this year. He is a physical therapist who has worked with the Institute for 22 years. He earned his Ph.D in Disability Disciplines from USU.
The expansion of the division is taking place both online and in-person. Free training and professional development are offered online through Project Early Echo (for early intervention practitioners), Project SCOPE (for practitioners dealing specifically with the families of babies impacted by opioid use), and Project Pyramid (for early educators, interventionists and families seeking to promote healthy social and emotional development).
In addition, services are offered in-person through Stride Services, the Employability Clinic (Logan), Up to 3 (Cache, Rich and Box Elder counties), Southeast Early Intervention (Grand, Emery and Carbon counties) and the Utah Assistive Technology Program (Logan, the Uintah Basin and Salt Lake City) in communities both inside and outside of Logan. Plans are in place to extend services to even more rural Utahns.
These services are especially helpful to people who are far from population centers. Some in the Uintah Basin may wait for months to receive a wheelchair, if not for the Utah Assistive Technology Program. People in Helper, Utah are able to receive early intervention for their infants and toddlers in their homes, even though they are far from a metro area.
The biggest challenge to providing services is staffing. The post-COVID employee crunch is still very much at play in the disability services field. “Up to 3 has had almost a two-thirds turnover in the last year,” Phillips said. “You just can’t find people.”
In the private sector, the job market is dynamic, with frequent pay raises (and higher product and service prices) to keep up with staffing demands. But IDRPP’s Service Division must stick to fixed contracts, with limits on the rates it can set for practitioners. It’s a problem all disability service providers are facing: workers can sometimes find better pay as a barista than as a person providing much-needed, direct services to people with disabilities.
Those staffing concerns made 2021-22 a challenging year. But through it all, the division still managed to offer services to 2,012 Utahns needing early intervention, assistive technology, or employment skills.
“We know that one in five people in Utah are affected by a disability,” Phillips said. “In the Division of Services, we recognize that the individuals we serve are some of the most marginalized people in Utah, and are proud to be a part of the solution in helping them live a full and enjoyable life. I’m personally grateful to those who work in the Division to provide these services, and marvel at their dedication. Everyone deserves a happy and fulfilling life and I am proud to be a part of fulfilling that need.”