May is Mental Health Awareness Month


Did you know May is mental health awareness month? This year marks 70 years since Mental Health America started mental health month to raise awareness. We’ve learned a lot in 70 years about mental health, the people experiencing mental health conditions, and which treatments are more effective. For example, we know that one in five adults in the U.S. experience a mental health condition in a given year and factors such as poverty, housing, race, education, gender and even zip code - the social determinants of health - play a role in the development of both mental and physical health conditions.  

Most importantly, we know we have more work to do to help people experiencing mental health conditions. Suicide is preventable with effective care and yet it is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Suicide rates are rapidly rising, especially among teens, young adults and veterans. Most people can experience relief from mental health symptoms through support, recovery and treatment, and yet less than half of the adults in the U.S. get the help they need and deserve. Prevention, early identification, intervention and integrated services work, so what stops people from getting help? Common barriers include the cost of mental health care and insurance, structural barriers like transportation, and prejudice and discrimination. 

Click to enlarge or download from NAMI.

Though I believe we should be working to address all barriers to treatment, prejudice and discrimination is the one that you and I can do something about because they are related to stigma. Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough in itself, and the isolation, blame and secrecy that is exacerbated by stigma stops people from reaching out and getting support. Stigma is one reason it typically takes ten years from the time early symptoms of mental health present until someone gets an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. Stigma is one reason why as a society we see mental illness and substance use disorders differently than physical illness and show less compassion instead of more. Stigma is what we are fighting by dedicating a month to mental health awareness. It is important that we talk openly about mental health, educate ourselves and others, show compassion and break down the portrayed barriers between mental and physical health. 

This is something that I am (obviously) passionate about and I have dedicated most of my career to helping people who are experiencing homelessness, mental illness and substance use disorders. I continue to work towards improving services for people with mental health conditions and through Koné Consulting I have worked on a statewide behavioral health assessment and on Washington State’s efforts towards Fully Integrated Managed Care. It is also why I am excited about starting a new strategic planning project with the University of Washington AIMS (Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions) Center - known for their nationally recognized Collaborative Care model of integrating mental health and substance use disorder services into primary care. 

 To learn more about mental health, find support or get involved in advocacy issues, please check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  

Take good care,


Small Business Week #TGIFPractice

In the spirit of Brené Brown’s TGIF, a weekly gratitude practice, and the fact that it is National Small Business week, please enjoy this quick TGIF rundown:


Trust - I trust that the “universe” will provide us with good work with existing and new clients in the coming year.


Grateful – I am so grateful for how far we’ve come as a company (especially since it is National Small Business week) and as we near our 10th anniversary in 2020 it’s amazing to see how much we’ve grown. We are grateful for all of our clients and partners who have joined us this far on our journey.


Inspired - I am inspired by the staff and managers we consult with who help tens of thousands of individuals and families in this country each day to have productive and healthy lives.


Fun - I look forward to having fun with staff at our retreat on May 31st when we are doing our own planning work and attending a varsity boys vs. girls HS soccer game benefiting the Special Olympics.


We hope you’ll consider practicing TGIF in the future.

A little timeline of some of our biggest achievements thus far (and some foreshadowing). Chart is heavily inspired by  Limina Co. ’s  small biz week graphic .

A little timeline of some of our biggest achievements thus far (and some foreshadowing). Chart is heavily inspired by Limina Co.’s small biz week graphic.

CI travel prep webinar is back!

Greetings all,

Are you considering joining us on our Travel with Purpose trip to Côte d'Ivoire or just curious how you can support this service trip? 

Join Alicia Koné and Christina Watson on one of the following dates to learn more about our upcoming trip to Côte d'Ivoire:

 CI Trip Prep - Itinerary Locations & Service Projects

Tuesday, June 4 @ 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM PDT

Friday, June 14 @ 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM PDT

Saturday, June 22 @ 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM PDT

Click here to register for an upcoming webinar


Registration is open now and our Early-Bird pricing ends July 5.

