By Gina Macris
Kerri Zanchi, a former high-level developmental disability service official in Massachusetts, has been named Rhode Island’s Director of Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).
Zanchi, who has past ties to Rhode Island, begins her job here Jan. 23, according to Rebecca Boss, acting director of BHDDH.
“We are certain that she’ll be a strong leader and we look forward to introducing her to you at our upcoming community forums” in February, Boss said.
“She has focused on quality services that encourage independence as well as community integration.”
Boss said Zanchi embodies four characteristics at the top of the list of qualities identified in community forums held before the search:
- · hands-on experience with individuals living with developmental disabilities
- · experience with government
- · a deep understanding of how Medicaid works
- · good communication skills
Zanchi, meanwhile, issued a statement saying she accepted the job because of the “tremendous opportunity” and “strong commitment” on the part of state leaders “to transform the development disability system to deliver high quality services that individuals and families deserve.”
She praised the “strong vision and clear goals” guiding the work of the developmental disability leadership team and said she found the community “engaged, with much expertise to offer as this work unfolds.”
“I look forward to partnering with individuals, families, the community and my colleagues in government to build on this momentum and move the service system in a direction that results in better services, better outcomes and more opportunities for all Rhode Islanders living with developmental disabilities,” Zanchi concluded.
Her salary will be $102,860, according to a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS).
Zanchi, 43, is a native of Massachusetts who grew up in East Lyme, CT. She began her career working directly with adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island and received her master’s degree in social work from Rhode Island College in 1999.
After completing her studies, she worked at the administrative level in both the public and private sectors in Massachusetts, rising in 2014 to Assistant Commissioner of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, one of several agencies falling under the jurisdiction of that state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
The Commission provides an array of services that promote empowerment and independence for individuals with disabilities, according to its mission statement. As Assistant Commissioner, Zanchi provided leadership and advocacy for six departments of state government focused on community living, covering the gamut of concerns from consumer issues to independent living, assistive technology, protection from abuse and specialized services for individuals with brain injuries, according to a resume released by Rhode Island officials.
The resume says she implemented performance management practices and contributed to cross-agency collaboration. These issues are relevant in Rhode Island because of the demands of a 2014 consent decree that requires various state agencies to work together to desegregate daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities following specific goals set by the U.S. District Court.
Zanchi left Massachusetts government in the fall of 2015, according to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission’s annual report that year. She became Associate Executive Director of the Center for Living and Working, Inc., based in Worcester, leading the organization through a restructuring that emphasized staff development, quality improvement and performance-based outcomes.
In addition, she served as Coordinator of the Massachusetts Aging and Disabilities Resource Consortium for five partner agencies in central Massachusetts, strengthening community and provider collaborations, according to the resume.
Zanchi will succeed Charles Williams, who retired as Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities last July 22.
The current budget for the Division of Developmental Disabilities is $246.2 million, providing services for a total of about 4,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, most of whom receive direct care from 36 private agencies under contract with the state.
The division director oversees a staff of about 350 that determines eligibility, the level of individual need, conducts case management, oversees the state-run group home system, and provides administrative support, according to the EOHHS spokeswoman.
It is expected Zanchi will play a key role in shaping the state’s implementation of the 2014 consent decree, which has come under close scrutiny by District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr., after the federal Department of Justice challenged the state’s progress.
The EOHHS spokeswoman, Sophie O’Connell, said Zanchi “will work very closely with the leadership teams at BHDDH and EOHHS to move forward the Division’s work to achieve the terms of the consent decree and strengthen services for individuals with developmental disabilities.”
O’Connell noted that both the state’s Consent Decree Coordinator, Mary Madden, and the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Jennifer Wood, served on the search committee for the new director.
In the last year, since McConnell made it clear he would personally weigh in on the progress of the consent decree, Wood has taken the lead in assembling a team of officials to respond to the court’s requirements. She has a legal background in developmental disability law.
Besides Wood and Madden, the search committee for the developmental disability director included Brian Gosselin, Senior Strategy Officer at EOHHS; Jane Gallivan, former interim director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities and a consultant to the state; and Deanne Gagne, CEO/Founder of Bridge Building Services; Coordinator of Advocates in Action; and Assistant Coordinator of the Cross Disability Coalition.
A total of 74 applications were screened. Nine candidates were interviewed initially and four were called back for second interviews. The names of finalists – O’Connell did not say how many – were forwarded to Boss and to Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts, who made the final decision.