RI Parents: System Of Care Fails To Address Supervision of Adults With DD In Hospital Setting

Jane Sroka * all photos by anne peters

Jane Sroka * all photos by anne peters

By Gina Macris

Access. Quality. Safety.

Those are the three words chosen by officials of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to sum up their overarching goals in serving adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges.

But at a public forum in Warwick Feb. 5, Jane Sroka, the mother of a man with intensive special needs, said the reality falls far short of those three goals when adults with special communications and behavioral needs are hospitalized.

The Medicaid dollars to which Sroka’s son is entitled through Home and Community-Based Services funded through BHDDH stop at the hospital’s door.

“My son needs 24/7 eyes-on supervision at all times. It’s huge. It’s life and death. That’s what it is,” she said.

In the hospital, Sroka said, “I was with him 24/7. He was awake 24/7. I was awake, 24/7. That was tough. It’s grueling on everybody.”

You’re talking about putting safety first? This is safety first,” Sroka said.

Not providing that round-the-clock supervision, in her son’s case, would have been dangerous, she said.

It’s not that the nurses don’t care, she said, but “if I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have a clue about what to do or how to do it or when to do it, or whatever. It’s dangerous. And it has to change,” she said. She said she knows she is not alone.

Gail Peet had a similar story. She said her daughter, 47, who is non-verbal, became extremely agitated when a feeding tube was inserted.

After her daughter was transferred to a nursing home, Peet said, she asked the staff to put a binding around the feeding tube to prevent her daughter from ripping it out.

The nursing home refused, on the grounds that the binding would constitute a “restraint,” Peet explained after the forum. The next morning, the staff discovered that Peet’s daughter had indeed ripped out the tube, which had to be re-inserted, causing her the additional pain of a second procedure.

In neither Peet’s nor Sroka’s case did there appear to be a plan for in-hospital or discharge care that addressed complications that could arise from individuals’ particular challenges as persons with developmental disabilities.

Rebecca Beaton

Rebecca Beaton

And Rebecca Beaton, who uses a wheelchair and must make a great effort to shape each word, said she, too, needs 24-hour care if she goes to the hospital because she has a speech problem and not everyone understands her. A support person seated next to her at the forum repeated her words for clarity.

John Susa, former chairman of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council and the father of a man with extensive needs, said there used to be a pool of state funds — outside the federal-state Medicaid structure — that was once used only in emergencies involving adults with developmental disabilities. He suggested that officials re-visit that idea.

Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD),, stood at the podium of a meeting room in the Warwick Public Library, taking notes.

Kerri Zanchi

Kerri Zanchi

Medicaid separates Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) from hospital services to avoid duplication, Zanchi explained.

“But I hear you,” she told Sroka and Peet, that the situations they described were not about duplicate services.

Zanchi raised the possibility that an upcoming initiative, the creation of a “Health Home,” might open an opportunity to provide the kinds of supports that Sroka and Peet needed in the hospital and nursing home. A Health Home is a Medicaid-spawned concept for the management of services, not a bricks and mortar facility.

“It is so important for the individuals we love and support to have that consistency and continuity of care,” she said.

Earlier in the forum, Zanchi had explained the Health Home as an entity that would manage a program of individualized services around the unique needs and preferences of a particular person served by DDD.

FROM OLMSTEAD TO HEALTH HOMES


Medicaid created the Health Home option to separate the design and management of services from the funding and delivery of services. The goal is to avoid any conflict of interest that might compromise the quality of care.

The states must provide so-called “conflict-free case management” by 2022 to comply with the Medicaid Home and Community Based Services Final Rule, issued in 2014 to align Medicaid with the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

According to the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, the integration mandate says individuals with disabilities must have access to the supports they need to live regular lives in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate – and that environment is presumed to be the community.

In line with Olmstead, as well as a 2014 consent decree in which Rhode Island has agreed to desegregate its daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities, state officials and the developmental disability community have embraced the idea of “person-centered planning,” which puts the needs and preferences of individuals at the core of any service plan.

But at the forum, Mary Beth Cournoyer, the mother of an adult son with developmental disabilities and a member of the Employment First Task Force, suggested “whole life” planning as a more encompassing term.

“How do we build lives? It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. The Employment First Task Force to which she belongs was created by the consent decree to serve as a bridge between the community and state government.

Zanchi said state officials will meet with their community partners, including families and providers, to ask them to help draft the design for a Health Home for adults with developmental disabilities before the application is submitted to the federal Medicaid program.

She said DDD hopes to have a Health Home up and running in about 12 months.

NEW WORKPLACE LAW AFFECTING SOME DD SERVICES

The forum also brought to light apparently unintended consequences of the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act, which went into effect last July 1, guaranteeing all workers get time off to go to doctors’ appointments and attend to other important personal and family needs. Companies with 17 or more employees are required to give paid leave.

Sue Babin of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council said that those who direct services for themselves or a loved one are receiving conflicting advice from fiscal intermediaries about whether the law applies to support staff for adults with developmental disabilities.

And some individuals who are advised the law does apply and are granting time off to their support staff are having problems finding substitute workers, Babin said.

Zanchi suggested a separate meeting with families that organize and direct their own services to discuss the impact of the new workplace law and any other inconsistent advisories they may be receiving from fiscal intermediaries, who control the individualized budgets the state authorizes to be spent on services for particular individuals.

RATE REVIEW GEARING UP

In an overview of changes at DDD, Zanchi announced that the division is about to embark on a review of its fee-for-service rate model for reimbursing private agencies that provide most of the developmental disability supports in state.

To that end, BHDDH has selected an outside consultant for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the new budget cycle beginning July 1.

Zanchi declined to name the contractor until a purchase order for services has been signed by the state purchasing office. She did say, however, that the consultant was not Burns & Associates, the Arizona-based company that helped a previous administration devise Project Sustainability That is the name for the existing fee-for-service model that doles out payments for daytime services in 15-minute increments that must be documented by each worker for each client served.

Zanchi said $500,000 for the consultant was budgeted in the current fiscal year, and an equal amount is in the governor’s proposal for the next budget.

To expedite the rate review, the contractor was selected as a “sole source” provider, without the months-long process or issuing a request for proposals and reviewing bids, Zanchi said.

NEW YOUTH AND TRANSITION ADMINISTRATOR

Zanchi announced that Susan Hayward, a veteran social casework supervisor, has been named to the new position of Youth and Transition Administrator, to coordinate a smooth shift for high school special education students moving into adult services.

Employment opportunities and other transitional servicesfor teenagers and young adults are a prime concern of the independent court monitor overseeing implementation of the 2014 consent decree, as well as an earlier interim settlement agreement affecting only youth and adults in Providence.

The 2013 interim settlement agreement addressed violations of the integration mandate of the ADA that involved a special education program at the Birch Academy of Mount Pleasant High School being used as a feeder program for a former sheltered workshop in North Providence called Training Through Placement. The agreement is set to expire July 1, 2020, at the discretion of the U.S. District Court.

BHDDH officials presented a PowerPoint of information covered at the public forum. To view it, click here.

The advocacy group RI FORCE (Rhode Island Families Organized for Reform, Change, and Empowerment) recorded the public forum and has posted the video, in three parts, on its Facebook page. To connect to the video, click here.

RI Governor's DD Budget Would Add $8.7 Million in Medicaid Funding For Wages, Higher Costs

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s recently released budget proposal would add nearly $8.7 million in new funding to the system of privately-run services for adults with developmental disabilities in the next 17 months, through June 30, 2020.

Most of that overall $8.7-million-increase, $6.4 million in federal and state Medicaid money, would fund raises for workers of some three dozen private agencies that provide developmental disability services under contract with the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The raises would take effect July 1. Funding for the added wages - an estimated 44 cents an hour – is carved out in the budget bill for Fiscal Year 2020 that Raimondo has submitted to the General Assembly.

The budget bill also requires that almost $1.6 million in federal-state Medicaid funds be earmarked for technical assistance to private providers changing from segregated care to community-based, integrated service to comply with a 2014 federal consent decree.

The current overall spending level for developmental disabilities, $271.7 million, would increase to $273.1 million for the budget ending June 30. In the next fiscal cycle beginning July 1, the spending ceiling would rise to nearly $280.9 million, including federal, state and miscellaneous sources of revenue.

The Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) draws more than half the resources assigned to BHDDH – which is currently budgeted for a grand total of almost $422.5 million. Under Raimondo’s plan, the bottom line for the entire department would grow to about $448.5 million in Fiscal 2020 – an increase of $26 million, including about $19.7 million in supplemental funding for the existing budget.

Developmental disability services are financed through the federal-state Medicaid program, with the federal government paying nearly 53 cents on the dollar.

The governor’s executive summary, however, tends to focus on the state outlay alone. It says $3.1 million in state funds would be earmarked to cover an existing deficit and an additional $3.3 million would be set aside in the fiscal year beginning July 1 for increased caseload costs.

Those budget items, combined with the state’s share of the $6.4 million proposed wage increase - $3 million – add up to $9.4 million, nearly twice the overall $5 million in new state tax dollars that Raimondo would apply to developmental disabilities for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next one.

The state would have to use savings in other areas to fully fund Raimondo’s plan for developmental disabilities, but neither the budget language nor the governor’s narrative spells out which cost-cutting measures would fill the gap.

The first-quarter spending report for BHDDH put the projected deficit in developmental disabilities at a total of $7.6 million for the current fiscal year, including federal and state funding.

The updated report for the second quarter will not be ready until Jan. 31, according to BHDDH officials.

But at a recent press briefing on the budget, Rebeca Boss, the BHDDH director, said she is satisfied that the governor’s proposal will enable the department to balance its current budget.

Among other things, the plan would restore money in the current budget that the DDD otherwise would have saved if it had won federal approval for a “Health Home,” a Medicaid option featuring a managed-care approach that also provides for a third-party to coordinate services for individuals.

The Health Home would help DDD comply with a Medicaid rule for Home and Community Based Services which requires case management to be separate from funding or service delivery. Currently DDD is responsible both for funding and for case management, which Medicaid perceives as a conflict of interest.

Boss said BHDDH has not yet submitted an application for a Health Home option for developmental disabilities. The budget assumes that a health home plan for developmental disabilities will be approved and go into operation during Fiscal 2020, which begins July 1.

Medicaid will reimburse 90 percent of the state outlay for health homes for a maximum of two years. After that period, the reimbursement rate for health homes will drop back to the regular rate for Rhode Island, whatever it may be at that time..

To help close the current deficit, the governor recommended an additional $273,412 in state revenue for BHDDH to pay homemaker licensed practical nurses who work with adults with developmental disabilities. The Executive Office of Human Services granted them a slightly higher pay increase than BHDDH had budgeted and the General Assembly had approved.

