RI Supported Employment Services Hampered By Lack of Trained Workers, High Caregiver Turnover

By Gina Macris

About 60 percent of all those who start training at Rhode Island College to provide supported employment services to adults with developmental disabilities drop out of the certificate program,  a factor that threatens reform efforts embodied in two federal civil rights agreements.

The drop-out rate in the training program at RIC’s Sherlock Center on Disabilities underlines a shortage of direct care workers in general and in particular a lack of staff qualified to meet the demand from adults with developmental disabilities for employment-related services and to satisfy the requirements of a 2014 federal consent decree and a companion settlement a year earlier.

The specialized training at the Sherlock Center includes classes and field experience in the nuances of supported employment services, from the time an individual starts looking for a job to on-the-job assistance, long-term career planning, and building good relationships with the business community.

The Sherlock Center is under contract with the state to lead the way in educating those who work with adults having developmental disabilities in the best professional practices, consistent with the principles of the consent decree, which puts individuals’ needs and personal preferences at the center of the services they receive.

Workers must successfully complete a course like the Sherlock Center’s before the state will allow private service providers to assign them to help job-seekers find employment that suits them and the businesses that hire them. The Sherlock Center offers its training tuition-free to those who plan to work in one of two pilot supported employment programs;  one funded by the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH),  and another run by the Office of Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Human Services.

The topic of supported employment, primarily the BHDDH program, dominated the discussion at the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force Oct. 10. The Task Force is a creation of the 2014 consent decree, which requires Rhode Island to shift from sheltered workshops and segregated day programs to inclusive day services, in accordance with the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision re-affirmed the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Vicki Ferrarra                   photo by Anne Peters 

Vicki Ferrarra                   photo by Anne Peters 

The task force includes representatives of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and various community organizations with a stake in the developmental disability service system.  

Vicki Ferrara, who represented the Rhode Island Association of People Supporting Employment First (RI APSE), a professional organization, said there was a 40 percent completion rate in the Sherlock Center training program.

She works as the Sherlock Center’s coordinator for integrated employment.  The group she represented at the meeting is part of a national organization involved in setting professional-level standards for various aspects of supported employment services.

Ferrarra said some direct care workers complete the supported employment training and then leave the field of developmental disability services entirely, often because of low wages.  

Others drop out of the course because they find the work too challenging, she said.

Still others cannot complete the classes or field work because the shortage of direct care workers is so acute that their employers call them in to cover vacant shifts on the job for basic health and safety reasons.

Ferrara said the state does not pay for substitutes while the regular caregivers are in class.

She said the direct care workforce must be stabilized before the state gains enough qualified job coaches,  job developers and supported employment specialists.

Many new hires leave when they realize the job of providing direct support to adults with developmental disabilities is complicated and carries many responsibilities. The average wages are estimated at about $11.50 an hour, including a pay bump of 36 cents an hour that is being processed by the workers’ employers this month. 

The average turnover ranges from 60 percent in the first six months to about 30 percent over 12 months, according to figures presented to the General Assembly earlier this year.

Ferrarra said workers should have at least six months’ experience, learning the basics of direct care, before they are sent to train for specialized credentials. In at least some parts of the service system, new workers get acclimated by working under supervision with just a few specific clients, learning their needs and preferences and strategies for cope with any challenges they might present.

But Ferrara said some workers arrive at the Sherlock Center for specialized employment-related training during their first week on the job.

In September, an official of the supported employment program run by BHDDH reported that the enrollment of individuals seeking jobs was 92 short of the available spaces, a maximum of 517. (Click here for related article.) 

On Oct. 10, Howard Cohen, a member of the Task Force who is the father of a man with developmental disabilities, said a lack of qualified staff has come up repeatedly when he has participated in other discussions about supported employment.

Ferrara provided information on the three-part training program at the Sherlock Center as the Employment First Task Force was considering recommendations it planned to make to the state about the future of supported employment services.  

Instead, questions arose on details that needed clarification, like how the clients for supported employment services have been selected, and how families that hire their own workers through a fiscal intermediary to support their loved ones can get broader access to these services. 

Brian Gosselin, Chief Strategy Officer for the state Executive Office Of Human Services, urged the task force to put its questions in writing and submit them to the state. Gosselin was involved in the design of the BHDDH supported employment program.  That pilot will complete its first program year at the end of December and is under evaluation. By year’s end, the ORS program also will be well into the second half of its initial 12-month run.

 

 

RI Has Missed Two Court-Ordered Deadlines For Holding Troubled Fedcap Agency Accountable

By Gina Macris

Continuing difficulties at the former sheltered workshop that stood for everything wrong with Rhode Island’s developmental disability system have caused new noncompliance problems for the state in U.S. District Court. 

The problems revolve around one private agency, Community Work Services (CWS), a program of the New York-based Fedcap Rehabilitation Services. But the state is accountable to the court for the way it manages its service vendors and for ensuring that adults with developmental disabilities receive high quality supports under provisions of 2013 and 2014 agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

 In both settlements, Rhode Island agreed to end segregation of adults with developmental disabilities – a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) – and instead to offer them the choice of supported employment and integrated non-work activities.

Community Work Services (CWS) was hired in 2013 to correct ADA violations at the former sheltered workshop, Training Through Placement (TTP.)  But CWS itself has operated under one form or another of state supervision for 17 months and nearly lost its license earlier this year.

Missed Deadlines

According to the latest report of a federal court monitor, the state has missed two deadlines; one, a July 30 date for improving the quality of individual career plans and another, June 30, for verifying the accuracy of data reported by CWS on its clients’ progress. 

Despite the state’s efforts to resolve inconsistencies in data, “problems continue to exist with the information provided by CWS,” according to a Sept. 7 report  by the monitor, Charles Moseley, to U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell.  

The state, the monitor, and the DOJ use that data to determine whether CWS is following the requirements of the ADA agreements. 

Blueprints For The Future

And so-called “career development plans” are not supposed to be just paperwork, but blueprints that allow officials to see in an instant how the services a client currently receives fit into individualized short-term and long-term goals. 

The plans are intended to reflect a key principle embodied in the ADA; that people with disabilities have choices in how they live their lives.  

The monitor also said 70 percent of the clients’ career plans were “unacceptable” and had not been improved in the month after the judge’s July 30 deadline, despite the state’s efforts.

For most of the 64 Individuals who are active CWS clients, the daily activities and yearly individual service plans didn’t line up with the long-range career development plans, according to Moseley.  

In other cases, the long-range plans were “well done”, but the plans were “not being implemented in a manner which aligns with the participants’ interests,” Moseley said.

Neither the DOJ nor the judge have responded on the record to Moseley’s latest findings, although McConnell has said in the most recent hearing on the so-called “interim settlement agreement” of 2013 that he considers himself personally responsible for defending the rights of about 125 individuals protected by the agreement.

Former State Official Now Heads CWS

Community Work Services, a Boston-based agency, came to Rhode Island in 2013 as a program of Fedcap, hired by Craig Stenning, then director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to get a jump start on turning around the state’s developmental disability system in the wake of the interim settlement agreement of 2013 and the broader consent decree of 2014.

Between 2013 and 2014, Fedcap was awarded a total of about $1.7 million in state contracts. In 2015, Stenning joined Fedcap’s senior management.

As part of the state’s arrangement with Fedcap, CWS took over Training Through Placement (TTP), which had used the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School as a feeder program for its sheltered workshop. There, adults with developmental disabilities performed repetitive tasks at sub-minimum wages, sometimes for decades, even when they expressed a desire to do something else.

At the hearing in May, Moseley, the monitor, told the judge that the number of former TTP clients who have found regular jobs in the community has remained “essentially flat” for the last four years. Most of the former TTP clients still received services from CWS. 

At that point, CWS itself had operated under one or another form of state supervision since May, 2016, for both programmatic deficiencies and substandard facilities at the former TTP building in North Providence.

CWS Nearly Lost License

In his most recent report Sept. 7, Moseley disclosed that state officials had notified CWS in early May – about two weeks before the federal court hearing - that they intended to revoke the agency’s license. But state officials changed their minds after a conference with CWS representatives, the monitor said.

Instead of revoking the license, the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) decided to give CWS one last chance by continuing the agency’s probationary status from July 1 to Sept. 30, with the possibility of only one more extension, until Dec. 31. The current status of the license is not clear. 

Moseley said CWS has brought on new staff, including a deputy director, a job developer and a new position with responsibilities for data and reporting.

According to the CWS website, it also has a new executive director, Craig Stenning, Fedcap’s Senior Vice President for the New England Region and the former BHDDH director.

Less than a year after Stenning’s departure from BHDDH – Governor Gina Raimondo failed to reappoint him – the DOJ and the monitor asked the U.S. District Court for assistance in enforcing the companion agreements of 2013 and 2014, citing a lack of progress by the state.

As a result, McConnell took up the combined cases and held the first hearing in January, 2016. Since then, he has held periodic reviews from the bench.   

Extensive State Oversight

Moseley’s Sept. 7 report described the extensive state supervision dedicated to CWS.  Licensing officials make monthly regulatory reviews of CWS. In addition, there are unannounced monthly visits coordinated with the state’s chief quality improvement officer for developmental disabilities. Supplementary phone calls and emails from state officials to CWS occur at least once a week.

Meanwhile, the state’s chief employment officer for developmental disabilities provides on-site technical assistance to CWS job developers, reviewing day-to-day activities and observing so-called “person-centered” planning meetings that are designed to put the needs and preferences of the clients first.

In earlier reports, Moseley has said the state simply does not have enough personnel to provide a fully functioning quality assurance program across the board to verify that some three dozen service providers are complying with the “person-first” principles and practices of the ADA. He has required DDD to take steps to create one.

DDD has 24 caseworkers and a handful of supervisory personnel and support staff to manage the needs of a total of about 4,350 individuals.  (About 3,700 receive day-to-day services,)

After learning that there had been little change at CWS since 2013, McConnell said he was angered on behalf of those who are “years late in terms of getting the services that the state agreed to,” according to a transcript of the hearing on May 23.

