RI ORS Official Queried About 28 In Olmstead Consent Decree Population Waiting For Services

By Gina Macris

The names of 28 adults with developmental disabilities, ostensibly protected by a 2014 federal consent decree mandating they receive job-related services, are nevertheless on a waiting list for assistance from the Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services. That figure is 5 more than ORS reported as of Feb. 1.

Joseph Murphy                   Photo By Anne Peters 

Joseph Murphy                   Photo By Anne Peters 

Joseph Murphy, vocational rehabilitation administrator for ORS, gave an update on the waiting list Feb. 13 when he attended the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force, a group created by the consent decree which is representative of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and community organizations working with them.

The waiting list had a total of 399 names as of Feb. 7, according to an ORS web page, with most of the affected individuals having a wide variety of significant disabilities.

Of that group, the 28 individuals at the center of the discussion at the task force meeting have developmental disabilities, physical or intellectual challenges that have been present since birth or childhood. These applicants for ORS services are supposed to have legal protection through the Olmstead consent decree against having any waiting period for services – a fact pointed out by Deb Kney, Director of RI Advocates in Action. The consent decree derives its name from the U.S. Supreme Court decision which clarified the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Murphy said the consent decree monitor and the Department of Justice undoubtedly are watching the situation closely, as is the judge in the case. Murphy referred to comments made from the bench Nov. 30 by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. about his concerns that adequate state and federal funding be available to provide the services the consent decree requires. The next court hearing related to the consent decree is April 10.

Murphy said the monitor, Charles Moseley, and DOJ lawyers will visit Rhode Island Feb. 26 through 28th  to assess the latest developments in the implementation of the decree. 

When he notified the monitor of the waiting list, Murphy said, the monitor reacted with dismay. “He said, ‘Oh my,’ “ Murphy told task force members.  Regulations of the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) require the states to set up a waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services when they can’t serve all eligible applicants.

In this case, the waiting list was triggered by the state’s unexpected loss of about $3 million in federal aid, which was re-directed to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

The regulations require states to prioritize the order in which someone is removed from the list according to the degree of a person’s disability. Rhode Island’s so-called “Order of Selection” policy list has three levels of disability, but ORS is planning to amend the criteria for the highest priority category

Currently, applicants for ORS services in the highest priority category are those with mental or physical impairments that limit their ability to function on the job in at least three of seven different ways cataloged in state policy.  A proposed amendment would reserve the highest priority status for individuals those whose disabilities affect them in a minimum of four ways, according to an ORS spokeswoman. A public hearing on the matter will be March 8.

Murphy said that because of the consent decree, ORS is working with the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals to help protected clients find employment-related support elsewhere. 

The waiting list didn’t go into effect until Dec. 19, nearly three weeks after it was supposed to start, because changes in ORS policy needed formal approval from the federal RSA, Murphy said.

On the first day, there were already 324 names on the list, he said. Counselors “are in shock,”  Murphy said.

Murphy said the waiting list is “particularly awful because we were just starting to make headway” serving the consent decree population.

No one is affected who was already receiving services when ORS imposed the waiting list.

ORS receives $10.4 million from Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.But in the last few years it was able to supplement that basic grant with as much as $3.5 million in so-called “reallotment" funds  collected by the federal RSA from states that don’t meet their vocational rehabilitation obligations and re-distributed elsewhere.  For the federal fiscal year that  began Oct. 1, the re-allocation funding came to just $532,000.

While the reallocation money wasn’t set aside for clients with developmental disabilities, a lot of it went to help this group because that’s where the demand was, Murphy said. He characterized the consent decree as an “unfunded mandate.”

 

OP-ED: Safety Net For Most Vulnerable Rhode Islanders Should Be Lawmakers' Top Priority

 RI General Assembly Photo

 RI General Assembly Photo

By  Louis P. DiPalma

As legislators, we should treat each taxpayer dollar with the utmost respect, seeking to use it as efficiently as possible. As we grapple with a $200 million deficit in the upcoming budget, we should make it our top priority to protect the most vulnerable in our state — children and families, individuals living with intellectual/developmental disabilities and/or mental health issues, and seniors.

We should see all of our budget items through the eyes of the clients being served. When General Assembly members discuss how to fund the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), we should understand how the agency operates and the challenges the families and children face. Similarly, we should understand the real impact upon clients served by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). Legislators learn from community advocates and residents being served by nursing homes, group homes, child-care programs, behavioral health-care facilities and numerous health and human service programs.

The budget is a policy document first, and a fiscal document second. It is a reflection of our priorities.

At a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing, Health and Human Services Secretary Eric Beane stated: “While state spending on health and human services has increased in real terms since the worst of the Great Recession, our belts have remained tight, and spending is below where it was in 2008, once you adjust for inflation. I’d also note that medical costs have historically risen faster than inflation, another sign that we continue to drive savings.”

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s Working Group to Reinvent Medicaid found savings of about $100 million in annual Medicaid expenditures, without cutting eligibility or reducing benefits, which will save $1 billion over 10 years. The General Assembly supported this effort.

Further, the governor has appointed new directors to both DCYF and BHDDH to reform practices and programs and ensure some of the most vulnerable populations have high-quality programs. We should work to understand how funding patterns in the respective agencies are impacting outcomes for these individuals.

Some suggest we spend too much on these programs and that they are part of our fiscal problem. I disagree wholeheartedly. DCYF and BHDDH have been underfunded for many years, even as they are transforming programs to do more with less. Recently, the General Assembly passed legislation to reform DCYF by “reinvesting the benefits that accrue from the more efficient and effective utilization of congregate care, foster homes and community-based services.” Additionally, DCYF and BHDDH are under intense scrutiny from the U.S. District Court as they work to meet the conditions of their respective consent decrees.

We cannot continue to leave these agencies underfunded. We should ensure the well-being and safety of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

We should work closely with our state’s partners, the multiple private and public providers statewide, in making certain we wisely invest precious taxpayer dollars in early intervention and prevention. And we should maximize our use of federal dollars to offset the impact on Rhode Island taxpayers.

I encourage all Rhode Islanders who care about these issues to get involved. Make sure that your legislators are working to protect the well-being of our state’s most vulnerable people. It is critical that you make your voices heard.

Louis P. DiPalma is a Democratic state senator from Middletown. He is first vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Nearly 400 Wait For RI ORS Services, Including 23 Protected By Olmstead Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

In two months – from Dec. 1 to Feb. 1 – a total of 392 job hunters with disabilities have added their names to a waiting list for assistance from the Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) at the Department of Human Services.

ORS established the waiting list for rehabilitation services because of a dramatic reduction in so-called federal vocational “reallocation funds” distributed solely at the discretion of the federal government. 

Of the 392 individuals who were waiting for services Feb. 1, 336 have significant disabilities that make them “priority one” clients, according to a spokeswoman for Ronald Racine, the ORS director.  

Within the highest priority category, 23 individuals are protected by a 2014 federal consent decree which requires the state to find jobs for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities who have been isolated in sheltered workshops or day programs, according to Racine’s spokeswoman. The decree takes its name from the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which spelled out the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Those protected by the consent decree are being referred to employment-related services offered through the Division of Developmental Services (DDD) at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH.)

According to a BHDDH spokeswoman, Tracey Cunningham, the Chief Employment Specialist at DDD, confirms clients’ eligibility and refers them to DDD social workers who help them find private providers of employment services.

Racine has emphasized that those clients who were receiving rehabilitation services before December 1 are not affected in any way by the waiting list.

For the past several years, Rhode Island has received an average of about $3.6 million in rehabilitation reallocation funds, which are given up by states that don’t meet their obligations for local support of job-related services and are re-distributed by the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA).

In the most recent round of redistribution, the federal RSA awarded $33 million to Texas because of the economic effects of Hurricane Harvey, with Rhode Island and other states receiving much less than they had expected.

The re-distribution went into effect for current federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. Rhode Island sought $5 million in reallocation funds for the current fiscal period, but was awarded only $532,000.

Rhode Island still receives a regular grant for rehabilitation services under provisions of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - $10.4 million for the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1, according to Racine.

The ORS waiting list does not affect high school special education students who seek separate ORS-sponsored pre-employment transition services intended to acquaint them with the world of work.

These services include job exploration and internships, training in social skills and independent living, as well as counseling on opportunities for more comprehensive transition programs or post-secondary education, Racine has said.

A total of about 665 students have signed up for pre-employment transition services during the current school year, according to ORS figures.

Detailed information about the list is on an ORS webpage here.

RI Makes Modest Gains in DD Employment As Pace of Job Placement Slows, Court Monitor Says

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island made relatively slight gains in helping adults with developmental disabilities find part-time jobs during the third quarter of 2017, according to an independent court monitor.

Of 3,418 individuals with developmental disabilities protected by a 2014 federal consent decree, the state is required to ultimately provide supported employment for 2,501, not including teenagers who are still in high school, according to Charles Moseley, the monitor. He said a total of 573 were employed at the end of September, 2017, more than double the 268 who had jobs a year earlier.

The 573 jobs reflect an increase of 305 placements in the 12 months following Sept. 30, 2016.  

Moseley also said the state should get credit in meeting consent decree goals for another 16 job placements involving individuals who no longer receive developmental disability services or have passed away.  

“Although these data are encouraging, it is important to note that the quarterly placement rate has dropped from 119 individuals for the quarter ending March 31, 2017 to 63 individuals for the quarter ending June 30, 2017, to 29 individuals during the current reporting period, the lowest quarterly increase over the past six quarters,” Moseley said.

