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Executive Suite: Janet Koch, Garden City

Janet Koch in her office on Nov. 18,

Janet Koch in her office on Nov. 18, 2014. She is chief executive of Life's WORC, a Garden City-based organization that operates group homes and day classes for those with developmental disabilities. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Government funding is changing for group home organizations that serve people with autism and the disabled, such as Life's WORC Inc. in Garden City, said Janet Koch. Recently named executive director after serving the organization for 22 years, most recently as chief financial officer, Koch must find new ways to meet the needs of more than 1,200 people with autism and disabilities who come to Life's WORC day classes and live in its 36 group homes in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk.

Following the recession, she said she's facing record-low fundraising, and a dip in federal funding as government shifts away from a traditional fee-for-service model. "They're considering managed care as an option, and that's involving insurance," said Koch, 44. "If you add another administrative layer for an insurance company, that's more money coming out of the dollars [for] the people that we serve."

In January, despite its financial challenges, Life's WORC plans to open a privately funded autism family center, similar to a YMCA, with classes, dance and art studios, a kitchen and activities to support families of people on the autism spectrum.

How are you coping with federal funding cuts?

All provider agencies are really trying to work together to create different types of corporate efficiencies so that we can continue to serve and not take the dollars from the direct-care staff. We're automating technology, we're banding together to maybe get better group rates on health insurance for our employees, [forming] group purchasing organizations for things like office supplies. [But] recruitment and retention are significant issues because we're not giving raises. If we have any excess dollars at the end of the year, we use that to give back to the employee as a bonus.

How were you able to afford the new family center?

We had gotten a $1 million donation. We'll continue to try to raise money, but it's often more difficult because people think the government is taking care of us. We have municipal bonds that we use toward the purchase. About two years ago, we refinanced our mortgages on about 16 properties and our interest rates [went from] the 7 percent range [to the] 3 percent range.

What kind of employment programs do you offer for the disabled?

We help individuals develop job preparedness skills, vocational skills, offer job coaching, and help with job discovery to help identify jobs. We have to go into a community to try to find employment -- people who are willing to employ our guys, and then we help to develop [them] enough so they can go work. The ultimate goal is that they can work independently up to and including transportation. We have individuals that work at Stop & Shop, at Best Buy, at pet stores.

CORPORATE SNAPSHOT

NAME: Janet Koch, executive director, Life's WORC in Garden City.

WHAT IT DOES: Operates group homes and day classes for those with developmental disabilities.

EMPLOYEES: Full time: 590, including 363 on Long Island; part time: 252, including 146 on Long Island.

REVENUE: $44 million.

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