Addressing lawyers and state officials before him, he said, “The truth is that we all, you and you and me and then everybody else, have these hundred-odd people’s rights in our hands. “

McConnell continued. “I don’t take that lightly. I will use whatever powers that I have available to me to ensure that those individuals aren’t forgotten. Dr. Moseley always reminds me that we’re talking about individuals here and not alphabet soups and programs and whatnot. And this time it’s got to stick.”

Praise For Providence and Mount Pleasant

McConnell concluded on what he described as an “optimistic note” for officials of the city of Providence, who during the last few years have made substantial changes at Mount Pleasant High School, enabling special education students who otherwise would have been completely isolated to become part of the broader student body and to have school-to- work experiences in the community.

“Keep up the good work,” the judge told school and city officials. “It doesn’t mean you’re at the finish line, but you’ve showed us that it can be done.” 

A version of this article also appears in ConvergenceRI

 

 

RI DDD Officials To Discuss Next Steps in Shift Toward "Person-Centered" System

The Rhode Island Division of Developmental Disabilities has reviewed comments from 16 public meetings held since May on its intention to move toward a “person-centered” system, built on the idea that the primary focus of the division’s services should be the needs and preferences of each adult it serves.

DDD officials will summarize the comments they received from the public and discuss the next steps Wednesday, Sept. 28 at Rhode Island College and Monday, Oct. 2 at the Community College of Rhode Island in Warwick. Here are the details: 

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

TIME: 5:00-7:00 pm

PLACE: Rhode Island College, East Campus

             Forman Center Auditorium 030 (parking behind the building) 

             600 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Providence, RI

MONDAY, OCTOBER 2ND

TIME: 1:00 – 3:00 pm

PLACE: Community College of RI, Knight Campus, Room 4080

              400 East Ave, Warwick, RI 

              

 

 

Therap Gets RI Contract For DD Electronic Records

By Gina Macris

Therap Services of Waterbury, CT., a specialized information technology company, has won a contract worth $1,320,000 over three years, or $440,000 a year, to create an electronic case management system for the Rhode Island Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

The conversion to electronic records is expected to make record keeping much simpler for state social workers and private providers and to greatly improve data collection for the U.S. District Court. Through an independent monitor, the Court is tracking implementation of integrated, community-based services for adults with developmental disabilities under provisions of a 2014 consent decree enforcing the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, which reinforces the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Kerri Zanchi, Director of Developmental Disabilities, could not say exactly how long the new system will take to roll out but estimated it might be 18 months to two years before it is fully implemented. Some parts of the system might be operational earlier, she said.

The electronic case management system will give state social workers and private service providers shared online access to the records of each client receiving federal and state-funded Medicaid services through the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).  

Zanchi said Therap also offers a module to give families access to records, “but what it does and how we’ll use it, we’re not there yet. I couldn’t speak to that today,” she said in an interview in mid-September. A family module would not cost the state additional money, according to a spokeswoman for Zanchi.

Zanchi said DDD wants to build an electronic record system that responds to current operations and consent decree requirements.

“Our (DDD) system is changing and as it is changing we need to be evaluating the outcomes,” she said.

There is a work group which includes both state social workers and private service providers to help identify “the specific data needs” that must be built into the electronic records system, she said.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, said that “as much as we can do to expedite this, we will. We want to have this up and running as soon as possible.”

The lack of adequate data has made it difficult for the U.S. Department of Justice and the consent decree monitor to evaluate the state’s implementation efforts. About a year ago, the state devised an method of working around the limitations of the existing 30-year-old data system that can respond to specific questions from the monitor or the DOJ, but not on a real-time basis.

This patchwork approach enlists data collected quarterly by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

Therap and seven other vendors submitted applications for the electronic records contract in the fall of 2016. Zanchi and Boss said the contract was awarded at the end of the summer.

Therap also holds an electronic records contract for the investigatory unit of BHDDH, which deals with complaints of neglect and abuse. That contract was awarded in 2016, but no other details were immediately available.

Therap’s website describes the company as the leading provider of electronic health records for people with intellectual disabilities, with customers in 50 states and foreign countries.

This article has been updated with additional details on the Therap contract and those working with Therap to roll out the system. 

 

RI DD Workers To Get Average 36-Cent Hourly Pay Bump After Oct. 1; Retroactive Checks To Follow

By Gina Macris

Revised calculations indicate that the estimated hourly wage increase for those providing direct care to adults with development disabilities will be an average of 36 cents an hour, or 6 cents less than the 42 cents an hour that was originally estimated last spring.

 The 36-cent increase will push the average hourly rate, before taxes, to $11.50.

A memo to developmental disability service organizations from the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) dated Sept. 21 said the raises will be embedded in increased reimbursement rates to private service providers scheduled to kick in Oct. 1.

The lower figure resulted from unanticipated increases related to the number of hours of service that have been billed to the state for a variety of reasons, according to state Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, first vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a close follower of developmental disability finances.

DiPalma likened the situation to the number of people getting served from a single pie.  In this case, the pie is the $6 million the General Assembly earmarked for raises. But the number of service hours, or slices of pie, has gone up. That means that the size of the portions, or the average increase, will be smaller. 

The DDD memo spelled out the factors in the calculations: “the numbers of consumers served, the provision of more individualized and costly services, the expansion of employment supports, as well as supplemental authorizations to address the acuity needs of consumers.” 

In a hearing chaired by DiPalma Sept. 21, Rebecca Boss, director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), said that a continued trend toward “higher acuity,” or greater individual need, will result in “unanticipated stressors in the budget.” 

Because the General Assembly specified in budget language that the raises were to be effective July 1, the private service agencies and their workers will get retroactivity. Although October paychecks will reflect the raise, retroactive payments covering July-September  “should be made available to DDOs (developmental disability organizations) by the end of October 2017 or early November 2017 for disbursement, “ according to the memo.

The current average hourly rate for direct care workers is about $11.14, according to a trade association, with the actual rate varying from one agency to another, depending on many factors, including benefits and other overhead costs. Employee-related overhead is included in the higher rates the state must pay the private agencies. The employers, in turn, put the raises into employee paychecks. 

Recent Trend Toward Higher DD Costs Could Upset RI Budget, Directer Tells Senate Finance Panel

By Gina Macris

Higher costs for providing services to adults with developmental disabilities could lead to “unanticipated stressors” in Rhode Island’s current budget, Rebecca Boss told a Senate Finance Committee subcommittee Sept. 21.

Boss, the new Director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), also said that for a number of reasons, the department won’t be able to get private-payer reimbursements to offset $3.2 million in Medicaid costs at the Eleanor Slater Hospital as envisioned by the General Assembly when it passed the budget for the current fiscal year. 

Boss was one of several human services officials who testified before the Human Services Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee about early fiscal projections on Medicaid-funded programs, considered a barometer of the state’s ability to balance the books for the fiscal year which ends next June 30.

Nearly a year ago, BHDDH updated a highly-scripted multiple choice questionnaire used to determine the level of disability – and individual funding – for adults with intellectual challenges. The changes were intended to improve the accuracy of the assessment, the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS).

Although Boss gave no figures, she said the SIS results so far “seem to be trending toward higher acuity” or greater individual needs.  If that trend continues, it will lead to “unanticipated stressors in the budget,”  she said.

Boss said she would know more after the close of the first fiscal quarter Sept. 30.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the subcommittee chairman, pressed for a specific date when she would have firmer figures.  Failing to get one, he set Oct. 15 as a deadline for BHDDH to provide additional information on the budgetary impact of the revised SIS. 

DiPalma asked if there is a correlation between increased allocations to individuals and a decline in appeals of SIS results from families and service providers who believe the amount of money awarded is inadequate to fulfill the needs of clients.

Depending on the SIS results, individuals receive one of five funding levels, but appeals, often successful, result in supplemental payments. In the current budget, BHDDH has earmarked $22 million for supplemental payments, which is about ten percent of all reimbursements that go to private service providers.  When the BHDDH budget was before the General Assembly last spring, DiPalma said the supplemental payments were too high, suggesting that the underlying funding mechanism was not working.

On Thursday, Boss said there is some correlation between higher funding authorizations and fewer appeals, but part of the trend is that young adults newly approved for services are generally scoring higher on the revised SIS than their counterparts did before the SIS was updated last year. In the cases of young adults, she said, there is no history of appeals.

In response to a question from DiPalma, Boss said a backlog in applications from young adults discovered in 2016 was eliminated and has not reappeared.

Boss said the increased costs of providing developmental disability services are occurring in the context of a shift toward greater individualization of daytime services and more integrated, community-based residential options required by a 2014 federal consent decree and a new Medicaid Rule on Home and Community Based Services (HCBS).

Daytime services in the community are more expensive because they require more staff than day programs based in a single facility, Boss said. 

In connection with costs for group homes for adults with developmental disabilities, Boss projected that BHDDH will “come pretty close” to cutting just under $4 million targeted in the budget, although she added that she could not offer a guarantee.

The $4 million in savings is a “more reasonable target than it’s ever been,” Boss said. Two years ago, BHDDH was expected to cut $16 million from group home costs and saved about $220,000. 

Boss said more individuals than in the past are going into shared living with host families in the community or choosing apartment living with some support.  The move toward community-based residential options is required by HCBS.

When young adults enter the BHDDH system, group homes are no longer the first choice in residential services, Boss said. .

A newly hired residential coordinator works solely to help people “find the right living environment,” she said.

Boss said BHDDH is having discussions with service providers about the mechanism for disbursing a total of $6.8 million allocated by the General Assembly for higher reimbursement costs that are linked to modest raises for direct service workers, an average of 42 cents an hour.

Direct care workers in Rhode Island make $11.14 an hour on average, according to a trade association of service providers, but Massachusetts has agreed to pay $15 an hour for the same work July 1, 2018.

DiPalma said he feared a shortage of direct care workers would only become worse in the months to come, particularly since Massachusetts is an easy commute for many Rhode Island residents.

