By Gina Macris
The state of Rhode Island says it is in “substantial compliance” with a 2014 consent decree mandating a decade-long transformation of services for people with developmental disabilities to conform with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
That assertion, made in a compliance report filed April 1 in U.S. District Court, will face close scrutiny in an evidentiary hearing scheduled for April 8 before Judge John J. McConnell, Jr.
The judge also has in hand a recent report from the court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, that expresses doubts about the state’s ability to meet employment targets in the decree or sustain them over time. The decree remains in effect until Jan 1, 2024.
Other filings submitted this week say the state developmental disabilities agency delays services until young people reach the age of 21 – or later – in violation of state law.
One of the statements also says there is a dearth of job development services available to individuals with disabilities, because the state does not fund these supports. Instead, the state expects service providers to shift money from other funding categories to pay for job development.
In a joint motion filed March 1, Moseley and lawyers for both the state and the U.S. Department of Justice identified three issues that could stand in the way of full compliance: a lack funding, too few placements in community-based employment and other integrated activities, and insufficient leadership necessary to fulfill the requirements of the consent decree.
A month later, the state’s report says it has:
- Put the necessary interdepartmental leadership in place, at an annual cost of $591,244.
- Exceeded current targets for supported employment.
- Has remained “fully committed to providing sufficient funding to effectuate the goals and targets in the consent decree.” The report cites millions of dollars spent since 2014 and proposed by Governor Raimondo in budgets submitted for General Assembly approval for the remainder of this fiscal year and for the next year.
The state identified more than 3,000 adults in segregated programs and secondary-school special education students who are currently covered by the decree.
In terms of employment goals, the decree requires relatively modest targets, starting with perhaps 150 new jobs a year, depending on how many of the job seekers are eligible high school students in a particular graduating class.
At its heart, the agreement requires the state to fundamentally transform its approach to daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities, and to show exactly where it is putting its money. Most of the population affected by the consent decree has worked in sheltered workshops or stayed in segregated day programs in violation of the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the right of people with disabilities live and work in their communities under Title II of the ADA.
Among the key budget items the state cited in its April 1 report is a proposed $5 million increase for the wages of private agency staff during the next fiscal year; it would hike workers’ pay by about 45 cents an hour.
The “Enhanced Payments Direct Care Staff” would provide financial incentives to providers who commit to achieve targets for placing people with developmental disabilities in jobs according to timelines that satisfy the consent decree, according to the state’s report.
The labor force working directly with people who have intellectual challenges makes an average of about $11.55 an hour, according to a spokeswoman for the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, which represents 23 private agencies that provide most of the services in Rhode Island.
Agencies operate at a loss for each worker they employ, because the state does not reimburse them for the full cost of employer-related taxes and other benefits, according to the spokeswoman, Donna Martin, who was interviewed about Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal in February. The $5 million proposal does not contain a provision for employer-related costs.
DD System Under Financial Strain
BHDDH director Maria Montanaro, meanwhile, has acknowledged that past cuts in reimbursement rates have left the private provider system “fragile,” according to a Providence Journal report on her testimony before the House Finance Committee in early January.
Providers report that the cuts have forced them to reduce wages, resulting in lower quality applicants and high turnover.
In a court order spelling out the parameters for the April 1 report, McConnell asked for evidence that the state is implementing performance-based contracts for community services, in conjunction with a “flexible reimbursement model” that includes incentives to service providers for placing clients in jobs.
The state’s report does not mention a flexible reimbursement model.
The consent decree requires that the state “ensure that its reimbursement model for day activity services is sufficiently flexible to allow providers to be reimbursed for costs” directly related to supporting integrated employment, including those that are carried out “when service provider staff is not face-to-face with a client.”
The decree goes so far as to cite specific reimbursable activities, including negotiating with employers and counseling clients by telephone, which are not covered by the current system.
Currently, BHDDH reimburses private agencies for daytime services according to the amount of time each worker spends with a client. The time must be documented for each client and worker in 15-minute increments. Agencies are not reimbursed when clients are absent, for whatever reason. Unless a client has 100 percent attendance, the agency cannot collect the full amount of funding that BHDDH authorizes for each person on an annual basis.
In response to McConnell’s request for information on performance-based contracts, the state’s report says those are still in the planning stages in all agencies governed by the state’s Executive Office of Human Services, including BHDDH. The report indicated BHDDH would have performance-based contracts in place with service providers during the next fiscal year. The consent decree says performance-based contracts were to have implemented by Jan. 1, 2015.
