By Gina Macris
Six days into her new role as an acting director of developmental disabilities in Rhode Island, Jane Gallivan said she has met an “extremely welcoming staff” who are “ready to improve what they’re doing.”
“It’s a staff that has had a rough time. Underneath all the workload issues, trying to get the work done, they have some good values,” she said.
“They are kind of desperate for leadership,” she said, from “someone with depth of experience with developmental disabilities.”
“I am very impressed with the staff, but they need a vision,” she said.
Gallivan, who has great breadth and depth of experience in developmental disability issues elsewhere, said she’s “not sure that the focus has been what it needs to be” in Rhode Island. Some people are “nervous” about change, she said.
Gallivan spoke July 12 at the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force, a committee representative of community agencies and parents that is intended to serve as a bridge between state government and individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities and their families.
The Employment First Task Force was created by a 2014 federal consent decree in which Rhode Island agreed to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act by moving away from sheltered workshops toward integrated, community-based employment and other activities.
In its 2014 findings in the sheltered workshop investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said, among other things, that developmental disability social workers at the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) were small in number and lacked the training and specialization needed to work with their clients, particularly in the area of job supports and community integration.
Charles Williams, the soon-to-retire director of developmental disabilities, says the average caseload for each of the 20 social workers in case management is about 190 clients.
Gallivan, who has more than three decades’ experience as a state-level developmental disabilities director in Maine and Delaware, will help select someone to fill that role in Rhode Island, according to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“We are very grateful to have her,” said Wood.
Kevin Nerney, chairman of the Employment First Task Force, asked if the group could be represented on the search committee for the new developmental disabilities director.
Wood, who is leading an interdepartmental team charged with turning around developmental disability services and complying with the consent decree, said, “I can’t make any firm commitments today.” (Click here for article on Wood and her team.)
“I think it is appropriate, and I will keep it firmly in mind as that search committee is selected,” she added.
Gallivan, who said she values the stakeholder group, suggested that task force members make a list of the characteristics they believe the next developmental disabilities director should have and send them to her. Change cannot occur without a strong community advocacy group, Gallivan said.
Gallivan worked for 28 years as developmental disabilities director in Maine, where she oversaw implementation of a federal consent decree focused on de-institutionalization. Besides her consent decree experience, she also has dealt with issues like those Rhode Island faces, including the need for supported employment, shared living arrangements, and the introduction of electronic records.
She said she worked for 7 or 8 governors in Maine, before “the current governor and I parted ways.” Gallivan moved into the same position in Delaware, intending to stay two years, and remained for four.
Gallivan, who is spending two to three days a week in Rhode Island, said, “I love the work,” but “my family is not happy” with her decision to accept a temporary stint here. Her responsibilities include her 101-year-old mother, Gaillivan said, so she’ll “not be coming out of retirement,”