DiPalma, who has already called for another wage increase next year as part of a five-year campaign to reach the $15 mark, told Boss he would like to talk about separating the workers’ salaries from the reimbursement rates paid to their employers. Boss said she would happy to talk about it.

The pay increase approved by the General Assembly includes employee-related overhead and benefits costs. Individual employers figure out how much of the overall increase goes into workers’ pockets, although they must document the way they apportion the money. 

The raises are to be retroactive to July 1, according to language in the state budget. A BHDDH spokeswoman said recently that the department was “on track” to disburse the money by Oct. 1.

DiPalma emphasized that the low wages in the direct care field exacerbate a gender gap in pay, particularly since many workers are women who are heads of household.

He said the state should look at what it costs in subsidized child care and other forms of public assistance to help support these low-income workers.

Eric Beane, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said that because of structural deficits in the state budget, it’s difficult to find money for priorities such as front-line workers in home care, child care and developmental disabilities, but Governor Raimondo is nevertheless committed to leading a transformation in this important area.

 

 

Dianne Curran, RI Consent Decree Coordinator, To Leave Post Sept. 30, Citing Personal Reasons

By Gina Macris

 

                                                       This article has been updated .

Dianne Curran                        Photo By Anne Peters

Dianne Curran                        Photo By Anne Peters

Dianne Curran will step down Sept. 30 after seven months as Rhode Island’s consent decree coordinator, a post considered critical to success of the state’s 2014 agreement with the U.S Department Of Justice to reform Rhode Island’s programs for persons with developmental disabilities.

 “I am sad to leave such a competent and hard-working team that is committed to improving the lives of individuals with I/DD (intellectual and developmental disabilities),”  Curran said in a statement which cited "personal reasons" for her departure. She did not elaborate.

Curran is the third consent decree coordinator to serve since the agreement was signed in April, 2014. Curran was preceded by Mary Madden, who served from January, 2016, until the end of March of this year, overlapping Curran’s first month on the job. The first consent decree coordinator was Andrew McQuaide.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) said there is an interim plan to cover the duties of the consent decree coordinator. The spokeswoman, Jenna Mackevich, confirmed Curran's upcoming departure on behalf of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), where Curran reports to Health and Human Services Secretary Eric J. Beane.

Until the state finds a qualified successor to Curran, an cross-agency Consent Decree Management Team will shoulder the coordinator's duties, according to an EOHHS spokeswoman, who elaborated on the interim plan. The inter-agency team includes various division leaders and legal staff, who meet regularly, said the spokeswoman, Ashley O'Shea.

The position of the consent decree coordinator is very important in ensuring cooperation among state agencies with responsibilities in implementing the agreement, according to an independent federal court monitor, Charles Moseley. Historically, the various agencies of state government have had the reputation of acting as bureaucratic “silos.”

In addition to BHDDH, the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Office of Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Human Services share responsibility for transforming a system of sheltered workshops and adult day care centers into a network of integrated, community-based services, with an emphasis on regular jobs and personal choice, to comply with the ADA.

With Madden’s arrival early in 2016, Moseley successfully pressed the state to move the position of consent decree coordinator out of BHDDH to the EOHHS, which has authority over both ORS and BHDDH.

Curran has a long and varied career as a disability rights lawyer dating back to 1980, both in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She is a former deputy director at Rhode Island Legal Services and former supervising attorney at what is now the RI Disability Law Center. Working much of the last 20 years in  Massachusetts,  she was deputy general counsel in the Department of Social Services and then held the same position at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

This article has been updated to include details of the interim plan for the state to keep up with the duties of the consent decree coordinator while the state searches for a replacement to Dianne Curran.

Two Pilot Programs, Two Approaches to Supported Employment, Aired at RI DD Task Force Meeting

By Gina Macris

(This article (been corrected.)

Between January and mid-August, about one in four Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities who were enrolled in a new supported employment program landed jobs, with help from private service agencies funded through the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

But there are signs of strain on the ability of these agencies to train the workers they need to continue to deliver results over the long haul.

 In the meantime, the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) has started a much smaller pilot project , now in its second quarter of operation.

The two pilots take different approaches to funding employment-related supports for adults with developmental disabilities.

The DDD program adopts a fee-for service reimbursement model – based on the severity of a client’s disability - and a complicated billing mechanism that is similar to the one set up six years ago by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) for funding all developmental disability payments to private providers.

There is no provision for funding up front to support agencies’ costs for training workers to provide employment-related services.

The ORS project offers a flat rate of $7,000 per client, with $1750 up front so provider agencies can train and assemble a team of employment specialists. Providers are eligible for two additional quarterly payments of $1750 as long as they document the progress the clients are making.  A final payment  of  $1750 is awarded at the end of a year’s time only if the client has landed a job.

According to a recent report to a federal court monitor, state officials are evaluating both the ORS and DDD approaches to determine “what aspects of each model work for providers, what challenges exist, and how ongoing efforts of the two agencies can be coordinated.”

Tracey Cunningham and Joseph Murphy

Tracey Cunningham and Joseph Murphy

Joseph Murphy, an administrator at ORS in the Department of Human Services, and Tracey Cunningham, Chief Employment Specialist in the developmental disabilities division at BHDDH, gave status reports on their respective programs at the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force Sept. 12.  

Cunningham said that between January and mid-August, the DDD program found jobs for 116 of a total of 425 adults with developmental disabilities who were enrolled. Nine others found jobs that didn’t work out, Cunningham said, and they are looking for better matches.

The program could take on an additional 92 clients, up to a maximum of 517, according to figures provided by Cunningham. However, service providers are having trouble lining up the trained staff to expand their rosters and want to focus instead on doing a good job with the clients they already have, Cunningham said.

Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator for the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said one training course was cancelled recently for lack of enrollment. The Sherlock Center has a contract with the state to provide the needed training tuition-free.

In addition, the “self-directed” families, those who manage services independently for loved ones, are having a difficult time finding properly trained job developers and job coaches, Rosenbaum said. 

Cunningham said about 90 percent of “self-directed” families who seek supported employment services purchase them from private agencies.  But Rosenbaum said families are having difficulty identifying agencies able to help them.

Cunningham said three agencies are accepting clients from “self-directed” families:  Goodwill Industries, Work, Inc., and a new program called Kaleidoscope.

Nicole Kovite Zeitler

Nicole Kovite Zeitler

Nicole Kovite Zeitler, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice who monitors supported employment in conjunction with a 2014 consent decree enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), asked what was driving the providers’ inability to expand.

 Low salaries are the primary reason, said Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association representing about two thirds of the private agencies providing services in Rhode Island.

She said aging baby boomers also are creating an increased demand for direct care workers. Turnover is high – about 35 percent - and one in six jobs goes vacant in the developmental disability system, she said.

The General Assembly this year enacted the second consecutive raise for direct care workers. (Read related article here.)

But the increase, an estimated 42 cents an hour before taxes, is not expected to make a significant difference in the existing subsistence-level wages. Nor will it be any easier for developmental disability agencies to hire or keep new workers.

Meanwhile, the funding for the DDD supported employment program has been greatly under-utilized, even while the developmental disability service agencies have struggled to hire and train enough workers. (Read related article here.)                                 

The DDD program provides increased allowances for  job-seekers, based on the degree to which they lack independence,  but  most of the expenditures are set-aside for one-time performance bonuses to the agencies when:

  •  A job coach or job developer completes training
  •  A client gets hired
  •  A client remains employed for 90 days
  •  A client remains employed for 180 days.

Agencies receive $810 for each worker who has completed training. The remainder of the bonuses are arranged on a sliding scale, depending on the severity of the client’s disability, with the largest payments resulting from placement and retention milestones for those with the most complex needs.

Excluding any reimbursements for worker training, which were not part of the original design of the DDD program, the average maximum one-time reimbursement was initially projected to be $9,700 for young adults and $15,757 for older adults – those who left high school before 2013. Any updated figures were not immediately available.

The pilot operated by the state Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS)  works with seven developmental disability service agencies to help a total of 49 clients find jobs. Five have had success so far, Joseph Murphy, program administrator, told task force members.

The ORS program, which receives technical assistance from Salve Regina University in Newport,  is now in the second quarter of the program year, while DDD program is in the third quarter. 

The ORS program considers a successful placement to be a minimum of ten hours a week in competitive, integrated employment in the community, although Murphy said Sept. 14 that it accepts clients no matter how many hours' work they seek. The ORS program offers a $1,000 bonus for job placements that exceed 20 hours a week and last at least six months. In the DDD program, a successful placement may involve fewer than 10 hours' work a week.

Victoria Thomas

Victoria Thomas

The employment goal of the consent decree is an average of 20 hours a week of work at minimum wage or higher, although DOJ lawyer Victoria Thomas said there are no hourly employment requirements in the ADA.

“It just says people with developmental disabilities should have the option of integrated services,” she said.

The consent decree resulted from findings of the DOJ in 2014 that the state’s developmental disability services  over-relied on segregated sheltered workshops paying sub-minimum wages and non-work programs resembling day care.  As part of a system-wide overhaul, the state must support increasing numbers of adults with developmental disabilities in competitive employment in the community through Jan. 1, 2024.

The Employment First Task Force was created by the consent decree to serve as a bridge between state government and the community.

All photos by Anne Peters

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that the up-front payment to providers in the ORS supported employment program is $1,750, one quarter of the total $7,000 allocation per client. In a clarification, Joseph Murphy, the program administrator, said it accepts clients no matter how many hours a week they seek competitive employment, even though a placement must be for at least ten hours a week to be considered successful for the purposes of the program.

RI Direct Care Workers To See Raises in October Paychecks; Legislator Says They Deserve More

By Gina Macris

Raises for direct care workers in Rhode Island, including those who serve persons with developmental disabilities, are scheduled to show up in paychecks in October. But the increases are unlikely to fix problems caused by wages that many consider inadequate to stabilize a workforce plagued by high turnover, high vacancy rates, and high overtime. 