In adding $3.3 million in state revenue for “caseload” expenditures for the 2020 fiscal year, Raimondo’s executive summary said she “accepts the Department’s (BHDDH’s) most up to date projections” on costs, “ensuring no changes to services for DD consumers and continued financing to improve achievement of consent decree mandated services.”

Last year at this time, Raimondo had proposed cutting a total of more than $18 million in federal-state funding from developmental disability services, with a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget saying the proposed reduction was based on calculations made from “estimated growth rates in the cost of providing services.” She did not elaborate.

Raimondo, pressed by the independent court monitor overseeing the implementation of a 2014 federal civil rights consent decree, eventually restored the funding and pledged the state’s support of the work ordered by the federal court.

The consent decree requires Rhode Island to correct violations of the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, reinforced by the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, by ending its over-reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day care.

This year, according to Boss, BHDDH submitted cost projections on the basis of actual claims, as directed by the Executive Office of Health And Human Services, rather than individual funding authorizations.

In the process of updating projections, the data was refined to remove claims that had been double-counted on Medicaid rolls of both BHDDH and EOHHS, according to the executive summary of the budget.

For Fiscal 2020, the governor’s budget summary highlighted three additional areas for savings:

  • ·A continuation of “residential rebalancing”, a multi-year effort to reduce the number of people in group homes, a cost-saving measure that also is intended to provide more “community-based placements such as shared living.” The budget projects $1.5 million in “residential rebalancing” in 2020.

  • Closure of one state-operated group home for an estimated savings of nearly $92,000. The staff in that location will move to other sites, reducing the need for overtime in the state-run system.

  • So-called “right sizing” of staffing at the state-run group home system to realize additional projected savings of $202,721. “Right-sizing” means staffing patterns will be reassessed and employees will re-bid jobs. This change is expected to reduce overnight staffing and further reduce overtime costs.

Mediator Steps Into Labor Dispute Over Low Wages At Northern Rhode Island DD Service Provider

By Gina Macris

Seven Hills Rhode Island and the union representing workers who assist some 250 adults with developmental disabilities have agreed to meet with a mediator in an attempt to settle a months-long labor dispute.

A union spokeswoman, Jeanne Jose, organizer for the United Nurses and Allied Professionals, said the first mediation session was Wednesday, Jan. 23, and the two sides agreed to meet again with a mediator next week. Earlier in the month, the union membership, about 200 to 220 employees, authorized the negotiating committee to call a strike, if needed, Jose said.

UNAP initially proposed a 5 percent increase in wages across the board, she said. More than half the membership makes $10.94 an hour, and a five percent increase would add about 55 cents to that rate. Thirty-nine per-diem employees, who are on call but receive no benefits, are paid $12.36 an hour. She said 12 behavioral assistants, who must have bachelor’s degrees, make $15.36 an hour.

In the most recent bargaining session in December, Jose said, management gave the union a choice: either an across-the-board increase of 13 cents an hour, or a 25-cent increase for those making $10.94 an hour and no raise for higher-paid union members.

Neither option is acceptable, she said. The union membership voted Jan. 9 to authorize the bargaining committee to call a walkout, if necessary..

Efforts to reach management, represented by Cliff R. Cabral, vice president of Seven Hills Rhode Island, have been unsuccessful.

Jose said the union also seeks to preserve health care benefits, which she described as “decent.” Employees pay 20 percent of costs, she said, but rising premiums have eroded take-home pay.

There are three other areas where the union wants improvements:

· An increase in reimbursement for transportation, from 40 cents to 45 cents a mile for direct care workers, who are required to use their own vehicles on the job. The standard reimbursement rate allowed by the Internal Revenue Service in 2018 was 54.5 cents a mile. For 2019, the IRS increased the rate to 58 cents an hour.

· Contract language that ensures employees will receive adequate training or re-training before they are tested or re-tested on protocols for dispensing medication to clients.

· Adequate staffing to ensure health and safety on an as-needed basis; for example, when someone who uses a wheelchair is too heavy for one worker to transfer from the chair to a car to go to a doctor’s appointment and return home.

UNAP has represented developmental disability workers at Seven Hills and its predecessor organizations since about 2005, Jose said. The last contract expired in June, 2018.

With direct support wages linked to government funding, the labor dispute underlines the gap between pay in Rhode Island and neighboring states for the same work.

In Connecticut, all direct care workers make $14.75 an hour, effective Jan. 1.

In Massacusetts, where they’re called Personal Care Attendants, those who belong to the Service Employees International Union make $15 an hour.

The minimum wage in Massachusetts is $12 an hour. In Rhode Island it is $10.50. Governor Gina Raimondo recently proposed raising the minimum wage to $11.10 an hour and a wage increase for direct care workers that would add about 44 cents an hour to their paychecks.

The trade association representing about two thirds of private providers of developmental disability services, including Seven Hills, has said the average entry-level wage among its member organizations is $11.36 an hour.

Seven Hills Rhode Island is affiliated with the Seven Hills Foundation, a multi-faceted human service agency which has a broad presence in Massachusetts.

Union Raises Strike Possibility At Northern RI DD Provider Over Submarket Wages; No Deadline Set

By Gina Macris

Unionized workers supporting about 250 adults with developmental disabilities have indicated they may strike at Seven Hills Rhode Island over wages that lag significantly below those in neighboring states. No deadline has been set for a walkout.

The possibility of a strike by about 180 members of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) was disclosed in a letter that the management of Seven Hills sent to families Jan. 15. Talks between labor and management continue, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

An official of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) indicated that the union must give a 10-day notice of any walkout.

Kevin Savage, Associate Director for Quality Management, said Jan.18 that “BHDDH is in close contact with Seven Hills administration, who have put together a plan to ensure coverage of necessary services in the event that the union gives them a 10-day notice that a walk out will occur.”

He said BHDDH contracts with Seven Hills to support about 250 persons with developmental disabilities in a variety of residential settings, as well as supported employment services and non-work daytime activities.

The Jan. 15 letter to families, signed by Seven Hills’ vice president, Cliff R. Cabral, said that a work stoppage could force the agency to suspend or reduce “several program offerings.”

“Our day services program will be limited to 24 residential participants,” Cabral said. Seven Hills has 76 residential clients, according to the latest data compiled by the state.

Efforts to reach Cabral or a UNAP spokesperson were not immediately successful.

Average entry-level wages for direct care workers in Rhode Island are $11.36 an hour, according to the most recent figure released by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association representing two thirds of the private providers of developmental disability services in the state.

Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed an incremental raise – estimated by BHDDH at an average of about 44 cents an hour – effective July 1.

In Connecticut, entry-level direct care workers must be paid a minimum of $14.75 houirly. The Connecticut legislature approved the raises last May, even though it had not yet acted on the state budget, to avert a strike that had been planned at that time by the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU). The wage hikes became effective three weeks ago, on Jan. 1.

SEIU also has negotiated a $15 hourly minimum wage with Massachusetts for direct care workers in that state that went into effect July 1, 2018.

In the letter to families, Cabral said that “Seven Hills Rhode Island stands with our employees and will continue to advocate on their behalf for the living wage they deserve.”

He said Rhode Island’s system of care for adults with developmental disabilities still has not recovered from the General Assembly’s $24 million reduction in services in 2011. (Final figures on actual spending put the total over $26 million.)

Despite repeated and concerted advocacy, “our state representatives continue to place funding for individuals with developmental disabilities low on their priority list,”he said. The General Assembly’s inaction has significantly “compromised the sustainability of the current system,” which, Cabral said, has been weakened by below-market compensation and high staff turnover.

“Organizations such as ours have taken several painful measures throughout the past decade in an effort to ensure our fiscal sustainability, including liquidating assets and significantly reducing our administrative resources,” Cabral wrote.

While it has adhered to the “highest delivery standards possible,” Seven Hills cannot sustain its efforts indefinitely, Cabral said. He called on UNAP to join with management “to more productively direct our collective efforts toward lobbying for a substantial investment in this year’s state budget in order to adequately address the needs of those with developmental disabilities while ensuring a living wage for the remarkable individuals who support them.”

Seven Hills Rhode Island offers a variety of services for children, families and adults, with offices in Cranston and Woonsocket. Services for adults with developmental disabilities are based in Woonsocket, covering northern Rhode Island.

Rhode Island's DD Workers Would Get Estimated 44-Cent Pay Raise In Governor's Proposed Budget

By Gina Macris

Roughly 4,000 people who work with Rhode Islanders challenged by developmental disabilities would get an average pay increase estimated at 44 cents an hour effective July 1, according to Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year.

The average entry-level worker now makes $11.36 an hour, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association.

The wage increase would represent an additional $6.4 million in federal-state Medicaid funding, including $3 million in state revenue, according to an overall $9.9 billion budget Raimondo submitted to the General Assembly Jan. 17.

The budget plan also includes a 60-cent increase in the minimum wage, which would raise it from the current $10.50 to 11.10 an hour, if the General Assembly approves.

Other budget details involving developmental disability spending are still developing.

Donna Martin, Leader Of RI DD Provider Network, To Take On New Role At National Level

Donna Martin * Photo By Anne Peters

Donna Martin * Photo By Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

Donna Martin, the leader of a trade association representing two thirds of Rhode Island’s private providers of developmental disability services, will move to a new national advocacy post effective March 1.

Since 2005, Martin has worked as executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), helping about two dozen members weather drastic cuts in state and federal Medicaid funding in imposed by the General Assembly in 2011, with rippling effects on services for adults with developmental disabilities that still linger.

Effective March 1, Martin will be Director for State Partnerships and Special Projects at the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR) – the national umbrella organization for CPNRI and 54 other trade associations representing other states.

In a recent memo to CPNRI members, Martin said she had not been looking for a new job because she loves her work in Rhode Island.

“It has been a remarkable experience which has been a major influence on my professional path,” Martin said.

The opportunity to do similar work on a national scale “very unexpectedly presented itself, and I feel it’s the right time for me personally and professionally to embrace it,” Martin said.

Until now, Martin has been a member of ANCOR’s Board of Directors, an elected position she said she has resigned to join the staff. She said she will not have to relocate to the Washington area to take the job.

In her new role, she said, she will lead the work on a federal grant ANCOR has received to help providers best prepare for implementing managed care initiatives and also support state associations and help build their participation in the national organization.

Martin said that during her 19 years at CPNRI – she joined the staff in 2001 – she has developed “really strong relationships with members” of the organization.

“I understand the commitment they have made” to provide the best possible support to a vulnerable population, “in spite of difficult financial conditions and a draconian regulatory environment,” Martin said.

