By Gina Macris
Update: At the close of business July 26, all nine developmental disability service providers owed money for start-up costs in converting from sheltered workshops to supported employment had received payment in full, according to a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services. A list of the agencies and the amounts appear at the end of this post.
With one exception, the state of Rhode Island largely has met the latest deadlines of a federal court order which spells out how it must lay the groundwork for long overdue compliance with a 2014 consent decree meant to desegregate adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The state has until Friday, July 29, to pay up to $800,000 in start-up costs, as specified in the consent decree, for nine private service providers converting to community-based services from sheltered workshops, according to the court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley.
If that deadline is not met, Mosely said in a new report to U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., the judge should impose fines of $5,000 a day, with an additional $100 per day for each person protected by the consent decree whose employment or integrated day services are delayed or interrupted as a result of the violation.
Those fines, with a maximum of $1 million per year, were set forth in the order McConnell issued May 18. It is the second time in three months that the state has faced the prospect of fines for failing to pay its bills in relation to implementing the consent decree.
Moseley said he had received assurances from Jennifer Wood, the Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services, Jennifer Wood, that the Friday deadline will be met.
The plans for converting sheltered workshop operations to integrated employment services had been approved by the state and the bills for start-up costs had been submitted by the agencies at least three months ago.
The start-up activities are necessary to enable the service providers to meet employment targets in the consent decree. Moseley noted, adding that this point was made during April 8 evidentiary hearing, which McConnell used as the basis for his order, issued May 18.
According to an investigation of the U.S. Department of Justice, the sheltered workshops violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which says, in effect, that individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities cannot be relegated to segregated settings simply because they are disabled.
In the 2014 consent decree, the state agreed to change its services to emphasize integrated employment paying minimum wage or higher and other community-based activities over a ten-year period.
Moseley’s most recent status report was submitted to the court last Friday, July 22.
In it, he said that the budget enacted by the General Assembly, a total of $246.2 million for developmental disabilities, will provide sufficient funding to meet requirements of the consent decree during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2017.
The budget is still a little more than $11 million more than Raimondo had originally requested.
Budget provisions specifically related to the consent decree include:
- A total of $9.1 million for wage increases and performance-based contracts for providers offering integrated employment supports.
- Funding for four state (staff) positions focused on consent decree implementation, including chief transformation officer, consent decree coordinator, employment specialist, and program development director.
Although the General Assembly did not approve Raimondo’s request for $5.8 million for a caseload increase, citing flat enrollment, Moseley noted that the legislature left the door open to reconsider if the numbers changed.
The monitor said 125 new cases had been approved during the fiscal year which ended June 30, although most of them were still in high school and were not expected to need a full array of adult services during the coming fiscal year. (According to the state's report, these cases encompassed ages 17 to 24.)
Mosely did ask the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to report to him on any individuals protected by the consent decree “whose acceptance into the adult DD system is delayed or deferred due to lack of funding.”
McConnell’s order required the state to develop a management plan for accomplishing consent decree goals and tasks, and while Moseley said the plan met basic criteria, he found it lacking in detail on organizational strategies within BHDDH and on interagency cooperation.
The lack of specificity is “understandable,” he said, given that three key positions at BHDDH are vacant. They are the department director, the director of the division of developmental disabilities and the chief transformation officer.
Moseley recommended that the state have until December 1 to expand and strengthen the management plan.
Other comments in Moseley’s status report focused on high school students with developmental disabilities who are 14 years and older and of particular concern to federal officials because they are at risk for segregation as adults if they are not afforded transitional services.
He secured a commitment that state employees from BHDDH or from the state Office of Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Human Services would be available to attend all Individual Education Plan meetings for special education students with developmental disabilities who are at least 14 years old.
Moseley noted that BHDDH has developed a protocol for timely communications with individuals having developmental disabilities and their families concerning applications for adult services.
He also recommended that BHDDH develop and distribute a description of the process for determining eligibility that is “clear, easy to access, user-friendly and written in plain language,” including contact information for BHDDH employees who would be able to answer additional questions.
“It is important to note that the eligibility determination process frequently is associated with a great deal of anxiety and concern among individuals with disabilities and their families,” Moseley said.
“By its nature, the process is technical, complicated, and difficult for a lay person to understand. Direct contact with an eligibility determination staff member offers an important opportunity for famelies to learn about the process and have their questions answered,” he said.
Service providers that received start-up costs for supported employment, as required by the monitor