by Connie McMullen
August 12 is Jane Gruner's final day of service to the state of Nevada as Administrator of the Aging and Disabilities Services Division (ADSD). She is retiring after working for the state over 32 years, and more recently having completed the difficult task of integrating ADSD to include generations that cross the lifespan.
Gruner took on that task in January 2013 when she was appointed administrator after a short stint at the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as Deputy Director. It is a position that has required guidance and critical thinking as ADSD set a new course of systems change.
"I helped set the foundation for the integration to go forward," Gruner said. "It gave me passion knowing that what I was doing would change the future." ADSD grew at an alarming rate, having expanded from a small division of 220 employees to almost 1,000 people statewide.
"It is a big organization now," Gruner said. "I will always be thankful that I was able to see that. It is an honor to make a system work for people." However, Gruner quickly adds it could not have occurred without all the advocates, partners, and providers that helped make it happen.
In watching the process it is apparent that strong leadership was essential to guide the integration. As with any change in direction there are many doubters, but for ADSD to consolidate there had to be support especially among staff. Not only did the state expand services to include all populations, but it also adopted the philosophy of Person Centered Planning, planning services with the person's individual needs in mind. The philosophy required training and dedication.
Another challenge that Gruner managed to overcome was working with and understanding the needs of populations she had limited experience with. "I had done work with the general age group. I had worked with seniors in my own personal life and people with intellectual disabilities. I had not worked on senior issues facing the state and the country."
A baby boomer who has an aging parent and sisters, Gruner says she now loves spending time with aging adults. "I am totally sold on senior issues." During her tenure at ADSD, a movement began to swell to place more funds in senior services. In the history of aging services statewide, there had never been such an active campaign despite the fact the population has and is increasing at an alarming pace.
"Seniors didn't have a voice," she said. "I feel like the Nevada Governor's Commission on Aging (COA) and its subcommittee's (Legislative Subcommittee and Strategic Planning Subcommittee) have really helped give seniors a voice at the legislature."
Prior to accepting the ADSD Administrator post, Gruner had no knowledge of working with the COA and statewide community advocates, such as the Washoe County Senior Services Advisory Board, the City of Reno Senior Citizen Advisory Committee, and the Senior Coalition of Washoe County. "The advocates really helped people see that change can happen, and I'm going to guess that Washoe County Assistant Manager Kevin Schiller had much to do it. Someone had to approve getting things done."
Schiller approved funding of a second meal for seniors enrolled in the Meals on Wheels program, enabling them to live independently in the community. Schiller also partnered with Access to Healthcare Network to fund transportation for seniors and people with disabilities. "All of these things have helped heighten seniors awareness to understand how they can get their voice heard, but it has also made a huge difference for our legislators and political lobbyist to understand that seniors are an important demographic."
Even more recently, "We saw it at the Legislative Subcommittee to Conduct a Study of Postacute Care." Committee chair, Assemblywoman Dr. Robin Titus (Dist.-38), and subcommittee member Senator Joe Hardy (Dist. 12), really were instrumental in developing legislation to enable people to receive care in the home after a hospitalization. The Subcommittee drafted several Bill Draft Resolutions that will be heard in the upcoming session.
Of the many things accomplished, Gruner is most proud of the Integration Plan, which spelled out the services that were being officially transitioned into ADSD, and a planning process that included all ages. "We have been true to the strategic plan," she said, adding, "I, myself, and the deputies are currently updating the plan and will be sending out information on where we are right now in the process. In the midst it's hard to know where we've been successful, but as we look back at all of our objectives and goals, it becomes really clear that we've grown in a way that makes services better for people across the spectrum."
One indicator of achievement for ADSD is that the division has met 98 percent of federal standards with the Early Intervention program for young children. "We achieved it for the first time ever. It's those kind of firsts that really help us recognize that together we are an awesome community that is making life better for all of our populations."
As she retires, looking back, Gruner said her goal has been to make ADSD a family friendly division for its employees. "I do believe in caregiving at every level. A lot of our staff is of the Sandwich Generation, caring for an aging parent and young child while working. We have an incredible group of talented young people who also need to take care of personal responsibilities."
Jane started her career in special education, and earned a Master's degree in Marriage and Family Counseling. She worked part-time in private practice, and in 1978 went to work for the state as a Professional Teaching Parent, Mental Health Counselor, Community Services Director, and Administrator for the Sierra Regional Center.