Even after receiving the pay hike, many workers will be forced to continue working second jobs to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, their employers will still have to scramble to fill vacancies, as Massachusetts prepares to pay $15 an hour for the same work beginning July 1, 2018.  Currently, one in six jobs goes unfilled, driving up overtime costs for developmental disability providers, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, (CPNRI), a trade association.  

Those who work with adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island make an average of $11.14 an hour, and an estimated increase of 42 cents would bring that hourly rate to $11.56. The exact increase is expected to vary from one agency to another, depending on benefits offered.

Unless the workers are single adults supporting only themselves, $11.56 an hour is not enough for a minimum subsistence wage – no restaurant meals, entertainment or savings accounts - that nevertheless avoids food stamps or other public assistance, according to the Living Wage Calculator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In Rhode Island, 41 percent of those working with adults with developmental disabilities have taken more than one job to make ends meet, according to CPNRI. The trade associaation presented figues to the General Assembly earlier this year that show 65 percent of direct care workers were heads of household in 2014, and 48 percent of them received public assistance between 2011 and 2013, the latest period for which data was available.

Entry-level positions for direct care positions at developmental disability service agencies generally hover a little above the minimum wage, currently $9.60 an hour. But the minimum wage is to get a 50-cent bump to $10.10 on Jan. 1 and another increase, to $10.50 an hour, on Jan. 1, 2019.

 In the current budget, $6.1 million in federal-state Medicaid dollars have been set aside for raises for those who provide direct care to adults with developmental disabilities, effective July 1.

Governor Raimondo also asked for a total of $5.2 million for increasing the pay of home health care aides, but the General Assembly delayed implementation of that raise until Oct. 1. House spokesman Larry Berman said that the way a similar increase was paid out to home care workers in 2016 made implementation problematic prior to Oct. 1 of the budget year and that issue was taken into account this year. The delayed implementation also saves more than $600,000 in state funds.  

Developmental disability service agencies also can expect to see higher reimbursement rates Oct. 1, but those increases will be retroactive to July 1, in accordance with language in the budget.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, who has led a call for improving the prospects of direct care workers, agreed that the direct care workers are treading water, in effect, relative to the minimum wage.  

He said he is well aware that raises enacted in 2016 and 2017 are not enough to compensate them for complex work that is often also physically demanding.

The new Amazon warehouse in Fall River is paying more than $12 an hour to start, he said.

In the fall of 2016, DiPalma launched a “15 in 5” campaign to increase pay of home health care aides and direct care workers to $15 an hour in five years – by July 1, 2021.

There appears to be broad sentiment in the legislature that direct care workers deserve better, judging from the number of bills introduced in the General Assembly earlier this year to speed up the climb to a $15 hourly rate. One measure, sponsored by the House Deputy Majority Leader, Rep. Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket, would have set Jan. 1 as the implementation date for a $15 hourly wage.

But the bills appear to have been more a gesture more than anything else.

DiPalma, first vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said that the state’s finances cannot support that kind of a boost immediately.

The state faces the prospect of a $237 million deficit in the fiscal year that begins next July 1, according recent memos from the State Budget Officer, Thomas Mullaney, and the Senate Fiscal Advisor, Stephen Whitney. And that estimateddeficit does not include $25 million in unspecified savings which the state still must trim from the current budget. Jonathan Womer, Director of the Office of Management and Budget,  has expressed skepticism that all the cost-cutting assumptions in the enacted budget can be achieved.

Department heads preparing for the next budget cycle are being asked to cut expenditures by 10 percent, with one exception being entitlement programs, like the federal-state Medicaid program, which funds the pay for home health care aides and developmental disability workers, among many other services. 

RI DD Public Forum Highlights Personal Choice, Inclusive Initiatives For Redesigning Services

Deanne Gagne                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           all photos by anne peters

Deanne Gagne                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           all photos by anne peters

By Gina Macris

During a public forum on Rhode Island’s developmental disability services Aug. 8, Deanne Gagne talked about the importance of personal choice in improving quality of life, for herself and others. 

“It’s really about the person in the center who’s driving the vehicle,” not the service system defining the options, said Gagne, a spokeswoman for Advocates in Action, a non-profit educational organization which encourages adults with developmental disabilities to speak up for themselves.

For Gagne on that day, personal choice turned out to be about the spontaneity of doing somethingmost adults take for granted: making a lunch date.

After the meeting, Gagne connected with an old friend who also attended the forum at the Coventry Community Center.

Because Gagne controls the way she uses her service dollars, she did not need to discuss with anyone how she and her wheelchair would get to and from the chosen restaurant.  Gagne’s assistant simply pulled Gagne’s cell phone out of the bag that hangs across the back of her chair and handed it to Gagne, who marked the date, time and place in her calendar and handed back the phone. That was that.

As a speaker during the forum, Gagne summarized the message of recent public sessions hosted by  Advocates in Action, in collaboration with the state and the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, on thinking “outside the system” or “outside the box” in planning for the future.

“It’s back to basics,” she said. “What do you want to do with your life, and what do you need to make that happen?”

Both a 2014 consent decree and a new Medicaid rule on Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) put personal choice at the heart of mandated changes in the approach to services. All developmental disability services in Rhode Island are funded by the federal-state Medicaid program.

One parent who has attended a recent Advocates In Action session on personal choice, or “person-centered thinking”, said there’s a long way to go before such a change becomes everyday reality.


“It seems like a giant step to get from where we are now to where we’re going,” said Greg Mroczek, who has two adult children with developmental disabilities.

None of the developmental disability officials who hosted the forum disagreed with him.

Zanchi           

Zanchi           

But Kerri Zanchi, the director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, and her administrative team made it clear that they want the public to participate in creating a new system of services in a much more active way than is the norm when bureaucracies adopt change.

Kevin Savage, director of licensing, who leads a continuing effort to rewrite developmental disability regulations, said, “We want to have regulations that are meaningful to participants and their families.” The committee rewriting the regulations, which began working in the spring, includes representation from consumers and family members. Savage said a draft of the proposed regulations should be completed in September and released for public comment later in the fall.

Also on Aug. 8, the Division put out a new call for individuals interested in serving on an external quality improvement advisory council.

The advisory council would complement an internal quality improvement committee as part of a broad effort intended to make sure services are faithful to the requirements of the consent decree and Medicaid’s Home and Community Based Rule. 

Anne LeClerc, Associate Director of Program Performance, said she would field inquiries about the quality improvement advisory council. She may be reached at 401-462-0192 or Anne.LeClerc@bhddh.ri.gov.

Zanchi, meanwhile, yielded the floor to representatives of a fledgling effort to revitalize family advocacy called Rhode Island FORCE (Families Organized for Reform, Change and Empowerment), an initiative of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council.

Semonelli

Semonelli

Chris Semonelli of Middletown, a leader of the group, said it aims to become a springboard for legislative advocacy, starting with an exchange of ideas in the fall among those affected by the developmental disability service system. A date for the event, entitled “Coffee and Cafe Conversation,” has yet to be announced.

The Developmental Disabilities Council plans to support the family advocacy group for up to five years, until it can spin off on its own, according to Kevin Nerney, a council spokesman. Anyone seeking more information may contact him at kevinnerney@riddcouncil.org or 401-737-1238.

Francoise Porch, who has a daughter with developmental disabilities, touched on a long-standing problem affecting both the quality and quantity of available services: depressed wages.

“Direct care staff can’t make a living working with our children,” she said.

The General Assembly allocated $6.1 million for wage increases in the budget for the current fiscal year, which Governor Gina Raimondo signed into law Aug. 3 after the House and the Senate resolved an impasse over Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s car tax relief plan, which emerged intact.

Although the language of the budget says the raises are effective July 1, the fiscal analyst for developmental disabilities, Adam Brusseau, could not say during the forum exactly when workers might see retroactive checks.

The extra funding is expected to add an average of about 56 cents an hour to paychecks – before taxes – but the precise amount will vary, depending on the employee benefits offered by private agencies under contract with the state to provide direct services.

The latest raise marks the second consecutive budget increase for direct care workers and the first in a five-year drive to hike salaries to $15 an hour.

For high school special education students anticipating a shift to adult services, “there seems to be a logjam” when it comes to families trying to figure out how many service dollars they will have and how far the money will go, according to Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

Rosenbaum

Rosenbaum

Zanchi said the Division of Developmental Disabilities aims to administer assessments that are used in determining individual budgets a year before an applicant leaves high school and needs adult services.  But Rosenbaum said that based on her contact with families of young adults, a year does not appear to be long enough. 

She elaborated: after the assessment, called the Supports Intensity Scale, families must wait a month or more for the results. Only then can parents explore the offerings of various agencies.  They may settle on one agency, only to be told that the agency is not accepting new clients with their son or daughter’s particular need. Then, when families decide to design an individualized program themselves, they must begin planning all over again.

“A year is not enough,” Rosenbaum said.

Zanchi said she will look into the problem.

Mark Your Calendar for Tuesday:

The quarterly public forum on developmental disabilities hosted by the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals will be Tuesday, Aug. 8, from 4-6 p.m. at the Coventry Community Resource Center, formerly the Coventry Human Services and Senior Center, 50 Wood St., Coventry.

RI DD Officials "Trying To Do The Right Thing," Says Judge In Review of 2014 Olmstead Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s efforts to implement a 2014 consent decree to help adults with developmental disabilities become part of their communities won plaudits from a federal judge July 28, althougth some officials indicated there’s still a long way before the changes permeate the system of state services. 

Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. said he is heartened “when a state entity is trying to do the right thing. It’s not the case where the state is acting in any way in bad faith.”

“Compared to about a year ago we are in a very different place,” he said.

In May, 2016, McConnell issued a 8-page order warning the state he would entertain contempt proceedings unless it moved forward with implementation of the consent decree, which at that time had been stalled for two years.

At the latest hearing, July 28, McConnell said there had been “positive movement” in the state’s efforts to carry out the requirements of the consent decree and urged state officials to “keep it up.” 

The judge acknowledged that sweeping changes in the leadership of state agencies responsible for the disabilities programs in recent months had left him feeling “quite nervous” about the state’s ability to comply with his orders, but he said “now it doesn’t feel that way at all.”