Moseley oversees the implementation of the 2014 Olmstead consent decree, which is intended to correct Rhode Island's violations of the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act by Jan. 1, 2024. 

The numbers show mixed progress when they are set against the rolling employment targets for three groups protected by the consent decree: young adults, sheltered workshop employees, and those who receive non-work services in a day center.

By Sept. 30, 2017, the state had exceeded the consent decree’s employment goal for the so-called “day” population nearly three times, with 285 placements against a benchmark of 100 for Jan. 1, 2018.

For the sheltered workshop group, there had been 132 placements, or 88 percent of the goal of 150 for Jan. 1.

Among the so-called “youth exit” group, the state had placed 172 individuals in jobs, or 39 percent of the benchmark, a total of 442 young people who left school between 2013 and 2016.

Moseley noted that total number of young adults protected by the consent decree has been fluctuating. The U.S. District Court had ordered the placement of all members of the “youth exit” group by July 1, 2016.  At the time, the state had identified only 151 persons in that category.  Moseley, with the backing of U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr., required the state to make a more thorough search for young adults who fit the eligibility criteria for developmental disability services, and by June 30, 2017, the total had increased to 497, according to Moseley’s report.

With the state’s improved ability since June to identify individuals who do not receive services for any number of reasons, mostly by choice, the number in the young adult group has come down to 442, Moseley said.

The state has agreed to a plan to find jobs for 50 percent of the young adults by April 30 and for the remaining 50 percent by Sept. 30, according to Moseley.  Anyone who chooses not to work will be identified through a variance to the state’s Employment First policy by Feb. 28.

Real-time information on the number of job placements, the fluctuating size of the overall consent decree population, and other data will have to wait until the state has launched its electronic case management records system for developmental disabilities, sometime in the next two to three years.

In his report, Moseley stuck to the numbers for third quarter of 2017 and did not get into any analysis or recommendations on how the state is trying to achieve its goals.

Moseley did say that the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) are working together to analyze data from successful job placements to further improve their employment-related supports.

And he noted that since Jan. 1, DDD has adjusted a performance-based supported employment program to try to make it more attractive to private providers of job-related services.

The next U.S. District Court hearing on the status of the consent decree is scheduled for April 10. 

To read the monitor's report, click here. 

RI BHDDH Banking On Pilot With Higher Federal Match To Preserve Status Quo On DD Services

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget for developmental disability services creates a dramatic imperative for cost-cutting during the next fiscal year, one that would reduce spending by a total of $21.4 million in state and federal Medicaid funding.

Developmental disability administrators are exploring the option of a pilot Medicaid program with a 90 percent federal match called a Health Home to fill in the gap, but have not yet determined whether it is feasible, and if so, to what extent.

The overall $21.4 million reduction represents the difference between the governor’s $272.7-million proposal for resolving the current deficit in developmental disabilities and the lowered spending ceiling of $250.8 million for the next budget cycle. The budget reduction would involve slashing $18.3 million in reimbursements to private providers and cutting almost $3.1 million from the state-operated network of group homes effective July 1.

Raimondo’s budget numbers reflect a central tension between those who believe that the state simply spends too much on Medicaid entitlements and those who believe that services for adults who struggle daily to cope with developmental disabilities have been chronically underfunded.

Raimondo’s plan for the 2019 fiscal year beginning July 1 treats a multi-million dollar deficit in the existing budget as a one-time event, while the record of the last several years shows that the shhortfall in developmental disability spending is a chronic or structural problem in which the actual cost of authorized Medicaid services exceeds the budgeted figure. 

In addition, Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) officials have made it clear that an improved assessment for gauging individuals’ support needs has been resulting in higher per-capita costs. The conversion from the old assessment to the new one, a process which started in November, 2016, is expected to take another year or two to complete as clients of BHDDH undergo re-assessment, one by one.

BHDDH officials did discover incorrect implementation of some questions in the cases of 46 individuals assessed with the new instrument, resulting in financial authorizations that were higher than appropriate.

In a recent interview, Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, said assessors have been retrained on exactly when they should ask those follow-up questions about behavioral and medical needs. The department has no intention of discontinuing the assessment, she said.

For the 2019 fiscal year, BHDDH officials have an idea about how to bridge the funding gap that they say makes both fiscal and programmatic sense. 

 The idea involves a new approach to case management for adults with developmental disabilities called the Medicaid Health Home. The approach would bring in significant increases in federal money, but the concept has yet to be fleshed out.  And the state is only considering a pilot program to test the model.        

 Successfully implementing the new Health Home option appears to be the state’s only safety net to protect the developmental disability service system from service reductions, waiting lists or rate cuts to providers.

In her budget message, the governor promised to reduce neither eligibility nor services for Medicaid recipients, which include adults with developmental disabilities.  

Boss, the BHDDH director, was reminded of Raimondo’s pledge and was asked whether maintaining existing levels of eligibility and services would mean cutting reimbursement rates to service providers.

Boss said, “I don’t think the department is ready to go to a rate cut” to service providers.

Boss said BHDDH has scrapped a plan for reducing reimbursement rates to providers for a relatively small number of group home residents during the third quarter of the current fiscal year.

The state’s private providers of developmental disability services have been struggling financially for years.

“The fiscal stability of our providers is very important to us,” Boss said. BHDDH counts on its private providers to enable the state to comply with demands of a 2014 federal consent decree which invokes the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act in requiring Rhode Island to end its over reliance on segregated daytime care and sheltered workshops for adults with developmental disabilities.

Boss said the budget for the next fiscal year contains $6.8 million for  reimbursements to private providers for delivering supported employment services required by the consent decree. That’s $2 million more than is expected to be paid out by the end of the current fiscal year for employment-related supports.

The possibility of assigning case management – or coordination of care – to a third-party through a Medicaid Health Home is appealing to BHDDH officials for a couple of reasons.

Using the Medicaid Health Home approach could save the state significant sums of money in the short term. States can apply for an enhanced federal reimbursement rate of 90 cents for every state dollar expended for a maximum period of two years, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The current federal Medicaid reimbursement rate is a little more than 50 cents on the dollar.  Medicaid funds all developmental disability services in Rhode Island.

The concept also could solve a looming compliance problem with federal Medicaid regulations. 

In the next few years, the Medicaid Final Rule on Home and Community Based Services will require case management to be conflict-free. That means it must be divorced both from funding agencies, like BHDDH, and from providers who have a vested interest in billing for services.

BHDDH now has about 24 in-house social workers who coordinate services for some 3,700 adults with developmental disabilities.

The Health Home option, a managed-care arrangement which pays a per-capita rate, was first introduced as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and was crafted to encourage providers of medical care to take a holistic approach to their patients’ well-being.

To what extent the objectives of Health Homes encompass the social services has yet to be determined.

Boss indicated that many questions remain unresolved, such as:

  •  Which clients of the Division of Developmental Disabilities would qualify for Health Home coverage?
  •  What kind of entity would be equipped to serve as a Health Home for case management, and possibly other services?

According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, (CMS) Medicaid clients eligible for Health Home coverage must have at least two chronic conditions, or one chronic condition, with risk for a second; or have a serious and persistent mental health condition.

 It is not unusual for individuals with cognitive challenges to also struggle with mental health issues or chronic medical conditions, or both. 

 CMS says that Health Homes may offer what it calls comprehensive care management, as well as care coordination, health promotion, comprehensive transitional care follow-up, patient and family support, and referral to community and social support services.

 Boss envisions a two-year pilot program for the Health Home model, beginning sometime in the next fiscal year.

Here are the overall budget numbers, which reflect all sources of funding for all developmental disability programming, both state operated and private:

Fiscal Year 2018

  •  Currently authorized: $256.9 million

                                           plus $15.3 million

  •  Governor’s proposal:  $272.2 million

            

Fiscal Year 2019

  • Governor’s FY 18 revised budget: $272.2 million

·                                                          minus $21.4 million

  •   Governor’s proposal:                   $250.8 million

 

The $21.4-million reduction includes a cut of nearly $12.5 million in state funding and a loss of $8.4 million in federal Medicaid reimbursements, according to the budget proposal. Other miscellaneous pluses and minuses round out the $21.4 million total cut.

After the first quarter of the current fiscal year, the Division of Developmental Disabilities was overspending at a pace of almost $26 million in federal and state Medicaid funding, including a state share of $12 million. 

But a second-quarter spending report shows the projected deficit for developmental disabilities has shrunk to about $15.7 million, including about $5.8 million provided by the state and nearly $9.9 million in federal funds.

The governor’s proposal covers nearly all of the $15.7 million shortfall. The remaining gap concerns a bookkeeping question: whether BHDDH or the Executive Office of Health and Human Services should be charged for the state’s contract with the independent consent decree monitor. 

Raimondo Would Make Steep Cut In Bottom Line On DD Payments In Next Budget

By Gina Macris 

Governor Gina Raimondo has sent the General Assembly a budget proposal that adds enough  money  to developmental disabilities before June 30 to prevent  waiting  lists or reductions in services but then dramatically reduces funding in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Raimondo’s amended budget for the current fiscal year, released Jan. 18, would add nearly $10.4 million in state and federal Medicaid funding for reimbursements to private providers of developmental disability services, raising the total from about $228.1 million to nearly $238.5 million.

Beginning July 1, however, the total federal-state Medicaid allocation for developmental disabilities would drop to about $220.1 million. That would mean a reduction of 8 million from the currently enacted bottom line of $228.1 million. Viewed another way, it is $18.3 million less than her revised proposal for the current fiscal year.  

