By Gina Macris
The Rhode Island Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) has restored the full license of the Maher Center, the prominent developmental disability service agency in Newport, to operate a group home at 228 Carroll Ave.
In unrelated action, DDD also has continued the probationary license of Community Work Services (CWS) , an agency of Fedcap Rehabilitation Services, to provide daytime supports to adults with developmental disabilities, with an emphasis on supported employment and inclusive, community-based activities.
The situation involving the Maher Center dates back to a complaint from Steven DiBiasio of Cranston that the staff of its Carroll Avenue group home abandoned his then 24-year-old daughter at Newport Hospital in May, 2016.
The Maher Center vigorously denied the accusation. The woman, who has both intellectual and behavioral challenges, was removed from the home by police and taken to the hospital May 3, 2016, according to a police report. DiBiasio said Maher Center officials subsequently told him and his wife that their daughter would not be allowed to return to the Carroll Avenue home.
An investigation by DDD found that the Maher Center effectively left the woman homeless when it sent her to the hospital without staff support and failed to notify the family in a timely manner. On Oct. 1, 2016, the agency’s license to operate the home at 228 Carroll Ave. was downgraded to “conditional,” or probationary, for a period of six months. The Maher Center appealed. On April 1, the probationary period was extended another six months.
According to a DDD spokeswoman, the full license for the group home was restored Sept. 6 after the Maher Center “met the terms of their conditional license.” DDD has not responded to follow-up questions seeking a description of the terms.
Nearly 18 months after the DiBiasios took their daughter home from Newport Hospital, she still lives with them. There is no question among medical professionals and state officials that she needs 24-hour care, DiBiasio has said. But the family has been unable to find a suitable placement in Rhode Island, where service providers strapped by precarious finances often turn away potential clients, especially those with complex – and costly - needs such as the DiBiasios' daughter.
The licensing status of Community Work Services (CWS) is related to enforcement of 2013 and 2014 settlement agreements involving the city of Providence, the state of Rhode Island and the U.S. Department of Justice to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) as they relate to daytime services.
The probationary status of CWS, renewed Oct. 1 for another three months, is expected to play out with oversight from the U.S. District Court. CWS, the successor to the sheltered workshop at the center of the initial DOJ investigation in 2013, has been tasked with changing the lives of the former employees by helping them get regular jobs and integrating them in community-based non-work activities.
But last April, DOJ lawyers spoke to some of the individuals they had met in 2013, when the sheltered workshop was known as Training Through Placement, and they found that there had been little change in individuals’ lives during the intervening years.
At that point, CWS had been operating under some level of state supervision since May, 2016, and had had its license downgraded to probationary in December, 2016. As the probationary license was nearing its expiration date June 30 of this year, the state notified CWS it intended to order the agency to cease operations.
But after a conference with Fedcap officials, the state relented, putting CWS on probationary status for three months at a time, and saying the temporary license would not be renewed past Dec. 31, according to a report from an independent court monitor to the U.S. District Court.
The DDD spokeswoman, Jenna Mackevich, said in a recent email that BHDDH rescinded its plan to revoke the license “when CWS was able to identify a safe and licensed space from which to operate its day program.”
In March, DDD officials closed the CWS operation at the former TTP workshop in North Providence because the building was in such disrepair it posed health and safety issues for the clients. A few days later, CWS found a temporary space with the nearby John E. Fogarty Center. Another move has been in the works in recent months.
Mackevich said the probationary license has been renewed through December 31 “as the agency continues to cooperate with the Department on their plan of correction.”
The next U.S. District Court hearing on the state’s progress in correcting the ADA violations is scheduled for Nov. 30 before Judge John J. McConnell, but it’s not clear whether that session will address the status of CWS or other topics.