RI Revises Supported Employment; Providers And Families Invited To Information Sessions

By Gina Macris

The second year of a program to help Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities find jobs will offer extra bonus money to encourage financially strapped private agencies to seek new clients, particularly young adults.

 Zanchi     Photo by Anne Peters  

Zanchi     Photo by Anne Peters  

The state began the “performance-based” program last January to avoid federal court sanctions for failing to implement a 2014 consent decree aimed at giving individuals with disabilities greater access to regular jobs and integrated non-work activities.

“We’ve learned a lot in this first year,” said Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). Zanchi, the first developmental disabilities professional to head DDD in at least a decade, began work in Rhode Island shortly after the supported employment program kicked off a year ago.

Zanchi elaborated on the status of the program, in which private agencies provide supportive job-seeking and job-retention services, during a telephone interview Jan. 5.

She said that in the initial contract year, which ended in December, 22 private agencies offered supported employment services to about 440 adults with developmental disabilities, with about 150 gaining employment at minimum wage or higher.

In the coming year, Zanchi said, she hopes the opportunities for enhanced performance payments and other changes prove “more responsive to the needs of consumers” and that the number of providers will expand. 

DDD will host information sessions Monday, Jan. 8 and Friday, Jan. 19 for private providers seeking to renew their contracts or establish new ones and for so-called “self-directed” families, who take on the design and direct supervision of a loved one’s activities. Few of these families have been able to participate in the performance-based program during its first year, according to anecdotal reports. 

A key addition to the menu of performance payments to providers is a bonus of $600 for each new client who signs on for employment-related services, or $1,000 for young adults who left high school between 2013 and 2016. These bonuses are due once the new client has received 20 hours of employment-related supports.

The consent decree places particular emphasis on young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, because investigators for the U.S. Department of Justice believed they are at heightened risk for isolation and segregation as they move from high school to adult services.

The consent decree draws its authority from the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which reinforces the mandate for integrated services in the Americans With Disabilities Act

The young adult group also is the only segment of the consent decree population – more than 3,000 individuals altogether –for which the state is significantly out of compliance with court approved targets for job placement.

A reluctance among established agencies to expand their client roster has resulted in limited choices for the families of young adults; prompting them to direct their own services. But that choice also has made it generally more difficult to access the supported employment program, according to various reports about families’ experiences during the first year of the program.

Providers have told state officials that in many cases they can’t take on new clients because of low reimbursement rates and high staff turnover, and because the bonuses of the initial cycle of the supported employment program did not pay for the costs both of training new workers, as well as providing the actual services.

The graduation rate for a tuition-free training program offered by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College is 40 percent, with students dropping out for a variety of reasons, most of them related to high turnover and short-staffing at the provider agencies.  

In the second year, providers can expect an increase of $460 for training each new job coach, from $350 to $810 per trainee, according to materials from the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), which were released by Zanchi.

The information sessions will be at the Arnold Conference Center in the Reagan Building of the Eleanor Slater Hospital, 111 Howard Ave., Cranston, Monday, Jan. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. and Friday, Jan. 19, from 9 to 11 a.m.

In 2016, just after a U.S. District Court judge ordered the state to come up with a new “reimbursement model” that would give adults with developmental disabilities access to regular jobs. Shortly after that, the General Assembly allocated $6.8 million in state funds to finance what became the performance-based supported employment program.

Besides the bonuses, the revised program includes increased allocations – a total of $8,000 a year per client, according to the latest BHDDH figures – for provider reimbursements for employment services.

Zanchi said that the original $6.8 million allocation will continue to fund the first six months of the second year of the performance-based program until June 30, when BHDDH expects to return an estimated $2 million to the state.

The return of the estimated $2 million in unused supported employment funds was part of a deficit reduction plan outlined by BHDDH director Rebecca Boss Nov. 30 to close an estimated $15.9 millionf departmental deficit, including $12 million in developmental disabilities.. But it is well-understood within BHDDH that from a fiscal perspective, supported employment must continue because it is a court-ordered service.  

BHDDH has requested new funding, with projected utilization based on the first full year of programmatic experience, for the state’s next fiscal year beginning July 1, Zanchi said.

She did not say how much BHDDH  will seek for supported employment. Governor Gina Raimondo is expected to submit her budget to the General Assembly later this month.