“That’s what strengthened me in my work,” she said.

Martin said she would advise her successor to “continue strengthening relationships” with the state legislature, the executive branch of government, and others. “Focus on those relationships,” she said.

“We really do better when we’re building in the same direction,” Martin said.

Experts: Sustainable, Effective DD Systems Support Individuals; Don't Pigeonhole People In Groups

Mary Lee Fay and William Ashe * All Photos By Anne Peters

Mary Lee Fay and William Ashe * All Photos By Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

When it comes to reforming service systems for those with developmental disabilities, policy makers often succumb to a fundamentally flawed approach, one expert told a Rhode Island Senate study commission Jan. 8.

Policy makers tend to “think about people in groups, but not think about people as people,” said William Ashe at a meeting of the commission, looking into how Rhode Island supports private service providers.

Ashe has helped the state of Vermont evolve toward a system that puts the needs of the individual first.

He also has become familiar with Rhode Island as a consultant to the federal court monitor overseeing implementation of a 2014 consent decree requiring the state to transform its segregated service model to a system that is integrated with the community.

Asked his opinion of Rhode Island system, Ashe said that what he’s seen leads him to believe it is a “barrier” to people’s ability to live more “independent and connected lives.” Ashe said his opinion is his own, not that of the monitor.

His comment,, however, happened to coincide with findings of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014, which said Rhode Island’s funding rules incentivized segregation.

Ashe is executive director of Upper Valley Services, which serves a single county in Vermont that is about half the size of Rhode Island. He addressed the commission along with Mary Lee Fay, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS).

Fay presented a broad swath of statistics on nationwide trends, but she nevertheless arrived at basically the same place as Ashe, talking about building services around relationships between persons with disabilities, their families and other important people in their lives.

How To Apply Best Practices To Rhode Island?

The session raised questions about how members of the commission will process the information in coming weeks and apply it to Rhode Island.

For private providers, Rhode Island has a fee-for-service system authorizing payments to providers only three months at a time, for a fixed menu of supports, requiring documentation of each worker’s daytime interaction with each client in 15-minute increments.

There is also a parallel state-run system of group homes that is exempt from the rules applied to private providers, even though they are all paid through the federal-state Medicaid program.

With all its emphasis on making private providers accountable for each minute of service, Rhode Island’s funding model has no definition or measure of what the services are supposed to accomplish in terms of stabilizing or improving people’s lives.

Successful outcomes were a recurring theme among the best practices described by Ashe and Fay.

L to R: Commission Members Deb Kney, Kevin McHale, Tina SPears, and Chairman Louis DiPalma

L to R: Commission Members Deb Kney, Kevin McHale, Tina SPears, and Chairman Louis DiPalma

After the meeting, the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, said the speakers offered a lot of “food for thought”. At the same time, he said, he wants to know more about the context of the successes in Vermont.

There, the predominant housing option is shared living in private homes – even for individuals who have challenging behavior - and services are tailored, or “bundled,” for a year’s time into individualized funding authorizations based on a person’s needs and goals.

Vermont’s system has been decades in the making, and DiPalma said he wants to know more about how the state got to where it is today. He said he expects commission members to begin airing their thoughts about the future of Rhode Island’s developmental disability system at the next meeting, yet to be scheduled, in late January.

Demographics, Economics Converge To Squeeze Human Services

Fay said that all the states are facing the same pressures, driven in part by the aging of the large population born after World War II.

Baby boomers have:

  • Increased the demand for the same type of direct care workers for the elderly as those who are employed in the field of developmental disabilities

  • Driven up the federal Medicaid and Medicare expenses, both entitlement programs with no cap.

Illustrating her point, Fay said that the fastest segment of the population is the elderly aged 85 and older. About 70 percent of that group needs some kind of assistance, she said.

Meanwhile, the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, combined with last year’s tax cut, will lead to continuing debate in Congress about the future of these safety-net programs, Fay said.

At the same time, demographic projections point to a shortage of direct care workers. The group most likely to go into direct care work – women aged 18 to 55 – remains flat in demographic projections 20 years into the future.

Low wages are an issue with the current workforce, but Fay said the demographics indicate there just will not be enough workers to go around in the future. States “won’t be able to buy” their way out of the labor shortage, which will get much worse in the years to come, she said.

Instead, she said, states will have to “think” their way out of the crisis with a new approach; less reliance on 24-hour care and more supports built around families – and employment.

In Vermont, that approach seems to have paid off more often than not, according to Ashe.

Ashe’s agency is one of ten organizations in Vermont which have broad responsibilities within a designated area for serving adults with developmental disabilities, although there are several other specialized providers without geographic boundaries.

To receive immediate funding, individuals must meet high-priority standards as defined by law. They involve such factors as health and safety considerations or the need for care while both parents work outside the home.

In 2017, there were 238 people statewide on a waiting list for non-priority services, Ashe said.

Ashe’s agency, Upper Valley Services, covers Orange County, an area half the size of Rhode Island with a total population of 28,000, mostly spread out in towns and villages with populations of fewer than 1,500. There is one traffic light in the entire county, Ashe said.

Ashe said all service plans are individually designed and reviewed by a board which includes representatives of providers and consumers as well as state officials. The board’s recommendation is submitted to the state, which makes the final decision on services and funding.

Vermont and RI Differ on Funding Approaches, Wages

Vermont, like most other states, allocates funding on an annual basis. Rhode Island is the only state which funds services quarterly, Fay said.

And unlike Vermont, Rhode Island allocates funding first and expects providers to come up with an individual service plan that doesn’t exceed the budget.

Ashe credits the Vermont legislature for making a practice of anticipating an increasing caseload and funding to meet its needs, rather than forcing providers to dilute the supports for people they already serve to cover the new arrivals.

In 2017, Ashe said, 390 people benefited from the legislature’s new-caseload funding practice, he said.

Vermont’s designation of responsible agencies means they cannot reject anyone in their geographic area who meets the eligibility criteria for priority funding. As a one-stop shop for everyone, Ashe’s agency provides a broad range of services to about 200 individuals in its jurisdiction.

The starting wage at Upper Valley Services is $14 an hour and the annual turnover is 13 percent, significantly lower than the statewide turnover rate of about 23 to 25 percent. If Ashe must serve a particularly challenging client, he said, he has the authority to increase a worker’s hourly rate. Instead of $14, he said, he might pay $18.

Rhode Island providers pay an average entry wage of $11.36 an hour, according to a trade association, although some workers new on the job make minimum wage, which is $10.50 an hour. Job turnover in Rhode Island averages about 33 percent each year, although the rate varies among individual providers.

Nationwide, the average state-level rate of turnover is 46 percent, according to Fay.

In Vermont, the average cost of services per person is $60,037, Ashe said, slightly higher than in Rhode Island.

In a statewide population of just over 600,000, Vermont supports about 4,500 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, about the same number as in Rhode Island, with a population of slightly more than one million.

Individuals have control over their service plans and may move money from one category to another, manage part or all of their services themselves, or let the agency be the service manager.

Employment And Housing

Among the clients of Upper Valley Services, 48 percent have jobs, averaging 8 hours a week, Ashe said.

Nationwide, the employment rate for adults with developmental disabilities is 19 percent, according to Ashe and Fay. Rhode Island’s rate is above the national average, but an exact figure was not immediately available.

Fay emphasized that employment is important not only for income, but also because a job provides autonomy and leads to connections with other people.

Shared living is one of five housing options in Vermont that, taken together, offer a broad range of supervision, up to and including intermediate care with a maximum of six residents in one facility.

The annual stipend for shared living is about $32,500. Ashe said he expects one responsible adult in the family to stay at home and not take an outside job.

Shared living should be viewed as part of a relationship, Fay said, not “foster care” or a “placement” that has nothing to do with the participants’ connections to each other.

24-Hour Case Management Key To Success

Ashe said the core of his operations is a network of case managers, each one with a caseload of about 14 people, who are on call 24 hours a day.

Case managers may arrange respite care for shared living providers or provide additional in-home supports, among a broad range of activities that include diffusing a crisis experienced by someone on their caseload.

In most instances, Ashe said, “the problem is not the person but the services around that person.”

His agency focuses on “re-building the support system to help that person stay in the community,” Ashe said.

In Vermont in 2017, there were five psychiatric admissions among adults with developmental disabilities, according to figures provided by Ashe.

Responding to a question from Rebecca Boss, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health Care, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, Ashe described the history of a crisis team begun in 1991 and crisis training for direct care staff in the field that has helped keep the number of psychiatric hospitalizations low.

Lending a national perspective, Fay said states are learning not to bring families to the table and expect them to speak a bureaucratic language to ask for a specific program, but instead to discuss ‘what is happening in your life and how can we support you?’’

Sometimes, families accept more services than they need, because they fear they will not be able to get them in the future, Fay said.

“I have visited states where people say, ‘I’ve taken a service not because I need it, but because if I say no, I’m afraid I won’t get access to anything in the future,’ “ Fay said.

States have to build trust in families, she said. Systems have to be designed to create an underlying confidence among families that the support will be there as the family’s needs change, she said.

Fay said “there isn’t a system out there that has it down perfectly,” but “states that do it well succeed because they have partnerships” with their communities.

To see an outline of Fay’s full presentation, click here.

To view a video of the commission meeting, click here. Look for an icon labeled with the date 1-8-19 and a title that reads “Special Legislative Study Commission To Evaluate Project Sustainability.” Note that some browsers may need Flash to play the video.

RI Senate DD Commission To Hear Options For Changing Funding Model From Two Experts

By Gina Macris

Two experts with broad experience in developmental disabilities will provide their perspectives on best practices Tuesday, Jan. 8 at the next meeting of the Rhode Island Senate commission studying “Project Sustainability,” the state’s much-criticized fee-for-service reimbursement system for private service providers.

Mary Lee Fay is executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS), based in Alexandria, VA.

William Ashe helped develop Vermont’s current “bundled” payment system. So-called “bundled” payments cover a defined set of services for a specific period of time. The system allows for individualized funding around each person’s unique needs, according to a description of the program Ashe wrote for the Vermont legislature in 2016. He is also involved in current efforts to update the Vermont payment system.

Ashe has experience in state government in Massachusetts and as a longtime private provider of developmental disability services in Vermont.

He has collaborated with the independent federal court monitor who is overseeing Rhode Island’s compliance with a 2014 federal consent decree intended to desegregate the state’s developmental disability service. Ashe has accompanied the monitor, Charles Moseley, on site visits and has written reports that have been incorporated into Moseley’s recommendations to the U.S. District Court.