In the executive summary to her budget, Raimondo indicates that the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) may begin realizing savings in the next budget from a change in its current fee-for service reimbursement model. 

BHDDH is exploring a shift toward some sort of per-capita payment system, including the possibility that provider agencies may become Health Homes under provisions of the federal-state Medicaid program. 

Health Homes coordinate all care for some Medicaid-eligible individuals in a way that takes into account the needs of the whole person, including primary and acute medical care, behavioral care, and long-term supports.

During the budget briefing for the media, Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, said there is “no clear path” to any one alternate reimbursement model, but the agency is committed to finding one during the coming year.

BHDDH may be able to begin realizing savings from a different payment system in the second half of Fiscal 2019, Boss said.  For example, the Medicaid Health Homes model offers an enhanced federal match for certain services, 90 percent instead of the usual 50 to 60 percent.

She said BHDDH wants flexibility for service providers and predictability in costs.

“I think fee for services has been very challenging to providers,” she said. .

After Raimondo submitted her budget to the General Assembly, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, expressed concern about how the administration arrived at the $18.3 million reduction in funding for developmental disabilities beginning July 1.

“We need to look at how we can fund the human services more efficiently and effectively,” he said, “but there needs to be a body of evidence” supporting the numbers.

One of the fundamental principles of Raimondo’s budget plan, according to her executive summary, is  to protect Rhode Islanders in need.

DiPalma said he likes the job Raimondo has done as governor, but historically, from the perspective of the General Assembly, “we have not funded BHDDH the way that we should.”

He said he was concerned about the lack a firm plan for implementing an $18.3 million budget reduction without putting vulnerable people “in harm’s way.”

Boss, meanwhile, said a supported employment program for adults with developmental disabilities will continue with $6.8 million that will be embedded in the overall allocation for reimbursements to private service providers in the next fiscal year.

BHDDH did not use $2 million of the initial allocation for the supported employment program, also $6.8 million, but the unspent money will go toward helping to close an existing deficit in developmental disabilities of about $12 million in state dollars. 

Raimondo’s budget proposal includes no allowance for raises for direct care staff who work with adults with developmental disabilities, as had been the case in the past two budgets.

But if economic projections look better in May than they did in November at the semi-annual Revenue Estimating Conference, raises would be on the table, Boss said. 

Funding for the state-operated group home system, Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS), would temporarily increase before turning downward July 1.  RICLAS, which cares for about 150 people, is now funded at $28.8 million. Raimondo's plan would raise that total to $33.7 for the current fiscal year. For the next fiscal year, total funding for RICLAS would be nearly $30.7 million. 

The full budget, as submitted to the Rhode Island House, is here: http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText/BillText18/HouseText18/H7200.pdf

snapshot of fy 19 budget.png

Revamped Fedcap Program in RI Regains Full Two-Year DD License, With Stipulation

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island has renewed the operating license of Community  Work Services (CWS), the developmental disability service provider on probation for the past year, with the stipulation that it continue detailed or “enhanced” reporting on its activities through April.

The full license, issued Dec. 19 by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, (BJDDJ) is valid for two years, the standard duration for organizations of its type.

CWS  had come under fire from the federal court monitor overseeing the state’s implementation of two disability rights agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice that are intended to correct an overreliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day programs that violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA.).

The monitor, Charles Mosley, said shortcomings at CWS had prevented the state from meeting goals for job placements required by the first of the two civil rights agreements,  the so-called Interim Settlement Agreement of 2013.

That document focused on the former Training Through Placement (TTP), a sheltered workshop in North Providence, that used the special education Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School as a feeder program for its workforce.

Craig Stenning, former BHDDH director, brought in the Boston-based CWS in 2013 to turn around TTP. But after making some initial progress, the track record of CWS remained essentially flat for four years, according to Moseley, the monitor.  CWS is a program of the New York-based Fedcap Rehabilitation Services, whose website lists Stenning as senior vice president for the New England region and executive director of CWS in Massachusetts.

After the state gave CWS in Rhode Island notice last spring that it would not extend the agency’s probation beyond the end of 2017, CWS began a major overhaul, including a complete turnover of personnel.  The executive director of CWS in Rhode Island is now Lori Norris.

The most recent courtroom review of the situation occurred Nov. 30 before Judge John J. McConnell Jr. The next hearing is April 10, before the end of the enhanced reporting period stipulated in the new license. 

 

 

Tina Spears, RI Senate Fiscal Aide, Named State's Consent Decree Coordinator

By Gina Macris

Tina Spears              photo courtesy state of RI  

Tina Spears              photo courtesy state of RI  

Tina Spears, a policy analyst in the fiscal office of the Rhode Island Senate, has been named the state’s Consent Decree Coordinator. The coordinator is charged with ensuring cooperation among three departments of state government responsible for reinventing daytime services for teenagers and adults with developmental disabilities to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Eric Beane, Secretary of Health and Human Services, announced Spears’ appointment Jan. 12, saying in a statement that she is “well-poised to lead this work, given her longstanding advocacy for children and individuals with disabilities.”

Spears, who has parented a child with a disability, “brings a strong personal commitment to the work” in addition to professional expertise in the state budget and the federal-state Medicaid program which funds developmental disability services, Beane said.

“Her connection to the community and passion for ensuring people have the opportunity to live their life to its fullest potential are welcome additions to the work our team does every day to improve developmental disabilities services in Rhode Island,” Beane said.

Prior to her Senate job, she was government relations director of the Rhode Island Parent Information Network for eight years.

Spears, the fourth consent decree coordinator in three years, succeeds Dianne Curran, who served just seven months before stepping down in September. Curran was preceded by Mary Madden, who stayed in the job a year, from 2016 until 2017, and by Andrew McQuaide, the first coordinator.

In the last several months. Brian Gosselin, Chief Strategic Officer for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, has been filling in as consent decree coordinator.

The state created the coordinator’s position at the insistence of a federal court monitor overseeing implementation of a 2014 consent decree, which maps out what the state must do to correct the overreliance on sheltered workshops and segreated programs that violated the integration mandate of the ADA. The consent decree draws its authority from the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which clarified the requirement for integrated services for individuals with disabilities.

 

Independent DD Advocacy Group Surveys RI Families To Define Most Pressing Needs

By Gina Macris

An independent organization focused on innovation and success for people of all abilities is asking families to help shape the group’s advocacy by answering four questions about the lives of loved ones facing intellectual or developmental challenges.

RI Force – Rhode Island Families Organized For Reform, Change, and Empowerment – has set up an online questionnaire at SurveyMonkey that is aimed at those who could not attend the inaugural cafe conversations held in November to bring families together around common goals.

To take the survey, click here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NHXMSGL

The introduction to the survey explains that “cafe conversation methodology is a simple, effective, and flexible format for hosting large group dialogue. It simply means ‘shaping our world through conversations that matter.’ ” 

The survey, which promises anonymity to respondents, asks individuals to describe the “issues and challenges currently facing your family in regards to the quality of life of your loved one.”

It asks respondents to identify things that can change to improve the quality of life for loved ones, after looking holistically at public, non-profit and private facets of the community, including the arts, human services, environment, health care, education, media and business.

Finally, the survey asks for “one idea that would have the biggest impact” on a loved one’s quality of life.

The deadline for completing the survey is Jan. 30, said Ken Renaud, a leader of RI Force. The group plans to publish the results in February.

 

RI Revises Supported Employment; Providers And Families Invited To Information Sessions

By Gina Macris

The second year of a program to help Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities find jobs will offer extra bonus money to encourage financially strapped private agencies to seek new clients, particularly young adults.

Zanchi     Photo by Anne Peters  

Zanchi     Photo by Anne Peters  

The state began the “performance-based” program last January to avoid federal court sanctions for failing to implement a 2014 consent decree aimed at giving individuals with disabilities greater access to regular jobs and integrated non-work activities.

“We’ve learned a lot in this first year,” said Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). Zanchi, the first developmental disabilities professional to head DDD in at least a decade, began work in Rhode Island shortly after the supported employment program kicked off a year ago.

Zanchi elaborated on the status of the program, in which private agencies provide supportive job-seeking and job-retention services, during a telephone interview Jan. 5.

She said that in the initial contract year, which ended in December, 22 private agencies offered supported employment services to about 440 adults with developmental disabilities, with about 150 gaining employment at minimum wage or higher.

In the coming year, Zanchi said, she hopes the opportunities for enhanced performance payments and other changes prove “more responsive to the needs of consumers” and that the number of providers will expand. 

DDD will host information sessions Monday, Jan. 8 and Friday, Jan. 19 for private providers seeking to renew their contracts or establish new ones and for so-called “self-directed” families, who take on the design and direct supervision of a loved one’s activities. Few of these families have been able to participate in the performance-based program during its first year, according to anecdotal reports. 

A key addition to the menu of performance payments to providers is a bonus of $600 for each new client who signs on for employment-related services, or $1,000 for young adults who left high school between 2013 and 2016. These bonuses are due once the new client has received 20 hours of employment-related supports.

The consent decree places particular emphasis on young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, because investigators for the U.S. Department of Justice believed they are at heightened risk for isolation and segregation as they move from high school to adult services.

The consent decree draws its authority from the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which reinforces the mandate for integrated services in the Americans With Disabilities Act

The young adult group also is the only segment of the consent decree population – more than 3,000 individuals altogether –for which the state is significantly out of compliance with court approved targets for job placement.

A reluctance among established agencies to expand their client roster has resulted in limited choices for the families of young adults; prompting them to direct their own services. But that choice also has made it generally more difficult to access the supported employment program, according to various reports about families’ experiences during the first year of the program.

