What’s New With Connect a Voice?
Q&A with Founder Tom Shovelton
Welcome back to the Connect a Voice blog! Since it’s been a while since we’ve posted here, let us catch you up on some big news: Connect a Voice is now a Northwoods company! Northwoods is a leading provider of human services technology that’s also based here in Ohio. We’re excited for this partnership to further our mission to provide tools that improve the quality of care and help individuals with developmental disabilities succeed, while supporting Northwoods’ efforts to create more ways to change how the world performs social care. What does the future hold now that Connect a Voice is part of Northwoods’ portfolio? How did we get here? Catch up with founder Tom Shovelton in today’s Q&A. (You can also read more about the partnership in the press release: Northwoods Acquires Connect a Voice.)
Q: What prompted you to launch Connect a Voice in 2017?
A: The state of the developmental disabilities care industry is very manually intensive and paper-based. For me, with a career in IT, I looked at that and thought “there’s got to be a better way.”
There’s a personal side to it too. I have a daughter who receives services through the system, and I really wanted to understand what was going on with her care so I could help her team.
Her provider collected tons of data on what happened in her life every day, but that information typically got buried away in a filing cabinet somewhere that I couldn’t be accessed. This information was also crucial to her provider as it contained information necessary for billing and compliance.
I wanted to bring this information to light so that her provider always had what they needed, but also so that they could share that information with me.
Q: What were some of the key factors that influenced how you initially built the app?
A: Working in a supported living environment, especially with people with developmental disabilities, is a hard job with extensive documentation requirements. When we first started looking at replacing paper-based systems with a mobile app, the key was to keep it simple.
Our approach was largely rooted in my experience as a parent wanting to support the providers and professionals caring for my daughter. A lot of products similar to Connect a Voice are more focused on back-end office operations like timekeeping and accounting, but that’s not your main concern as a parent or guardian. The day-to-day care is paramount.
That’s why we built Connect a Voice for the direct support professional (DSP). The complexities of day-to-day care are a lot to handle, so we didn’t want to add more to it. Instead, we spent a lot of time observing how DSPs work and how they capture information. For example, they don’t really have time to review extensive documentation to get the information they need. They want to focus on the individuals they’re working with, not doing paperwork.
We built a system that not only allows DSPs to easily document information in the midst of performing care, but it can also organize that information into outputs that management could easily use and digest. For example, billing and compliance reports.
Q: How do you decide what features to add as the app grows?
A: Before we launched, we took some prototypes out to providers (that eventually became our customers) and got some great feedback. They understood the spirit of what we were trying to do to help staff out, while innovating and moving the industry forward. They also helped fill in the gaps and point out some things that me, as a parent, would not see but that were important to the success of their businesses.
Where the product is today is still based on listening to our customers. We’re always interested in hearing how to evolve the system to support their needs and improve their experiences.
Q: What are some of the features that have had the biggest impact?
A: Our biggest strengths are making it super simple to ensure providers accurately capture the information they need for service compliance, as well as billing and EVV.
When we first started, we were mainly focused on making it easy for the DSPs to know what they needed to do, when, and allowing them to easily record that the services were completed.
We realized early on that mobile technology also allowed us to build features that are critical to the business side. For example, we quickly learned how important Billing was to providers, so with the help of a few great customers, we were able to design a great way for staff to clock-in and out and record all the information they need for accurate billing.
We realized early on that mobile technology gave us the ability to track time simply by starting a clock in the background whenever someone logged in or out of the app. This allowed Connect a Voice to offer a billing solution, something that’s critical on the business side, even though it wasn’t our initial focus.
Shortly after, Electronic Visit Verifications (EVV) regulations started to arise. We jumped on it very early on so by the time providers were required to roll out an EVV solution, we knew all of the ins-and-outs and were able to deliver one of the simplest and easiest EVV solutions on the market.
Connect a Voice was already capturing data elements that were required for EVV, like consumer names, locations, and Medicaid numbers. This means the app can process these transactions in the background instead of DSPs having to re-enter the same information into another system.
When we rolled it out to our customers, most didn’t even know that they were EVV-compliant because we handled most of the work in the background. Again, the idea is not to burden staff who already have a very challenging and important job with data entry. We do that for them.
Q: What’s been your proudest accomplishment so far?
A: I’m very proud of our customers. It’s fun coming to work when your customers say thank you and they’re excited about the things we’ve done, even if it’s just the small functions we’ve added over time to give them a few hours to do care work. That interaction is probably what I’ll always remember.
Q: What led you to decide to sell the Connect a Voice? Why was Northwoods the right partner to acquire it?
A: Northwoods wasn’t our first suitor. Once I realized there was some outside interest in Connect a Voice, it led me to think about what I wanted for the company and for myself.
The original Connect a Voice partners had reached as far as we could go as a group. We needed an influx of people and resources to take the app to the next level. It’s always been important with Connect a Voice to work with people who get excited about our mission and understand that everything we do is for the people we serve.
I remember during one of our first meetings with Northwoods that Gary Heinze described the company as a caring, people-centered organization that wanted to help people help families. That was the moment I realized that these were the right people to take the vision to a bigger and better place.
Q: What are you most excited about now that Connect a Voice is a Northwoods product?
A: Northwoods is a great team to have. There’s new energy and a real opportunity to put some excitement into the brand, so I’m really happy about that.
I think there’s also huge potential to add some new innovations to the product to keep making it better. The raw resource capability, along with the creativity and passion that the team brings, is going to be very healthy for Connect a Voice.
Q: What else do you want readers to understand about direct support professionals?
A: DSPs are doing a very difficult job with providers that are overly regulated by government entities with limited funding. The challenges go on and on. It’s a very fragile environment—like a house of cards that could collapse at any time.
But amidst all that, there’s just some wonderful people that truly care about the people they help and are trying to make it work with the tools they have. These are some of the most amazing and hard-working individuals in the industry.
We’ve brought a lot of that spirit into Connect a Voice too. Some days you’ll win and some days you’ll lose, but no matter what you keep going and aim to make today better than yesterday.
Learn More About Connect a Voice
EVV Phase II: How DD Providers Can Start Forming Habits
EVV could result in penalties for DD Providers if not done correctly. Learn how Connect a Voice can help DD providers form good habits early on to avoid penalties.
Ohio EVV Phase 2 Has Begun – What You Need to Know
EVV Phase II has begun in Ohio. If you are an agency in Phase II of EVV, here is what you need to know and how we can help make it easy.
Digital Wish List for Operators Answered
Like many CEO's, COO's and Executive Directors, I understood the challenge of working in a highly regulated environment, providing services in a scattered site, or de-centralized, approach and relying heavily on dual entry (at best) and paper based systems. Having...