Consent Decree Requires its Own Budget
The 2014 agreement between the state and the Justice Department requires that the state maintain a budget that can track the amount spent on consent decree compliance that is distinct from general expenditures on behalf of adults and adolescents with developmental disabilities.
Besides the planned $5 million in wage increases, the state’s compliance report cites another $1,870,474 in enhanced services targeted for a total of 75 individuals who would move to supported employment from a sheltered workshop or a segregated day program during the next fiscal year.
McConnell had asked the state for individualized funding information and other information that “follows the person” as each of the individuals under the jurisdiction of the consent decree makes the transition from a sheltered workshop to community-based employment or integrated day services.
So that the court, the monitor, and lawyers for both sides can track specific individuals’ progress over time while protecting their privacy, McConnell said that each person should be identified by a letter code that blocks personally identifiable information.
The state did not submit any information that could be tracked on an individual level, but its report says that it has contracted with the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College to reconfigure an existing “Employment and Day Supports Survey” to accomplish that goal.
Beginning in June, the Sherlock Center will conduct the survey quarterly, providing all the requested data and enabling “ongoing measurement of targets related to the consent decree at the individual level,” according to the report.
BHDDH already has a $675,000 contract with the Sherlock Center to provide technical expertise and guidance to private agencies converting from segregated programs to community-based day services in a so-called “Conversion Institute” required by the consent decree. Governor Raimondo would keep that level of funding for the Conversion Institute in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year.
The state is “working systematically” with Sherlock Center on the Conversion Institute, as well as with direct support agencies, “to entirely transform the delivery system” for supported employment and integrated day services in Rhode Island, according to the report.
The state’s report identifies a total of 3,076 individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities under the purview of the consent decree, including 99 who left high school in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years.
The consent decree requires integrated employment for 75 adults formerly in sheltered workshops or segregated day programs by Jan. 1, 2016, and the state ’s report counted 101 who had met that goal.
Another of the decree’s requirements is that all of the 99 students who left high school in the past two years were to have jobs by July 1, 2015, but as of April 1, the state had identified 37 in that category who have work.
Moseley, the monitor, told the judge in his most recent report report that his conversations with private providers and with BHDDH staff indicate that the agencies are not receiving any extra support to place people in jobs and may not be able to keep up the current pace.
Other Consent Decree-Related Funding
The state’s April 1 submission enumerates other consent decree expenditures, from July 1, 2014 through the end of the next fiscal year, June 30, 2017, at the three agencies responsible for implementation: BHDDH, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the Department of Human Services (ORS.)
The categories and amounts are:
- $800,000 in each of the current and previous fiscal years for a consent decree “trust fund” to help direct service agencies with start-up costs for converting from sheltered workshop operations and segregated day programs to community-based supports.
- $244,260 to the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS) and its State Employment Leadership Network (SELN) for guidance and technical assistance in transforming the state’s system of services. The SELN is a partnership between the NASDDS and Institute of Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
- ·A tripling of the ORS budget for services to individuals with developmental disabilities, from $884,370 in the first fiscal year of the consent decree (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015) to a projected $2,603,374 in the next fiscal year.
- More than $300,000 a year, through the next fiscal year, budgeted by RIDE for personnel and contracts to help implement the consent decree, in addition to supports provided by individual school districts to transition-aged special education students.
- A total of $591,244 for new leadership positions focused on implementation of the consent decree: a consent decree coordinator, a chief transformation specialist, an employment specialist and a program development director.
Moving to Fill Leadership Gap
The most critical of the posts is that of the consent decree coordinator, Mary Madden, whose position gives her authority to bring about cooperation among BHDDH, ORS, and RIDE in implementing the consent decree, according to the report.
As recently as December, Moseley and lawyers for the DOJ had expressed concerns that the coordinator’s position, subordinate to BHDDH director Montanaro, did not have enough clout and that leadership was foundering.
Since then, Madden has been appointed as the coordinator on a permanent basis and reports directly to the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Roberts, “with the full authority of the Secretary and the Governor,” according to the report.
“The Secretary of Health and Human Services, the deputy secretaries and each of the directors of the state agencies are personally involved in monitoring consent decree implementation” and are briefed regularly by Madden and by their representatives on an “Interagency Consent Decree Team,” the report said.