We want to hear from you! If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact us: | (855) 981-5663 23632 |

Highway 99, Suite F #225 Edmonds, WA 98026

Tulip and travel talk

Hello all,

Now is an appropriate time as ever to say happy spring! I recently was able to take a short day trip to Skagit Valley, WA to visit Tulip Town, one of the main growers for Skagit Valley’s Tulip Festival. May 1st was the last day for this season of tulips so I’m glad my sudden impulse to go visit the flowers was in time. $7 per person in exchange for a relaxing walk through the tulip fields is definitely worth it! Although it is too late to go visit this season’s blooms here are a couple tips for traveling to visit the flowers in the future:

  • If you plan on taking pictures (which you should) charge your camera!

  • Bring shoes you don’t mind getting dirty, you are in farm land after all

  • Plan bathroom breaks wisely as traffic can get heavy on weekends and there are no places to stop along the two lane road (Read The Stranger’s article for more info)

  • Pack a water bottle and some snacks for the drive

  • Bring cash to avoid that annoying ATM withdrawal fee (I forgot about this one this year)

  • Don’t walk in the flowerbeds, it’ll ruin the flowers - staff have posted reminders all over the fields, so please be courteous

Visiting the tulips has me in the mood for some more adventures and reminded me of our upcoming Travel with Purpose trip to Côte d'Ivoire.

— Katharina

Registration is open now and our Early-Bird pricing ends July 5.

If you are considering going, please stay tuned for an update on our next Travel Webinar series and make your deposit to secure your spot!

We want to hear from you! If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact us: | (855) 981-5663 23632 | Highway 99, Suite F #225 Edmonds, WA 98026

Calling our County Government friends!

In recognition of April National County Government Month, we’d like to honor the clients and counties we’ve had the great pleasure of working with and visiting over the past year.


Shout out to our friends in: Contra Costa, Fresno, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Francisco, and Sacramento Counties, CA; Boulder County, CO; Dixie and Levy Counties, FL; New York County, NY; Cuyahoga County, OH; Washington County, OR; Philadelphia County, PA; and King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, WA.


Your dedication to serving your communities, making lasting improvements, and championing social justice is one of the many reasons we love doing what we do. Your excellence in service is appreciated!


The Koné Consulting Team

This Photo  by Unknown Author is licensed under  CC BY-SA

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Introducing Erika Larimer

Howdy! Alicia told me it was high time I introduce myself as I’ve been with Koné Consulting since September 2017 and am a member of our communications and business development team (the irony is not lost on me).


My background is in public relations, namely in the arts and tourism, as well as a host of experience navigating special education and community resources for individuals with disabilities, first as the parent of a child with ID/DD (intellectual disability/developmental disability), and subsequently as a mentor/facilitator helping parents, students and schools work collaboratively toward communicating and supporting an individual’s vision for a Good Life – whether it be community inclusion, social capital/full agency, a good job, or dressing up as Gaston for Comicon (my youngest son).



I live in Edmonds, WA with my husband, Dave, our son Emmett, and visits from our adult twins Brady and Alyssa. My latest personal endeavors include sparking my creativity with a daily writing and drawing practice (see “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron) and training for a week-long backpacking trip at Mount Rainier (it helps that I am within walking distance of Koné Consulting HQ, and will often join virtual team meetings in person).


My greatest appreciation about working for Koné Consulting is being able to experience an authentic culture of continuous improvement, where creative problem solving is encouraged, and mistakes are seen as opportunities for growth - reassuring for this recovering perfectionist!


Finally, if you’ve been following us for a while, you’ve likely noticed an increase in blog posts and social media, special projects and our brand/logo update a year ago. Stay tuned for more projects and announcements in the coming year – hint: we’re celebrating!



