Introducing Richard Hernandez, in his own words!
Hello Richard, thanks for speaking with me! Let's start from where it is most places start: the beginning. Can you tell me a bit about your journey into this field?
Sure André! I grew up in San Antonio and volunteered with the youth ARC in high school and in college, which is how I got exposed to the world of I/DD and that's how I become interested in the field. But I was also very interested in government and political science, so I went to the University of Texas and majored in Political Science and in Social Work. So I have two undergrad degrees, one in government, one in social work. And my first job out of college was working at a large state institution in Austin. The reason I started there was because when I graduated from high school in San Antonio, I moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas and fell in love with Austin and decided to stay after graduation.
Jobs were very scarce which is one reason why I ended up at a state institution initially; in addition to that, back in those days – in the late 70s, in Texas – there were no community based programs for people with intellectual disabilities. All there was in Texas were the large state institutions. Back then I can't recall how many there were but there were significantly more than the 13 that exist now.
After a year working at the state institution in Austin, I followed an old college roommate out to Southern California for a visit and ended up staying in California I worked in the regional center system for ten years. I stayed in the field but as of yet I had no exposure to being involved with a provider or a provider association. My connections were with initially the state institution – that was my direct service exposure, or else working in California for intake and referral agency and serving in multiple different roles there but never in the direct service provision. But you know as life happens I got married and had a family! My eldest child was an irony of life because my wife and I both worked in the field, we were both employed at the same regional center in Southern California, and our first child was born with a severe intellectual disability. She had a rare chromosome abnormality resulting in an awful lot of disabling conditions both medically and developmentally but, you know, it then became integrated in our everyday life.
We moved back to Austin in the early 90s and I worked for the state as the state I/DD authority and I served in the role of quality assurance. Then I got recruited by a small private agency called Community Options. I worked for them for about 5 years as the executive director of their Austin based program. From there I moved on to Mosaic where I spent about 5 or 6 years as executive director of their central Texas program, I was running Austin and San Antonio and some group homes in some outlying towns near San Antonio.
When I was working with Community Options, and then later Mosaic, I was heavily involved with the state providers association PPAT (Private Providers Association of Texas) and they were members of ANCOR. So I got involved with ANCOR and started serving on the government relations committee and started attending conferences, events, and participating in hill visits. I had already been doing a lot of legislative work on the state level so I was able to start putting my political science training into work. I became much more heavily involved with ANCOR as a result of that. When I moved over to ResCare, they created a position of Government Relations Director for the state of Texas because it was one of ResCare's largest states from an IDD perspective, and there were a lot of things particularly from a budget standpoint that were beginning to create some challenges for ResCare. So I became the full-time regional director but at that time just the state of Texas. My direct supervisor Ken Lovan was, a Legacy Leader at ANCOR, was also a member of the board of directors at the time and he was involved with the government relations committee so I got pretty immersed in the government relations activities at ANCOR working with some of the former staff there.
Quite the path! From Texas to Souther California and back again. In your work in those two very different states, what are some of the challenges you've faced in both?
Well I would say that the challenge is in trying to build strong coalitions in terms of good solid policy making, one of the real challenges we have here in Texas, and I see it here more than in any other states but I know it exists. There are different groups providing advocacy both legislatively and administratively and even though people have ultimately the same or very similar goals. The approaches are different and sometimes the messages tend to convolute each other so that creates a lack of reception on the part of the actual policy makers. Those people are generally bureaucratic people and they come up in the state or federal system without a lot of on-the-ground and in-the-trenches experience whether it be actually understanding the nature of what it takes to provide quality services, or, as the provider, to understand not only that challenge but also the challenge of trying to run a business that's being dictated by different regulations in multiple different ways.
I've experienced that for years both in my positions as a provider in operations and now in government relations and even to a certain extent as a parent. Trying to access the service delivery system that sometimes really creates barriers. So you know, trying to get all of the really well-intentioned and caring people all speaking with one voice is not just a challenge but it sometimes can be our Achilles heel. And if we can't pull it together, we're going to have a hard time influencing good policy. So, to me, I think that's a big struggle and I think that's one of the real benefits of having a single voice through our provider associations in any state but also a national association that can really coalesce the message in a way that makes a lot of sense and that people can build on from a consensus standpoint.
Absolutely. Given your unique perspective, what are some best practices that you've developed over the years?
I think from a best practice standpoint – because we are the service delivery experts and have grown up in the system and have learned from our mistakes and can see and identify the things that really have made a lot of difference and the things that have no value – we're able to identify from an advocacy standpoint provide input to the states on how best to help systems evolve. Our historical experience and perspective on best practices and the evolution and some of the innovation that we're doing from a technology standpoint. There's also a huge amount of dialogue that needs to happen still and I think it's critical at this early stage. We have already seen states attempt the inclusion of long-term services and managed care, so we do have some experience on what works and what doesn't work, so we're experts in that area as well. It’s a good time for us and we need to make sure we seize the opportunity.
Definitely have come a long way but there's a lot ahead too. In terms of what's ahead in the short-term I must ask, since you're from San Antonio, will you be joining us at the ANCOR Annual Conference this year?
Oh absolutely, I'll definitely be there!
Awesome! I hope you don't mind me asking you to be a temporary tour guide then! What are some things to look forward to if, like myself, you've never visited San Antonio before?
We're going to be in a downtown hotel on the Riverwalk, that hotel has access to the river barges that will take you up and down the river to all kinds of shops, restaurants, nightclubs. It's really great fun downtown on the river. If you want more traditional Mexican culture, you’re not far either! The farmer's market area where some of the best Mexican food restaurants are an easy walk or Uber ride from the Riverwalk. It's called El Mercado, and that area has a couple for great restaurants that I'm really very fond of. I'm not into shopping but if you’re into shopping you can get all kinds of good souvenirs there from traditional San Antonio stuff to traditional Mexican stuff and there's an old traditional Mexican bakery down there that has some of the best bakery pastries and stuff – I don't even have a sweet tooth but I love that place!
That all sound terrific and delicious! Well thank you for spending the time with me and we're all looking forward to seeing you in San Antonio! Thanks, Rich!
Thanks André, see you there!