McConnell chose a relatively informal setting for the hearing, convening his review not in his courtroom but in the richly paneled library of the Beaux Arts federal building on Kennedy Plaza in Providence, and inviting participants around a conference table to remove their jackets.

A lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, Nicole Kovite Zeitler, and an independent court monitor, Charles Moseley, cited advances in the handling of bureaucratic issues that are pre-requisites for a turn-around in the system that will take years to accomplish. The areas they covered included:

  • The realignment of social work staff to better oversee changes in the way services are delivered
  • Additional steps intended to lay the foundation for an active, multi-faceted quality improvement effort involving the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS)
  • Improved communication with service providers, and with the publicThe expanded availability of training and information on the principles of individualized planning and personal choice that are at the heart of the consent decree – and the federal law behind it.

There were, however, signs that, for some individuals who depend on developmental disability services, change has not yet arrived.

For example, Zeitler said that of 22 private agencies participating in a pilot program to encourage job-placements, 42 percent –nearly half - say they can’t take new clients.

Moseley said he “regularly” gets reports from families who say that they have been turned down by service providers they sought out.

Although the pilot project in supported employment is billed as an “incentive” program, participating agencies report privately they operate at a loss for each client they place in a job.

The legislature allocated $6.8 million for supported employment in the fiscal year which ended June 30, but the pilot program did not begin operations until January, and in the first six months it paid out a total of about $122,000 to participating agencies, according to BHDDH calculations obtained by Developmental Disability News.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, acknowledged there are “challenges” to delivering those supported employment services but did not elaborate. A report from Moseley to the judge submitted the day before the hearing said there have been multiple meetings between state officials and the providers to discuss various factors affecting the supported employment program, including “operational issues that are reported to be impeding the ability of the organizations to meet their placement goals.”

McConnelland the consent decree officials at the table spent considerable time discussing a relatively low employment rate of young adults – the very group most likely to have had the broadest experiences in high school, including school-to work internships. 

The participants acknowledged that the employment rate for that group, 32 percent, was artificially depressed, because the number of individuals in the young adult category has grown dramatically, from 151 to 497, in the last nine months.  It takes time to find the right job, Zeitler said. 

But the monitor said in his latest report to the judge that progress in finding jobs for young adults “has been slow.”  Even if one analyzes only the original 151 young adults and discounts 60 of them who are not receiving BHDDH services, the employment rate is 51 percent, Moseley said in the report.

He recommended that the state contact each of the 60 not receiving services to make sure they know that supports are available if they need them.

Clients recently interviewed by Zeitler and DOJ colleagues said they were sometimes “bored” with their daytime non-work activities, Zeitler reported. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) says persons who receive public supports must have personal choice in deciding what they do with their time, both for work and leisure.

But the way resources are currently invested does not necessarily promote “inclusivity,” noted Boss, saying the department is hoping to do some “rebalancing” of the way money is spent.

The individual choice mandated in the consent decree implies one-to-one or small group staffing, assuming that a few friends want to do something together in the community. But a fairly rigid regulatory structure currently in place doesn’t allow for such staffing unless clients are deemed to have extensive disabilities.  

The Division of Developmental l Disabilities is in the process of rewriting all its regulations to change from a system that assigns funding based on the severity of a disability to one that stresses individualization and personal choice, or“person-centered planning,” in accordance with the ADA and the consent decree.

As Moseley noted, the state must make these changes anyway to comply with the broader federal Medicaid Home and Community Based Rule (HCBS). The federal-state Medicaid program pays for all developmental disability services in Rhode Island.

Like the consent decree, HCBS derives its authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Olmstead decision re-affirmed Title II of the ADA, which emphasizes its primary purpose to integrate those with disabilities into the mainstream of society and respects their individual choices on the degree to which they wish to participate. 

The last time BHDDH attempted regulatory reform along similar lines, in 2015, an internal BHDDH work group came up with recommendations that would have cost tens of millions of dollars. The proposed changes did not move forward.  

In his most recent report to the judge,  Moseley said that the effort to gain greater flexibility over existing funding “is a positive move, but additional steps need to be taken to map out a process for ensuring that funding supports integrated person-centered day services” that meet the standards of the consent decree.

Zeitler said management officials of direct service agencies seem to understand the principles of individualized, or “person-centered” activity plans, but some direct care workers “don’t speak the language.” 

Zeitler suggested that more training is in order.  Although the training is available, tuition-free, Kerri Zanchi, developmental disabilities chief at BHDDH,  indicated there was no “quick fix” to this problem, given the high turnover in the workforce.

Zeitler, meanwhile, praised the way Zanchi has moved around staff to make the most of available personnel, calling the reorganization “very creative.”  

Zanchi has added four workers to the case management unit, reducing caseloads from 205 to 152 per person. Two of the workers came from the unit that determines eligibility for services and two came from a separate group that assesses the support needs of clients once they are found eligible for services. 

Another worker has been tapped to serve in the newly created position of transition coordinator, to serve teenagers and young adults moving from high school to adult services. The Division of Developmental Disabilities has hired a new residential coordinator to address housing options for those who do not live with their families.

An outside quality improvement expert enlisted by Moseley has said in a report that "there is a significant commitment to change" at BHDDH and ORS to ensure high program standards are implemented across the board. 

"But the staff available to implement change are stretched very thin," wrote Gail Grossman in a report that is part of Moseley's latest filing with the court. Grossman continued: "Serious consideration needs to be given to the need for additional staff resources if DDD (the Division of Developmental Disabilities) and BHDDH are going to develop, manage and oversee a strong QMIS (Quality Management and Improvement System) structure."

BHDDH has a unit entitled quality improvement, but its scope is limited to investigations of neglect or abuse of vulnerable individuals.

Click here for the monitor's latest report to the judge.

Related articles: Judge Willing To Intervene In RI Budget Impasse

Supported Employment Program Falls Short Of Initial Goals in RI

Federal Judge Willing To Intervene In Rhode Island Budget Impasse To Protect Adults With DD

By Gina Macris 

A federal judge said today he is prepared to issue court orders to ensure that money keeps flowing in Rhode Island’s developmental disability system if the state budget impasse begins affecting services for adults with intellectual challenges.

Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., made that remark at today’s hearing (July 28) that reviewed the state’s progress in implementing a 2014 consent decree requiring an overhaul of daytime services to emphasize jobs paying at least minimum wage and integrated, community-based non-work activities for some 3600 individuals.

Rebecca Boss, the director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, told McConnell that she was “fairly confident” the budget dispute between the House and the Senate is having “no immediate impact” on the private agencies that count on state reimbursement to provide the day-to-day services.  However, she couldn’t say when things might change.

McConnell said he “would not be averse to entertaining court orders” so that the budget problem does not stand in the way of implementing the consent decree. “There are human beings involved,” he said.

He said it would fall to the U.S. Department of Justice to bring the issue before him, if and when it arises, because the state officials do not have the ability, or jurisdiction, to initiate any action.

Mixed Reviews on Employment From RI Consent Decree Monitor; Judge to Hear Compliance Status

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island has made “uneven”  progress in finding jobs for adults with developmental disabilities during the first quarter of 2017, according to an independent court monitor who oversees implementation of a 2014 federal consent decree intended to give adults with intellectual challenges more choice over how they live their lives.

The monitor, Charles Moseley, has filed his latest report in advance of a U.S. District Court hearing July 28 on compliance with the decree, which grew out of findings by the U.S. Department of Justice that Rhode relied excessively on  sheltered workshops paying sub-minimum wage and on segregated non-work programs.

Moseley said 62 individuals got jobs between January and March of this year, increasing the total number of placements to 544. That total is 340 more than the number of persons who had jobs 12 months earlier, according to data submitted by the state. Moseley said the number of placements for January through March of 2017 fell below an average of 85 placements per quarter for each of the three previous quarters. 

The first quarter of 2017 coincided with the launch of the state’s new incentive program for private agencies providing job-related services, but Moseley’s report did not make reference to that program. (Read related article.)  Complete employment statistics for April through June are not yet available.

Moseley’s report broke down the statistics according to three categories of adults with developmental disabilities who are protected by the consent decree: those who  had been in segregated sheltered workshops; those who had been in segregated day care facilities, and young adults who are at risk for long-term segregation after they leave high school. The consent decree also covers a fourth category of individuals; high school special education students who are at risk of segregation as adults. But the consent decree does not require the state to help them find jobs while they are still in school.

According to Moseley’s report, among the so-called “day target population”, a total of 262 had jobs on  March 31, an increase of 28 during the first quarter of the year. The total of 262 is more than twice the number the consent decree requires by Jan. 1, 2018. There are a total of 1,541 individuals in this category protected by the consent decree.

In the “sheltered workshop target population,” 9 individuals got jobs between January and March, bringing the total employed since Jan. 1, 2016 to 122. That number represents 81 percent of the consent decree benchmark of 150 placements for former sheltered workshop employees by Jan.1, 2018, according to Moseley’s report. At last count, there were a total of 658 current or former sheltered workshop employees protected by the consent decree.

Moseley said young adults, or members of the “youth exit target population,” gained 25 new job placements between January and March, for a total of 160 placements in that category. The consent decree requires job placements for all young adults the same year they leave high school.  Moseley said that with the current census of the “youth exit target population” at 497, the state had achieved only 32 percent of the number of jobs required by the consent decree for young adults.

Source: RI Division of Developmental Disabilities

Source: RI Division of Developmental Disabilities

 

For the 12-month period ending March 31, the total number of individuals protected by the consent decree grew from 2,962 to 3,621, an increase of 659, which Moseley attributed to the state’s improved data collection.

Moseley has repeatedly emphasized individualized career development planning as an integral part of the job search. Equally important is individualized benefits counseling, which Moseley has said is necessary to allow individuals to make informed choices about whether potential jobs will adversely affect Medicaid and other types of government supports. 

The latest statistics show that about 63 percent of all persons protected by the consent decree have career development plans and about 67 percent of those who are employed have had benefits counseling, according to Moseley.