Fay worked for much of her career for the state of Oregon, becoming director of developmental disabilities, a post she held for 11 years before she moved to NASDDDS in 2012. She is credited with leading the way for Oregon to become a leader in high quality services that allow adults with developmental disabilities more control over their lives.

For her first three years at NASDDDS, Fay focused on working with states to engage adults with developmental disabilities with their communities. She was named executive director in 2015.

Both Ashe and Fay were recommended to the commission by Moseley, the monitor in the consent decree case.

According to a spokeswoman for the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, Moseley said both speakers:

  • are familiar with the way different states manage services

  • are familiar with DD funding policies, practices, and requirements under Medicaid;

  • understand rates, rate setting, and provider billing processes;

  • understand the impact that funding has on the ability of individuals to live and experience full, productive, and integrated lives; and

  • understand approaches other states are using and lessons learned by their successes and challenges.

The Jan. 8 Commission meeting will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Senate Lounge at the State House.

'Our Lives Turned Upside Down' When Daughter Entered RI Adult DD System, Mother Says

Sustainability+commission+Dec.+meeting+main+pic+cropped+.jpg

Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss, and Kerri Zanchi watch A. Anthony Antosh of Rhode Island College present consumer and family perspectives on the state’s services for adults with developmental disabilities Photo by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

A Rhode Island Senate study commission spent nearly two hours Dec. 12 laying out a catalog of strengths and weaknesses in Rhode Island’s system for helping people with developmental disabilities.

But in the end, the personal stories of two mothers, Amy Kelly of Smithfield and Martha Costa of Portsmouth, focused the commission’s attention on the crises now unfolding for at least several families who are at their wits end.

In the catalogue, their experiences come under “residential services-need for specialized medical/behavioral residential models.”

For Amy Kelly, that means that every single service provider in Rhode Island – about three dozen - has turned away her 21 year-old daughter, who is autistic, has behavioral problems, and functions in many ways as a kindergartener.

“So now what do I do?” Kelly asked in a letter to the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. Kelly is a widow, and works fulltime. Her daughter, Kayla, was asked to leave the Trudeau Center in Warwick because of injuries to staff.

For a month now, Kayla has been at home all the time and her problematic behaviors have intensified, Kelly wrote. “She is out of her routine, asking for “friends,” “yellow bus,” “trip,” and other favorite things and experiences that she misses..

Kelly has been forced to choose “self-directed” services, meaning that she must find her own workers,“which is pretty much impossible,” she wrote to DiPalma.

And the Home Based Therapeutic Services that helped Kayla outside of school hours while she was still in special education are no longer available.

“I cannot believe there are no programs in RI for families in this situation!” Kelly wrote. “When my daughter turned 21 in May everything in our lives turned upside down.”

Martha Costa * courtesy of Capitol TV

Martha Costa * courtesy of Capitol TV

Martha Costa agreed. She attended the Commission hearing at the State House on behalf of her own family and five others in Portsmouth who have become friends as their children have faced behavioral challenges growing up and have aged out of the school system into purview of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

As the mother of a 22 year-old man on the autism spectrum, she said her experience has been that once young people with complex needs turn 21, “there is really no place for them to go.”

The family might be told to go to a hospital, but with the exception of Butler Hospital in Providence, a mental health facility, “the hospital is horrible, because it’s just more trauma going there.”

The 21 year-old daughter of a friend of Costa’s had meltowns after her mother – her primary caregiver and the one who organized her services - died in September. The woman’s daughter, who has multiple disabilities, was hospitalized because there was “nowhere for her to go,” Costa said. The young woman was “restrained, medically and physically. It’s heartbreaking,” Costa said.

“It’s lucky you have good parents who are helping these kids, but you know, we’re all getting older and we’re not going to be able to,” she said. The aging of parents, who are often primary care givers, is a broad concern among families, according to survey results.

“There are some kids who don’t have that parent support and they’re on the street,” Costa said. “That’s sad, when they can be a very productive part of our community.”

Kerri Zanchi, the state’s Director of Developmental Disabilities, thanked Costa for coming forward.

One of the biggest challenges in residential services, Zanchi said, is a dearth of specialized homes for individuals with behavioral and other complex needs, as well as a lack of therapists and other clinicians to give them the proper attention.

“There’s a huge need coming” as teenagers with complex disabilities leave schools, she said. “We need to know what that need is and we need to start working on it lot earlier than when they turn 21 and come into our system.”

Zanchi referred to the division’s Eligibility by 17 policy, which aims to give families, schools, and the adult system plenty of time to plan a smooth transition.

In the catalogue, one of the “challenges” the state officials listed in implementing the Eligibility by 17 policy is “resource and service difference for transitioning youth vs adult services.” In the summary that family and consumer representatives submitted, they commented that “transition from high school is a ‘nightmare.“

Zanchi continued her response to Costa. “We certainly recognize every day the crises we have to manage” in order to support the individuals involved and to try to grow the system’s capacity, she said.

And there are committed providers who are willing to help the state, but who also want to do that with the right staffing that will keep all individuals safe, Zanchi said. “We are all hands on deck. I know it probably doesn’t feel like enough,” she said.

Costa agreed. “ I understand what you’ve been doing and I know that everyone has been working hard . Still, it’s not enough,” she said.

Gloria Quinn, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, said her agency works very well with the state as a partner in exceptional situations, but it is extremely difficult as long as there there is a paucity of established expertise in the community that is accessible to the developmental disabilities providers.

“Very often we are creating something new, which takes an enormous amount of time,” Quinn said, and the funding is not enough. Most importantly, when the agency helps someone with increased needs it runs the risk of jeopardizing supports for other people, particularly in a residential setting, she said.

Peter Quattromani, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy Rhode Island, pointed to the low wages for direct care staff that frustrate all involved; those who love the work but can’t pay the bills, employers who can’t fill jobs, and consumers and families who can’t find suitable services.

“It’s an incredibly difficult job” , he said, and attracting staff is likewise very difficult, given the low wages.

Commission member Kelly Donovan, who herself receives services from DDD, had sparked the conversation by wondering aloud why those with serious behavioral problems have difficulty finding appropriate support.

She said she agreed with Quattromani and Costa, and she added another factor that she believes contributes to the problem: a societal stigma against those with a broad range of mental illnesses who exhibit aggressive behavior.

During the last month, commission members, representing the executive branch of government, private providers, and consumers and their families, were asked to complete a survey cataloging the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Medicaid fee-for-service system, called Project Sustainability.

The commission plans to use the results of the survey, named the “Current State Assessment,” to seek advice from outside experts and further the group’s deliberations in the future, according to a statement issued at DiPalma’s behest.

Directly or indirectly, a lack of adequate funding in various contexts permeated three summaries of the survey results, each one presented by a representative of each of the three segments of the commission. Transportation, for example, has become a bigger problem now that there is a greater emphasis on community-based services, which require more than the two daily trips usually allowed by individual funding authorizations. Families also cited difficulties of non-English speakers in getting information and services.

But Rebecca Boss, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, also said the developmental disabilities budget has increased significantly since 2015, and listed advances made in the last two years, including:

  • $6.8 million for supported employment

  • two annual wage increases for direct care workers (The average hourly pay for front-line workers is $11.36 an hour)

  • the acquisition of a modern data management system

  • an increase in staff for quality management, implementation of a federal civil rights consent decree and for Medicaid-mandated Home and Community Based Services, as well as assistance in maximizing the existing budget.

She described the funding needs of the system as “dynamic.”

“We are engaging in discussions with our partners about what those needs are,” Boss said. “Governor (Gina) Raimondo has demonstrated a willingness to look at the system and make adjustments in the budget as we go along. So this is the process that we’re currently working on and engaging in those conversations on a regular basis.”

Raimondo is to present adjustments for the current budget, as well as her proposal for the next fiscal cycle, during the third week of January.

Christopher Semonelli, a commission member and the father of a teenager with complex needs, commented on the origins of Project Sustainability, which seemed to him like system “in a death spiral, and there was basically a feeding frenzy as to how to continue the system; how to go after the available funds.”

“I don’t think the legislative base should be blamed” for cutbacks that launched Project Sustainability in 2011, “because there was a lack of advocacy, “he said. “Strong advocacy could have prevented that from happening. That is huge and needs to be built going forward.”

DiPalma had the last word. Semonelli “made a great point about advocacy, but he shouldn’t let the General Assembly off the hook,” DiPalma said. “This is where the buck stops.”

Read the summaries presented at the meeting. For the state’s assessment, click here. For consumer and advocates’ comments, click here. For service providers’ comments, click here.

RI Project Sustainability Commission To Meet December 12 To Air Views On Existing DD Services

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island Senate’s Project Sustainability Commission, which is evaluating the state’s fee-for-service Medicaid payment system for private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities, will meet Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. in the Senate Lounge at the State House.

Three members of the commission will summarize the views of all 19 panel participants regarding the planning, programming, and funding of the current system, as well as the family or consumer experience, according to the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. State officials, private providers, families, and consumers of services funded through the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals are all represented on the commission.

The meeting is open to the public, and a portion of the session will be reserved for comments from the audience, DiPalma said.

RI DD Services: The Annual Scramble Begins To Avoid Waitlists or Reduced Payments To Providers

By Gina Macris

For the second consecutive year, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) has raised the possibility that adults with developmental disabilities might face waiting periods for services if the department cannot resolve a projected $9,.4 million deficit by next June.

Most of that estimated $9.4 million shortfall - $7.6 million – occurs in the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

Waiting lists and reductions in reimbursement rates to private providers are among alternatives proposed by BHDDH director Rebecca Boss in a corrective action plan for dealing with the shortage in state revenue. Private organizations do most of the front-line work with adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges.

Any state agency running over budget must submit a corrective action plan to the state budget office. Seven other agencies are in the same position as BHDDH.

While complying with the requirement for a deficit-reduction plan, BHDDH also has prepared a budget request which seeks a additional $12.7 million in state revenue for the private system of developmental disability services through June 30, 2020. That total includes:

  • $7.6 million in supplemental funding to close the gap in payments to private service providers during the current fiscal year.

  • $5.1 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019.


No Wage Hikes In BHDDH Budget Request

The combined $12.7 million request does not reflect any wage increases for direct care workers in private agencies, a BHDDH spokeswoman said. According to a trade association, workers receive an average of $11.36 an hour - less than the $12 hourly pay offered at the Target store on the other side of the Massachusetts state line in Seekonk during Thanksgiving week.

The consultant involved in developing the existing fee-for-service rate structure seven years ago said recently that it’s “past time” for an overhaul of the reimbursements. Both House and Senate leaders say they support the idea of wage hikes for front-line workers.

Governor Gina Raimondo has not responded to email requests from Developmental Disability News for comment on recent public remarks of the consultant, Mark Podrazik, President of Burns & Associates.