Providers have told state officials that in many cases they can’t take on new clients because of low reimbursement rates and high staff turnover, and because the bonuses of the initial cycle of the supported employment program did not pay for the costs both of training new workers, as well as providing the actual services.

The graduation rate for a tuition-free training program offered by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College is 40 percent, with students dropping out for a variety of reasons, most of them related to high turnover and short-staffing at the provider agencies.  

In the second year, providers can expect an increase of $460 for training each new job coach, from $350 to $810 per trainee, according to materials from the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), which were released by Zanchi.

The information sessions will be at the Arnold Conference Center in the Reagan Building of the Eleanor Slater Hospital, 111 Howard Ave., Cranston, Monday, Jan. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. and Friday, Jan. 19, from 9 to 11 a.m.

In 2016, just after a U.S. District Court judge ordered the state to come up with a new “reimbursement model” that would give adults with developmental disabilities access to regular jobs. Shortly after that, the General Assembly allocated $6.8 million in state funds to finance what became the performance-based supported employment program.

Besides the bonuses, the revised program includes increased allocations – a total of $8,000 a year per client, according to the latest BHDDH figures – for provider reimbursements for employment services.

Zanchi said that the original $6.8 million allocation will continue to fund the first six months of the second year of the performance-based program until June 30, when BHDDH expects to return an estimated $2 million to the state.

The return of the estimated $2 million in unused supported employment funds was part of a deficit reduction plan outlined by BHDDH director Rebecca Boss Nov. 30 to close an estimated $15.9 millionf departmental deficit, including $12 million in developmental disabilities.. But it is well-understood within BHDDH that from a fiscal perspective, supported employment must continue because it is a court-ordered service.  

BHDDH has requested new funding, with projected utilization based on the first full year of programmatic experience, for the state’s next fiscal year beginning July 1, Zanchi said.

She did not say how much BHDDH  will seek for supported employment. Governor Gina Raimondo is expected to submit her budget to the General Assembly later this month.

RI Rate Cuts To DD Providers Or Wait Lists For Services Loom Without More Funding For BHDDH

By Gina Macris   

Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities would face “drastic measures” such as waitlists for services or reductions in the amounts the state pays private organizations providing these supports if their funding agency must resolve a sizeable budget deficit by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

Rebecca Boss                       Photo By Anne Peters

Rebecca Boss                       Photo By Anne Peters

Rebecca Boss, director of the agency, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), reached that conclusion in a Nov. 30  letter to the director of the state budget office and the finance committee chairmen of the House and Senate.

She pledged to keep working  “to minimize the anticipated disruptions and destabilization that would result from such measures on our vulnerable populations.”  In the last several years, the General Assembly has covered BHDDH deficits with supplemental funding.

The letter outlined a corrective action plan for reducing the deficit, an estimated $15.9 million in in state spending, including about $12 million from developmental disabilities programs and nearly $4 million from the Eleanor Slater Hospital. Without a state match, roughly the same amount in federal Medicaid dollars also would evaporate.

The corrective action plan described a variety of cost-cutting initiatives that at best, would address less than half the overall shortfall, but Boss’s letter did not add up the total savings. BHDDH officials were not able to respond immediately to several detailed questions about the corrective action plan. 

Corrective action plans are required whenever a state agency runs a deficit. But the BHDDH plan raises questions about its future ability to comply with a 2014 federal consent decree that requires Rhode Island to integrate adults with developmental disabilities in the community to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Integrated services, which require small staff-to-client ratios, are inherently more costly than the segregated, facility-based programming Rhode Island has used in the past, in which one person can keep an eye on larger groups of people gathered in one room.  An over-reliance on sheltered workshops and day centers put Rhode Island in violation of the ADA's integration mandate, which is spelled out in the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to findings of the U.S.Department of Justice.

Rhode Island has never been in complete compliance with the incremental integration goals of the consent decree and in the spring of 2016 came close to being held in contempt of court over lack of funding, among other issues. Since then, as long as the state has put additional money and professional expertise into efforts to improve services, it has avoided sanctions.

Most recently, during a U.S. District Court hearing Nov. 30 – the same day Boss turned over her corrective action plan – the judge in the consent decree case  repeatedly brought up his concerns about money to fund the services required by the consent decree. John J. McConnell, Jr. said he would be keeping an eye on the budget process, both at the state and federal levels.

The BHDDH plan proposes returning to the state a $2 million balance in funds that had been allocated to a performance –based supported employment program that responded to a court order to help more adults with developmental disabilities find jobs. In the plan, Boss said that BHDDH would continue to provide funding for supported employment. Anecdotal information from providers and families has indicated that, even with the performance-based program, employment services have not been available to all who wanted them.  

Boss, meanwhile, outlined other cost savings. She said correcting errors in the needs assessments of 46 adults with developmental disabilities will result in $400,000 in savings, once the individual funding authorizations for those persons are reduced.

Because of widespread complaints that the original assessment shortchanged individual needs, resulting in routine awards of supplemental funds, BHDDH adopted an updated version of the standardized interview about a year ago that was said to be more accurate.

The newer assessment contributed to higher per-person costs that are reflected in much of the $12 million projected deficit in developmental disabilities, Boss said. The 46 errors in assessment occurred because interviewers did not correctly utilize a certain group of questions in the new interview process, she said.  

At the start of the current fiscal year in July, with rising costs from the new assessment already apparent, BHDDH imposed stringent health and safety standards for awarding supplemental funds on appeal.

Of the $12 million projected deficit in developmental disabilities, $4 million is related to “various” cost-cutting initiatives in the current fiscal year which BHDDH does not expect to achieve, Boss said.

She did not describe these unachieved savings in any detail, except to attribute $500,000 to the department’s inability to move residents out of three of five state-run group homes that had been scheduled to close. The remaining two homes are special care facilities that are being consolidated and will close, Boss said. She has said such special care facilities do not comply with a new Medicaid Final Rule on Home and Community-Based Services.

In the last quarter of the fiscal year, beginning April 1,  BHDDH plans to cut the daily reimbursement rates for residents of group homes with relatively mild developmental disabilities, those assigned to the lowest two levels ( labeled A and B) of a five-tier funding scale. This measure is expected to save $200,000.

Additionally, BHDDH has a “continuing commitment” to reducing the population of group homes by 110 during the current fiscal year, which would bring an estimated savings of $900,000, Boss said. She did not elaborate.

In Rhode Island, the primary alternative to group homes is shared living, in which a person with a developmental disability lives with a family in a private home.

During the 27 months between July 1, 2015 and Sept. 20, 2017 the number of individuals in shared living increased by 92, according to BHDDH figures, from 268 to 360. The breakdown includes 40 in the fiscal year that ended July 1, 2016 38 in the fiscal year that ended July 1, 2017, and 14 in the first three months of the current budget cycle.

At the Eleanor Slater Hospital, all but $900,000 of the nearly $4 million shortfall can be attributed to salaries and benefits, including $2.1 million in overtime, Boss said.

The hospital has faced numerous problems, most critically a preliminary report from the Joint Commission in September that signaled Eleanor Slater would be denied accreditation because of unsafe facilities. The report prompted an increase in staffing so that patients are checked every five minutes.

BHDDH plans to move patients out of the substandard facilities, but that consolidation is behind schedule.

 

RI Olmstead Judge Says He'll Be Keeping Eye On State And Federal Funding For Disability Services

By Gina Macris

John J. McConnell, Jr., the U.S. District Court judge overseeing changes in Rhode Island’s developmental disability service system, has signaled that that future funding of the social services is very much on his mind.

During a hearing Nov. 30 in Providence, McConnell listened to the state’s summary of the latest progress and the work still to be done to achieve the goals necessary to transform Rhode Island’s segregated services for persons with developmental disabilities into an integrated, community-based model. The transformation would bring Rhode Island into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision clarifying the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

After Kerri Zanchi, the state Director of Developmental Disabilities, had finished her prepared remarks, McConnell interjected the observation that the necessary services are all “contingent on funding.”

“Funding is a key issue,” both at the state and federal level, he said. 

 Zanchi, too, expressed concerns, saying the developmental disability community needs advocacy to make its case on budget issues.

Most recently in Washington, disability rights advocates have said that the proposed tax cuts now before Congress would result in reductions in spending through Medicaid, the federal-state program that pays for services required by a 2013 interim agreement and a broader 2014 consent decree between the state of Rhode Island and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In addition, the federal government’s re-direction of some vocational rehabilitation funding from Rhode Island to Texas has triggered a waiting list, effective Dec. 1, for future clients of Rhode Island’s Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS), which is involved in implementing both the 2013 and 2014 agreements.

No one currently served by ORS will be affected, but by the time the court is scheduled to reconvene in April, the waiting list could include applicants for services who are covered by the consent decree or the interim agreement.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island’s implementation of the agreements has contributed to a projected cost overrun of almost $26 million in federal and state Medicaid funds for developmental disability services in the current fiscal year, and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) is under pressure to find ways to cut costs.

McConnell said he hoped that state officials will take into consideration the requirements of the 2014 consent decree (and the more limited interim agreement) as they look for cuts in social services in the coming months.

He said he wanted it known that “the third equal branch of government is watching.”

State Details Compliance Efforts  

The Nov. 30 hearing concerned those who are covered by the so-called “Interim Settlement Agreement,” originally 125 former students at the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School in Providence who at one time were funneled into jobs paying sub-minimum wage at the former sheltered workshop, Training Through Placement (TTP) in North Providence. 

The latest update puts the current number in this group at 91 individuals whose cases are still open at the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), said Zanchi, the division director.