Friday’s court hearing will be at 10 a.m. in Room 310, the historic library of the federal court building in Kennedy Plaza in Providence.  U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. will preside.  

Click here to read Moseley's entire report.

RI Employment First Task Force Seeks Data To Compare DD Eligibility Policy and Practice

By Gina Macris

A year ago, Rhode Island adopted a policy allowing students with developmental disabilities at least 12 months before they left high school to plan their entry into the adult world.

Now, the Employment First Task Force wants to know whether the policy and the reality are one and the same.

Word of mouth among special education professionals is that in some cases, the families of students notified they will be eligible for adult services from the state Division of Developmental Disabilities nevertheless aren’t given a budget in enough time to make a good adult service plan before they leave school.

Claire Rosenbaum, the Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, raised the issue at the most recent meeting of the Employment First Task Force July 18.

The task force chairman, Kevin Nerney, of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, said he would ask state developmental disability officials in writing to come to the group’s next meeting with data showing how closely the state is adhering to its “eligibility by 17” policy.

The state established the policy in July, 2016, in response to a U.S. District Court order which said it must eliminate service gaps for eligible young adults once they leave high school. Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. had been presented with evidence that eligible young adults sat at home doing nothing for weeks or months after they left high school because adult services were not in place.

Young adults are one of four categories of individuals with developmental disabilities who are protected by a 2014 consent decree requiring the state to move away from sheltered workshops and non-work programs akin to day care toward purposeful activities in the community, with an emphasis on jobs paying at least minimum wage. 

The consent decree envisioned the Employment First Task Force as a group representative of adults with developmental disabilities, families, and community organizations that could serve as a bridge between the public and state government.

The eligibility policy says that, unless there is a need for extra documentation, students should be notified within 30 days of filing applications whether they will receive adult services. If they are eligible, they should be scheduled for an assessment of need, called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS, within 30 days. And 30 days after the assessment, they should be notified of the individual funding allocations they have received, according to the policy.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) said July 20 that "it will take some time" to gather answers to detailed questions about adherence to the timelines in the "eligibility by 17"  policy and additional questions about the SIS.

Questions raised at Tuesday’s meeting about the eligibility timeline overlapped with queries contained in a task force report to Charles Moseley, an independent monitor appointed by the court to oversee  implementation of the consent decree.

In the report, approved by consensus Tuesday, the task force recommends that Moseley collect detailed information on various aspects of the application and funding process and appeals of decisions made by the state. The task force previously has requested application and eligibility data from the state but has not received it, according to the report.

Other sections of the report covered a number of topics, including “person-centered planning,” an individualized approach to arranging services that incorporates a range of personal choices that go far beyond menus of activities that may offered by one provider or another.

Moseley has made it clear he believes person-centered planning is the foundation for compliance with the consent decree,

Nerney, the task force chairman, said in the group's report that he believes such truly individualized planning “could have a greater positive effect on people’s lives than the consent decree itself. “

At the same time, “you can’t destabilize the current provider system while building a new one,” Nerney warned.

Rosenbaum said that truly individualized, or “person-centered” planning, a comprehensive process requiring a skilled facilitator, can’t be done properly with the amount of money available in the state’s developmental disability system.

The next meeting of the Employment First Task Force, open to the public, has been set for Aug. 8 at 2 p.m. at the Community Provider Network of RI, 110 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. It will adjourn at 3 p.m. to avoid any conflict with the quarterly public forum sponsored by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities. That forum runs from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Coventry Department of Human Services and Senior Center, 50 Wood St., Coventry.

DD Supported Employment Program, Scheduled for Court Review, Falls Short of Initial Goals in RI

Source: PCSEP (Person-Centered Supported Employment Program) progress report - RIBHDDH - June 28, 2017

Source: PCSEP (Person-Centered Supported Employment Program) progress report - RIBHDDH - June 28, 2017

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island is struggling to move persons with developmental disabilities into productive jobs as envisioned in a federal consent decree reached with the U.S. Department of Justice three years ago, according to information obtained by Developmental Disability News.

A state report on the first six months’ operation of a pilot program to promote supported employment shows under-utilization of available funds and a job placement rate that falls far short of the state’s own goals.

The report, prepared by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, was obtained by Developmental Disability News.

Meanwhile, providers of services to persons with disabilities have told a federal court monitor and lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that they operate at a loss for the employment-related services they offer to clients enrolled in the individualized program, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.  

The primary reason is that the program does not pay the full cost of the services. That complaint was first registered when the parameters of the program were disclosed last winter.

In a meeting with the monitor and DOJ lawyers July 10, the providers also said they have inexplicably encountered problems billing for non-work services which are still needed by clients of the supported employment program.

Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association of developmental disability service agencies, confirmed that providers told the monitor and the DOJ that funds for the non-work services were “frozen.”

In an interview July 18, she said that the problem may be a computer glitch; an unintended consequence of the state’s efforts to track private providers’ billing for the supported employment program.

Martin said that Kerri Zanchi, the director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities at BHDDH, who inherited the administration of the supported employment program when she was appointed in late January, will meet with providers later this week to discuss a solution to the billing problem.

The problems outlined at the July 10 meeting and in the state’s progress report come in advance of the latest hearing in U.S. District Court, scheduled for July 28, as the court continues to track the state’s compliance with a 2014 federal consent decree.

That consent agreement requires the state to move away from over-reliance on sheltered workshops, by helping persons with developmental disabilities participate in integrated, community-based activities. The decree emphasizes jobs paying at least the minimum wage.

The state’s progress report on the supported employment program says there were 82 job placements between January and June 15, falling well below the pace necessary to achieve a self-imposed goal of 396 new jobs by the end of the calendar year. Of 513 client spaces available, 123, or 24 percent, are vacant, according to the report.

The report indicates that the program has spent far below the $6.8 million authorized by the General Assembly for the fiscal year that ended June 30, even taking into account the fact that the program wasn’t ready to accept clients until January, mid-way through the fiscal year.

The report says the state has made a total of $122,313 in performance payments for the training of job coaches, job placements, and job retention benchmarks. At the current rate, the report says the program will have paid out $390,000 in incentives by the end of the calendar year, far short of a total of $1.4 million set aside for that purpose during the first 12 months of operation.  

The report does not say how much of the $6.8 million has been set aside for providing job-related services, or how much providers have billed for these services, albeit at the same rates they would have been paid if the clients had not been enrolled in the special program.

Martin said that, as she understands it, there is usually flexibility between work and non-work categories in funding allocations for individual clients eligible for daytime services, so that an agency that provides more supports in one category during a particular month may draw on the funding for the other category as long as the billing does not exceed the total allocation for the quarter.

However, providers told the federal court’s monitor, Charles Moseley, and the DOJ that for clients of the supported employment program, there is no flexibility in the individual funding authorizations. In other words, if a client runs out of funds designated for non-work activities, the provider may not bill against the supported employment category. That money remains on the client’s account, but it is inaccessible, Martin said, explaining her understanding of the billing problem.

The DOJ, the monitor, and BHDDH all declined comment. A BHDDH spokeswoman said that information the department is compiling for the July 28 federal court hearing has not been finalized and could not be shared in advance with the media. Expenditures for the fiscal year that ended June 30 also have not been finalized, the spokeswoman said.

The federal officials also were preparing for the upcoming hearing when they hosted the July 10 meeting with providers. A four-page agenda prepared for that meeting, obtained by Developmental Disability News, asks providers to weigh in about all aspects of the program, including funding methods, as well as integrated non-work services.

The agenda indicates that the federal officials are particularly concerned that young adults with developmental disabilities – a group prioritized by the consent decree – are under-represented among 388 clients of the supported employment program.

Of 388 adults with developmental disabilities enrolled in the pilot employment program, only 87, or 22 percent, are young adults who have left high school since Jan. 1, 2013, according to the agenda.

At the same time, those 87 individuals represent less than 17 percent of the young adult category protected by the consent decree - 526 persons at last count. In all, the decree covers more than 3400 teenagers and adults of all ages, with the number updated quarterly.

Of three dozen private service providers operating in the state, 22 signed up for the supported employment program. Three of the 22 agencies have made no placements and another 7 have each made one placement from January through June 15. Two agencies have made 31 of the 87 job placements described in the report. The agencies are not identified by name but by letters of the alphabet.

The supported employment program offers bonuses to service providers who achieve goals in staff training, job placement and job retention, but it does not address an underlying problem of the state's low reimbursement rates to providers. The agencies, in turn,  pay their employees what are considered  depressed wages – an average of $11.14 an hour. These low wages have resulted in high rates of turnover and job vacancy, as well as high overtime costs to meet health and safety staffing requirements, and perpetual training of new hires.

While the supported employment program pays stipends once agency workers have completed a certificate program for job developers and job coaches, it does not pay the up-front costs of hiring and basic training for these workers, or other expenses associated with an agency’s capacity to find jobs for its clients.

Martin said that at the outset, providers hoped that the state would invest half the $6.8 million allocation for supported employment in start-up costs to help agencies expand their services, but instead the state put all the emphasis on performance payments.

Supported employment and related issues are likely to come up at the hearing before Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. on July 28 at 10 a.m.

Four Years After Settlement, Former Workshop Still Segregates Adults With DD - Monitor

photo by gina macris

photo by gina macris

Former Training Through Placement building at 20 Marblehead Ave., North Providence RI

By Gina Macris

A federal judge has taken the state of Rhode Island to task for failing to keep track of a former sheltered workshop that has continued to segregate adults with developmental disabilities, despite a landmark integration agreement four years ago that seeks to transform daytime services for those with intellectual challenges.

An order by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court sets strict deadlines between the end of June and the end of July for specific steps the state must take to ensure that all clients of the former sheltered workshop lacking jobs or meaningful activities begin to realize the promise of the 2013 agreement.

The so-called Interim Settlement Agreement of 2013 focused primarily on special education students at the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School and adult workers at Training Through Placement (TTP), which has become Community Work Services (CWS.)