Raimondo is due to present her budget proposal to the General Assembly the third week in January. She must consider many factors, including a projected $41.9 million deficit in overall state spending and recent revenue estimates running about $5.4 million below the previous projections, made last May.

Federal Officials Watching Budget Process

A lot can happen between now, the start of the budget planning cycle, and the end of June, when General Assembly adopts final figures to close out one fiscal year and launch a new budget on July 1.

And when it comes to spending on developmental disabilities, the conversation has broadened in the last several years to include the ever-increasing demands for reform imposed by a 2014 federal civil rights consent decree between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Before the budget was finalized in the last session of the General Assembly, the independent federal court monitor for the consent decree had sought and obtained written assurances from Raimondo that the state would support mandated systemic changes in services as Rhode Island moves toward community-based, integrated supports of adults with developmental disabilities.

In a letter dated May 14, 2018 to Charles Moseley, the federal court monitor, Raimondo said, “Rhode Island has made significant progress in meeting the requirements of the Consent Decree, and we will continue to prioritize this work.”

What the state’s commitment to developmental disabilities looks like in the current budget is level funding.

Last January, Raimondo proposed a cut of $18.4 million to payments for private service providers, but after better-than-expected revenue estimates in May, pressure from constituents, and Moseley’s request for assurances, Raimondo reversed her position and the General Assembly approved a status quo budget.

Boss Details The Current Problem

Now Boss says that level funding will not be enough to meet expenses, primarily because of an increasing caseload and rising average costs per person. These two trends can be traced back to compliance with the consent decree.

In the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, DDD spent a total of $228.3 million in federal-state Medicaid funds, including $111.1 million in state revenue, for payments to private agencies that provide most of the developmental disability services, Boss wrote to the state Budget Office in October.

The current budget authorizes an expenditure of $229.4 million for those Medicaid payments, with $107.5 from state revenue and the rest from the federal government.

However, in the current budget, DDD is expected to stretch the $229.4 million to cover some additional mandates:

  • a total of $1.5 million on contracts and staff to support the consent decree

  • $620,000 – about $400,000 more than anticipated – to pay for an increase in wages for home health aides and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who serve adults with developmental disabilities in their own homes. Boss said the state Medicaid office had set a slightly higher rate for the LPNs than the department had anticipated.

Together, these two factors mean that there is $1 million less in the current budget than there was in the last one for actual services to adults with developmental disabilities, Boss wrote in a report to state Budget Office on spending for the first quarter of the fiscal year.

At the same time, DDD estimates its overall caseload will increase about 1.5 percent during the current budget cycle, based on trends over the last two years. That increase will cost an additional $1.1 million from state revenue,, according to Boss.

In addition, nearly 900 persons are slated for re-evaluation of their needs during the current fiscal year, with interviewers using a revised assessment that has been resulting in generally higher per-person costs since it was adopted in November, 2016, Boss said. The use of the revised assessment, the Supports Intensity Scale – A, is expected to add about $900,000 from state revenue to service costs, Boss wrote in the first-quarter spending report, submitted in October.

Moreover, DDD expects to spend all $6.8 million allocated by the General Assembly for a supported employment program that pays private providers performance bonuses for job placement and retention., The first allocation, in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2016, was underutilized.

Boss said she did not favor a wait list for services as a corrective action plan because it would cause hardship and make DDD unable to continue complying with the 2014 federal consent decree.

Rate reductions to private service providers also would make it impossible to comply with the consent decree and would destabilize the entire system of care, Boss said.

Savings anticipated in State-Run Group Homes

Boss said she does favor another option, consolidation of the state-run group home system known at Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS.) DDD is working on closing one state-run group home and relocating existing staff to save on overtime costs, Boss said.

Changes in group home configuration toward smaller units more accessible to the community are being required anyway by the Medicaid Home and Community Based Final Rule.

The consultant for Burns & Associates, Mark Podrazik, recommended in 2011 that the state gradually eliminate RICLAS to more more equitably fund private providers, who were facing severe cuts in payments that resulted in dramatically lower wages and made it difficult for employers to fill job vacancies, problems that persists today.

In testimony Nov. 13 before a special Senate commission, Podrazik said he was told in 2011 that the state did not want to address RICLAS out of concern about a fight from unions.

Over the last several years, however, the size of the RICLAS caseload has declined through attrition. For example, at the start of 2016, there were 210 persons in RICLAS homes, state officials said at the time. Six weeks ago, in mid-October, the RICLAS caseload had shrunk to 126, according to state records.

RI House Speaker And Senate President Both Support Higher Pay For DD Workers

By Gina Macris

The top two leaders in the Rhode Island General Assembly say they support the idea of increasing the pay of workers who provide services for adults with developmental disabilities.

“I am very supportive of the developmentally disabled community,” said House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, “and I believe those people who care for them should receive a rate increase. The House of Representatives will certainly strongly consider such a request in next year’s budget deliberations.”

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio is likewise supportive, a spokesman said.

“The Senate President supports increasing wages for providers of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Ruggerio’s spokesman said, adding that “Senator Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown) has provided extraordinary leadership on this issue, including a proposal to gradually increase wages for providers, and the Senate President supports his initiative.”

Whether Governor Raimondo will consider increasing funding for the private system of care for adults with developmental disabilities in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year remains to be seen. Her office has not responded to a Nov. 20 email seeking comment on possible pay increases.

Developmental Disability News asked the state’s leaders whether they would consider re-visiting reimbursement rates after Mark Podrazik, the president of the healthcare consulting firm Burns & Associates, told a Senate commission chaired by Senator DiPalma that a review of pay hikes is warranted.

DiPalma’s commission is studying the current fee-for- service system, called Project Sustainability, which Burns and Associates was instrumental in developing seven years ago. While the consultants took the lead in the project design, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) disregarded the actual reimbursement rates the firm proposed, instead reducing most of them by 17 to 19 percent before forwarding the final version of the plan to the General Assembly in the spring of 2011.

Burns & Associates recommends a rate overhaul once every five years, Podrazik told the commission Nov. 13. After nearly seven and a half years, “it’s past time,” he said.

Podrazik testified that Project Sustainability was shaped by the state’s drive to control costs, but by that measure, the system has failed.

The developmental disability budget repeatedly has run over the limits set by the General Assembly, and the gaps have only increased during the last few years as the U.S. District Court has enforced a federal civil rights agreement with the state that requires Rhode Island to integrate adults with developmental disabilities in their communities.

That approach, necessary to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, costs more than the reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day centers codified in Project Sustainability.

DiPalma, the chairman of the Project Sustainability commission, takes exception to a view that the developmental disability services program has been overspending.

“If the budget was unrealistic from the get-go, you’re going to exceed that budget,” he said at the commission meeting Nov. 13. He has studied developmental disability service budgets for ten years, he said, and none of them have been realistic.

Increasing wages for direct care workers “needs to become a priority” for a number of reasons, DiPalma said in a telephone interview. “If it’s a priority, we’ll find the money.”

In 2016, DiPalma called for a $15 hourly wage for direct care workers by July 1, 2021, but now he says “we need to get there faster.”

And he indicated he no longer believes $15 is enough. For example, Massachusetts, an easy commute from many places in Rhode Island, is already paying that amount to members of the Service Employees Union International who work with persons with disabilities. A bill signed by Governor Charles Baker in June put Massachusetts on a path to a $15 minimum wage in five years.

At one time, those who worked with adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges had full time jobs with benefits. But Project Sustainability resulted in drastic cuts to wages and benefits that destabilized the workforce, forcing many to leave the field or to take two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Turnover averages about one in three workers a year, and employers are unable to fill one in six jobs, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association. At the same time, the demands of the consent decree require more highly skilled staff.

Since July 1, 2016, the General Assembly has enacted two relatively small pay increases for direct care staff and their supervisors at private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities, but the average pay, $11.36 an hour, is still two dollars less than the hourly rate of $13.97 which Burns & Associates recommended in 2011.

Eric Beane, RI Secretary Of Health And Human Services, To Step Down; Career Options "Open"

By Gina Macris

ERIC BEANE * Photo Courtesy Of State Of RI

ERIC BEANE * Photo Courtesy Of State Of RI

Eric Beane, Rhode Island’s Executive Secretary of Health and Human Services, will step down at the end of the year, the office of Governor Gina Raimondo announced Nov. 15.

Over the four years of Raimondo’s first term, Beane has served the governor in several high-level capacities, most notably as a troubleshooter assigned to clean up the disastrous roll-out two years ago of UHIP – Unified Health Infrastructure Project – a computerized public assistance system that left thousands of needy individuals without benefits.

Raimondo has appointed Lisa Vura-Weis, a deputy chief of staff in her office, as interim Secretary while a search for a permanent replacement is underway.

Beane, whose last day on the job will be in mid-December, plans to travel and spend time with family and friends, according to a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. He is “leaving his career options open,” the spokeswoman said.

In a statement, Raimondo said she is “deeply grateful for Eric's four years of service to the people of Rhode Island. Because of Eric's work, Rhode Island's health and human services are undoubtedly stronger today than they were when I first took office."

Raimondo, in addition to noting his work on the UHIP system, credited Beane with directing the reform of the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and overseeing the implementation of a “nationally recognized action plan to address the addiction and overdose crisis that is saving Rhode Islanders’ lives.”

Beane, a former trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and former deputy chief of staff for former Governor Martin O’Malley of Maryland, came to Rhode Island as Raimondo’s deputy chief of staff in 2015. He also served as Raimondo’s Chief Operating Officer, overseeing social services, and served as acting director of the Department of Human Services before he was named to the Secretary’s position in the wake of UHIP scandal in May, 2017.

As acting Secretary, Vura-Weis will focus primarily on budget and management and help with a comprehensive search for a permanent replacement to Beane, according to a statement issued by the governor’s office.

In her current position she has focused on health and human services, administration, and management, working closely with Beane and Raimondo on UHIP.

Before joining the Raimondo administration she worked for the Boston Consulting Group on projects related to healthcare effectiveness. Vura-Weis also has worked for the state of New York on healthcare insurance reform. She has a master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University and a master’s degree in public health from Princeton.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services oversees the Departments of Health, DCYF, the Department of Human Services, and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). Among other things, BHDDH is charged with implementing reforms in services for adults with developmental disabilities to comply with a 2014 federal civil rights agreement with the Department of Justice.

