By Gina Macris
When proposed new regulations for Rhode Island’s Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) emerge from committee early in 2018, they will aim to ensure that all agencies providing services to persons with disabilities meet consistent high-quality standards.
The state will require direct care agencies to employ staff with distinct certifications to provide one or more kinds of supports to clients. Training of agency workers is expected to follow the same process that is now required before direct care staff can work in a pilot job support program run by DDD – a combination of classroom instruction, field work, and a final exam.
But workers will not be expected to have certification the moment the new regulations go into effect. Expanding the training process begun for workers in the supported employment pilot program will take time, said Kerri Zanchi, director of DDD.
Another feature of the new regulations will require DDD to publish the categories of licenses held by direct care providers. They are:
- “Full,” or unrestricted
- “Full, with stipulations”
- “Provisional”, to designate a new service provider
- "Conditional”, or probationary
- “Suspended,” which means not currently in operation, but the license has not been revoked.
Zanchi and Kevin Savage, the director of licensing for the division’s parent organization, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH),talked about the overhaul of regulations during a wide-ranging public forum at the Smithfield Senior Center Nov. 7 and in an earlier interview with Developmental Disability News Nov. 3.
The Division of Developmental Disabilities is not alone in rewriting its regulations.
All agencies of state government must recast their rules of operation by August, 2018 with an eye toward simplicity and clarity of language as part of the Administrative Procedures Act of 2016, pushed by Governor Gina Raimondo in a drive for greater transparency in state government.
Even before the regulations are finalized, Savage said in the interview Nov. 3, he hopes to have licensing categories for all developmental disability service providers posted on the BHDDH website.
The proposed regulations have emerged from six months’ work on the part of a broad-based committee of individuals with a stake in the developmental disability system, including consumers and family members, Savage told an audience of about 75 at the public forum in Smithfield Nov. 7.
“The community was well served by this process. It was amazing,” Savage said. Representatives of different segments of the developmental disabilities community listened to each other and showed “passionate concern with the people being served,” he said.
The proposed regulations will be shared with the developmental disabilities community before they go out for formal public comment, Savage said. Community meetings will be set for early 2018, after the year-end holidays, he said.
Among other things, the new regulations will help eliminate inconsistencies across departments of state government, Savage said, like background checks for prospective workers who would come into contact with vulnerable children and adults in a variety of capacities. The regulatory reform also is necessary to comply with the so-called Final Rule for federal/state Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS). The Final Rule, a compilation of federal regulations, emphasizes that all persons with disabilities who receive Medicaid services must have access to their communities to the greatest extent possible.
Both the HCBS final rule and a separate 2014 federal consent decree pushing employment opportunities and community-based non-work activities for Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities get their authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision clarified the integration mandate in Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Zanchi, the DDD director, said that the regulatory shift toward certification of the skills of direct care workers is partly driven by U.S. District Court oversight of the Olmstead consent decree, in which an independent court monitor has emphasized continuous quality improvement.
“The public will know what the providers are certified to do,” Zanchi said in the interview Nov. 3. “And that’s part of our quality management plan.”
“That will be hard work,” she said. “We will build certification standards in each area, starting with day and employment services.”
In the future, the whole notion of certification is likely to overlap with fiscal discussions about low wages and high turnover in the field of direct care, where one job in six goes vacant, according to a trade association of developmental disability service providers.
The pilot program in supported employment requires certification for workers who provide services in job development, job coaching and the like. But the graduation rate from a tuition-free training program at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College so far has been about 40 percent, for a variety of reasons, according to a Sherlock Center official.