The former sheltered workshop used Birch as a feeder program for employees, who often were stuck for decades performing repetitive tasks at sub-minimum wages – even when they asked for other kinds of jobs. Involved are a total of 126 individuals, according to McConnell’s count.

In 2014, after a broader investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the state signed a more extensive consent decree covering more than 3,000 adults and teenagers with developmental disabilities. The state promised to end an over-reliance on sheltered workshops throughout Rhode Island and instead agreed to transform its system over ten years to offer individualized supports intended to integrate adults facing intellectual challenges in their communities.

Together, the companion agreements made national headlines as the first in the nation that called for integration of daytime supports for individuals with disabilities, in accordance with the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Olmstead decision re-affirmed Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which says services must be provided in the least restrictive setting which is therapeutically appropriate, and that setting is presumed to be the community.

McConnell’s order is the latest and most forceful development in a story that highlights not only the failings of the former sheltered workshop, Training Through Placement (TTP), but the state’s lack of a comprehensive quality assurance program for developmental disability services system-wide.

The former sheltered workshop run by CWS at 20 Marblehead Ave., North Providence, was closed by the state on March 16 on an emergency basis because of an inspection that showed deteriorating physical conditions. Individuals with developmental disabilities were “exposed to wires, walkways obstructed by buckets collecting leaking water, and lighting outages due to water damage,” according to a report to the judge. At that point, CWS had been working under state BHDDH oversight for about a year, because of programmatic deficiencies, according to documents filed with the federal court.

CWS is a program of Fedcap Rehabilitation Services of New York, which had been hired by then-BHDDH director Craig Stenning to lead the way on integrated services for adults with developmental disabilities at TTP in the wake of the 2013 Interim Settlement Agreement. Stenning now works for Fedcap.

With the CWS facility closed by the state, the program resumed operations on March 21 in space provided by the John E. Fogarty Center in North Providence under terms of a  probationary, or conditional, license with state oversight, according to a report of an independent federal court monitor overseeing implementation of  the 2013 and 2014 civil rights agreements in Rhode Island that affect adults with developmental disabilities.

The monitor said the state licensing administrator for private developmental disability agencies also notified the CWS Board of Directors and the Fedcap CEO of the situation, making these points:  

  • the state was concerned about unhealthy conditions of the CWS facility
  • ·the agency failed to notify the state of the problems with the building
  • CWS failed to implement a disaster plan
  • ·The CWS executive director had an “inadequate response” to the state’s findings.

The letter to the Fedcap CEO also said that CWS had been providing “segregated, center-based day services” rather than the community-based programming for which the agency had been licensed.

Summarizing the status of the 2013 Interim Settlement Agreement, the monitor, Charles Moseley, concluded in part that the Providence School Department and the Rhode Island Department of Education have continued to improve compliance through added funding, an emphasis on supported employment, staff training and data gathering and reporting.

Overall, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, (BHDDH) the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, (EOHHS) and the state Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) also have made progress, Moseley said, citing budget increases, new management positions, and programmatic changes he has mentioned in various status reports on the statewide consent decree.

However, progress for clients of the former TTP workshop “appears to have plateaued and possibly regressed,” Moseley wrote, and for that he faulted the successor agency, CWS, and the lack of sustained oversight on the part of BHDDH. 

While some former sheltered workshop employees at TTP did find work after the Interim Settlement Agreement was signed in 2013, “the number and percentage of integrated supported employment placements has remained essentially flat for the last four years,” he said.

Efforts to reach CWS and Fedcap officials were unsuccessful.

In mid-March, CWS  reported that 30 of 71 clients on its roster had jobs. Of the 30 who were employed, 13 with part-time jobs also attended non-work activities sponsored by the agency. In addition, 41 clients attended only the non-work activities.

In early April, Moseley and lawyers from the DOJ interviewed the leadership and staff of CWS and some of the agency’s clients in their temporary base of operations at the Fogarty Center. Serena Powell, the CWS executive director, was among those who attended, Moseley said.

The leadership “revealed a lack of understanding of the basic goals and provisions of the state’s Employment First policy and related practices,” Moseley said in his report.

Rhode Island has adopted a policy of the U.S. Department of Labor which presumes that everyone, even those with significant disabilities, is capable of working along non-disabled peers and enjoying life in the community, as long as each person has the proper supports.

“This lack of knowledge and understanding appeared to extend to the basic concepts of person-centered planning (individualization) and program operation,” Moseley said, citing the names of specific protocols used by state developmental disability systems and provider agencies “across the country.”

Moseley said some CWS staff do not have the required training to do their jobs.

Some job exploration activities have consisted of “little more than walking through various business establishments at a local mall,” Moseley said, explaining that they were not purposeful activities tailored to individual interests and needs.

Moseley said he interviewed three clients of CWS and they were “unanimous in their desire to have a ‘real job’ in the community and to be engaged in productive community activities that didn’t involve hanging out with staff at the mall.

“All three persons reported that they were pleased to be out of the CWS/TTP facility and to have opportunities to go into the community more often. Two of the three expressed an interest in receiving services from a different service provider,” Moseley said.

The state has had four years to work on compliance with the Interim Settlement Agreement and the Consent Decree. During that time, BHDDH has seen three directors and its Division of Developmental Disabilites (DDD) has had four directors, including an outside consultant who served on an interim basis part of the time officials conducted a search that led to the appointment of Kerri Zanchi in January.

Between mid-February and early May, there was a separate upheaval in the leadership of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which had taken charge of the state’s compliance efforts in connection with the 2013 and 2014 civil rights agreements.

In a statement to the court, Zanchi alluded to all the turnover, saying that “progress has been challenged due to changes in internal and external leadership impacting stability, communication, resources, accountability, and vision.” 

Zanchi suggested that budget increases and considerable effort among BHDDH and ORS staff during the last year to improve compliance nevertheless have not been enough to make up for the previous three years of inaction.

Among other things, there is no consensus across the network of private service providers – some three dozen in all – “regarding the definition and expectation of integration,” Zanchi said.

DDD is responding by establishing “clear standards, training and monitoring,” she said. McConnell’s order required DDD to complete “guidance and standards for integrated day service” by June 30 and allowed another month for the document to be reviewed and disseminated to providers.

Zanchi said the state now has an “extensive quality management oversight plan” with CWS that involves DDD social workers, who are actively supporting CWS clients and their families. These same social workers also have average caseloads of 205 clients per person, according to the most recent DDD statistics.

Zanchi agreed with Moseley, the court monitor, that “current review and monitoring does not constitute a fully functioning quality improvement program.”

Moseley said that DDD’s quality improvement efforts “are seriously hampered by the lack of sufficient staff.” He called for “additional staffing resources” to ensure quality, provide system oversight and improve and ensure that providers get the required training.

Zanchi said an outside expert in interagency quality improvement is working with the state to develop and implement such a fully functioning plan. McConnell gave the state until July 30 to have a “fully-developed interim and long-term quality improvement plan” ready to go.

Of the 126 teenagers and adults McConnell said are protected by the 2013 Interim Settlement Agreement, 46 need individualized follow-up. Of the 46, 34 have never been employed, including 24 former TTP workers and 10 current Birch students or graduates.

The judge reinforced the monitor’s repeated emphasis over the last two years on proper planning as the foundation for producing a schedule of short-term activities and long-term goals that are purposeful for each person, whether they pertain to jobs, non-work activities, or both.  

These planning exercises, led by specially trained facilitators, can take on a festive air, with friends and family invited to share their reminiscences and thoughts for the future as they support the individual at the center of the event.

McConnell’s order said the state must ensure that “quality” planning for careers and non-work activities is in place by July 30 for active members of the protected class who want to continue receiving services.

Among CWS clients, the agency reported that 10 have indicated a reluctance to go into the community, perhaps because they feel challenged by the circumstances.

Moseley cited a variance to the Employment First policy developed by the state to cover those who can’t or don’t want to work, for medical or other reasons. Moseley’s report said he approved the variance in 2015, but it hasn’t been implemented. He acknowledged that it was difficult to understand.

McConnell’s highly technical and detailed order requires the state to implement a “variance and retirement policy” by June 30 “to discern specifically those who do not identify with either current or long-term employment goals.” 

McConnell also ordered the state to fund an additional $50,000 worth of training from the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College so that those who work with adults with developmental disabilities can give them individualized counseling about how work would affect their government benefits.

The monitor has repeatedly cited a dearth of individualized benefits counseling. In his latest report, he wrote that in interviews May 11 and May 12, high school students at Birch, their parents, staff, and others expressed the false conviction that students could work no more than 20 to 25 hours a week without compromising their benefits.

"This finding underscores the importance of individualized benefits planning for this population to ensure that students are able to take full advantage of Social Security Act work incentives that may enable them to work more than 25 hours per week while maintaining their public and employer benefits," Moseley said.

The monitor is expected to evaluate compliance with the deadlines in McConnell's latest order in a future status report.

 

RI Budget Goes Into Limbo Over Car Tax Contingency Amendment Inserted By Senate

By Gina Macris

The $9.2 million Rhode Island budget, which appeared poised for final passage by the Senate on June 30, now hangs in limbo on the first day of the new fiscal year, July 1, a casualty of a dispute between the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate over the Speaker’s signature car tax relief plan.

The situation means that by law, the levels of spending approved by the General Assembly a year ago remain in effect until the General Assembly resolves the Fiscal Year 2018 budget – and no one knows when that might be.

For Rhode Islanders who are elderly or have disabilities, the one exception to the spending freeze is separate legislation, on its way to the governor, which restores their free bus passes on the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, a $5 million item.

But increases to direct care workers in both developmental disabilities and home health care fields remain up in the air. So do millions of dollars in reimbursements to private developmental disability service agencies, some of them for expenses already incurred in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The dispute between House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, centers on a Senate amendment which would freeze the level of Mattiello’s car tax relief if, at any time during the six-year phase-out, the state has to dip into its rainy day fund.