Healthcare Consultant Says "It's Past Time" For RI To Revisit Rates It Pays For Private DD Services

Boss DiPalma Quattromani Kelly Donovan Deb Kney Kevin McHale.jpg

From foreground, on the right, Rebecca Boss, Louis DiPalma, Peter Quattromani, Kelly Donovan, Deb Kney, and Kevin McHale, all members of the Project Sustainability Commission. DiPalma is chairman. All photos by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island is overdue in undertaking a comprehensive review of rates it pays private providers of services for adults with developmental disabilities, according to a top official of a healthcare consulting firm who helped develop the existing payment structure seven years ago.

Mark Podrazik

Mark Podrazik

“It’s past time,” said Mark Podrazik, president and co-founder of Burns & Associates. He said the firm recommends an overhaul of rates once every five years. Podrazik appeared Nov. 13 before a Senate-sponsored commission which is evaluating the way the state organizes and funds its services for those facing intellectual and developmental challenges.

The commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, had invited Podrazik to help the 19-member panel gain a deeper understanding of the controversial billing and payment system now in place before it recommends changes intended to ultimately improve the quality of life of some 4,000 adults with developmental disabilities.

Burns & Associates was hired by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) in 2010 to develop and implement Project Sustainability, a fee-for-service system of payments to hold private providers accountable for the services they deliver and give consumers more flexibility in choosing what they wanted, Podrazik said.

In answering questions posed by commission members, Podrazik made it clear that the final version of Project Sustainability was shaped by a frenzy to control costs. The state ignored key recommendations of Burns & Associates intended to more equitably fund the private service providers and to protect the interests of those in the state’s care.

Podrazik said that overall, Burns & Associates believed the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) had neither the capacity or the competence implement Project Sustainability at the outset or to carry out the mandates to companion civil rights agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice reached in 2013 and 2014.

“I think people were a little shocked” by the new federal requirements to integrate day services in the community and by the question of “who was going to do it,” Podrazik said of the DDD staff at the time.

DDD also had an antiquated data system that ill served Project Sustainability and the separate demands for statistics imposed by a federal court monitor overseeing the consent decrees.

Podrazik said the aged IT system was the biggest problem faced by Burns & Associates.

Asked whether funding changed to implement the civil rights agreements, Podrazik said he didn’t recall that there were any significant changes, if any at all. Burns & Associates ended its day-to-day involvement with BHDDH in Feb. 2015, when Maria Montanaro became the department director. (She has since been succeeded by Rebecca Boss, and there has been a complete reorganization and expansion of management in DDD. A modern IT system recently went online.)

Between the fall of 2015 and early 2016, Burns & Associates had a separate contract with the Executive Office of Human Services, which asked for advice on cutting supplemental payments to adults with developmental disabilities.

While Project Sustainability was supposed to give consumers more choice, the U.S. Department of Justice found just the opposite in a 2013 investigation.

DOJ lawyers wrote in their findings that “systemic State actions and policies” directed resources for employment and non-work activities to sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs, making it difficult for individuals to get services outside those settings.

“Flexibility” Functioned As Tool For Controlling Costs

At the meeting Nov. 13, Andrew McQuaide, a commission member and senior director at Perspectives Corporation, a service provider, suggested that features of Project Sustainability ostensibly designed to encourage flexibility and autonomy for those using the services functioned in reality as mechanisms to control costs.

Podrazik said, “In my heart of hearts, I think everybody wanted more flexibility,” but “then the financial constraints were imposed in such a way that the objectives could not necessarily be met.”

“We were not hired to cut budgets,” Podrazik said. Going into the project, “we did not know what the budget was” for Project Sustainability.

He said Burns & Associates recommended fair market rates for a menu of services under the new plan. For example, it proposed an hourly rate for direct care workers was $13.97. But BHDD refused the consultants’ advice to fight “aggressively” for this level of funding, Podrazik said. With the budget year that began July 1, 2011, BHDDH recommended, and the General Assembly adopted, a rate of $12.03 an hour, nearly two dollars less.

The state had the option to change the rate effective Oct. 1, 2011, and it did, dropping the hourly reimbursement for direct care workers to $10.66 to absorb last-minute cuts made by the General Assembly in the developmental disabilities budget for the fiscal year that had begun July 1. (Rates have increased slightly since then. The average direct care worker made about $11.36 an hour in early 2018.)

“I understood why the department (BHDDH) was doing what they were doing, because they were getting an incredible amount of pressure on the budget – so much so that they were getting their hand slapped when they were over,” Podrazik said.

“From the outside coming in, there was a lack of confidence that BHDDH could actually administer a budget that came in on target, so that there was an intense scrutiny to keep the budget intact. It did not help that that they were cut and that there were no caseload increases (in the budget) for multiple years,” Podrazik said.

“They were behind the eight-ball before anything was contemplated,” he said.

Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss

Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss

DiPalma, the commission chairman, saw the situation from a different perspective: “Someone will say the agency exceeded the budget, but if it was unrealistic from the get-go, you’re going to exceed that budget.”

As a legislator, DiPalma said, he has looked at developmental disability service budgets for ten years, and there hasn’t been one that was realistic.

“Right,” Podrazik replied, adding that funding for developmental disabilities had been declining from year to year in Rhode Island, even before Burns & Associates was hired for Project Sustainability.

Podrazik said he hasn’t been following developmental disabilities in Rhode Island during the last few years, but “somebody should look at the rates, if for no other reason” than “we’re in an economy that’s very different than it was in 2010.” He cited health care costs and a move toward “$15 an hour wages.”

“It’s a whole different landscape,” he said.

Consultants Recommended Eliminating Separate State-Run DD System

In 2011, with Project Sustainability facing a funding shortage even before it got off the ground, Burns & Associates recommended that BHDDH get more money to support the services of private agencies by eliminating – gradually – the state-run developmental disabilities system, called Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS.)

At the time, average per-person cost for a RICLAS client ran about three times more than the average in the privately-run system. All the RICLAS clients could eventually be transferred to private providers, Burns & Associates advised the state.

“This recommendation was shut down immediately, with the reason being a protracted fight with the unions,” Podrazik said in prepared remarks.

Burns & Associates then recommended lowering the reimbursements to RICLAS. “This was also shut down,” Podrazik wrote.


“It was apparent early on that there were funds to be redistributed between RICLAS and the Private DD system, but there was no appetite to do so. It is unclear exactly where this directive was coming from within state government, but that was the directive given” to Burns & Associates, Podrazik wrote.

Providers Expected To Maintain Same Service For Reduced Pay

Commission members asked Podrazik whether anyone at Burns & Associates or state government believed that it was possible for private service providers to absorb the rate reductions written into Project Sustainability, given the fact that about half the agencies were already running deficits before the program was enacted.

McQuaide quoted from the memo that BHDDH sent the General Assembly in May, 2011, explaining its approach to implementing Project Sustainability.

“We did not reduce our assumptions for the level of staffing hours required to serve individuals,” the memo said. “In other words, we are forcing the providers to stretch their dollars without compromising the level of services to individuals,” the memo said.

McQuaide asked, "Did anyone actually think that was possible?”

“I don’t know,” Podrazik replied, but he remembered meetings in which participants expressed sentiments similar to the quotation highlighted by McQuaide.

Given the budgetary restrictions, Podrazik said, he favored reducing rates rather than cutting back on services or creating a waiting list for services.

Podrazik said Burns & Associates was hired to deal with certain problems; not to review services for adults with developmental disabilities top to bottom.

Assessment Used For Funding Became Controversial

Asked to change the assessment used to determine each person’s need for support, Burns and Associates recommended the Supports Intensity Scale, or SIS, and advised it should be administered by an entity “other than the provider or the state to avoid the perception of gaming the system,” he said.

The state went forward with the SIS, linked it to funding individual authorizations, or personal budgets for clients, and assigned the administration of the assessment to the state’s own social caseworkers.

The fact that the SIS is administered within BHDDH has been criticized by the DOJ and an independent federal court monitor. With federal scrutiny on BHDDH, and numerous complaints from families and providers that the SIS scores were manipulated to cut costs, the department switched to a revised SIS assessment and retrained all its assessors in November, 2016.

Funding Authorized Three Months At A Time To Control Costs

According to Podrazik, Burns & Associates recommended each client’s funding authorization – or personal budget – be awarded on an annual basis, to allow individuals to plan their lives and providers to look ahead in figuring out expenses.

But the state insisted on the option to change reimbursement rates on a quarterly basis as a means of managing costs more closely within a fiscal year. That was the feature of Project Sustainability which enabled BHDDH to impose two consecutive cuts on providers, once on July 1, 2011, and a second time on Oct. 1, 2011. Since then, rates have increased incrementally.

At the hearing, Podrazik illustrated the difference between a yearly authorization and a quarterly one in the life of a consumer.

“Maybe someone goes away for the month of August,” he said. If that person has a quarterly authorization, the money for services in August reverts to the state. But with an annual authorization, the funding can be used for the person’s benefit during another month of the year.

Podrazik agreed with a commission member, Peter Quattromani, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, that quarterly authorizations compromise the flexibility intended to be part of the design of Project Sustainability.

Podrazik said he knows of no other state that makes quarterly authorizations for developmental disability services.

DiPalma, the commission chairman, asked if there was any thought given to the impact of a requirement that providers document how each staff person working during the day spends his or her time with clients, in 15-minute blocks.

Podrazik said, “I don’t think people thought the impact would be negligible, but the desire for accountability outweighed that, and I fully endorsed them.”

Project Sustainability decreased overhead costs to private providers but did not offset those cuts with allowances for hiring the personnel necessary to process the documentation.

When DiPalma thanked Podrazik for his time, Podrazik quipped that Rhode Island was “the last place I thought I’d ever be.”

“The Rhode Island project wore me down, so I’m working with hospitals these days,” Podrazik said.

He said he came back to Rhode Island because DiPalma was very persuasive and because he wanted to “set the record straight” on the involvement of Burns & Associates with Project Sustainability.







Burns & Associates President To Speak To RI Senate Commission Studying DD Reimbursement

A special commission of the Rhode Island Senate on “Project Sustainability” will meet Tuesday, Nov. 13 to hear a presentation from the president of a healthcare consulting firm which helped the state develop its current fee-for-service Medicaid reimbursement system for private providers who serve adults with developmental disabilities.

The speaker, Mark Podrazik , is the president and co-founder of Burns & Associates, an Arizona-based company which advised the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) on recommendations BHDDH made to the General Assembly. The legislature made the final decisions about the reimbursement model, which was enacted in 2011.

Burns & Associates was paid nearly $1.4 million for their work developing “Project Sustainability” and analyzing its fiscal impact between 2010 and 2016, according to state records.

Tuesday’s public meeting will begin at 3 p.m. in the Senate Lounge of the State House. Public comment is invited at the end of the session, according to the commission chairman, State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. The commission includes 19 members from state government and a cross-section of the developmental disability community. Among them are two consumers and representatives of advocacy groups and service providers.

