By Gina Macris
Rhode Island’s efforts to improve services to adults with developmental disabilities - spurred by ongoing federal court oversight – will result in cost overruns of almost $26 million by next June, the end of the current fiscal year, according to projections from the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).
The projected $26 million shortfall is the largest in recent memory for developmental disability services, which typically have run $4 to 6 million over budget during a fiscal year.
In the first quarter spending report to the State Budget Officer, Thomas Mullaney, Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, said there are two main drivers of the projected deficit:
- Increased costs attributed to an updated assessment for clients of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, the Supports Intensity Scale–A, or SIS-A, which is generally regarded as more accurate than the previous version in capturing individuals’ support needs, particularly for those with complex medical and behavioral issues.
- An increase in supplemental authorizations that represent successful appeals of funding levels awarded through fiscal calculations made from the results of the original SIS or the SIS-A.
BHDDH has asked the state Budget Office to consider a supplemental appropriation for the current budget cycle to cover much of the shortfall, with Boss saying the increased spending is consistent with current caseload projections.
But BHDDH also proposes cutting about $5 million from supplemental appropriations before next June 30. Boss has ordered officials to deny requests from individuals with developmental disabilities for supplemental funding, except in emergencies related to health and safety, including the risk of hospitalization. She also made an exception for any “court-ordered services” which may occur.
The order to hold the line on supplemental funds is likely to have widespread impact on individuals and their families, who must make the same request for extra money annually if they believe they have been shortchanged by the SIS or the SIS-A. Alternatively, they may request a re-assessment.
In her letter to Mullaney, Boss said BHDDH is working to address the current year’s projected deficit and is determining “potential courses of action which would meet client needs, be accountable to regulatory entities, and meet fiscal constraints.”
The Office of Management and Budget is working with BHDDH to “thoroughly review its options,” a spokeswoman for Mullaney said Nov. 9.
BHDDH requested $22 million for supplemental payments in the current budget, according to testimony before the General Assembly last spring.
But in a recent corrective action plan, the department said it authorized over $28.2 million in supplemental payments – more than 10 percent of all payments to private providers - during the fiscal year that ended last June 30. Actual expenditures exceeded $22.3 million.
“The past volume and approval of supplemental authorizations is unsustainable,” BHDDH said.
The plan sets a limit of $18.6 million for supplemental payments in the current budget cycle and reduces the ceiling to $14.4 million in the fiscal year beginning next July 1, with the assumption that the number of requests for supplemental payments will decline as more clients are assessed through the updated SIS-A.
The corrective action plan also notes that requests for supplemental funds that are denied by BHDDH may be appealed to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
The projected $26 million shortfall in the Division of Developmental Disabilities represents the lion’s share of an overall $34.6 million departmental deficit, based on first-quarter spending, which Boss outlined in an Oct. 27 letter to Mullaney, the State Budget Officer.
The state is under pressure from the U.S. District Court to improve the quality of its daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities by moving its system from isolated day centers and sheltered workshops to supported employment at regular jobs paying minimum wage or higher. Rhode Island also must increase the availability of integrated non-work activities. These mandates are spelled out in two agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice, in which the state must correct correct an overreliance on segregated facilities that violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The original SIS, accompanied by a $26 million reduction in developmental disability funding, was introduced by BHDDH and the General Assembly in 2011 as an equitable way of distributing available resources, although advocates complained that it was nothing more than a device to control costs, at the expense of some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens.
In succeeding years, that dollar amount was restored, but the service system was fundamentally altered, resulting in wage cuts, higher worker turnover, and a dependence on lower–cost services in segregated facilities that can be supervised with fewer staff. The U.S. Department of Justice began its investigation into these facilities - sheltered workshops and day centers - in 2013.
On an individual basis, persons with developmental disabilities, their families, and service providers routinely appealed the funding awarded through the SIS, and at one point supplemental payments became routine.
In the meantime, there were were so many complaints about the SIS that the department ultimately decided to shift to the SIS-A.
But 13 months ago, when BHDDH submitted projections that ultimately went into the current budget, it had no experience with the SIS-A. The revised assessment was introduced in November, 2016. By springtime of this year, however, Boss had enough data to tell legislators that the SIS-A was resulting in higher per-person funding allocations. And she reported that the overall numbers of individuals using developmental disability services was on the rise.
For the future, Boss envisioned a shift away from supplemental payments as the revised assessment tool better responds to individuals’ funding needs.
Of the overall $34.6 million projected BHDDH deficit, nearly $8.7 million can be attributed to staffing and overtime increases at the Eleanor Slater Hospital for stepped-up patient monitoring in light of a recent warning that the facility may lose accreditation because aging buildings pose too many risks that patients may harm themselves. A risk assessment for the Eleanor Slater Hospital is currently underway, and the results will inform a request for supplemental funding to remedy concerns of the hospital accrediting agency, the Joint Commission, Boss said.
Click here for the BHDDH first quarter spending report.