DD Agency Faces Scrutiny From RI Law Enforcement, Governor and Federal Court

By Gina Macris

With criminal investigations underway into the death of a woman with developmental disabilities in its care, the Rhode IslandDepartment of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) is gearing up for an important deadline on another front.

April 1 is the date by which BHDDH must submit a court-ordered fiscal plan for complying with a 2014 consent decree that enables people with developmental disabilities to get jobs and enjoy other  activities in their communities as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. has scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the state’s plan for April 8 in U.S. District Court, Providence.

The federal monitor in the case has expressed doubts that the state will be able to rearrange its budget in the next year to make the needed changes.

The Rhode Island consent decree, the first of its kind in the nation, also has received high-level attention from the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. On Friday, March 18, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, met with Governor Gina Raimondo to discuss the consent decree.

Coincidentally, the meeting occurred the same day that state human services officials announcedthe death of a 70 year-old woman with developmental disabilities, who had succumbed to a massive infection as a result of a leg fracture that had gone untreated for several days at the College Park Apartments group home on Mount Pleasant Avenue, Providence. Her death on Feb. 15 is under investigation by the Attorney General and the State Police.

The Attorney General’s Office is conducting a total of three investigations in connection with College Park, according to spokeswoman Amy Kempe. She declined to elaborate.

 Including the woman’s death, there have been a total of six incidents of patient abuse at College Park since January, 2015, according to a BHDDH spokeswoman.

 The remaining 14 College Park residents all had been moved elsewhere by the end of the day Thursday, March 24, and the state-owned facility closed March 25, according to Michael Raia, communications director for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

He said Governor Raimondo gets regular updates on the investigations related to College Park and is “very focused” on reviewing those findings and receiving an assessment of any systemic problems that health and human services officials may identify.

The Executive Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary, Elizabeth Roberts, has ordered spot-checks of state-rungroup homes beginning next week, Raia said on Friday , March 25. These checks are to be cooperative efforts between the Department of Health and BHDDH, which currently only has two investigators in Quality Assurance/Quality Improvement.

Raia described the meeting between the Governor and the DOJ’s civil rights chief as a “courtesy call.”

The DOJ requested the meeting, Raia said. The two discussed the state’s appointment of a Consent Decree Coordinator, funding, and the collection of data, he said.

“The meeting was an opportunity for the Governor to listen to the U.S. Department of Justice’s thoughts, opinions and concerns,” Raia said.

The court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, expressed his concerns in a report to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. that was made part of the court file on March 18.

The report that the state must turn into the Judge by April 1 is to contain evidence that there is a defined consent decree budget, including a per-person allocation based on the actual costs of implementing community-based activities required by the consent decree.

Moseley, however, said he is concerned the state will not be able to free up enough money in the next year or so to satisfy the consent decree.

According to Raimondo’s budget, the bulk of the funding for mandated services would come from moving a total of 500 people with disabilities, 38 percent of Rhode Island’s entire group home population, into less costly “shared living arrangements” with families by June 30, 2017. 

In the past ten years, a total of 267 people have gone into shared living.

The shift of 500 people would realize a total of $15.5 million in savings by June 30, 2017, but Moseley said he is worried that those targets are “too optimistic” and that BHDDH will not be able to achieve them in a little more than a year’s time.

Moseley also wrote that he is concerned BHDDH will not be able to clearly identify a per-person cost as a foundation for projecting the budget needed to help people obtain supported employment and access to community-based activities.

The state now pays below-cost rates to more than 20 private agencies providing most of the services to more than 3,600 Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities. The agencies either operate at a loss or depend on outside grants as well as income from programs not dependent on BHDDH funding.

“Although the state has not yet provided the needed financial data, it should be noted that it is, reportedly, meeting consent decree placement targets” for supported employment, Moseley said.

“This must be confirmed, however. From my discussions with providers and state BHDDH staff it appears that these placements are being funded by providers through existing resources, and, as such, may not be sustainable over time. I will be tracking this in the months to come.” 

Moseley noted several positive developments, including staff appointments within state government that he expects will aid implementation of the consent decree.  Among the new positions is the Consent Decree Coordinator, Mary Madden. The full scope of her authority is not yet clear, and Moseley said he has requested a copy of her job description.

In the two years the consent decree has been in effect, both the DOJ and the monitor have cited a lack of interdepartmental leadership and coordination as one of their primary concerns. They have sought appointment of a high-ranking state coordinator who has the authority over n BHDDH and two other agencies responsible for some portion of the reforms, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the Department of Human Services (ORS).  

In other developments noted by Moseley, BHDDH has:

  • Hired a Chief Transformation Officer. Andrew McQuaide previously served as consent decree coordinator within BHDDH, but he did not have authority outside that agency.
  • Advertised for a supported employment coordinator to work with private service providers
  • Received approval to hire a chief operations officer and quality improvement coordinator.

“These positions are important to provide leadership and guidance over the systems changes that need to take place,” Moseley said.

Raia said the quality improvement coordinator’s post has been advertised and applications are being accepted.

The new positions, funded in the Governor’s budget for the next fiscal year, reflect the fact that she is “committed to achieving the reforms outlined in the consent decree,” Raia said. He also cited a $2 million increase in funding for community-based daytime activities and an additional $5 million that would provide a raise of 45 cents an hour to staff of private agencies who work directly with people with disabilities. Model progams showcasing community-based services would receive a $1.9 million boost.  

Moseley said BHDDH, RIDE, and ORS are working together on implementing a quality improvement plan in keeping with the consent decree requirements.

Moseley concluded that “the Court’s close oversight over the state’s progress on meeting the terms and conditions of the consent decree is having a very positive impact on both the quality and the pace of change in the state.”  McConnell began holding status conferences on the case in January.