RI Consent Decree Judge Wants To Sharpen Focus On DD Services That Encourage Integration

By Gina Macris

For nearly three years, the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island has monitored the state’s progress in implementing a federal civil rights consent decree that seeks to integrate adults facing intellectual or developmental challenges with their communities, detailing the progress made and work yet to be done.

With the 2014 consent decree nearing the middle of its 10-year run, and an earlier, more limited companion agreement designed to expire in July, 2020, Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. has asked participants to come to court next time with a different approach.

In a hearing Oct.30, McConnell asked an independent court monitor, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice and state officials to come to court next time with a focus on the areas of greatest concern and to be prepared with recommendations for what the Court can do other than monitor developments.

On Oct. 30, he boiled down the core issues into two parts.

  • Each person protected by the consent decree should have a thoughtful long-range plan for a career that reflects his or her unique needs, preferences and goals.

  • Actual services funded by the state should fit with the goals of the individualized career development plan.

To be sure, McConnell praised the “tremendous progress” made by the state, including the closure earlier this year of the last sheltered workshop. He also heard about increases in supported employment, the growth of a quality improvement unit aimed at assuring all services meet high standards, and cooperation among state officials and private providers. Providers have said in recent months that their working relationship with state officials is better than it has been in many years.

At the same time, problems persist in finding jobs for young adults and in providing high quality personalized support services for non-work activities that typically take up the majority of individuals’ time, according to the testimony McConnell heard.

Continuing concerns about inadequate funding surfaced during the Oct. 30 hearing when the independent monitor, Charles Moseley, described a visit he and another consultant had with state officials and 16 providers in early August.

In a report filed with the Court hours before the hearing, Moseley said “significant numbers” of the providers indicated that they continue to run deficits in key areas and that funding allocations for individual services are insufficient to cover the costs of the services that must be provided.

Among major barriers to providing services, 94 percent cited transportation, 88 percent pointed to a lack of funding and complicated billing procedures for reimbursement, and 69 percent highlighted high staff turnover and poor job retention.

All these factors become particularly problematic when the state and the federal government are asking providers to undertake more staff training to gain expertise in the principles and practice of individualization, to enroll more young adults as clients, and to provide individualized support in the community as each of their charges goes to different job sites and engages in non-work activities in various places.

According to the consent decree, all young adults who left high school between 2013 and 2016 – those seeking adult services for the first time - were to be offered employment by July 1, 2016. But the state still hasn’t fulfilled that requirement, even after the deadline was extended to Sept. 30 of this year.

Moseley reported that on Sept. 29, the state had achieved 77 percent of that goal, or 257 job placements out of an “employment census” of 334 young adults.

Victoria Thomas, the DOJ lawyer, said she believes the state is using effective strategies to reach out to the remaining young adults and will monitor the situation.

She said DOJ lawyers visited the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School recently and while they were generally delighted with the transformation, they were surprised to learn “how few high school students exited directly into supported employment.”

Students at the Birch Academy are protected by the predecessor to the 2014 statewide consent decree, called the Interim Settlement Agreement. The agreement, signed in 2013, was limited to addressing the use of the Birch high school program as a feeder to a now-defunct sheltered workshop in North Providence called Training Through Placement.

Thomas said that, according to the Interim Settlement Agreement, students who turn 18 should have the support they need to make the transition to work or actually hold a job while they are still in school.

Thomas said she wants to address the transition issue in the time remaining for the Interim Settlement Agreement, which is to end July 1, 2020.

All parties to the settlement must be in “substantial compliance” with the Interim Settlement Agreement a year before it expires. What substantial compliance looks like might be different for the state than for the Providence School Department, said Thomas, telling the judge that the DOJ will prepare some recommendations on the matter.

The city has met virtually every target set out by the Interim Settlement Agreement and earned McConnell’s praise. “Keep it up,” he said.

The state is responsible to the court for the work done by the private service providers under the terms of both the Interim Settlement Agreement and the statewide consent decree.

The providers’ performance got mixed reviews from Moseley and another consultant, William Ashe, who in early October analyzed a small random sample of plans, looking for the degree to which they were individualized and how they compared to the actual services provided.

The consultants expected the providers to use a guide on “person-centered thinking” developed by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College to formulate plans that put a particular person’s needs, preferences, and goals at the center of the planning process.

In 10 of the 17 plans, participants chose non-work activities from a menu of offerings that rotated on a weekly schedule, according to Ashe. But this kind of choice is not considered “person-centered” because the participants were not able to consider the the full range of opportunities available in the community.

“It is fair to say that the implementation of person-centered planning remains a work in progress where there has been significant but uneven advances in the development of person-centered planning practices. There remains a significant amount of work yet to be done,” Ashe wrote.

He found other instances in which plans indicated individuals had significant problems in communication. But neither the plans nor the actual services addressed ways in which communication could be improved.

“Frequently, there were clear instances of personal preference identified in the planning process that did not appear to be reflected in the services that were actually happening, Ashe said.

For example, one man indicated he wanted to learn to read and use a computer, but none of the goals written in his plan responded to that request.

Some of the plans reviewed were for clients of Easter Seals Rhode Island, formerly Community Work Services, an agency that nearly lost its license to operate in 2017 but has made a dramatic turnaround during the last year.

Ashe said “there are still very substantial steps that need to be taken in order to get this organization to an acceptable level of “person-centeredness” and to some extent, the same applies to other agencies.

Agencies should “diversify” the way that integrated day services are provided, he said.

From what Ashe observed, he said, it felt like community agencies like the YMCA and a bowling alley were becoming “a little bit like a day program” as staff and clients from one or more service providers gathered in the same place at the same time.

At the bowling alley, staff from several agencies sat together with their clipboards and watched the bowlers, Ashe said.

Based on a review of documents and direct observations, Ashe said, “there is a significant ongoing need for continued training on person-centered planning with an emphasis on how to take a plan and put it into action.”

“A good person-centered plan by itself does not produce good person-centered outcomes. How to individualize and implement these plans needs to be a focus for training,” Ashe concluded.

Read the full monitor’s report here.

VOTE! Your Voice DOES Matter! Speaking Up At the Ballot Box Has Never Been More Important

  • The Rhode Island Disability Law Center and Advocates In Action Have Teamed Up To Help You Make A Plan To Vote On November 6

In the video, Kate Bowden, a staff attorney with the Rhode Island Disability Law Center and participants in Advocates in Action explain how to make a plan to vote. Here are some additional tips.

RI Has A Voter ID Law

Before you go to the polls, make sure you have a current and valid form of one of the seven different acceptable forms of voter identification:

  • a Rhode Island driver’s license or permit

  • a U.S. passport

  • an ID card issued by any federally recognized tribal government

  • an ID card issued by an educational institution in the U.S.

  • a U.S. military ID card

  • an ID card issued by the U.S. government or the state of Rhode Island, such as a RIPTA bus pass

  • a Rhode Island voter ID card issued by the Secretary of State’s office.

If You Know You Can’t Get To The Polls

Time is running out, but if you know you won’t be able to get to the polls on Election Day and you haven’t applied for a regular mail ballot, you can still vote in-person before Election Day at your local Board of Canvassers at your city or town hall. You may also authorize another person to pick up your ballot for you. You must submit an original application for Emergency Mail Ballot no later than Nov. 5.

You may obtain an Emergency Mail Ballot application by:

  • going online at this page on the Secretary of State’s website.

  • contacting your local Board of Canvassers where you have registered to vote for further details.

To be counted, all Mail Ballots must be in the hands of the Rhode Island Board of Elections by 8 p.m. Election Day.

AutoMark Helps Voters With Visual Impairments

Watch the video demonstration to see how the AutoMark Voting System works. If you have questions about AutoMark, call the Rhode Island Disability Law Center at 401-831-5150.

All polling places are required to provide accessible voting technology for voters with disabilities pursuant to the federal Help America Vote Act, Bowden says. Rhode Island uses the AutoMark Voting System. All voters are allowed to use the AutoMark equipment.

Photo By Anne Peters

Photo By Anne Peters

Bowden says the machine reads the ballot to voters who are blind or have difficulty reading and marks the ballot for them. Bowden says the AutoMark equipment is positioned discretely so that passers-by can’t see how a voter votes. Bowden is pictured to the right helping Shauna Corriea practice how to cast her marked ballot during a recent conference of Advocates In Action.

Disability Law Center Offers Election Day Hotline

If you have disability-related questions about voting or your voting rights, you can call the Disability Law Center at 401-831-3150 (TTY 401-831-5335) anytime from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the run-up to Election Day. If you’re having problems at the polls on Election Day, the hotline will be open during polling hours. Bowden said she has already voted so she can staff the hotline on Election Day.

“If something comes up, we are in touch with the Board of Elections,” she said. For example, the polling place may appear to be inaccessible because the signage is not placed correctly. In that case, Bowden would call the Board of Elections and the Board would in turn direct poll workers to move the signage to the accessible door.

For More Information on Voting

Go to the Secretary of State’s Voter Information Center by clicking here.

After You’ve Voted

The Governor’s Commission on Disabilities would like you to bring to the polls with you the Commission’s 2018 Volunteer On-Site Polling Place Survey, which you can download and print by clicking here. Fill it out and email, fax, or mail it to the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities by the end of the Election Day week. (The address is at the bottom of the survey.) Ask your friends, co-workers, customers, and fellow members of your organizations to do the same. 

“Every citizen should be able to vote in the same location as their neighbors without help and without others seeing their ballot,” Bob Cooper, executive director of the Commission, said in a statement. Click here to download and print the survey. Anyone encountering problems or issues while conducting this survey or any barriers to voting may contact Cooper at Bob.Cooper@GCD.RI.Gov or call 401-462-0102.

Tim Vogt, Emerging Leader in Building Inclusive Communities, To Speak in Rhode Island Nov. 3

Tim Vogt Photo courtesy of Tim Vogt

Tim Vogt Photo courtesy of Tim Vogt

Registration information has been corrected.

By Gina Macris

Tim Vogt, a nationally-recognized expert in building inclusive communities, will speak at a free seminar in Rhode Island November 3 that will be sponsored by several organizations that advocate for Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Vogt is executive director of Starfire in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he has developed ways of making connections among individuals that rely on mutual interests and collective strengths while working around disabilities.

