Ask the CEO: Jean Phelps, CEO of LifeLinks, Inc.

Recently, Jean Phelps, CEO of LifeLinks Inc. sat down to answer 4 questions that are on the minds of many Human Services leaders today. We would like to thank Jean for her time and her insights and it is such a pleasure for us to be able to share them with you:

CS: What do you think the human service sector will look like in 5-10 years?

JP: There will be fewer agencies in the sector as overall government spending on traditional programs is capped or cut off.  Agencies will merge or collaborate in order to retain market share and some will be forced to close. 

A greater focus will be placed on private pay or insurance coverage for programs that the government used to pay for.  For those programs funded by the government, regulation and oversight will become even more stringent. 

Less services will be provided overall, as a result of more stringent eligibility requirements for consumers.  

There will be more emphasis on families as caregivers with a focus on supports that are provided in the person’s home rather than in a program. This will result in less need for facility-based programs. 

CS: What does an organization succeeding in that sector look like?

JP: It would be nimble, flexible, and willing to try new ways of meeting the needs.

It would be both internally focused on quality, outcomes and measurement and externally focused on partnerships and collaborations that will enhance and augment internal operations.  

It would be well-partnered with government so that, to the extent that it’s possible, they can influence the coming change. 

CS: What major changes do leaders have to start planning for now?

JP: There are major shifts in funding methodologies.  (We were somewhat caught unaware, when we asked for and finally received a rate methodology for funding of state contracts. We didn’t anticipate the ensuing ongoing utilization review process.) 

Our workforce is dwindling in the immediate future there will not enough bodies to do the work required in human service.  As families become caregivers, staff roles will need to evolve to accommodate supporting families and for oversight and monitoring.

Organizations need to evolve to accommodate change quicker.  We will need to invest in and embrace a heavier reliance on technology and related infrastructure and resources to support service recipients and those who support them. 

CS: What advice would you give other leaders operating in today’s eco-system?

JP: Pick your head up and look at what’s going on around you.  Become informed; go to meetings, conferences, read journal articles to know what’s happening in and around your environment. 

Assert yourself as needed with authority and confidence into discussions that are happening about you but without you.  Create your image as a confident expert who brings added value to every conversation. 

View change and risk as opportunities.  Make mistakes and learn from them. 


Jean Phelps’ career in human services management spans almost 40 years.   Her strong skill set in the areas of administration and finance, programming and strategic planning along with expertise on issues related to developmental and intellectual disabilities has been instrumental in guiding organizations to meet their strategic goals.  Jean has been CEO at LifeLinks/ The Arc of Greater Lowell since 2008.  Since then, LifeLinks has expanded and re-envisioned itself, developing a reputation for high quality, innovative and cost-effective programs that support more than 600 individuals and families in the LifeLinks service network. 

Jean is a Regional Representative to the National Council of Executives of the National Arc.  Jean is the immediate past board chair of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) in Massachusetts, is active in AAIDD and is an AAIDD Fellow.  Jean holds an MSW from Boston University and a BA in Psychology from Clark University.  She lives in Saugus, Massachusetts with a very supportive and patient husband, a Norwegian forest cat and a not so patient Labrador Retriever. Travel (especially to the UK where her oldest son and his wife live), reading and coloring for stress relief fill her minimal free time.