She summarized the state’s progress in working with them:

  • 51 have jobs in the community paying at least minimum wage
  • 21 are unemployed but job-hunting, with support 
  • 7 are currently inactive
  • 12 have chosen not to work but are receiving integrated day services from a total of 12 providers.

In a report to the court submitted the eve of the hearing, an independent monitor, Charles Moseley, framed the employment statistics differently.

He zeroed in on an order from McConnell in June that the state follow up on 46 unemployed members of the class protected by the interim agreement of 2013, including 34 who had never had a job in the community.

Among the group of 46, Moseley said the state had made 11 job placements as of the end of October. That is most of the goal of 15 placements that must be made by March 23, 2018. An additional 16 placements must be made by June 23, 2018, and target dates for the remaining 15 placements are to be determined, he said. (Some of them have indicated they don't want to work.)

'Underperformance' Of One Provider Hurt State

Much of the testimony, as well as Moseley’s comprehensive report, concerned Community Work Services, the successor to TTP, the sheltered workshop at the center of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation that led to the interim agreement of 2013.

CWS serves 57 of the 91 individuals covered by the interim agreement, according to Zanchi. (CWS’ own report to the monitor earlier in November put that figure at 59, with 5 of the 59 transitioning to other providers.)    

Of the CWS clients covered by the interim agreement, 25 belong to the group of 46 unemployed individuals the judge said needed special attention, according to Moseley’s report. The rest are served by other providers.

Zanchi said the “underperformance” of CWS “has directly contributed” to the state’s non-compliance with the interim agreement’s targets for employment and integrated non-work services. CWS is a subsidiary of Fedcap Rehabilitation Services of New York.

By now, the state was to have found jobs for all members of the former Birch and TTP group who made an informed choice to seek employment. 

Zanchi said the current CWS leadership has shown a “solid grasp of the significant change needed in their organizational structure” as well as the fact that it needs to reach performance goals “expeditiously.”

She emphasized that CWS’ “re-engagement of families” to support integrated services “cannot be understated.”

She shared the story of one young CWS client and the client's parents, who in a two-year span, had gradually shifted from adamant opposition toward warm embrace of the idea of employment. The client ow volunteers at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and a local food pantry and meets with a job developer each week to explore part-time job opportunities, Zanchi said.  

CWS Nearly Lost License

In May, CWS had come under fire – and was close to losing its license to operate in Rhode Island – for substandard programming, according to Moseley.

Since then, there has been a nearly complete turnover of staff and management at CWS, which has drawn up a new blueprint for change in keeping with principles of “person-centered planning,” putting the individual’s needs and preferences at the center of customized plans for immediate services and long-term goals. 

CWS also has begun a pilot program called “Employment Without Walls” with 7 clients who are hunting for jobs. 

The CWS plan was included in a 59-page report to the court from Moseley. Also included in Moseley's report was an evaluation from William Ashe, a Vermont-based consultant, who worked with Moseley in conducting a three-day, on-site review of CWS in early October.

Ashe, who had first evaluated CWS in October, 2015, said that “CWS is very different from the organization that was visited some two years ago.”

At the same time, Ashe said that “It was my hope that more gains would have been made over these 24 months than has been the case, particularly in the degree of sophistication of the person-centered planning process.” He noted that CWS, led by program director Lori Norris, “appears committed to restructuring the services and supports that it provides to comply with the ISA (Interim Settlement Agreement of 2013) and state regulations.“

In an interview, Ashe said, Norris also touched on financial challenges, which plague all service providers in Rhode Island as they struggle to help BHDDH meet the requirements of the federal mandates and still remain solvent.

According to Ashe’s report, Norris said “her superiors at FedCap are committed to success and will assure the proper level of staffing support even if this resource level is greater than what the current billing authorizations will support.”

CWS’ probationary license ends Dec. 31 and BHDDH must decide whether the agency will continue operating in Rhode Island.

The Massachusetts operations of CWS, a Boston-based agency, are now headed by Craig Stenning, Rhode Island’s former BHDDH director, who is also listed as Fedcap’s Senior Vice President for the New England region on the Fedcap website.  

In his report, Ashe said Norris “was candid in her comments” during the October interview, “stating that the CWS program status at the time of her appointment (six months earlier) was very inadequate across most areas of performance.

“She described her efforts over this past six-month period to change the culture of CWS,” a drive that included a large turnover of staff.

CWS Tries Turnaround

After visiting KFI, a model program for integrated services in Maine, Norris told Ashe, she took several steps at CWS.

Norris, according to Ashe’s report, has:

  • Stopped renovations at the former TTP building, instead planning to abandon any reliance on a facility for integrated services as of Jan. 1. (The former TTP building had been ordered closed to clients by the state in March, 2017 because of unsafe conditions. CWS’ license was suspended for a few days until it found a substitute location in quarters owned by the Fogarty Center.)  
  • Discontinued the use of vans to transport clients, instead opting to arrange for staff members to use their own cars on the job.
  • Changed the job title of direct support staff to community advocate, saying she believes “this title better reflects the culture change she wishes to establish and more accurately conforms to the expectation for how she wants staff to approach their work.”
  • Adopted a flexible work schedule for staff, so that they are available evenings and weekends to support clients who work outside normal business hours.

 

Problems Extend Beyond CWS

Moseley, the monitor, noted in his report that the non-work services received by CWS clients do not meet the requirements of the interim agreement or the statewide consent decree for integrated activities. 

These activities are intended to “provide individuals with disabilities with opportunities to fully engage with people without disabilities in the mainstream” of social life as well as work, he said.

Practical and effective strategies for achieving these goals are not clear, not only at CWS but across the developmental disability service system, Moseley said.

To address the problem, the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) has articulated guiding principles and standards for integrated day services. Through the Sherlock Center at Rhode Island College, DDD also offers training in implementing successful strategies for integration, Moseley said, but he recommended the training be expanded.

Another, related problem is a mismatch between existing services for individuals and their long-range plans.

In a court-ordered review of individual records documenting current services and future plans, DDD found that in 58 percent of the cases, individuals’ ongoing activities didn’t necessarily help them achieve their goals, Zanchi told the judge.

As a result, DDD has taken steps to merge short-range and long-range planning into one streamlined and holistic process that encourages providers to think in terms of individualized services that can help develop skills and interests that will help a particular person realize long-term aspirations.  

In addition, Zanchi said, DDD has developed a separate written guide, or rubric, for reviewing the quality of these individualized plans.

Zanchi Praises 'Collective Vision'

Zanchi concluded that she is “confident that there continues to be many areas where progress is clear,” recognizing that “quality is still developing” in services available to adults with developmental disabilities.

Zanchi said the progress is the direct result of a “collective vision that is guiding the work and transforming services.”

“We are building a remarkable partnership with the true experts of the DD system,” she said, referring to consumers, families, providers, business partners, community advocates as well as DD and ORS staffers.

They are all “invested in this progress and are at our table to strengthen our system to achieve these outcomes,” Zanchi said.

Click here to read the monitor's report.

Wait List For Vocational Rehabilitation Services In RI Starts Dec 1; Won't End Any Time Soon

By Gina Macris

There is “no quick fix” to the waiting list that will kick in for Rhode Islanders with the most extensive disabilities who apply for supports from the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) after Dec. 1, according Ronald Racine, head of the state's jemployment rehab services. 

Because of restricted federal funds for rehabilitation services to Rhode Island, the waiting list is expected to grow to 2,620 individuals in a year’s time, although those now receiving services will not be affected.

About ten to 15 percent of future applications are expected to come from individuals with developmental disabilities, based on the current caseload. ORS currently serves 3,621 individuals with very significant, or “first priority” disabilities, including those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Racine, Associate Director of the Division of Community Services at the state Department of Human Services, said Nov. 22 that ORS might reduce the time anyone spends on the waiting list by collaborating with other state agencies, like the Department of Labor and Training or the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. 

Racine spoke at a public hearing at the Warwick Public Library Nov. 21 that he said was a pre-requisite to amending a federally-mandated state plan to formally create the waiting list under provisions of the Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act.

The trigger for the waiting list is a dramatic restriction in so-called federal vocational rehabilitation “reallocation” funds awarded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), part of the U.S. Department of Education. In the past several years, these reallocation funds have averaged about $3.6 million, according to ORS officials.

For the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1, Rhode Island sought $5 million in reallocation funds, but was awarded only $532,000.

While some of those attending the hearing asked what could be done to advocate for the restoration of the funds, Racine explained that this reallocation money is not Rhode Island’s to start with.

Rhode Island still receives a regular grant award under provisions of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - $10.4 million for the latest federal fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, according to Racine.

But he explained that the reallocation money comes from states that must return funding to the federal government because they did not put up sufficient state dollars to support vocational rehabilitation. That pool of money is then reallocated by the RSA at its discretion to the other states.

This year, the RSA said it gave Texas all $33 million in reallocation funding it requested because of the impact of Hurricane Harvey. Racine told those attending the public hearing that the reallocation process was completed before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and he anticipated that the island would dominate in the next round of reallocation funding. That would mean a waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services would continue in Rhode Island, Racine said.

He said that ORS has been using reallocation money to support clients who are protected by a 2014 federal consent decree requiring the state to give adults with developmental disabilities greater access to regular jobs in the community.

ORS has notified the U.S. Department of Justice and a federal court monitor of the change in funding, and the resulting waiting list, Racine said at the Nov. 21 hearing. Neither the monitor nor the DOJ has commented in response, he said.

