By Gina Macris
Despite some progress, implementation still lags months behind schedule for a Rhode Island program intended to boost employment of adults with developmental disabilities.
Nor does the design of the program cover the full cost of staff training that is a prerequisite for participation, according to comments made at the monthly Employment First Task Force meeting Jan.10. The new employment supports program does reward private developmental disability service providers that already have trained staff at their own initiative.
The General Assembly has allocated $6.8 million in the current budget for the incentive program to satisfy requirements of a 2014 federal consent decree requiring the state to boost its efforts to provide employment supports to adults with developmental disabilities.
But as the second half of the fiscal year gets underway, it appears that direct service providers have not yet been given the green light to bill for reimbursement under provisions of recently negotiated performance-based contracts, said Kim Einloth, a senior director at Perspectives Corporation.
A total of 19 contracts have been negotiated among 36 service providers operating in Rhode Island, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said last week.
Despite an early morning snow storm Friday, Jan. 6, 18 agencies participated in a fair attended by some 40 special education high school students and another 40 young adults in the process of moving from school to adult life, according to the EOHHS spokeswoman. She anticipated the incentive program will serve about 200 adults with disabilities.
The incentive program was to have been in place Aug. 1, according to an order of the U.S. District Court.
Einloth said during the task force meeting that the director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, Donna Martin, has conveyed her concerns about the program to the independent court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley.
Martin has not responded to requests for comment sent by email from Developmental Disability News.
At the task force meeting, Einloth and Kiernan O’Donnell of the Fogarty Center, another service provider, said that the program would pay a one-time bonus of up to $810 for each staff person trained to offer job-related supports, assuming that person serves ten clients.
So-called “self-directed” families who design programs for a single individual would get only $81 to cover staff training, O’Donnell said. Neither figure fully supports an investment of 40 hours of class time and extra field work that is necessary for certification, he said, despite EOHHS assertions to the contrary.
Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said self-directed families were given four days in November to figure out whether they should apply for the program. The written materials explaining the program were so technical that parents didn’t understand them and set them aside, Rosenbaum has said. As part of her job, she has email contact with some of the self-directed families.
When the application process opened, in November, the state was unable to tell providers exactly how many bonuses they would receive under terms of the incentive program, according to Einloth, although that gap has been clarified.
According to the contracts, once staff are trained, agencies receive bonuses for completion of the course, and may bill at enhanced rates for employment-related services to new clients, Einloth and O’Donnell said in an interview after the task force meeting. .
But the billing must be done in 15-minute increments, they said, in the same fee-for-service reimbursement model that has been criticized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the court monitor as being inflexible.
Other features of the program pay one-time bonuses when clients get jobs and remain employed for 90 and 180 days.
In the meantime, agencies do not receive enhanced rates for providing the same employment-related services to current clients – only new ones approved by the state as participants in the incentive program, O’Donnell and Einloth said. O’Donnell said agencies now routinely file appeals, one by one, to get better reimbursement for employment-related services for individual clients. O’Donnell said he understands most of those appeals are granted.
The new incentive program appears to draw attention away from the fact that reimbursement rates are too low across the board for providers to do their jobs, O’Donnell said.
He and Einloth also are co-presidents of the Rhode Island Association of People Supporting Employment First, a professional organization.
Meanwhile, a task force member with developmental disabilities, Andrew Whalen, told his colleagues that he had received a letter a day earlier, on Jan.9, notifying him he is eligible for services from BHDDH. Whalen applied nearly a year ago, after the death of his mother in January, 2016.
He first mentioned the long wait for a decision at last month's meeting of the task force, when the discussion touched on the state’s efforts to render speedy eligibility decisions and the effect of continuing human services computer problems on services for adults with developmental disabilities.
.In December, Whalen also said the new computer system – called UHIP – deleted a separate application for food stamps that he had filed. At the most recent task force meeting, he said his application was “on hold” because, thanks to his generosity of his sister, the balance in his checking account was too high.
Kevin Nerney, chairman of the task force, said that Whalen could solve the problem by moving the excess money to an ABLE account. ABLE, which stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience, is a new type of savings account authorized by Congress and the General Assembly that allows individuals with disabilities to set aside money without compromising their Social Security or Medicaid benefits.
Nerney said ABLE began accepting applications from Rhode Islanders only in recent days at https://savewithable.com Paper applications will be available in March, he said.