Find Erika on LinkedIn

When women succeed, we all benefit

The USWCC is the leading advocate for women on economic and leadership issues. Click  here  to read more about the report

The USWCC is the leading advocate for women on economic and leadership issues. Click here to read more about the report

I’m proud to be the owner of Koné Consulting - it enables me to pursue my passion of helping improve government programs that provide health and human services to people in our communities, and I get to work with people whom I respect and share values.

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast that quoted some statistics from a 2016 Women’s Chamber of Commerce report that really struck me, and I haven’t stopped thinking about since.

·      Women own 9.9 million U.S. firms representing 35.76% of all firms and generate $1.4 trillion in revenues annually; however,

·      women-owned firms produce only 4.23% of all U.S. revenues;

·      70% of women-owned firms have less than $25,000 in revenues annually; 

·      only 1.74% have annual revenues over one million; and

·      only 10% have paid employees.

The obstacles women-owned businesses face isn’t just bad for women’s business. Those businesses contribute to employment growth as well, even more so recently. Total women-owned businesses’ employment has increased 21% since 2012, whereas employment in all businesses declined 0.8%. Furthermore, reports indicate when women work, they invest up to 90% of their income back into their families and communities, compared with around 35-40% percent for men.

“The obstacles to growth facing women business owners are dramatically impacting their business revenues and profits,” states Margot Dorfman, CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce. “These struggles translate into massive opportunity losses for business owners, their employees, families and communities. It behooves every American to call upon political, governmental and business leaders to take action to open the doors to opportunity for women-owned firms.”

Koné Consulting has had paid employees since 2011. For the past several years we’ve had gross annual revenues well over $500,000, but we’ve yet to break the $1 million per year gross revenue glass ceiling for women-owned businesses. When we do (and we are on track to do so in the next year or so), we will be among a very unique group of women-owned businesses.  We are proud to be in such rare company, but we don’t think it should be that way. We would rather be in good company – because we envision a future when the number of woman-owned businesses breaking the glass ceiling far exceeds 1.74%.

When women-owned businesses are contributing a larger piece of the economic pie, we can be certain greater strides are being made in all areas of our society, not the least of which are government and non-profit sectors.


To our clients, thank you for the privilege of serving you!

Our GSA contract certification

We are proud to announce our GSA PSS contract certification!


What does this mean for our future? As a federal Government Services Administration (GSA)  Professional Services Schedule (PSS) contractor, we can now prime federal contracts. The PSS gives federal agencies the ability to use a single contract to procure simple to complex fixed-price or labor-hour professional services.  Find us in the GSA eLibrary here!


As the summer federal contracting season approaches, we at Koné Consulting look forward to our debut on the PSS featuring the service and commitment for which we are known: providing high-quality, on-time deliverables with insight, integrity and a commitment to continuous improvement. So, if you’re another firm looking for a partner on a federal contract, please keep us in mind. Contact us for additional information or for our client references if we haven’t worked together in the past.


What does this mean for our existing clients? In some states it may mean we are eligible for a similar state-level master contract, making it easier for you to hire us to work with you. Regardless, we are pleased to continue our relationship with our existing clients and continue to provide all the services we have in the past. 



Most of all, we’d like to thank our clients and partners for supporting our work with your project references and referrals. It has been our privilege to serve you since 2010, and we look forward to many more years.  

AK signature.png


Owner and President

Koné Consulting, LLC

Universal Caseloads: A study in continuous improvement

Recently I was contacted by Jacob Kanclerz, a reporter from Michigan’s Independent Source of News & Information (MIRS News) regarding the implementation of Universal Caseload (UCL) models, which the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has adopted. Although we were not part of the Michigan roll-out, we have had the pleasure of working with many states and counties on continuous improvement of their eligibility business processes. 

As I mentioned to Jacob when he interviewed me, it is difficult to change business processes in a statewide organization the size of Michigan DHHS. Continuous improvement is a process of experimentation. Some experiments don’t work. The key is to learn from those experiments in order to figure out what does work and to continue problem-solving until the root cause has been discovered.   