Separately, ORS faces the loss of $300,000 in federal funding earmarked for supported employment services. Supported employment services, like job coaching, also can be provided through the overall $10.4 million federal grant to ORS, according to Joseph Murphy, assistant administrator for supported employment. 

In a telephone interview Nov. 22, Racine elaborated. He said that the loss of federal supported employment funds does not directly impact an ORS pilot program that complements a similar project operated by the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH.)

ORS’ performance-based pilot program involves about 50 clients, with the last ones due to finish their program year in April, according to Murphy, who explained that they did not all begin at the same time.

Racine further explained that some changes may be made to supported employment services as a result of the performance-based program, but these would be programmatic rather than financial.

Exempt from any waiting list are about 520 high school special education students who have not applied for vocational rehabilitation services but who nevertheless are entitled to federally-mandated pre-employment and transition services.

These services include job exploration and internships, training in social and other skills necessary to prepare for the workplace, help with the skills of independent living, and counseling on opportunities for more comprehensive transition programs or post-secondary education, Racine said.

At the hearing, members of the State Rehabilitation Council, among others, expressed their concerns about the impending waiting list.

Willa Truelove, the Council chairperson, and Catherine Sansonetti, who is also a staff attorney at the RI Disability Law Center, both said the waiting list should be made public and that such transparency could help document the need for services.

Racine said the numbers on the waiting list can be put on the ORS Facebook page, but the names will be kept private.

(Click here to read an earlier article on the waiting list that has been corrected and clarified.).

 

 

Feds Slash Rehab Funding For Rhode Island, Triggering Wait List For DD Client Services

By Gina Macris

(This article has been corrected and clarified.)  

A federal agency has cut a portion of rehabilitation funds to Rhode Island from an annual average of $3.6 million to about $500,000, a development that within a year’s time is expected to put 2,640 adults with developmental disabilities on a waiting list for services.

Also, the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)  will not fund its annual supported employment grant of $300,000. Both cuts affect the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS).

During the past year, the ORS supported employment program has complemented a similar project run by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities to increase employment among adults with intellectual challenges and satisfy terms of a 2014 federal disability rights consent decree.

The RSA, part of the U.S. Department of Education, has re-allocated money from Rhode Island and elsewhere to Texas and other states that have been affected by this year’s hurricanes, according to Rhode Island officials. The changes were effective Oct. 1, the start of the federal fiscal year. 

ORS will continue to serve all those who already are on its roster, a total of 3,991 individuals, but a waiting list would be put into effect for new applicants with all disabilities, including developmental disabilities, effective Dec. 1, according proposed changes in a federally-mandated state plan for vocational rehabilitation. 

A public hearing on the proposed changes to the state plan will be Tuesday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m. in Room 101 of the Warwick Public Library, 600 Sandy Lane, Warwick.

ORS averages 200 applications a month from individuals with disabilities. Of that total, 10 to 15 percent, or 20 to 30 applications, come from individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.  Clients with developmental disabilities and others who require multiple services over an average of three years are categorized as “first priority” clients, according to the state plan. 

The impact of the federal cut on the state’s cost for providing services through ORS was not immediately clear. Measures to reduce spending, in addition to the waiting list, are still under discussion, according to a spokeswoman for ORS’ parent agency, the Department of Human Services (DHS).

The entire state budget is expected to run a deficit of $60.2 million in by the time the current fiscal year closes next June 30, State Budget Officer Thomas Mullaney said in a report Nov. 15 that analyzed projected state revenues and expenses .

The federally-mandated state plan for vocational rehabilitation lists the cost of services for all individuals “estimated to be eligible” as a total of about $7.2 million, including $5,600,508 for “first priority” clients, including those with developmental disabilities.

Since 2010, ORS has had a small waiting list – currently 30 individuals – among “second priority” and “third priority” clients whose disabilities affect their ability to function in no more than two ways and who may not need multiple services over a long period of time. By October 30, 2018, the waiting list is expected to reach 2,640 clients, including those with developmental disabilities.

ORS is considering several cost-cutting measures to limit the size of the waiting list, including “reworking” an  innovative pilot program in supported employment, which was created in response to the demands of the 2014 federal consent decree, according to the DHS spokeswoman. 

While ORS typically works with clients only until they have landed a job, in the last several years it has has provided so-called "post employment" services to help clients maintain jobs- an average of 15 individuals annually.  According to the state plan, ORS will continue to waive clients off the waiting list if they need support to keep their jobs.

Also exempt from the waiting list will be about 520 special education high school students, not part of the caseload for formal vocational rehabilitation services, who nevertheless receive work-related transition services in conjunction with their school districts.

(This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities account for about 10 to 15 percent of the overall caseload of the Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services. Other details have been clarified.)  

RI DD Regulatory Overhaul To Emphasize Transparency; Quality Services, Officials Say

By Gina Macris

When proposed new regulations for Rhode Island’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) emerge from committee early in 2018, they will aim to ensure that all agencies providing services to persons with disabilities meet consistent high-quality standards.

The state will require direct care agencies to employ staff with distinct certifications to provide one or more kinds of supports to clients. Training of agency workers is expected to follow the same process that is now required before direct care staff can work in a pilot job support program run by DDD – a  combination of classroom instruction, field work, and a final exam. 

But workers will not be expected to have certification the moment the new regulations go into effect. Expanding the training process begun for workers in the supported employment pilot program will take time, said Kerri Zanchi, director of DDD.

Another feature of the new regulations will require DDD to publish the categories of licenses held by direct care providers. They are: 

  • “Full,” or unrestricted
  • “Full, with stipulations”
  • “Provisional”, to designate a new service provider
  • "Conditional”, or probationary
  •  “Suspended,” which means not currently in operation, but the license has not been revoked.

Zanchi and Kevin Savage, the director of licensing for the division’s parent organization, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH),talked about the overhaul of regulations during a wide-ranging public forum at the Smithfield Senior Center Nov. 7 and in an earlier interview with Developmental Disability News Nov. 3.

The Division of Developmental Disabilities is not alone in rewriting its regulations.

All agencies of state government must recast their rules of operation by August, 2018 with an eye toward simplicity and clarity of language as part of the Administrative Procedures Act of 2016, pushed by Governor Gina Raimondo in a drive for greater transparency in state government.

Even before the regulations are finalized, Savage said in the interview Nov. 3, he hopes to have licensing categories for all developmental disability service providers posted on the BHDDH website.

The proposed regulations have emerged from six months’ work on the part of a broad-based committee of individuals with a stake in the developmental disability system, including consumers and family members, Savage told an audience of about 75 at the public forum in Smithfield Nov. 7.

“The community was well served by this process. It was amazing,” Savage said.  Representatives of different segments of the developmental disabilities community listened to each other and showed “passionate concern with the people being served,” he said.

The proposed regulations will be shared with the developmental disabilities community before they go out for formal public comment, Savage said. Community meetings will be set for early 2018, after the year-end holidays, he said.

Among other things, the new regulations will help eliminate inconsistencies across departments of state government, Savage said, like background checks for prospective workers who would come into contact with vulnerable children and adults in a variety of capacities.  The regulatory reform also is necessary to comply with the so-called Final Rule for federal/state Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS).  The Final Rule, a compilation of federal regulations, emphasizes that all persons with disabilities who receive Medicaid services must have access to their communities to the greatest extent possible.

Both the HCBS final rule and a separate 2014 federal consent decree pushing  employment opportunities and community-based non-work activities for Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities get their authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision clarified the integration mandate in Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Zanchi, the DDD director, said that the regulatory shift toward certification of the skills of direct care workers is partly driven by U.S. District Court oversight of the Olmstead consent decree, in which an independent court monitor has emphasized continuous quality improvement.

“The public will know what the providers are certified to do,” Zanchi said in the interview Nov. 3. “And that’s part of our quality management plan.”

“That will be hard work,” she said. “We will build certification standards in each area, starting with day and employment services.”

In the future, the whole notion of certification is likely to overlap with fiscal discussions about low wages and high turnover in the field of direct care, where one job in six goes vacant, according to a trade association of developmental disability service providers.

The pilot program in supported employment requires certification for workers who provide services in job development, job coaching and the like. But the graduation rate from a tuition-free training program at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College so far has been about 40 percent, for a variety of reasons, according to a Sherlock Center official.

Future of RI Fedcap Agency Still Unclear; State Continues To Collect Evidence For Final Decision

By Gina Macris

With less than two months remaining before the state of Rhode Island decides whether to shut down a subsidiary of the New York-based Fedcap Rehabilitation Services, licensing officials at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) are still collecting evidence that will have a bearing on the state’s decision.

The performance of Community Work Services (CWS), which also has come under criticism by federal officials, is expected to figure in a U.S. District Court hearing Nov. 30 about a 2013 settlement of disability rights violations involving CWS and its predecessor, the now-defunct sheltered workshop Training Through Placement (TTP.)

In an interview Nov. 3, the director of licensing for BHDDH, Kevin Savage, said that the probationary status of CWS, in effect for nearly a year, “has not been resolved.”  Licensing regulations place a 12-month limit on probation.

 A federal court monitor said during a court hearing in May that the number of former TTP clients who had found jobs had been “essentially flat” for the previous four years. A lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice also cited a lack of progress that was evident during a site visit earlier in the spring.  About half of individuals protected by the 2013 agreement – 62 individuals at last count – are currently served by CWS.

In an interview Nov. 3, Savage, the BHDDH licensing administrator, said that the most recent "monitor’s report is primarily about the programming, and the programming issue is not resolved.

“We’re reading the monitor’s reports and our own reports,” Savage said, and “we are not satisfied with the program resolution.”

