RI Officials Correct Figure in Monitor's Report; Say Rate Hike Will Go To DD Service Agencies

By Gina Macris

All the workers who provide direct support services to adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island won’t be getting raises to at least $11.55 an hour, as indicated in the most recent report of a federal court monitor in the so-called “sheltered workshop” consent decree case.

The report from the monitor, Charles Moseley, says that the state Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) “will adjust all rates for Direct Support Professionals to a base rate of $11.55 an hour.”

 In reality, BHDDH will raise the “base rate” the state pays to the private agencies from $11.55 to $11.91 an hour, an increase of 36 cents; the private agencies, in turn, must use that new hourly figure to cover both salary increases and fringe benefits for their employees.

That was the word Sept. 13 from Mary Madden, the state’s consent decree coordinator, and Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Wood also said it is impossible to determine how much of an hourly wage increase each worker will actually receive.  

 Approximately 4,000 workers staff the private agencies serving Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities under contracts with the state. These direct support workers now make an average of about $10.75 an hour, although starting pay is typically minimum wage, or $9.60 an hour.

Different agencies have different pay scales and different arrays of benefits, Wood said. The General Assembly set aside about $5 million in the current budget for raises to direct support workers and for increased employer costs, but did not specify how much was to go into each category, she said.

One part of an order issued in May by U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., required the state to “appropriately increase salaries, benefits, training, and supervision for Direct Support Professionals and Job Coaches” by Aug. 1.

The increases, retroactive to July 1, have not yet gone into effect, but Moseley, the monitor, said the judge’s order had been “provisionally met” because the state had submitted a plan that describes how the increases would be handled.

Before Moseley will sign off completely, he said, he needs more documentation in the plan, as well as confirmation that BHDDH has disbursed the money for the rate increases to developmental disability service agencies.

The issue of pay for workers was one of numerous points covered in Moseley’s report, submitted to McConnell Sept. 9 in anticipation of the judge’s review of the case Sept. 16. The session begins at 2 p.m.

Task Force Commentary on Monitor’s Report

Meanwhile, the monitor’s report also prompted criticism at a meeting of the Employment First Task Force Sept . 13.

Claire Rosenbaum questioned Moseley’s conclusion that the state had met the Judge’s Aug. 1 deadline for making it easier for providers to offer employment-related services to adults with developmental disabilities.

“I haven’t seen anything that offers supported employment services for my daughter, and we’re a month and a half past the implementation date,” Rosenbaum said. She serves on the task force as Adult Supports Coordinator for the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

Nor did her daughter’s counselor at the state Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) know anything about career development planning, Rosenbaum said, even though the monitor said ORS, as well as BHDDH, and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) had all implemented training in the process of career development planning by the end of July as required by the judge’s order.

The judge’s order included several mandates related to supported employment, all with an Aug. 1 deadline.

 The requirements included a change in the model for reimbursing provider agencies, and a change in the financial authorizations made to individuals to pay for what Moseley called the “Person Centered Supported Employment Services Program.” 

The current authorization method requires individuals seeking job-related services to trade in time allocated to another category of support.

Madden acknowledged that the model for changing reimbursement to service providers had not yet been put into practice.

“What irks me,” Rosenbaum said, “is this status report says ‘provision met’, when it clearly has not been met.”

The state has said the reimbursement model would change for clients of agencies chosen to participate in a pilot program of performance-based contracts intended to provide the supports necessary to enable individuals with developmental disabilities to find and keep regular jobs.

BHDDH is not yet accepting applicatios for that pilot program, although Moseley said he is satisfied with the state's plan for the program . The state's lawyer will file the detailed plan with the court some time this week, according to Wood. 

In any event, the judge is requiring performance-based contracts for all service providers in the state by Dec. 31. 

Kevin Nerney, the task force chairman, took issue with the term “Person Centered Supported Employment Services Program” to describe what supported employment services are supposed to provide.

Such individualized, employment-related services have not been rolled out to direct support staff at provider agencies, he said. Until employment-related services have been put in place, he said, they should not be elevated with an important-sounding title.

The task force was created by the 2014 federal consent decree, in which the state agreed to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act by moving from segregated sheltered workshops and day programs to supports for community-based employment and activities for adults with developmental disabilities.

The consent decree envisioned the task force as a bridge between state government and the community, although the group is still exploring how its role will play out.  Its next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11.