“His visionary message is to maximize the positive; minimize the negative,” said Connie Susa, executive director of PLAN RI, one of the sponsoring organizations. Vogt blogs at https://cincibility.wordpress.com/

The November 3 seminar will be at the Dean’s List Academy, 25 Esten Ave., Pawtucket. Check-in will begin at 9 a.m., with the presentation scheduled from 9:30 to 12:30. Anyone planning to attend is asked to register in advance at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/claiming-a-corner-of-community-tickets-51383200536  Additional sponsors are RI FORCE, the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council and the John E. Fogarty Foundation.

The Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association representing two dozen private organizations that serve adults with developmental disabilities, is a co-sponsor of Vogt’s visit to Rhode Island, Susa said.

Deadline Looms To Register for Annual Conference of Advocates in Action of Rhode Island

Advocates in Action RI will sponsor its 23rd annual statewide conference Oct. 25 for teenagers and adults with developmental disabilities who want to learn to speak up for themselves, with a day-long schedule of workshops geared to useful topics for more independent living.

One presentation will feature a preview of what voters can expect when they arrive at the polls, with a lawyer from the Rhode Island Disability Law Center walking workshop participants through each step.

Andrew Palumbo

Andrew Palumbo

Andrew Palumbo, a transgender man who received a leadership award from Advocates in Action in 2017, will be the keynote speaker.

Friday, Oct. 19 is the last day to register for the all-day conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick. Lunch is included in the conference price, $50 for each participant and $40 for each support person. (Anyone who wants to attend only the afternoon session may email Advocates in Action here for more information.)

There is an additional charge for a Halloween-themed dinner-dance at the end of the day. To register for the day or evening events, click here.

RI Project Sustainability's Plan For Enhanced DD Services Was "Cover" For Budget Cuts - Testimony

By Gina Macris

Louis DiPalma, Chairman of Project Sustainability Commission Photo By Anne PETERS

Louis DiPalma, Chairman of Project Sustainability Commission Photo By Anne PETERS

Project Sustainability, introduced in Rhode Island in 2011 as a method for enhancing individualized services for adults with developmental disabilities, instead has diminished the quality of their lives.

That assessment set the stage Oct. 9 for deliberations of a Senate-sponsored commission charged with studying Rhode Island’s past and present system of developmental disability services, with the aim of designing a better future.

At the same time, the chairman of the 19-member panel, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, emphasized that the purpose of the commission is not to assign blame but to learn from the past and present to figure out how to best move forward. The commission must report to the Senate by March 1.

Project Sustainability was “a well-manicured statement to cover up” cuts in funding and services, said Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, one of three dozen private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island.

Kim Einloth Testifies

Kim Einloth Testifies

Project Sustainability had a “major impact on the quality of service we were able to deliver,” said Kim Einloth, a senior director at Perspectives Corporation, one of Rhode Island’s largest service providers. She said the community-based program of day services was forced to put people in large groups, lay off specialists like occupational and speech therapists and discontinue consulting services with physical therapists.

Gloria Quinn, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, said she noticed immediately that the disabilities system was “demoralized, decreased and degraded” when she returned to Rhode Island after a nine-year absence in 2013. When Quinn moved out of state in 2004, she said, Rhode Island was one of the top-ranked states nationwide for its programs for adults with developmental disabilities. Quinn sits on the commission.

In a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes, the commission covered a broad range of topics related to Project Sustainability and the controversies linked to it: inadequate overall funding, depressed worker wages, and an assessment used – or misused - to determine individual allocations for services.

The planning and execution of Project Sustainability has been well documented, primarily by Burns & Associates, healthcare consultants hired by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) in 2010.

DiPalma said that from what he’s seen, Burns & Associates was “charged with providing a plan, and the state chose to do something different.”

Rebecca Boss, the current director of BHDDH, reviewed the history of Project Sustainability, designed to bring uniformity to funding for specific services and enable families to make informed choices about services. Project Sustainability aimed to use data gathered through new funding methods to create incentives for services to be delivered in the most integrated setting possible, she said.

“Change is hard, and even with perfect planning, it would not result in everyone’s needs being met,” Boss said.

“I think everyone knows” that the current administration – including Governor Gina Raimondo, Kerri Zanchi, the Director of Developmental Disabilities, herself, “is committed to working with our stakeholders” to figure out “where do we go from here,” said Boss.

“Many may have different views of history, as is often the case,” said Boss, a commission member.

Kane, of AccessPoint, said he didn’t want his anger about Project Sustainability to reflect the way he regards the current administration. The working relationship service providers now have with the BHDDH administration, he said, is “better than we’ve had in a very, very long time.”

Tom Kane Chats After The Commission Meeting

Tom Kane Chats After The Commission Meeting

The plans for Project Sustainability “talked about individualizing services and moving toward person-centeredness and all of the lovely buzz words,” said Kane, but the rhetoric really described “a system we already had that got dismantled.”

While Project Sustainability talked about individualization, inclusion and community support, the regulations governing developmental disability services “were always about center-based group activity.”

“Finally, under this administration, the regulations have been put forward that will put back the flexibility we need,” Kane said. The new regulations have passed a public comment period and are to be finalized by the end of the year.

Funding, however, has a long way to go to support the kinds of changes providers, families, and consumers want, by all accounts.

Commission member Andrew McQuaide zeroed in on historical funding of developmental disability services.

McQuaide said that developmental disability spending had been on a downward trend in Rhode Island since 1993.That was the year before the last residents left the Ladd School, the state’s only institution for those with intellectual challenges.

Citing According to Burns & Associates, McQuaide said:

  • Between 1993 and 2008, Rhode Island’s expenditures for developmental disabilities decreased by 29.5 percent at the same time the national rate increased by 17.8 percent.

  • Rhode Island is only one of 14 states to report a reduction between 2007 and 2009 in per-person expenditure, a decrease of 4 percent at the same time the national trend registered a 5.6 percent increase.

McQuaide also said that anecdotal information indicates about half the state’s private providers were reporting operating deficits in 2009, ill-preparing them to absorb the additional funding cuts that came along with Project Sustainability.

An overview prepared by the Senate Fiscal Office showed that actual spending on developmental disabilities, including both state and federal Medicaid funds, dropped $26.2 million in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2011 when compared to spending during the previous 12 months.

The overview shows that, adjusted for inflation, the current budget still has not caught up to the spending reach of the developmental disability system in the year before Project Sustainability was enacted.

Chart courtesy of RI SENATE FISCAL OFFICE

Chart courtesy of RI SENATE FISCAL OFFICE

Prior to Project Sustainability, private agencies negotiated an annual sum for each individual in their care.

The new system generated standard reimbursement rates for each of 18 different services that agencies were authorized to provide.

Kane noted that from the outset, the funding for Project Sustainability was not designed to cover all of the actual costs of private providers, almost all of whom had submitted extensive financial data to the state.

A BHDDH memo for rate-setting that the department sent to the General Assembly noted that the reimbursement rates eventually adopted for Project Sustainability were 17 to 19 percent below “benchmark rates” which Burns & Associates calculated from the median wage for direct care jobs - $13.97 an hour.

The state could not afford more, the memo said, citing the poor economy at the time.

The memo said the lower reimbursement rates were calculated by reducing the allowances for fringe benefits for workers and in some cases, cutting transportation and program expenses.

Kane, who is familiar with the rates in the memo and other Burns & Associates documents, said providers were “actually told in a meeting, ’We’ll see what this (the benchmark wage) costs but we won’t actually bring this to the legislature because they’ll laugh at us.’

“I don’t understand why the expenditure of well over a million dollars on Burns & Associates wasn’t taken seriously enough” to put forward actual expenditures “and let the legislature decide whether it was appropriate,” Kane said.

McQuaide, meanwhile, quoted from the memo. “We did not reduce our assumptions for the level of staffing hours required to serve individuals. In other words, we are forcing the providers to stretch their dollars without compromising the level of services to individuals,” the memo said. See related article

McQuaide said the experience of the last seven years has shown that it was a “fiction” to think the system of private providers would be forced to implement Project Sustainability without compromising services.

The state has a separate system of group homes for adults with developmental disabilities which has not been subject to rules or the pay cuts that came with Project Sustainability. Instead, the workers are unionized state employees with full benefits.

Donna Martin and Andrew McQuaide

Donna Martin and Andrew McQuaide

In the privately-run system, McQuaide said, the wages paid direct care workers still don’t reach the original $13.97 per hour “benchmark”, or median-pay rate, calculated by Burns & Associates.

The most recent data available indicates that the average entry wage for direct care workers is $11.37 an hour. It comes from a survey of member agencies of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI) conducted last February, according to Donna Martin, executive director of the trade association, which represents about two thirds of service providers in Rhode Island. Martin said she is in the process of updating the figure.

Martin, a commission member, told the panel that CPNRI has met with the BHDDH leadership and representatives of Governor Raimondo’s office and the Office of Management and Budget to review current provider reimbursements in comparison to an extensive menu of rates envisioned by Burns & Associates in planning Project Sustainability. BHDDH, OMB, and the Governor have already planning a budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

DiPalma said Burns & Associates originally wanted to advance a “competitive” average wage of $15.46 an hour.

Addressing wage inequities will be a critical focus of the commission’s work, he said. Two years ago, DiPalma started a campaign to raise direct care wages to $15 an hour over five budget cycles. Massachusetts already pays its direct care workers a $15 hourly rate, and many Rhode Islanders find they don’t have to move to take advantage of these higher-paying positions at agencies that are an easy commute from their homes, DiPalma said.

Another source of rancor over the last several years has been the assessment used to determine individual funding levels under the terms of Project Sustainability – the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), which was updated in November, 2016.

Kane has said data compiled by Burns & Associates indicate the original version of the SIS was used to cut individual funding. See related article

A. Anthony Antosh

A. Anthony Antosh

Even though the SIS has been revised, the state’s top academic researcher in developmental disabilities, A. Anthony Antosh, told the commission that using the SIS as a funding tool violates the original intent of the instrument as an aid for professionals designing individual programs of support for persons with disabilities.

Antosh, a commission member, is the retiring Director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

His comments apparently prompted Kane to recall another moment in a Project Sustainability planning meeting in which Burns & Associates’ human services partner praised the multi-faceted assessment providers were using at the time to figure out how much funding a particular person needed. In each case, the assessment took into account intellectual capacity, responses in various situations and potential risks.

That Burns & Associates partner, the Human Services Research Institute of Oregon, wrote a memo to the General Assembly saying that “ ‘resource allocation’ should never be thought of as mostly an exercise involving the assessment and simple service delivery.”

Policy makers should also take into account the goals of the programs, such as increasing community integration or increasing employment, before determining the array of services and rate schedules, HSRI said.

“Data collected by a measure such as the SIS is necessary,” the memo said, “but certainly not sufficient.”

The memo was condensed before it reached the General Assembly, and the recommendation against using the SIS alone to determine individual funding was eliminated,