By Gina Macris
Rhode Island has not met all the deadlines so far in shifting toward integrated, community-based services for adults with developmental disabilities as required in a 2014 federal consent decree, according to the independent court monitor in the case.
But because the state has taken important steps in the right direction in the last few months, the monitor, Charles Moseley, says he believes it is appropriate to delay evaluating the state’s performance on the deadlines.
Even one missed deadline gives Moseley the option of asking U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. to conduct a show cause hearing as to why the state should not be held in contempt, according to an order McConnell issued in May.
The order says that the state must comply with every deadline contained in it and in the consent decree from May 18 forward or face possible contempt proceedings and fines. The consent decree contains deadlines running until 2024.
McConnell’s highly prescriptive order came after the state made little progress in complying with the consent decree in the two years since it had been put into effect. The judicial order lit a fire under a team of state administrators led by Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Moseley submitted his latest assessment to McConnell Sept. 9, in anticipation of a status conference on the case Sept. 16. Typically, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice also submit statements to the judge before a hearing, but any submissions from the DOJ have not yet surfaced in the case file.
Moseley, meanwhile, said in his report that the state missed job placement deadlines. The most recent was a July 1 deadline for finding employment for all young adults with developmental disabilities who left high school during the 2015-2016 academic year. That class is estimated at a minimum of 74 individuals, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). Many of them would be seeking part-time jobs.
Eligibility specialists at the state Division of Disabilities have been working intensely to try to eliminate a backlog of applications from more than 200 individuals – most of them young adults – who seek developmental disability services.
In his report, Moseley said the state “is implementing substantive changes across the array of day and employment services furnished to individuals with I/DD (intellectual or developmental disabilities).”
He said continued refinements are needed in the data system that enables him and the DOJ to track compliance, and additional policies and practices must be implemented to expand the availability of high quality integrated and individualized day services.
“While challenges remain,” he said, “the foundational steps taken by the state to address key areas related to funding, administrative oversight, training and documentation” are moving Rhode Island “on a path toward achieving the requirements of the consent decree.”
Among the steps forward, Moseley cited the General Assembly’s approval of slightly more than $11 million in added revenue to increase salaries to underpaid direct service workers and implement performance-based contracts with financial incentives for private providers who help their clients find jobs.
With that funding, the state has agreed to raise pay for direct service workers and job coaches to a minimum of $11.55 an hour, an average of 3.1 percent, Moseley said. The workers are still waiting for that increase to kick in. Wood, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, has promised the pay increase, retroactive to July 1, would be processed by Oct. 1.
Moseley said the pay raise plan submitted to him by the state needs to be more specific to ensure that the added funding will be used to “increase salaries, benefits, training and supervision” as required by McConnell’s May 18 order.
Summarizing what he describes as other“substantive efforts” to comply with the consent decree, Moseley cited the development of performance-based contracts intended to give providers incentives to help clients find and retain jobs, as well as training for professionals and parents in career development planning that will guide individuals’ job searches.
He said funding for start-up costs – a total of $800,000 – has been distributed to nine private service providerswhich are planning to shift from segregated to community-based programs, and the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College is working closely with private service agencies to help them make that change.
In addition, Moseley said, the state has provided heightened technical assistance and hired key staff, including an employment specialist and a program improvement officer, to beef up the leadership at the state Division of Disabilities.