By Gina Macris
Charles Williams, Director of the Division of Disabilities of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), confirmed today (June 3) that he will retire July 22.
Williams is the second high-profile figure within BHDDH to announce his departure in two days. On June 2, the department director, Maria Montanaro, announced her resignation effective June 24.
Williams, who joined BHDDH in 2005, said he had always planned to remain in state government for ten years, long enough to become vested in the state pension system. Williams marked his 10th anniversary in state government last October and celebrated his 71st birthday in January.
In a telephone interview, Williams said that his retirement has nothing to do with either the federal government’s ongoing intervention in daytime programs for adults with developmental disabilities or the recent death of a resident in a group home that is both licensed and run by the state.
He said the department plans to hire a chief operating officer and an employment specialist to fill out an administrative team in the developmental disabilities unit. Those moves, he contended, will help ensure continuity as BHDDH complies with a 2014 federal consent decree.
Another position created by BHDDH to respond to the consent decree is that of chief transformation officer.
Reached by phone, Andrew McQuaide, the transformation officer, declined any comment on whether he will stay with the department.
BHDDH must comply with a series of strict deadlines in the coming months to start helping more persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities find regular jobs and enjoy activities in their communities, or face possible contempt hearings in U.S. District Court over violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Title II of the ADA, reaffirmed by the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, is a sweeping mandate requiring states to offer services to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the least restrictive environment appropriate for each individual.
The developmental disabilities division also faces scrutiny of 25 group homes that are both licensed and run by BHDDH. In addition to supervising the developmental disabilities division, Williams heads the residential unit, called Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS.)
A native of Connecticut, Williams had worked as head of preventive services in mental health, behavioral healthcare and developmental disabilities for the state of Missouri before coming to BHDHHD to take a similar position.
Montanaro put Williams in charge of developmental disabilities when she became Department director, in February, 2015, but did not select a new chief for RICLAS.
Since early April, it has become evident that Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, has taken the lead on the state’s response to the consent decree, providing much of the state’s testimony during a day-long evidentiary hearing on compliance issues in U.S. District Court.
More recently, when state Senator Louis DiPalma (D-Newport, Middletown, Tiverton and Little Compton) asked for information about BHDDH, he said he was invited to a meeting hosted by Wood; transformation officer McQuaide; the Consent Decree Coordinator, Mary Madden; and Dacia Reed, policy director of the Rhode Island Children’s Cabinet.
Madden’s job was created at the insistence of the court monitor in the federal case as a secretary-level position with authority to enforce cooperation among three agencies responsible for compliance with the consent decree. Madden reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Roberts, who is also head of the Children’s Cabinet, which was revived by Governor Gina Raimondo in 2015.
The Children’s Cabinet has an interest in the consent decree because the decree is designed to protect teenagers with developmental disabilities as well as adults. Teenagers often struggle with the transition from special education in high schools to the adult system of developmental disability services.
Asked about Wood’s future role in connection with developmental disabilities, a spokeswoman for EOHHS issued this statement today:
“We remain fully committed to meeting the goals of the Consent Decree to provide integrated, community based services for Rhode Islanders living with developmental disabilities. Compliance with the Consent Decree has improved significantly under Director Montanaro’s tenure, and EOHHS Deputy Secretary Jennifer Wood will continue to work with Secretary Roberts and the team at BHDDH, under the leadership of Interim director Becky Boss, to ensure all requirements are met going forward.
Additionally, Governor Raimondo has included significant funding in her proposed budget, including investments in integrated services. In the weeks ahead, Director Montanaro is committed to working with leaders in the General Assembly to secure the additional funding that Governor Raimondo has recently advocated for to provide higher-quality services for Rhode Islanders living with developmental disabilities.”