A lifelong passion for caring: carving out a path by putting people and families first
This interview marks the eleventh installment in the Making an Impact series, a collection of profiles and articles introducing some of our best and brightest leaders — individuals who are making tremendous impacts in the government sectors we serve.
Emily Isaacs, Manager, Clinical Services
Ms. Isaacs brings direct experience successfully implementing and managing statewide Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP) Assessments in North Dakota, in addition to over 14 years of experience providing quality-focused mental healthcare services to vulnerable populations. Her extensive experience includes effective program management, quality coordination, clinical management, child and family therapy, conducting comprehensive assessments, and providing individualized recommendations. Ms. Isaacs is well-versed in amelioration of the unique challenges facing youth welfare and is committed to managing assessments aimed at identifying individual strengths to foster best case outcomes.
A member of the Clinical Services team, Emily is working closely with state agencies to successfully implement the new Qualified Residential Treatment Program (QRTP) assessment requirement of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), which is aimed at housing foster children in settings that meet their resource and wellbeing needs.
We caught up with Emily who shared her story of how she has taken a personal passion for helping others and transformed it into helping state agencies affect change on the program and policy level.
When did you start your career with Maximus, and what was your first role?
I started with Ascend Management Innovations (acquired by Maximus in 2016 and now known as the Clinical Services Division of Maximus) as a Quality Coordinator supporting the Preadmission Screening and Resident Review (PASRR) Program, a federal program. PASRR is associated with nursing facilities that assess individuals with serious mental illness and/or developmental disabilities and ensure that people receive the appropriate level of care and services to meet their needs. I provided quality oversight of assessments, wrote individualized clinical summaries, and made determinations about the level of care and assistance needed for the individuals we served.
What inspired you to go into this line of work?
Before coming to Maximus, I worked directly with clients as a mental health counselor for nine years. I knew relatively early that I wanted to go into the mental health field. As early as my middle school years, you could find me on the school bus listening to others and trying to help them solve problems. I knew that I wanted to go into a field where I could be an advocate and make a positive difference in others' lives. I've had the opportunity to work with adults, children, and adolescents with substance abuse and mental health needs, and I've worked in a variety of settings, including prevention services, outpatient and intensive outpatient treatment, school-based therapy, and residential treatment.
Although I've had invaluable experiences in direct care, and I loved connecting with clients, I kept feeling like I had a bigger purpose and could really make more of an impact at the policy level. My current role allows me to work closely with state agencies to identify areas where change is needed and think creatively about how to help states make those changes.
What do you enjoy most about the work that you do? What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role?
I really love that I have found a place at Maximus that is tailored to my strengths. I am at my best when I'm working in a creative environment with the opportunity to help shape new programs and offer consultation to our state partners. In my current role, that means I get to work closely with teams across the entire organization – from business development and talking to potential clients about how we can best implement their program to operations and making sure we are implementing new projects in ways that inspire confidence in our client agencies.
I love cultivating relationships and building trust with our clients and stakeholders that set us up for successful programs and smooth implementations.
Are there any projects you're working on now that have you especially engaged?
One of the biggest challenges I've faced recently is that as we work with states implementing the new QRTP Qualified Individual assessments and remain committed to the goal of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA), that children receive care in the least restrictive setting to meet their needs. This is ideally a family setting whenever possible and can lead to deeper conversations about how to make sure that there are adequate community resources in place so that children can be safely diverted or transitioned out of residential care when clinically appropriate.
I knew that I wanted to go into a field where I could be an advocate and make a positive difference in others' lives.
What separates excellent programs from average ones?
Preparation. Anticipating risks. Setting boundaries and expectations. A client can tell when you have put in the work, have done the research, and are genuinely offering expert consultation. In preparing to mitigate risk, you really have to stay one step ahead and think about how a decision could cascade into detrimental trickle-down effects. It is impossible to plan for every possible scenario, but our team has gotten close on the most successful implementations I have worked on. In terms of setting boundaries, it can be easy to get caught up with the natural inclination to say yes to everything to make a client happy. However, it's essential to understand the contract and be comfortable speaking up when something is out of scope or perhaps raises a potential risk to the program.
If you could snap your fingers and solve one problem facing governments and the programs they offer, what would it be?
I would find a way to make sure that there were enough well-trained, safe, therapeutic foster homes out there – homes with enough support from their communities and service providers so that every child in foster care can have their needs met in a family setting.
What advice would you share with someone who wants to follow your example?
My advice would be to know your strengths and your value and have confidence in them. Then, learn to articulate those things. Earlier in my career, there were a couple of management opportunities that opened up following an organizational restructure – and at the time, I had only been in my first role as a Quality Coordinator for a couple of years. Although I didn't have a lot of leadership experience, I decided to apply because I was confident I could bring a lot to the position. That confidence in yourself is key. I would also say to anyone looking to move into a role with more responsibility to be willing to put in the hard work to take on any task that can improve your project. Be curious and take the initiative to learn new skills or about new policies and programs. Lean in, and be the type of person willing to look for the answer to a question or solution to a problem instead of waiting for someone else to solve it.
Who in your personal life has inspired you, and how?
I would have to say my father-in-law, Rick Isaacs, was a tremendous inspiration to me. Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2013, Rick faced his diagnosis head-on with humor and courage until he passed in 2017. He became an ALS Research Ambassador and received a National ALS Heroes award for his advocacy efforts. He really was an example to me of how to stay calm and handle difficult situations. When things happened that would stress others out, he would always say this is just new information we have about the situation, you get to decide how you react to that information.
How do you balance work and life responsibilities? How does Maximus support your work-life balance?
I have a beautiful, vivacious daughter who is almost a year and a half old, and she has taught me the importance of finding joy in everyday tasks. Maximus was so supportive to me as I navigated pregnancy, maternity leave, and new motherhood (during a pandemic!). Everyone has been especially flexible as my daughter has made some special appearances on Zoom meetings many times. I have also learned that it's crucial for me to make time to get physical activity and fresh air. I am truly at my most creative when I make time to enjoy those moments.