Also, I was reminded of how small the world of human services can be when I learned Michigan DHHS has a new director at the helm – Robert Gordon – with whom we had the pleasure of working on an assessment project when he was at the College Board. Best wishes, Robert! 



DHHS Case Backlog In UCL Counties Drops To 17% From 40% 

By Jacob Kanclerz  

Shared with permission from MIRS News 


March 14, 2019 - The public assistance case backlog has fallen to 17 percent in counties where a new process has been implemented for handling casework, down from the nearly 40 percent a month ago, according to the most recent data provided by the state. 

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) acknowledged last month the delays in getting benefits like food stamps or Medicaid -- as well as long wait times for some on the phone -- were "unacceptable," and pledged to make a number of reforms (See "DHHS Head: Public Assistance Cases Backlog 'Unacceptable,'" 2/13/19). 

Among the changes to improve the rollout for the new system -- known as the Universal Caseload (UCL) model -- was to pull staff from non-UCL counties to help with the backlogs in the 50 counties where UCL has been implemented.  

DHHS spokesperson Bob WHEATON said the staff reinforcements have been deployed to handle the backlogged casework, which has been attributed to the increase of client phone calls that have taken caseworkers away from finishing cases. Wheaton said DHHS is prioritizing work related to pending applications so as to improve application processing.  

Since the 40 percent backlog figure from early February, the rate has declined each week to the current 17 percent. In non-UCL counties, the backlog percentage is just below 5 percent, according to the state dashboard on the UCL rollout.  

The staff redirection is one of several strategies being employed by DHHS. Others include breaking up the region that had grouped every Upper Peninsula county into one region, and limiting the times the phone lines are open to the public so caseworkers can spend time tending to cases at the beginning and end of the day. 

Alicia KONE, a Seattle-based consultant who has worked with half the country's states on health and human services matters, said if she were working with Michigan, she would advise the leadership to address the root cause. 

"How can we make the phones ring less?" is the question to be asked, Kone said, instead of having workers handle phone calls quicker, or redirect workers from other places to handle phone calls.  

"Nine times out of the 10, people are calling because they're wondering what's going on with their case because something is late," she said. "And that is a self-defeating cycle for an eligibility agency because the . . . more backlog they have, and the . . . farther behind they are on processing work, the more phone calls that are going to come in and the more people that are going to walk in their door." 

 Wheaton said the DHHS is working to identify the root cause or causes and is "prepared to implement new technology and/or processes to fix them."  

Kone has previously worked for the state government in Washington and has worked with states that have implemented what's also known as case-banking or a task-based model of handling public assistance cases, which is what Michigan has begun with UCL. 

Under the new approach, the old process of assigning a case to an individual caseworker goes away, in favor of a single case being handled by teams of caseworkers. The idea is to increase efficiency and make sure cases don't get dropped when an individual caseworker goes on vacation, for instance. 

As part of the new model, the state has also set up call centers with a universal phone number for public assistance recipients to dial into, rather than leave voicemails with their assigned caseworker. 

But as UCL has rolled out in mostly northern Michigan, people who interact with the system have described long waits on the phone and delays in receiving assistance (See "Calling DHHS In UP? Average Hold Time Is 96 Minutes," 2/11/19). 

Part of the problem has been state workers tending to the incoming phone calls, which has resulted in cases piling up (See "DHHS Bottleneck Causing Long Delays In Food, Heat Assistance Cases," 2/1/19). 

Kone said other states have seen varied results with these types of systems. 

"When it's done well, it's really just beautiful to see, but I've also seen poor implementations of it," she said. 

Kone said the biggest difference-maker in making this process a success is leadership: The leaders need to listen and make sure the people on the ground have the resources they need. 

That was echoed by Rachel CAHILL, an Ohio-based consultant who has done work for the Center for Community Solutions, who also said leadership is a key factor in rolling out this approach, as well as proper public reporting and staffing commitments. 