During the floor discussion, senators said the state needed a safety net in the event the state cannot ultimately afford the overall $221 million cost of the phase-out, especially in light of uncertainty in Washington over billions of dollars in proposed cuts to Medicaid nationwide. Those drastic reductions would deal Rhode Island a severe blow in many human service programs, including those supporting adults and children with developmental disabilities.

The Senate passed the amendment, with the rest of the budget that had been approved by the House, with just hours remaining in the old fiscal year.

But by that time, Mattiello had adjourned the House and sent the members home. He gave no indication when he might call the House back into session.

In a statement, he said “Despite the House, the Senate and the Governor reaching agreement on a responsible and balanced state budget, I learned today that the Senate was likely to amend the budget on this, the last legislative day. This would have resulted in a long and unproductive night for the members and the public.  I urge the Senate to honor the original agreement and pass the state budget.”

 

RI Senate To Vote On $256.5 Million DD Budget

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s request for an overall $10 million increase in developmental disability spending in the next fiscal year appears to be headed for full approval by the General Assembly, as the Senate prepares to vote on the $9.2-billion state budget before the current budget cycle closes June 30 and the July 4 holiday weekend begins. 

On June 22, the House ratified the recommendation of its Finance Committee, with Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, D-Cranston, saying in advance of the vote that legislators have heard the message of direct care workers making poverty-level pay in high-responsibility jobs.

The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to act on the budget at a hearing June 27 at 2:30 p.m. in Room 211 of the State House.  A floor vote in the Senate is expected Thursday or Friday.

About $4 million of the developmental disability spending increase would be applied to the current budget and an additional $6 million would go into the new budget cycle beginning July 1. The total allocation for developmental disabilities in the next fiscal year would be $256.5 million.

Even as the Rhode Island House was deliberating, U.S. Senate Republicans in Washington unveiled a health care bill that would severely cut Medicaid funding -– the backbone of essential medical care and other support services for the poor and disabled throughout the country. Within 24 hours, enough Republican opposition to the bill emerged in the Senate to threaten its passage. 

The proposed state budget in Rhode Island includes a total of $11 million for one-time raises for home health care workers and those who work directly with adults with developmental disabilities. Those wage increases would raise the average hourly pay for developmental disability workers from about $11.14 to about $11.69 an hour.

The original language in Governor Raimondo’s proposal used a separate budget article to spell out assurances that the money set aside for the raises could not be used for anything else, but the House version eliminates that article and embeds those mandates elsewhere in the revised budget bill. 

Workers can expect to see the incremental boost in pay no later than Oct. 1. Three months later, on Jan. 1, 2018, the House-approved budget would raise the minimum wage from $9.60 to $10.10 an hour. On Jan. 1, 2019, the minimum wage would advance again, to $10.50 an hour.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, the leader of a drive to raise the pay of developmental disability workers to $15 an hour by July 1, 2021, said the day after the House vote that he has already begun work on the next phase of the campaign.

Last fall, DiPalma’s “15 in 5” campaign issued an early call for direct care raises, while the executive branch was still working on the budget proposal. In January, when the governor submitted her budget to the General Assembly, she highlighted the pay increases, along with a hike to the minimum wage and other initiatives.  

Several bills intended to speed up the timetable for a $15 hourly wage were introduced in the House during the current session, including one sponsored by Rep. Jean Philippe Barros, D-Pawtucket, Deputy Majority Leader, which would set the starting date for that increase to next Jan. 1.

The prospective budget doesn’t support a $15 hourly rate, but Barros still got a hearing on his bill before the House Finance Committee on June 21.

Direct care workers do an “awful lot of work for some of the neediest” residents of Rhode Island, and “they certainly deserve the benefit for their labor,” Barros said.

Massachusetts is set to increase the wages of direct care workers to $15 an hour in 2018, a development that could exacerbate already high turnover in direct care work in Rhode Island.

Figures on turnover presented to the General Assembly in recent months range from 30 percent a year to 60 percent of new hires in the first six months. There are about three dozen developmental disability service agencies operating in Rhode Island and each one has a different rate of turnover.

Testifying in favor of Barros’ bill, Robert Marshall, spokesman for the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, said that high turnover, a problem for years, has had a negative impact on those who need care.

Moreover, the nature of the work is changing to emphasize more individualized services, Marshall said, an apparent allusion to new federal Medicaid requirements and federal court enforcement of changes in daytime developmental disability services under provisions of a 2014 consent decree.

The greater individualization means that jobs in the direct service field are no longer interchangeable, he said. 

“Massachusetts will be very happy for us to train the staff and then give them a nearly 50 percent increase” in pay, Marshall said.  In other words, he said, a worker in East Providence can drive an extra three miles and do the same job in Seekonk, Mass., for significantly more money.

The money that is now spent on training new workers and overtime to fill critical gaps in services would probably cover most of the pay increase, Marshall said.

Part of the $10-million increase in the developmental disability budget would be used to fill a $3 million shortfall in the current fiscal year in supplemental payments to private providers and to add another $500,000 to that allowance in the budget cycle that begins July 1. 

The combined increases would hike supplemental payments from $18.5 million to $22 million a year –about 10 percent of all reimbursements made to private providers of developmental disability services – a level that DiPalma, the vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has flagged as a sign that the standard funding formula for individual clients is not working.

The supplemental payments reflect successful appeals, on a case-by-case basis, of a funding formula applied to a controversial assessment which Rhode Island uses to determine an individual’s ability to function independently. The funding formula does not take into account a client’s goals and preferences in determining individual authorizations – a problem cited by a federal court monitor overseeing reforms to the developmental disability system.

All developmental disability services in Rhode Island are funded by Medicaid at a ratio of slightly more than one federal dollar for every state dollar.

Medicaid has long been an entitlement program in which the federal government matches state outlays for a wide range of services, ranging from health care and nursing home services to specialized educational and therapeutic services for children with disabilities and community-based supports for disabled adults.

The U.S. Senate Republican bill – devised behind closed doors and released on June 22 - would set per-capita limits on federal Medicaid reimbursements to states and threaten many of the services Rhode Island now offers.

The entire Rhode Island Congressional delegation has slammed the bill, saying it amounts to a massive transfer of wealth to the rich at the expense of the poor, the elderly and the disabled through $600 billion in tax cuts.

In a statement, Sen. Jack Reed said, “Trumpcare-supporting Republicans can make all the claims they want, but their motives are obvious: they want massive tax cuts for the wealthiest at the expense of hardworking Americans whose lives, in many cases, depend on access to care.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said the measure “would gut Medicaid with even deeper cuts than the wretched House version. This will blow huge holes in state budgets, forcing terrible choices between opioid treatment, care for seniors, and students with disabilities. And that’s just the beginning.  It goes after women’s health care. It would allow insurance companies to charge seniors more, and sell plans that don’t offer the basic care Americans expect. It would be bad for Rhode Islanders.”

Governor Raimondo said she will join Reed, Whitehouse and Reps. David Cicilline and James Langevin in “active opposition to this disastrous proposal." 

She accused Congressional Republicans of “trying to pass an immoral piece of legislation,” putting “American and Rhode Island lives at risk so that millionaires and billionaires can get a tax cut.”

Mattiello: RI Direct Care Workers Have Been Heard

By Gina Macris

During recent deliberations on the state budget that emerged from the Rhode Island House Finance Committee last week, legislators considered very carefully testimony about the plight of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and those who care for them, particularly with respect to nursing homes, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said in a briefing June 20.

Mattiello                         RI state PHOTO

Mattiello                         RI state PHOTO

The Finance Committee’s budget prevents any further reductions to Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals and nursing homes and commits $11 million in federal and state Medicaid funds to raise the pay of home health care aides and those providing direct support to adults with developmental disabilities.    

“Thank you for the viewpoint,” he said of those who testified for the direct care raises, and we’re glad that in these difficult fiscal times we were able to accommodate that,” he said.

Mattiello’s remarks signaled a growing awareness over the last year about poverty-level wages and high turnover which has destabilized the direct care field and, many say, affected the quality of care.

Along the same vein, the proposed $9.2 billion spending package approved by the House Finance Committee promises to restore free bus passes for the elderly and disabled, at a cost of $3.4 million a year for the next two fiscal years.

The compromise budget that will go before the full House June 22 also puts $26 million into Mattiello’s signature car tax phase-out, enabling 150,00 vehicles to fall off the property tax rolls in the fiscal year that begins July 1. And it partially funds Governor Gina Raimondo’s free tuition plan, allowing two years of free attendance at the Community College of Rhode Island for students who maintain a 2.5 grade average and meet other conditions.

Mattiello said he was proud of the budget, which uses a variety of approaches to close a $134-million revenue gap and still manages to deliver on promises made to Rhode Islanders.

“I didn’t say I was happy with this budget. I said I was very proud of this budget,” Mattiello said.

“You work with what you have and you maximize the benefit to the taxpayers. That’s exactly what we did,” Mattiello said.

State Rep. Joseph N. McNarmara-D-Warwick, echoed Mattiello’s remarks, saying he was particularly proud of the “core values we have represented as the majority of Democrats” and "have defended in a tough budget,” including free tuition, raises for direct care workers and the prevention of erosion of reimbursements to hospitals and nursing homes.

But Mattiello interjected, “I’m going to stop you, Joe. This is not a Democratic caucus. These are the values of the House of Representatives.” McNamara, the chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare, also chairs the state Democratic Party.

As for the cost-cutting that must be done to balance the budget – including $25 million in unspecified reductions – Mattiello said: “We conferred with the Governor and the Senate. The Governor believes that although this will be difficult, it’s attainable and we agreed it can be done. “

While the budget uses one-time revenue to close some gaps, it will be paired with one-time expenses and will not add to the state’s structural deficit, Mattiello said.

Even though revenues are lower than expected this year, the economy seems to be going in the right direction, with unemployment down to a level not seen since before the recession of 2008, Mattiello said.

“This is our year to continue our momentum,” he said.  “We’re not going to tax our way” out of the revenue shortfall, “we’re not going to cut our way out of it,” but “we hope to grow our way out of it” as the economy continues to improve.