Savage said that BHDDH will continue – “and I want the word 'continue' to be clear” – to look at “every aspect of what CWS does, including payment structures, including respite (care), and including how they work with families and participants – everything.”

Savage also said, “I think it’s okay to say we are accumulating evidence. They (CWS) know that, and I think it’s okay for the public to know that. The evidence speaks to whether they should be shut down, or whether they should not be shut down. Evidence does that.”

“Our goal, and our only goal, is to ensure that participants have the best service available that is possible,”  he said. “We’ve communicated that clearly to the providers we work with and the families we work with. Our job is not to protect businesses. Our job is to protect participants.”

CWS has been on probation since the beginning of 2017. BHDDH licensing officials shut down its operation at the former TTP building at 20 Marblehead Ave., North Providence, in March because of unsafe conditions - a problem separate from programmatic concerns - but the agency re-opened with state permission in different quarters a few days later.

In this and any other probationary case, Savage said, the public has the right to know the “final agency action.”  Adverse decisions may be appealed by the agencies in question, he said.

The performance of CWS is entwined in the state’s accountability to the federal court for satisfying the demands of the 2013 settlement agreement that protect special education students at Mount Pleasant High School, including the former Birth Academy, and former clients of TTP - a total of 126 individuals.

A broader agreement between the state and the DOJ signed in 2014 covers all adults with developmental disabilities who have at one time been segregated in either sheltered workshops or day centers - more than 3,000 people. .

In connection with the so-called  "Interim Settlement Agreement" of 2013, the federal court monitor, Charles Moseley, said in a report to the court in September that the state has missed two deadlines in an order issued by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr: They are

  •  A July 30 deadline for improving the quality of individual career development plans among CWS clients.
  • A June 30 deadline for verifying the accuracy of data reported by CWS on its clients’ progress.

So-called “career development plans” describe how current services and plans for the near future fold into blueprints for life-long work goals that are supposed to take into account both the needs and preferences of individuals with developmental disabilities.

The November 30 hearing is listed on the U.S. District  Court calendar in connection with the statewide 2014 consent decree, but the state's interim Consent Decree Coordinator, Brian Gosselin, said recently at a public forum on developmental disability issues that the session will deal instead with the more narrow Interim Settlement Agreement of 2013, which was last heard in late May. A separate hearing on the status of the statewide consent decree is expected to be scheduled for the end of January, six months after its most recent hearing in late July.

 

RI BHDDH Running Projected $34.6 Million Deficit; DD Services Account for $26 Million Of Shortfall

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s efforts to improve services to adults with developmental disabilities - spurred by ongoing federal court oversight – will result in cost overruns of almost $26 million by next June, the end of the current fiscal year, according to projections from the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The projected $26 million shortfall is the largest in recent memory for developmental disability services, which typically have run $4 to 6 million over budget during a fiscal year.

In the first quarter spending report to the State Budget Officer, Thomas Mullaney, Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, said there are two main drivers of the projected deficit:

  • Increased costs attributed to an updated assessment for clients of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, the Supports Intensity Scale–A, or SIS-A, which is generally regarded as more accurate than the previous version in capturing individuals’ support needs, particularly for those with complex medical and behavioral issues.
  • An increase in supplemental authorizations that represent successful appeals of funding levels awarded through fiscal calculations made from the results of the original SIS or the SIS-A.  

BHDDH has asked the state Budget Office to consider a supplemental appropriation for the current budget cycle to cover much of the shortfall, with Boss saying the increased spending is consistent with current caseload projections.

But BHDDH also proposes cutting about $5 million from supplemental appropriations before next June 30. Boss has ordered officials to deny requests from individuals with developmental disabilities for supplemental funding, except in emergencies related to health and safety, including the risk of hospitalization. She also made an exception for any “court-ordered services” which may occur.

The order to hold the line on supplemental funds is likely to have widespread impact on individuals and their families, who must make the same request for extra money annually if they believe they have been shortchanged by the SIS or the SIS-A.  Alternatively, they may request a re-assessment.

In her letter to Mullaney, Boss said BHDDH is working to address the current year’s projected deficit and is determining “potential courses of action which would meet client needs, be accountable to regulatory entities, and meet fiscal constraints.”

The Office of Management and Budget is working with BHDDH to “thoroughly review its options,” a spokeswoman for Mullaney said Nov. 9.

BHDDH requested $22 million for supplemental payments in the current budget, according to testimony before the General Assembly last spring.

But in a recent corrective action plan, the department said it authorized over $28.2 million in supplemental payments – more than 10 percent of all payments to private providers - during the fiscal year that ended last June 30. Actual expenditures exceeded $22.3 million.

“The past volume and approval of supplemental authorizations is unsustainable,” BHDDH said.

The plan sets a limit of $18.6 million for supplemental payments in the current budget cycle and reduces the ceiling to $14.4 million in the fiscal year beginning next July 1, with the assumption that the number of requests for supplemental payments will decline as more clients are assessed through the updated SIS-A. 

The corrective action plan also notes that requests for supplemental funds that are denied by BHDDH may be appealed to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The projected $26 million shortfall in the Division of Developmental Disabilities represents the lion’s share of an overall $34.6 million departmental deficit, based on first-quarter spending, which Boss outlined in an Oct. 27 letter to Mullaney, the State Budget Officer.

The state is under pressure from the U.S. District Court to improve the quality of its daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities by moving its system from isolated day centers and sheltered workshops to supported employment at regular jobs paying minimum wage or higher. Rhode Island also must increase the availability of integrated non-work activities. These mandates are spelled out in two agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice, in which the state must correct correct an overreliance on segregated facilities that violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The original SIS, accompanied by a $26 million reduction in developmental disability funding, was introduced by BHDDH and the General Assembly in 2011 as an equitable way of distributing available resources, although advocates complained that it was nothing more than a device to control costs, at the expense of some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens.

In succeeding years, that dollar amount was restored, but the service system was fundamentally altered, resulting in wage cuts, higher worker turnover, and a dependence on lower–cost services in segregated facilities that can be supervised with fewer staff.  The U.S. Department of Justice began its investigation into these facilities - sheltered workshops and day centers - in 2013.

On an individual basis, persons with developmental disabilities, their families, and service providers routinely appealed the funding awarded through the SIS, and at one point supplemental payments became routine.

In the meantime, there were were so many complaints about the SIS that the department ultimately decided to shift to the SIS-A.

But 13 months ago, when BHDDH submitted projections that ultimately went into the current budget, it had no experience with the SIS-A. The revised assessment was introduced in November, 2016. By springtime of this year, however, Boss had enough data to tell legislators that the SIS-A was resulting in higher per-person funding allocations. And she reported that the overall numbers of individuals using  developmental disability services was on the rise.

For the future, Boss envisioned a shift away from supplemental payments as the revised assessment tool better responds to individuals’ funding needs.

Of the overall $34.6 million projected BHDDH deficit, nearly $8.7 million can be attributed to staffing and overtime increases at the Eleanor Slater Hospital for stepped-up patient monitoring in light of a recent warning that the facility may lose accreditation because aging buildings pose too many risks that patients may harm themselves. A risk assessment for the Eleanor Slater Hospital is currently underway, and the results will inform a request for supplemental funding to remedy concerns of the hospital accrediting agency, the Joint Commission, Boss said.

Click here for the BHDDH first quarter spending report.

Transgender Man With DD Receives 2017 Leadership Award from RI Advocates in Action

Andrew Palumbo and Kate Mainor-Goodness 2017 Leadership Award edited.jpg

Andrew Palumbo and Kate Mainor-Goodness, who nominated Palumbo for the 2017 Leadership Award of Advocates in Action Rhode Island ---Anne Peters Photo

By Gina Macris

Even as he struggled internally with an identity mismatched to his body, Andrew Palumbo always has been able to bring out the best in others.

So say a chorus of his supporters, who cheered him on as he received the 2017 Leadership Award of Advocates in Action Rhode Island during the organization’s 22nd annual empowerment conference Oct. 26, a day-long event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick.  Advocates in Action is a non-profit organization focused on educating individuals with developmental decisions to take more control of their lives and advocate for themselves and others.

After the award ceremony, Palumbo, 35, gave a presentation on his ten-year journey from woman to man. He faced the same kinds of hurdles – bullying and rejection - as other transgender persons awakening to their true selves. And his challenges on the way were compounded by an intellectual disability.

However, say his friends, Palumbo is gifted at forming nurturing relationships with other people.

The suicide rate among transgender people is 31 percent, Palumbo said. When he was younger, he too wanted to kill himself, but through therapy, he said, he learned to “be strong and to be happy with who you are” and not to be affected “by what other people think.”

Palumbo elaborated during a brief interview after his talk. He said he drew strength from meeting “other people like myself.”  He said he “was able to do research and be happy with who I am.”

Palumbo said he started telling people to call him “Andrew,” about 15 years ago, when he still inhabited a woman’s body. The reaction ran the gamut, Palumbo said, but “mostly I had people who supported me.”

As he explained to an audience of about 25, the correct pronoun is very important to him. “When people weren’t calling me ‘he’, that hurt a lot,” he said.

Palumbo had gender reassignment surgery in January, 2012, after being rejected by two Rhode Island doctors, one of whom cited his disability as a reason.  Finally, he passed a psychological screening and was accepted for surgery in Massachusetts.

“I had to advocate for myself to get the surgery,” Palumbo said.  He got help from support groups and friends,” he said.

Palumbo’s confidence began to soar about 18 months ago, when he moved into a new shared living arrangement.