Cahill said she's seen both the bad and the good in Ohio, which is a county-administered state when it comes to health and human services programs.  

In Hamilton County -- where Cincinnati is -- Cahill said there was initially a bumpy rollout, but eventually, it recovered and the county's timeliness rates made it to the mid-90s. 

However, Cahill said other Ohio counties saw that and tried to replicate it -- like Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland -- and didn't get the same results. She said they didn't sufficiently forecast the needs, which led to the county not staffing up to appropriate levels. 


As a result, Cahill said people in Cuyahoga County started experiencing similar things that have been described in Michigan so far, like wait times that went "through the roof." 


Despite the challenges, the Michigan DHHS has said "we need to try to make UCL work" and "simply going backward should be a last resort."  


DHHS Director Robert GORDON said most states are heading toward implementing task-based case management systems. That's something both Cahill and Kone confirmed. 


"I don't think that it's realistic that states are going to . . . pump the brakes on the transition to case-banking . . . because it's always going to be seen as more efficient," Cahill said. 


"If I were going to run a health and human services agency . . . people would need to tell me why task-based models of work weren't the best ways to manage eligibility," Kone said. 



Agency Spotlight: SOS Children’s Villages –meeting the needs of orphans worldwide

Pictured above from left to right is Ladji Koné , the Director of center, and Mr. Kouadio of NGO WELL

Pictured above from left to right is Ladji Koné , the Director of center, and Mr. Kouadio of NGO WELL

As preparations for our Travel With Purpose service project, our Côte d’Ivoire based coordinator, Ladji Koné, has been learning about and visiting organizations which are working every day to improve the lives of Ivoirians.  

This week, Ladji would like to introduce you to SOS Children's Villages - the largest nonprofit in the world dedicated to children who have either lost their parents, or cannot grow up with their biological  families.  

Located not far from Abidjan, the SOS Children’s Village of Abobo was created in 1971 (the international organization originated in Austria in 1949 to serve orphans of World War II). In total, there are three such villages in Côte d’Ivoire, including Abobo, Aboisso, and Yamoussoukro.  

Funded through donations, SOS Villages provide children suffering from tragedies a safe, healthy home offering long-term emotional stability and educational opportunities, including a family framework which includes trained “mothers.” At 18, graduates transition to family homes in the surrounding village, continuing their education or apprenticeships. Alumni have become doctors, started their own businesses, are officers in the military, among other jobs. 

The playground at the center. The children were not photographed for their safety.

The playground at the center. The children were not photographed for their safety.

The Abobo Village orphanage Ladji visited includes a health center which offers vaccinations, a lab, and soon will have a maternity ward, all open to the community; boys’ and girls’ homes which serve 200 children in family-like settings (older children, 14-18+ reside in youth homes); recreation facilities for football (soccer), basketball and handball; and primary and secondary schools complete with computer room, canteen, and schoolyard. In the village surrounding the compound, the center supports over 500 children through a family strengthen program, designed to help prevent child abandonment.  

In a September 2016 Africa 360 media article, the Orphanage Director explained the tragedy of these children, “In this region, for example, it is customary for the tenth child to be considered a bearer of misfortune and to be ‘sacrificed.’ In Aboisso we have (saved) some of these children from death.” 


“The center faces difficulty training students in the latest technology,” explained Ladji of his visit to the computer room. Although there is some equipment, tablets are in short supply and internet service can be temperamental.  

For more information, to make a donation or sponsor a child’s tuition:  

About SOS Children’s Village Abobo Gare.  

Related: SOS supports girls’ education and vocational training through the Women’s Training and Education Institute.  

Recognitions include the Better Business Bureau (Accredited Charity), Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize in 2002, among others. 

In addition to SOS Children’s Village of Abobo, Ladji has met with Côte d’Ivoire’s National Tourism Office’s Director of External Relationships, Yao N’Guessan Grégroire to further explore partnerships for our Travel With Purpose program.