RI DD Public Forum Raises Questions About Balancing Next Budget; No Firm Path Ahead

  l to r: Tracey Cunningham, Brian Gosselin, Rebecca Boss                                                                                                                                                        Photos By Anne Peters 

 l to r: Tracey Cunningham, Brian Gosselin, Rebecca Boss                                                                                                                                                        Photos By Anne Peters 

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s developmental disability agency “has no intention at this time to cut any services” to clients or reduce rates to private service providers, the departmental director told some 30 people gathered for a quarterly public forum at the Pilgrim Senior Center in Warwick Feb. 26.

Rebecca Boss, director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), responded to a question from the audience about the budget proposal of Governor Gina Raimondo, who would slash a total of $21.4 million from developmental disability services, including $18.3 million in reimbursements to private providers.

Greg Mroczek, whose son and daughter both receive services from BHDDH, had asked about the budget in relation to the requirements of a 2014 federal consent decree.

 The Olmstead decree requires Rhode Island to transform its daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities from an over-reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day programs to a system of integrated supports for employment and non-work activities that comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Boss said that “presenting a balanced budget is a challenge” in any year. But it’s particularly challenging when the state faces a structural deficit of about $200 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.   

Boss said that the governor, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and BHDDH are all committed to making sure that “the funding available to the dd (developmental disabilities) system is going to meet the needs of the individuals that we service.

“We believe we will have the services necessary for compliance with the consent decree,” she said. The consent decree covers daytime work and leisure activities but does not address residential services, the area where BHDDH has put an emphasis on cost-cutting in recent years.

Medicaid May Offer Path Forward  

Later in the meeting, Boss explained that the state is exploring the use of a Medicaid option that could help BHDDH balance its budget. The change, she said, also could achieve the programmatic goal of providing case management and coordination that is “free from funding conflicts and free from provider conflicts.” 

The Medicaid option involves the creation of a Health Home, the federal government’s name for an independent entity that would provide adults with developmental disabilities comprehensive care management, care coordination, health promotion, comprehensive transitional care, individual and family support, and referral to community and support services, Boss said.

For the first two years of operation, the Health Home would be supported with a 90 percent federal Medicaid match for every state dollar spent, Boss explained. For Rhode Island’s current fiscal year, Medicaid reimburses Rhode Island at a rate of 51.34 percent for every state dollar spent. For the fiscal year beginning July 1, the so-called Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) will be 52.30.

The 90 percent federal match of the Health Home has the potential to bring in millions more in federal Medicaid dollars, but only for a limited period of time.

Boss described the Health Home approach as a “pretty good opportunity.” She asked Brian Gosselin, Chief Strategic Officer for the Executive Office of Human Services, to speak in greater detail about the Health Home option, but Gosselin demurred. 

Because creating a Health Home for developmental disabilities would involve seeking an amendment to the Rhode Island Medicaid State Plan, BHDDH must seek permission from the General Assembly before filing an application, Boss explained.  The request for that authorization to move forward with an application is in Article 14 of the governor’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

It would be next January at the earliest that BHDDH could try out a Health Home for developmental disability services, and “that might be optimistic,” Boss said.

RI Experience With 'Health Homes' 

Rhode Island already has three Health Homes, Boss said; one for those with mental illness, another for those with opioid addiction, and a third for children and families, called CEDARR Services.

Having been involved in the planning for two of the three Health Homes,  she said, “I can tell you this is a heavy lift” that involves a complicated application process and fundamental system-wide changes in the state’s approach to coordinating developmental disability services. 

John Susa, who has a son with developmental disabilities and is a member of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, relayed what he saw when he participated in the creation of CEDARR, one of the three Health Homes mentioned by Boss.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Susa said. “However, as time has gone on, I’m less certain that it was a good idea. I found a tremendous amount of money spent on case management,” he said; people “going to a lot of meetings, but the end result was a very limited amount of output in terms of the impact on the quality of life.”

Boss said she valued Susa’s perspective. “Whatever happened in CEDARR, we’ll try not to do that,” she said.

At the same time, Boss said “it’s not definite” the state will pursue the Health Home option.

She did not say what else might be done to balance the budget.

One Medicaid Rule At Odds With Need For Care

 Renee Doran

Renee Doran

Meanwhile, Renee Doran, whose adult daughter has developmental disabilities, said her daughter’s support person stayed with her when she had to go to the emergency room recently but was later denied pay for that day for the very reason that the worker was helping the young woman in the hospital setting and not in the community. 

As it turned out, her daughter was admitted to the hospital and Doran spent four days at her side. But what would have happened if she had been out of state or otherwise unavailable? Doran asked.

Heather Mincey, administrator in the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), said the situation arose because community-based workers are paid from one Medicaid waiver while hospital-based workers are paid from another.

Mincey said the hospitals have the wherewithal to pay a developmental disability worker who must take a client to the emergency room.

And Boss said BHDDH can work with hospitals to let them know what services are needed. She said BHDDH often works with the state Department of Health, which oversees hospitals, and can “leverage that relationship” to make sure there is cooperation between hospitals and developmental disability services.

The public forum covered a gamut of topics, most of them related to the state’s incremental progress in meeting detailed requirements of the consent decree.

Focus on Supported Employment

Among other things, BHDDH announced an information session on employment-related services March 9 that will be tailored to the needs of individuals and families who do not get services from a particular agency but design their own programs.

Of about 3700 individuals receiving developmental disability services from BHDDH, roughly 500 are self-directed. Only about 8 self-directed individuals were able to participate in the first year of a performance-based supported employment program in 2017, according to Tracey Cunningham, the chief employment specialist at DDD.

Cunningham said the performance-based program is trying to attract more clients from the self-directed group in the current program year.

The session on March 9 for self-directed families and individuals will be from 9 to 11 a.m. in Room 126 of Barry Hall, 14 Harrington Rd., Cranston.

Anyone who is interested in information but can’t attend the session may call Cunningham at 462-3857, or email her at Tracey.Cunningham@bhddh.ri.gov

During 2017, 22 providers in the performance-based program offered employment services to 448 clients, Cunningham said. A total of 169 individuals found jobs, with only 24 of them losing employment, Cunningham said.

In the second year of the program, which offers enhanced performance payments, there are a total of 26 providers anticipating that they will be able to serve a maximum of 623 clients, she said. BHDDH has set aside $6.8 million for the performance-based supported employment program in the next budget.

But there have been difficulties training enough staff to provide supported employment services. BHDDH data presented at the forum showed a 31 percent vacancy rate in the full complement of staff – 234 positions – needed to maximize the program.  

Specially trained job coaches and other employment-related specialists for the performance-based program come from the direct care workforce, which is poorly paid and experiences high turnover.

The performance-based program is intended to boost the number of adults with developmental disabilities in regular jobs to help the state comply with the consent decree.

During 2017, the state met or exceeded the consent decree targets for employment in two of three categories: those who historically have spent their days in center-based care and sheltered workshop employees, according to figures provided by BHDDH.

There is one sheltered workshop left in Rhode Island and it will close sometime this year, said Tina Spears, the new consent decree coordinator.

The state has been lagging for some time in the number of young adults it has helped place in jobs. By now it was to have placed all of a total of 413 young adults recognized by the consent decree as having left school between 2013 and 2016.

At the end of 2017, the total number of  job holders in this young adult group was 177, according to the BHDDH data.