Rhode Island Considers Reorganizing BHDDH; Finding "Strong" DD Director Is Top Priority

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals  may undergo restructuring, if it is determined that a different organization of services would better serve the  needs of it clients, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) confirmed on Friday, Sept. 9  

Asked whether a departmental reorganization is on the table, Sophie O’Connell replied in an email: “No decisions have been made, but we are considering the option to make sure that we are delivering the best quality care and services to some of the most vulnerable people in our state.” 

Before she left in June, former BHDDH Director Maria Montanaro recommended that BHDDH be split up. The Eleanor Slater Hospital should be run by a dedicated board of directors, she said, while mental health and developmental disability services each should have a commissioner under the direct supervision of EOHHS. 

Such sweeping changes would require gubernatorial and legislative approval. On an ad-hoc basis, however, EOHHS has established direct oversight of the Division of Disabilities in recent months, primarily in response to the demands of a federal consent decree. 

O’Connell said there is no timeline for recruiting a permanent BHDDH director while EOHHS and BHDDH work on a plan that would take into account “how we can most effectively blend fragmented program, policy and funding streams to ensure Rhode Islanders are receiving the best possible care and services.”  Rebecca Boss serves as interim director of BHDDH. 

“Secretary (Elizabeth) Roberts as well as the BHDDH and EOHHS management teams are personally committed to ensuring continued progress on the important reforms taking place at BHDDH. This includes the ongoing work to improve services for individuals living with developmental disabilities and to recruit talented DD leadership into the agency,” O’Connell said. 

“Our most pressing concern at the present moment is recruiting a strong leader for the Division of Developmental Disabilities,” she said. 

The developmental disability director’s post is particularly critical as the state tries to comply with the federal consent decree by shifting away from sheltered workshops and segregated day programs toward integrated employment and community-based non-work activities. 

The division has been without a permanent director since July 22 when Charles Williams retired.

Jane Gallivan, who was coaxed out of retirement to serve as interim director of developmental disabilities, will step down at the end of the month because of family responsibilities, according to O’Connell. 

Although Gallivan will remain a consultant – primarily a long-distance one – the state has not announced who will administer developmental disability services in the short term or when a new director might be named. 

 As of Friday, September 9, the post had not been advertised on the state’s employment website. Nor has a search committee been seated.  

In response to repeated inquiries, over the past week, O’Connell said that Gallivan would providemore information Sept. 14 about the search for a director for the division. 

Gallivan, former developmental disabilities director in Maine and Delaware, plans to spend the winter in Florida with her 101-year-old mother, who has been staying on Cape Cod for the summer.