After a previous shared living arrangement with a host family in a private home had soured for Palumbo, Gerri  Fox, his state social worker – and friend, Fox is quick to add – reached out to a couple both she and Palumbo knew from church, Kelly and Kate Mainor-Goodness.

All four attend St. Therese Old Catholic Church in West Warwick, which is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church but part of the Diocese of New England in the Independent Catholic Churches of America. The church emphasizes inclusion, welcoming individuals with developmental disabilities and same-sex couples.

Like Fox, both Kelly and Kate Mainor-Goodness are social workers by profession, and the three at one time even worked for the same state agency – the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families. Fox now works for the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which funds Palumbo’s support services.

Kelly Mainor-Goodness said she and Kate “jumped in with both feet” to shared living with Palumbo and haven’t regretted a minute of it.  He has thrived under their roof, the couple said, or as Kelly put it, “he’s just exploded.”

About the same time he moved into the Mainor-Goodness home, Palumbo began learning about ceramics at The Little Clay Studio, a cooperative sponsored by ReFocus, a provider of developmental disability services.

In learning both the technical and creative aspects of the craft, Palumbo designed and produced a black and white glazed plaque as a sign for an “all gender bathroom” which caught the attention of his teacher, Jessica Schlachter.  Another plaque depicted a black eye – a symbol of the bullying Palumbo endured on his journey.

In July, as he explained his creations, Palumbo shared his own story with others in the studio.

Showing a Powerpoint  slide of the all-gender bathroom sign during his presentation at the Crowne Plaza, Palumbo said, “Does it really matter what bathroom you use?”  He and Schlachter said one restaurant has ordered duplicates of the plaque for its restrooms.

Palumbo is compensated for the creative and production aspects of his work at The Little Clay Studio, which sells ceramics to retail outlets, Schlachter said. Palumbo also has worked as a bagger in his neighborhood Stop & Shop supermarket in Warwick for the past 15 years.  

During his presentation, Palumbo matter-of-factly ticked off a list of questions not to ask a transgender person, in addition to the one about bathrooms:

  •  What’s your real name?
  •  What do you have down there?
  •  Are you a real man/woman?

 If a transgender person “wants you to know , they will tell you,” Palumbo said. 

“Call people by the name they want,” he said. “Call them by the right pronoun. Be there for them. Be a friend.”

Dan Moriarty, a clinical social worker, told Palumbo he was “always a positive leader,” even when he must have been struggling internally. “I always thought of you as Andrew,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty said he got to know Palumbo years before his surgery, at the Trudeau Center, a developmental disability service agency, where he once worked.

Perhaps because of his history, said Schlachter, Palumbo’s ceramics teacher, “he can tell you’re having a rough time before you even know you’re having a rough time.”

Palumbo’s kind touch and a simple query – “how are you feeling today? ”  can be therapeutic for those around him, Schlachter and Kelly Mainor-Goodness agreed.

“I’m proud every day to have a front-row seat to this,” Mainor-Goodness said of the continuing empowerment of Andrew Palumbo.  She and Kate led the audience in giving Palumbo a standing ovation.   

Newport Group Home Restored To Full DD License; Probation Continues For Fedcap's CWS Agency

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) has restored the full license of the Maher Center, the prominent developmental disability service agency in Newport, to operate a group home at 228 Carroll Ave.

In unrelated action, DDD also has continued the probationary license of Community Work Services (CWS) , an agency of Fedcap Rehabilitation Services, to provide daytime supports to adults with developmental disabilities, with an emphasis on supported employment and inclusive, community-based activities.

The situation involving the Maher Center dates back to a complaint from Steven DiBiasio of Cranston that the staff of its Carroll Avenue group home abandoned his then 24-year-old daughter at Newport Hospital in May, 2016.

The Maher Center vigorously denied the accusation. The woman, who has both intellectual and behavioral challenges, was removed from the home by police and taken to the hospital May 3, 2016, according to a police report.  DiBiasio said Maher Center officials subsequently told him and his wife that their daughter would not be allowed to return to the Carroll Avenue home.

An investigation by DDD found that the Maher Center effectively left the woman homeless when it sent her to the hospital without staff support and failed to notify the family in a timely manner. On Oct. 1, 2016, the agency’s license to operate the home at 228 Carroll Ave. was downgraded to “conditional,” or probationary, for a period of six months.  The Maher Center appealed. On April 1, the probationary period was extended another six months.

According to a DDD spokeswoman, the full license for the group home was restored Sept. 6 after the Maher Center “met the terms of their conditional license.”  DDD has not responded to follow-up questions seeking a description of the terms.

 

Nearly 18 months after the DiBiasios took their daughter home from Newport Hospital, she still lives with them. There is no question among medical professionals and state officials that she needs 24-hour care, DiBiasio has said. But the family has been unable to find a suitable placement in Rhode Island, where service providers strapped by precarious finances often turn away potential clients, especially those with complex – and costly - needs such as the DiBiasios' daughter. 

The licensing status of Community Work Services (CWS) is related to enforcement of 2013 and 2014 settlement agreements involving the city of Providence, the state of Rhode Island and the U.S. Department of Justice to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) as they relate to daytime services.

The probationary status of CWS, renewed Oct. 1 for another three months, is expected to play out with oversight from the U.S. District Court.  CWS, the successor to the sheltered workshop at the center of the initial DOJ investigation in 2013,  has been tasked with changing the lives of the former employees  by helping them get regular jobs and integrating them in community-based non-work activities.

But last April, DOJ lawyers spoke to some of the individuals they had met in 2013, when the sheltered workshop was known as Training Through Placement, and  they found that there had been little change in individuals’ lives during the intervening  years. 

At that point, CWS had been operating under some level of state supervision since May, 2016, and had had its license downgraded to probationary in December, 2016.  As the probationary license was nearing its expiration date June 30 of this year, the state notified CWS it intended to order the agency to cease operations. 

But after a conference with Fedcap officials, the state relented, putting CWS on probationary status for three months at a time, and saying the temporary license would not be renewed past Dec. 31, according to a report from an independent court monitor to the U.S. District Court.

The DDD spokeswoman, Jenna Mackevich, said in a recent email that BHDDH rescinded its plan to revoke the license   “when CWS was able to identify a safe and licensed space from which to operate its day program.”

In March, DDD officials closed the CWS operation at the former TTP workshop in North Providence because the building was in such disrepair it posed health and safety issues for the clients. A few days later, CWS found a temporary space with the nearby John E. Fogarty Center. Another move has been in the works in recent months. 

Mackevich said the probationary license has been renewed through December 31 “as the agency continues to cooperate with the Department on their plan of correction.”

The next U.S. District Court hearing on the state’s progress in correcting the ADA violations is scheduled for Nov. 30 before Judge John J. McConnell, but it’s not clear whether that session will address the status of CWS or other topics.  

 

New RI Family Advocacy Group To Launch Nov. 1; Organizers Seek Comment On Legislative Priorities

By Gina Macris

What are the top concerns for Rhode Island families who support one of their own in dealing with the challenges of developmental disabilities?  How do family members think they can have an impact on the next session of the General Assembly?

Those are the overarching questions that will occupy twin “Coffee and Cafe Conversation“ events  in Providence and Newport  on Wednesday, Nov. 1, to launch Rhode Island FORCE (Families Organized for Change, Reform and Empowerment.)

The fledgling organization aims to fill a void in grass roots advocacy during the last several years, when the legislature slashed Medicaid funding for developmental disability services, amid assurances from the executive branch that private agencies could provide the same service for less money.  The U.S. Department of Justice subsequently found the state’s over reliance on sheltered workshops violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The U.S. District Court now oversees reform efforts of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which has had a complete turnover in management. However, there is still no broad-based family voice in the public policy discussion surrounding changes to the service system – and how to pay for these reforms.  

The work of the court and of reform-minded professionals in the field of developmental disabilities cannot replace family advocacy efforts, said Ken Renaud, a consultant who will facilitate the discussions at “Coffee and Cafe Conversation,” in the morning in Providence and the late afternoon in Newport.

“We can’t expect other people to do this,” he said. Renaud himself has a family member with developmental disabilities.

The conversation about strategic priorities began several months ago with a small leadership group of parents and other family members who now want to reach out to others to build consensus,  Renaud said.

While the group has start-up support from the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, the advance publicity for “Coffee and Cafe Conversation” stresses the independence of Rhode Island FORCE from any state agency or community organization.  

Renaud said that he will ask those who attend to relay their experiences with the developmental disability system and a series of other questions that will build up to a vote on the top three issues they wish to tackle through advocacy. The sessions will be recorded to provide the leadership group with documentation for follow-up activities, he said.

Renaud emphasized that the sessions are “not for providers” of developmental disability services.

“A lot of people who might have a family member also work in a professional capacity” in the field,  he said. “When they walk in the room, we want them to have their ‘family member’ hat on,” he said.

On November 1, Coffee and Cafe Conversation will be from 10 a.m. to noon at the Roger Williams Park Casino, 1000 Elmwood Avenue, Providence, and from 5:30 to 7:30 at the Newport Public Library, 300 Spring St., Newport. For more information, contact Kevin Nerney at the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, kevinnerney@riddc.org or at 401-737-1238.

Each state has a developmental disabilities council, empowered by the Developmentally Disabled and Bill of Rights Act enacted by Congress in 1975 to help individuals live inclusive lives. The councils' mandate is broader than family advocacy. Rhode Island’s 24 council members are appointed by the Governor. 

Roger Williams Park Casino:

 

Newport Public Library: