Rhode Island's DD Workers Would Get Estimated 44-Cent Pay Raise In Governor's Proposed Budget

By Gina Macris

Roughly 4,000 people who work with Rhode Islanders challenged by developmental disabilities would get an average pay increase estimated at 44 cents an hour effective July 1, according to Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year.

The average entry-level worker now makes $11.36 an hour, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association.

The wage increase would represent an additional $6.4 million in federal-state Medicaid funding, including $3 million in state revenue, according to an overall $9.9 billion budget Raimondo submitted to the General Assembly Jan. 17.

The budget plan also includes a 60-cent increase in the minimum wage, which would raise it from the current $10.50 to 11.10 an hour, if the General Assembly approves.

Other budget details involving developmental disability spending are still developing.

Experts: Sustainable, Effective DD Systems Support Individuals; Don't Pigeonhole People In Groups

Mary Lee Fay and William Ashe * All Photos By Anne Peters

Mary Lee Fay and William Ashe * All Photos By Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

When it comes to reforming service systems for those with developmental disabilities, policy makers often succumb to a fundamentally flawed approach, one expert told a Rhode Island Senate study commission Jan. 8.

Policy makers tend to “think about people in groups, but not think about people as people,” said William Ashe at a meeting of the commission, looking into how Rhode Island supports private service providers.

Ashe has helped the state of Vermont evolve toward a system that puts the needs of the individual first.

He also has become familiar with Rhode Island as a consultant to the federal court monitor overseeing implementation of a 2014 consent decree requiring the state to transform its segregated service model to a system that is integrated with the community.

Asked his opinion of Rhode Island system, Ashe said that what he’s seen leads him to believe it is a “barrier” to people’s ability to live more “independent and connected lives.” Ashe said his opinion is his own, not that of the monitor.

His comment,, however, happened to coincide with findings of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014, which said Rhode Island’s funding rules incentivized segregation.

Ashe is executive director of Upper Valley Services, which serves a single county in Vermont that is about half the size of Rhode Island. He addressed the commission along with Mary Lee Fay, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS).

Fay presented a broad swath of statistics on nationwide trends, but she nevertheless arrived at basically the same place as Ashe, talking about building services around relationships between persons with disabilities, their families and other important people in their lives.

How To Apply Best Practices To Rhode Island?

The session raised questions about how members of the commission will process the information in coming weeks and apply it to Rhode Island.

For private providers, Rhode Island has a fee-for-service system authorizing payments to providers only three months at a time, for a fixed menu of supports, requiring documentation of each worker’s daytime interaction with each client in 15-minute increments.

There is also a parallel state-run system of group homes that is exempt from the rules applied to private providers, even though they are all paid through the federal-state Medicaid program.

With all its emphasis on making private providers accountable for each minute of service, Rhode Island’s funding model has no definition or measure of what the services are supposed to accomplish in terms of stabilizing or improving people’s lives.

Successful outcomes were a recurring theme among the best practices described by Ashe and Fay.

L to R: Commission Members Deb Kney, Kevin McHale, Tina SPears, and Chairman Louis DiPalma

L to R: Commission Members Deb Kney, Kevin McHale, Tina SPears, and Chairman Louis DiPalma

After the meeting, the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, said the speakers offered a lot of “food for thought”. At the same time, he said, he wants to know more about the context of the successes in Vermont.

There, the predominant housing option is shared living in private homes – even for individuals who have challenging behavior - and services are tailored, or “bundled,” for a year’s time into individualized funding authorizations based on a person’s needs and goals.

Vermont’s system has been decades in the making, and DiPalma said he wants to know more about how the state got to where it is today. He said he expects commission members to begin airing their thoughts about the future of Rhode Island’s developmental disability system at the next meeting, yet to be scheduled, in late January.

Demographics, Economics Converge To Squeeze Human Services

Fay said that all the states are facing the same pressures, driven in part by the aging of the large population born after World War II.

Baby boomers have:

  • Increased the demand for the same type of direct care workers for the elderly as those who are employed in the field of developmental disabilities

  • Driven up the federal Medicaid and Medicare expenses, both entitlement programs with no cap.

Illustrating her point, Fay said that the fastest segment of the population is the elderly aged 85 and older. About 70 percent of that group needs some kind of assistance, she said.

Meanwhile, the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, combined with last year’s tax cut, will lead to continuing debate in Congress about the future of these safety-net programs, Fay said.

At the same time, demographic projections point to a shortage of direct care workers. The group most likely to go into direct care work – women aged 18 to 55 – remains flat in demographic projections 20 years into the future.

Low wages are an issue with the current workforce, but Fay said the demographics indicate there just will not be enough workers to go around in the future. States “won’t be able to buy” their way out of the labor shortage, which will get much worse in the years to come, she said.

Instead, she said, states will have to “think” their way out of the crisis with a new approach; less reliance on 24-hour care and more supports built around families – and employment.

In Vermont, that approach seems to have paid off more often than not, according to Ashe.

Ashe’s agency is one of ten organizations in Vermont which have broad responsibilities within a designated area for serving adults with developmental disabilities, although there are several other specialized providers without geographic boundaries.

To receive immediate funding, individuals must meet high-priority standards as defined by law. They involve such factors as health and safety considerations or the need for care while both parents work outside the home.

In 2017, there were 238 people statewide on a waiting list for non-priority services, Ashe said.

Ashe’s agency, Upper Valley Services, covers Orange County, an area half the size of Rhode Island with a total population of 28,000, mostly spread out in towns and villages with populations of fewer than 1,500. There is one traffic light in the entire county, Ashe said.

Ashe said all service plans are individually designed and reviewed by a board which includes representatives of providers and consumers as well as state officials. The board’s recommendation is submitted to the state, which makes the final decision on services and funding.

Vermont and RI Differ on Funding Approaches, Wages

Vermont, like most other states, allocates funding on an annual basis. Rhode Island is the only state which funds services quarterly, Fay said.

And unlike Vermont, Rhode Island allocates funding first and expects providers to come up with an individual service plan that doesn’t exceed the budget.

Ashe credits the Vermont legislature for making a practice of anticipating an increasing caseload and funding to meet its needs, rather than forcing providers to dilute the supports for people they already serve to cover the new arrivals.

In 2017, Ashe said, 390 people benefited from the legislature’s new-caseload funding practice, he said.

Vermont’s designation of responsible agencies means they cannot reject anyone in their geographic area who meets the eligibility criteria for priority funding. As a one-stop shop for everyone, Ashe’s agency provides a broad range of services to about 200 individuals in its jurisdiction.

The starting wage at Upper Valley Services is $14 an hour and the annual turnover is 13 percent, significantly lower than the statewide turnover rate of about 23 to 25 percent. If Ashe must serve a particularly challenging client, he said, he has the authority to increase a worker’s hourly rate. Instead of $14, he said, he might pay $18.

Rhode Island providers pay an average entry wage of $11.36 an hour, according to a trade association, although some workers new on the job make minimum wage, which is $10.50 an hour. Job turnover in Rhode Island averages about 33 percent each year, although the rate varies among individual providers.

Nationwide, the average state-level rate of turnover is 46 percent, according to Fay.

In Vermont, the average cost of services per person is $60,037, Ashe said, slightly higher than in Rhode Island.

In a statewide population of just over 600,000, Vermont supports about 4,500 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, about the same number as in Rhode Island, with a population of slightly more than one million.

Individuals have control over their service plans and may move money from one category to another, manage part or all of their services themselves, or let the agency be the service manager.

Employment And Housing

Among the clients of Upper Valley Services, 48 percent have jobs, averaging 8 hours a week, Ashe said.

Nationwide, the employment rate for adults with developmental disabilities is 19 percent, according to Ashe and Fay. Rhode Island’s rate is above the national average, but an exact figure was not immediately available.

Fay emphasized that employment is important not only for income, but also because a job provides autonomy and leads to connections with other people.

Shared living is one of five housing options in Vermont that, taken together, offer a broad range of supervision, up to and including intermediate care with a maximum of six residents in one facility.

The annual stipend for shared living is about $32,500. Ashe said he expects one responsible adult in the family to stay at home and not take an outside job.

Shared living should be viewed as part of a relationship, Fay said, not “foster care” or a “placement” that has nothing to do with the participants’ connections to each other.

24-Hour Case Management Key To Success

Ashe said the core of his operations is a network of case managers, each one with a caseload of about 14 people, who are on call 24 hours a day.

Case managers may arrange respite care for shared living providers or provide additional in-home supports, among a broad range of activities that include diffusing a crisis experienced by someone on their caseload.

In most instances, Ashe said, “the problem is not the person but the services around that person.”

His agency focuses on “re-building the support system to help that person stay in the community,” Ashe said.

In Vermont in 2017, there were five psychiatric admissions among adults with developmental disabilities, according to figures provided by Ashe.

Responding to a question from Rebecca Boss, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health Care, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, Ashe described the history of a crisis team begun in 1991 and crisis training for direct care staff in the field that has helped keep the number of psychiatric hospitalizations low.

Lending a national perspective, Fay said states are learning not to bring families to the table and expect them to speak a bureaucratic language to ask for a specific program, but instead to discuss ‘what is happening in your life and how can we support you?’’

Sometimes, families accept more services than they need, because they fear they will not be able to get them in the future, Fay said.

“I have visited states where people say, ‘I’ve taken a service not because I need it, but because if I say no, I’m afraid I won’t get access to anything in the future,’ “ Fay said.

States have to build trust in families, she said. Systems have to be designed to create an underlying confidence among families that the support will be there as the family’s needs change, she said.

Fay said “there isn’t a system out there that has it down perfectly,” but “states that do it well succeed because they have partnerships” with their communities.

To see an outline of Fay’s full presentation, click here.

To view a video of the commission meeting, click here. Look for an icon labeled with the date 1-8-19 and a title that reads “Special Legislative Study Commission To Evaluate Project Sustainability.” Note that some browsers may need Flash to play the video.

'Our Lives Turned Upside Down' When Daughter Entered RI Adult DD System, Mother Says

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Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss, and Kerri Zanchi watch A. Anthony Antosh of Rhode Island College present consumer and family perspectives on the state’s services for adults with developmental disabilities Photo by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

A Rhode Island Senate study commission spent nearly two hours Dec. 12 laying out a catalog of strengths and weaknesses in Rhode Island’s system for helping people with developmental disabilities.

But in the end, the personal stories of two mothers, Amy Kelly of Smithfield and Martha Costa of Portsmouth, focused the commission’s attention on the crises now unfolding for at least several families who are at their wits end.

In the catalogue, their experiences come under “residential services-need for specialized medical/behavioral residential models.”

For Amy Kelly, that means that every single service provider in Rhode Island – about three dozen - has turned away her 21 year-old daughter, who is autistic, has behavioral problems, and functions in many ways as a kindergartener.

“So now what do I do?” Kelly asked in a letter to the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. Kelly is a widow, and works fulltime. Her daughter, Kayla, was asked to leave the Trudeau Center in Warwick because of injuries to staff.

For a month now, Kayla has been at home all the time and her problematic behaviors have intensified, Kelly wrote. “She is out of her routine, asking for “friends,” “yellow bus,” “trip,” and other favorite things and experiences that she misses..

Kelly has been forced to choose “self-directed” services, meaning that she must find her own workers,“which is pretty much impossible,” she wrote to DiPalma.

And the Home Based Therapeutic Services that helped Kayla outside of school hours while she was still in special education are no longer available.

“I cannot believe there are no programs in RI for families in this situation!” Kelly wrote. “When my daughter turned 21 in May everything in our lives turned upside down.”

Martha Costa * courtesy of Capitol TV

Martha Costa * courtesy of Capitol TV

Martha Costa agreed. She attended the Commission hearing at the State House on behalf of her own family and five others in Portsmouth who have become friends as their children have faced behavioral challenges growing up and have aged out of the school system into purview of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

As the mother of a 22 year-old man on the autism spectrum, she said her experience has been that once young people with complex needs turn 21, “there is really no place for them to go.”

The family might be told to go to a hospital, but with the exception of Butler Hospital in Providence, a mental health facility, “the hospital is horrible, because it’s just more trauma going there.”

The 21 year-old daughter of a friend of Costa’s had meltowns after her mother – her primary caregiver and the one who organized her services - died in September. The woman’s daughter, who has multiple disabilities, was hospitalized because there was “nowhere for her to go,” Costa said. The young woman was “restrained, medically and physically. It’s heartbreaking,” Costa said.

“It’s lucky you have good parents who are helping these kids, but you know, we’re all getting older and we’re not going to be able to,” she said. The aging of parents, who are often primary care givers, is a broad concern among families, according to survey results.

“There are some kids who don’t have that parent support and they’re on the street,” Costa said. “That’s sad, when they can be a very productive part of our community.”

Kerri Zanchi, the state’s Director of Developmental Disabilities, thanked Costa for coming forward.

One of the biggest challenges in residential services, Zanchi said, is a dearth of specialized homes for individuals with behavioral and other complex needs, as well as a lack of therapists and other clinicians to give them the proper attention.

“There’s a huge need coming” as teenagers with complex disabilities leave schools, she said. “We need to know what that need is and we need to start working on it lot earlier than when they turn 21 and come into our system.”

Zanchi referred to the division’s Eligibility by 17 policy, which aims to give families, schools, and the adult system plenty of time to plan a smooth transition.

In the catalogue, one of the “challenges” the state officials listed in implementing the Eligibility by 17 policy is “resource and service difference for transitioning youth vs adult services.” In the summary that family and consumer representatives submitted, they commented that “transition from high school is a ‘nightmare.“

Zanchi continued her response to Costa. “We certainly recognize every day the crises we have to manage” in order to support the individuals involved and to try to grow the system’s capacity, she said.

And there are committed providers who are willing to help the state, but who also want to do that with the right staffing that will keep all individuals safe, Zanchi said. “We are all hands on deck. I know it probably doesn’t feel like enough,” she said.

Costa agreed. “ I understand what you’ve been doing and I know that everyone has been working hard . Still, it’s not enough,” she said.

Gloria Quinn, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, said her agency works very well with the state as a partner in exceptional situations, but it is extremely difficult as long as there there is a paucity of established expertise in the community that is accessible to the developmental disabilities providers.

“Very often we are creating something new, which takes an enormous amount of time,” Quinn said, and the funding is not enough. Most importantly, when the agency helps someone with increased needs it runs the risk of jeopardizing supports for other people, particularly in a residential setting, she said.

Peter Quattromani, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy Rhode Island, pointed to the low wages for direct care staff that frustrate all involved; those who love the work but can’t pay the bills, employers who can’t fill jobs, and consumers and families who can’t find suitable services.

“It’s an incredibly difficult job” , he said, and attracting staff is likewise very difficult, given the low wages.

Commission member Kelly Donovan, who herself receives services from DDD, had sparked the conversation by wondering aloud why those with serious behavioral problems have difficulty finding appropriate support.

She said she agreed with Quattromani and Costa, and she added another factor that she believes contributes to the problem: a societal stigma against those with a broad range of mental illnesses who exhibit aggressive behavior.

During the last month, commission members, representing the executive branch of government, private providers, and consumers and their families, were asked to complete a survey cataloging the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Medicaid fee-for-service system, called Project Sustainability.

The commission plans to use the results of the survey, named the “Current State Assessment,” to seek advice from outside experts and further the group’s deliberations in the future, according to a statement issued at DiPalma’s behest.

Directly or indirectly, a lack of adequate funding in various contexts permeated three summaries of the survey results, each one presented by a representative of each of the three segments of the commission. Transportation, for example, has become a bigger problem now that there is a greater emphasis on community-based services, which require more than the two daily trips usually allowed by individual funding authorizations. Families also cited difficulties of non-English speakers in getting information and services.

But Rebecca Boss, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, also said the developmental disabilities budget has increased significantly since 2015, and listed advances made in the last two years, including:

  • $6.8 million for supported employment

  • two annual wage increases for direct care workers (The average hourly pay for front-line workers is $11.36 an hour)

  • the acquisition of a modern data management system

  • an increase in staff for quality management, implementation of a federal civil rights consent decree and for Medicaid-mandated Home and Community Based Services, as well as assistance in maximizing the existing budget.

She described the funding needs of the system as “dynamic.”

“We are engaging in discussions with our partners about what those needs are,” Boss said. “Governor (Gina) Raimondo has demonstrated a willingness to look at the system and make adjustments in the budget as we go along. So this is the process that we’re currently working on and engaging in those conversations on a regular basis.”

Raimondo is to present adjustments for the current budget, as well as her proposal for the next fiscal cycle, during the third week of January.

Christopher Semonelli, a commission member and the father of a teenager with complex needs, commented on the origins of Project Sustainability, which seemed to him like system “in a death spiral, and there was basically a feeding frenzy as to how to continue the system; how to go after the available funds.”

“I don’t think the legislative base should be blamed” for cutbacks that launched Project Sustainability in 2011, “because there was a lack of advocacy, “he said. “Strong advocacy could have prevented that from happening. That is huge and needs to be built going forward.”

DiPalma had the last word. Semonelli “made a great point about advocacy, but he shouldn’t let the General Assembly off the hook,” DiPalma said. “This is where the buck stops.”

Read the summaries presented at the meeting. For the state’s assessment, click here. For consumer and advocates’ comments, click here. For service providers’ comments, click here.

RI Project Sustainability Commission To Meet December 12 To Air Views On Existing DD Services

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island Senate’s Project Sustainability Commission, which is evaluating the state’s fee-for-service Medicaid payment system for private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities, will meet Wednesday, Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. in the Senate Lounge at the State House.

Three members of the commission will summarize the views of all 19 panel participants regarding the planning, programming, and funding of the current system, as well as the family or consumer experience, according to the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. State officials, private providers, families, and consumers of services funded through the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals are all represented on the commission.

The meeting is open to the public, and a portion of the session will be reserved for comments from the audience, DiPalma said.

RI DD Services: The Annual Scramble Begins To Avoid Waitlists or Reduced Payments To Providers

By Gina Macris

For the second consecutive year, the director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) has raised the possibility that adults with developmental disabilities might face waiting periods for services if the department cannot resolve a projected $9,.4 million deficit by next June.

Most of that estimated $9.4 million shortfall - $7.6 million – occurs in the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

Waiting lists and reductions in reimbursement rates to private providers are among alternatives proposed by BHDDH director Rebecca Boss in a corrective action plan for dealing with the shortage in state revenue. Private organizations do most of the front-line work with adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges.

Any state agency running over budget must submit a corrective action plan to the state budget office. Seven other agencies are in the same position as BHDDH.

While complying with the requirement for a deficit-reduction plan, BHDDH also has prepared a budget request which seeks a additional $12.7 million in state revenue for the private system of developmental disability services through June 30, 2020. That total includes:

  • $7.6 million in supplemental funding to close the gap in payments to private service providers during the current fiscal year.

  • $5.1 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019.


No Wage Hikes In BHDDH Budget Request

The combined $12.7 million request does not reflect any wage increases for direct care workers in private agencies, a BHDDH spokeswoman said. According to a trade association, workers receive an average of $11.36 an hour - less than the $12 hourly pay offered at the Target store on the other side of the Massachusetts state line in Seekonk during Thanksgiving week.

The consultant involved in developing the existing fee-for-service rate structure seven years ago said recently that it’s “past time” for an overhaul of the reimbursements. Both House and Senate leaders say they support the idea of wage hikes for front-line workers.

Governor Gina Raimondo has not responded to email requests from Developmental Disability News for comment on recent public remarks of the consultant, Mark Podrazik, President of Burns & Associates.

Raimondo is due to present her budget proposal to the General Assembly the third week in January. She must consider many factors, including a projected $41.9 million deficit in overall state spending and recent revenue estimates running about $5.4 million below the previous projections, made last May.

Federal Officials Watching Budget Process

A lot can happen between now, the start of the budget planning cycle, and the end of June, when General Assembly adopts final figures to close out one fiscal year and launch a new budget on July 1.

And when it comes to spending on developmental disabilities, the conversation has broadened in the last several years to include the ever-increasing demands for reform imposed by a 2014 federal civil rights consent decree between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Before the budget was finalized in the last session of the General Assembly, the independent federal court monitor for the consent decree had sought and obtained written assurances from Raimondo that the state would support mandated systemic changes in services as Rhode Island moves toward community-based, integrated supports of adults with developmental disabilities.

In a letter dated May 14, 2018 to Charles Moseley, the federal court monitor, Raimondo said, “Rhode Island has made significant progress in meeting the requirements of the Consent Decree, and we will continue to prioritize this work.”

What the state’s commitment to developmental disabilities looks like in the current budget is level funding.

Last January, Raimondo proposed a cut of $18.4 million to payments for private service providers, but after better-than-expected revenue estimates in May, pressure from constituents, and Moseley’s request for assurances, Raimondo reversed her position and the General Assembly approved a status quo budget.

Boss Details The Current Problem

Now Boss says that level funding will not be enough to meet expenses, primarily because of an increasing caseload and rising average costs per person. These two trends can be traced back to compliance with the consent decree.

In the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, DDD spent a total of $228.3 million in federal-state Medicaid funds, including $111.1 million in state revenue, for payments to private agencies that provide most of the developmental disability services, Boss wrote to the state Budget Office in October.

The current budget authorizes an expenditure of $229.4 million for those Medicaid payments, with $107.5 from state revenue and the rest from the federal government.

However, in the current budget, DDD is expected to stretch the $229.4 million to cover some additional mandates:

  • a total of $1.5 million on contracts and staff to support the consent decree

  • $620,000 – about $400,000 more than anticipated – to pay for an increase in wages for home health aides and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who serve adults with developmental disabilities in their own homes. Boss said the state Medicaid office had set a slightly higher rate for the LPNs than the department had anticipated.

Together, these two factors mean that there is $1 million less in the current budget than there was in the last one for actual services to adults with developmental disabilities, Boss wrote in a report to state Budget Office on spending for the first quarter of the fiscal year.

At the same time, DDD estimates its overall caseload will increase about 1.5 percent during the current budget cycle, based on trends over the last two years. That increase will cost an additional $1.1 million from state revenue,, according to Boss.

In addition, nearly 900 persons are slated for re-evaluation of their needs during the current fiscal year, with interviewers using a revised assessment that has been resulting in generally higher per-person costs since it was adopted in November, 2016, Boss said. The use of the revised assessment, the Supports Intensity Scale – A, is expected to add about $900,000 from state revenue to service costs, Boss wrote in the first-quarter spending report, submitted in October.

Moreover, DDD expects to spend all $6.8 million allocated by the General Assembly for a supported employment program that pays private providers performance bonuses for job placement and retention., The first allocation, in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2016, was underutilized.

Boss said she did not favor a wait list for services as a corrective action plan because it would cause hardship and make DDD unable to continue complying with the 2014 federal consent decree.

Rate reductions to private service providers also would make it impossible to comply with the consent decree and would destabilize the entire system of care, Boss said.

Savings anticipated in State-Run Group Homes

Boss said she does favor another option, consolidation of the state-run group home system known at Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS.) DDD is working on closing one state-run group home and relocating existing staff to save on overtime costs, Boss said.

Changes in group home configuration toward smaller units more accessible to the community are being required anyway by the Medicaid Home and Community Based Final Rule.

The consultant for Burns & Associates, Mark Podrazik, recommended in 2011 that the state gradually eliminate RICLAS to more more equitably fund private providers, who were facing severe cuts in payments that resulted in dramatically lower wages and made it difficult for employers to fill job vacancies, problems that persists today.

In testimony Nov. 13 before a special Senate commission, Podrazik said he was told in 2011 that the state did not want to address RICLAS out of concern about a fight from unions.

Over the last several years, however, the size of the RICLAS caseload has declined through attrition. For example, at the start of 2016, there were 210 persons in RICLAS homes, state officials said at the time. Six weeks ago, in mid-October, the RICLAS caseload had shrunk to 126, according to state records.

RI House Speaker And Senate President Both Support Higher Pay For DD Workers

By Gina Macris

The top two leaders in the Rhode Island General Assembly say they support the idea of increasing the pay of workers who provide services for adults with developmental disabilities.

“I am very supportive of the developmentally disabled community,” said House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, “and I believe those people who care for them should receive a rate increase. The House of Representatives will certainly strongly consider such a request in next year’s budget deliberations.”

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio is likewise supportive, a spokesman said.

“The Senate President supports increasing wages for providers of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Ruggerio’s spokesman said, adding that “Senator Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown) has provided extraordinary leadership on this issue, including a proposal to gradually increase wages for providers, and the Senate President supports his initiative.”

Whether Governor Raimondo will consider increasing funding for the private system of care for adults with developmental disabilities in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year remains to be seen. Her office has not responded to a Nov. 20 email seeking comment on possible pay increases.

Developmental Disability News asked the state’s leaders whether they would consider re-visiting reimbursement rates after Mark Podrazik, the president of the healthcare consulting firm Burns & Associates, told a Senate commission chaired by Senator DiPalma that a review of pay hikes is warranted.

DiPalma’s commission is studying the current fee-for- service system, called Project Sustainability, which Burns and Associates was instrumental in developing seven years ago. While the consultants took the lead in the project design, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) disregarded the actual reimbursement rates the firm proposed, instead reducing most of them by 17 to 19 percent before forwarding the final version of the plan to the General Assembly in the spring of 2011.

Burns & Associates recommends a rate overhaul once every five years, Podrazik told the commission Nov. 13. After nearly seven and a half years, “it’s past time,” he said.

Podrazik testified that Project Sustainability was shaped by the state’s drive to control costs, but by that measure, the system has failed.

The developmental disability budget repeatedly has run over the limits set by the General Assembly, and the gaps have only increased during the last few years as the U.S. District Court has enforced a federal civil rights agreement with the state that requires Rhode Island to integrate adults with developmental disabilities in their communities.

That approach, necessary to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, costs more than the reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day centers codified in Project Sustainability.

DiPalma, the chairman of the Project Sustainability commission, takes exception to a view that the developmental disability services program has been overspending.

“If the budget was unrealistic from the get-go, you’re going to exceed that budget,” he said at the commission meeting Nov. 13. He has studied developmental disability service budgets for ten years, he said, and none of them have been realistic.

Increasing wages for direct care workers “needs to become a priority” for a number of reasons, DiPalma said in a telephone interview. “If it’s a priority, we’ll find the money.”

In 2016, DiPalma called for a $15 hourly wage for direct care workers by July 1, 2021, but now he says “we need to get there faster.”

And he indicated he no longer believes $15 is enough. For example, Massachusetts, an easy commute from many places in Rhode Island, is already paying that amount to members of the Service Employees Union International who work with persons with disabilities. A bill signed by Governor Charles Baker in June put Massachusetts on a path to a $15 minimum wage in five years.

At one time, those who worked with adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges had full time jobs with benefits. But Project Sustainability resulted in drastic cuts to wages and benefits that destabilized the workforce, forcing many to leave the field or to take two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Turnover averages about one in three workers a year, and employers are unable to fill one in six jobs, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association. At the same time, the demands of the consent decree require more highly skilled staff.

Since July 1, 2016, the General Assembly has enacted two relatively small pay increases for direct care staff and their supervisors at private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities, but the average pay, $11.36 an hour, is still two dollars less than the hourly rate of $13.97 which Burns & Associates recommended in 2011.

Healthcare Consultant Says "It's Past Time" For RI To Revisit Rates It Pays For Private DD Services

Boss DiPalma Quattromani Kelly Donovan Deb Kney Kevin McHale.jpg

From foreground, on the right, Rebecca Boss, Louis DiPalma, Peter Quattromani, Kelly Donovan, Deb Kney, and Kevin McHale, all members of the Project Sustainability Commission. DiPalma is chairman. All photos by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island is overdue in undertaking a comprehensive review of rates it pays private providers of services for adults with developmental disabilities, according to a top official of a healthcare consulting firm who helped develop the existing payment structure seven years ago.

Mark Podrazik

Mark Podrazik

“It’s past time,” said Mark Podrazik, president and co-founder of Burns & Associates. He said the firm recommends an overhaul of rates once every five years. Podrazik appeared Nov. 13 before a Senate-sponsored commission which is evaluating the way the state organizes and funds its services for those facing intellectual and developmental challenges.

The commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, had invited Podrazik to help the 19-member panel gain a deeper understanding of the controversial billing and payment system now in place before it recommends changes intended to ultimately improve the quality of life of some 4,000 adults with developmental disabilities.

Burns & Associates was hired by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) in 2010 to develop and implement Project Sustainability, a fee-for-service system of payments to hold private providers accountable for the services they deliver and give consumers more flexibility in choosing what they wanted, Podrazik said.

In answering questions posed by commission members, Podrazik made it clear that the final version of Project Sustainability was shaped by a frenzy to control costs. The state ignored key recommendations of Burns & Associates intended to more equitably fund the private service providers and to protect the interests of those in the state’s care.

Podrazik said that overall, Burns & Associates believed the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) had neither the capacity or the competence implement Project Sustainability at the outset or to carry out the mandates to companion civil rights agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice reached in 2013 and 2014.

“I think people were a little shocked” by the new federal requirements to integrate day services in the community and by the question of “who was going to do it,” Podrazik said of the DDD staff at the time.

DDD also had an antiquated data system that ill served Project Sustainability and the separate demands for statistics imposed by a federal court monitor overseeing the consent decrees.

Podrazik said the aged IT system was the biggest problem faced by Burns & Associates.

Asked whether funding changed to implement the civil rights agreements, Podrazik said he didn’t recall that there were any significant changes, if any at all. Burns & Associates ended its day-to-day involvement with BHDDH in Feb. 2015, when Maria Montanaro became the department director. (She has since been succeeded by Rebecca Boss, and there has been a complete reorganization and expansion of management in DDD. A modern IT system recently went online.)

Between the fall of 2015 and early 2016, Burns & Associates had a separate contract with the Executive Office of Human Services, which asked for advice on cutting supplemental payments to adults with developmental disabilities.

While Project Sustainability was supposed to give consumers more choice, the U.S. Department of Justice found just the opposite in a 2013 investigation.

DOJ lawyers wrote in their findings that “systemic State actions and policies” directed resources for employment and non-work activities to sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs, making it difficult for individuals to get services outside those settings.

“Flexibility” Functioned As Tool For Controlling Costs

At the meeting Nov. 13, Andrew McQuaide, a commission member and senior director at Perspectives Corporation, a service provider, suggested that features of Project Sustainability ostensibly designed to encourage flexibility and autonomy for those using the services functioned in reality as mechanisms to control costs.

Podrazik said, “In my heart of hearts, I think everybody wanted more flexibility,” but “then the financial constraints were imposed in such a way that the objectives could not necessarily be met.”

“We were not hired to cut budgets,” Podrazik said. Going into the project, “we did not know what the budget was” for Project Sustainability.

He said Burns & Associates recommended fair market rates for a menu of services under the new plan. For example, it proposed an hourly rate for direct care workers was $13.97. But BHDD refused the consultants’ advice to fight “aggressively” for this level of funding, Podrazik said. With the budget year that began July 1, 2011, BHDDH recommended, and the General Assembly adopted, a rate of $12.03 an hour, nearly two dollars less.

The state had the option to change the rate effective Oct. 1, 2011, and it did, dropping the hourly reimbursement for direct care workers to $10.66 to absorb last-minute cuts made by the General Assembly in the developmental disabilities budget for the fiscal year that had begun July 1. (Rates have increased slightly since then. The average direct care worker made about $11.36 an hour in early 2018.)

“I understood why the department (BHDDH) was doing what they were doing, because they were getting an incredible amount of pressure on the budget – so much so that they were getting their hand slapped when they were over,” Podrazik said.

“From the outside coming in, there was a lack of confidence that BHDDH could actually administer a budget that came in on target, so that there was an intense scrutiny to keep the budget intact. It did not help that that they were cut and that there were no caseload increases (in the budget) for multiple years,” Podrazik said.

“They were behind the eight-ball before anything was contemplated,” he said.

Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss

Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss

DiPalma, the commission chairman, saw the situation from a different perspective: “Someone will say the agency exceeded the budget, but if it was unrealistic from the get-go, you’re going to exceed that budget.”

As a legislator, DiPalma said, he has looked at developmental disability service budgets for ten years, and there hasn’t been one that was realistic.

“Right,” Podrazik replied, adding that funding for developmental disabilities had been declining from year to year in Rhode Island, even before Burns & Associates was hired for Project Sustainability.

Podrazik said he hasn’t been following developmental disabilities in Rhode Island during the last few years, but “somebody should look at the rates, if for no other reason” than “we’re in an economy that’s very different than it was in 2010.” He cited health care costs and a move toward “$15 an hour wages.”

“It’s a whole different landscape,” he said.

Consultants Recommended Eliminating Separate State-Run DD System

In 2011, with Project Sustainability facing a funding shortage even before it got off the ground, Burns & Associates recommended that BHDDH get more money to support the services of private agencies by eliminating – gradually – the state-run developmental disabilities system, called Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS.)

At the time, average per-person cost for a RICLAS client ran about three times more than the average in the privately-run system. All the RICLAS clients could eventually be transferred to private providers, Burns & Associates advised the state.

“This recommendation was shut down immediately, with the reason being a protracted fight with the unions,” Podrazik said in prepared remarks.

Burns & Associates then recommended lowering the reimbursements to RICLAS. “This was also shut down,” Podrazik wrote.


“It was apparent early on that there were funds to be redistributed between RICLAS and the Private DD system, but there was no appetite to do so. It is unclear exactly where this directive was coming from within state government, but that was the directive given” to Burns & Associates, Podrazik wrote.

Providers Expected To Maintain Same Service For Reduced Pay

Commission members asked Podrazik whether anyone at Burns & Associates or state government believed that it was possible for private service providers to absorb the rate reductions written into Project Sustainability, given the fact that about half the agencies were already running deficits before the program was enacted.

McQuaide quoted from the memo that BHDDH sent the General Assembly in May, 2011, explaining its approach to implementing Project Sustainability.

“We did not reduce our assumptions for the level of staffing hours required to serve individuals,” the memo said. “In other words, we are forcing the providers to stretch their dollars without compromising the level of services to individuals,” the memo said.

McQuaide asked, "Did anyone actually think that was possible?”

“I don’t know,” Podrazik replied, but he remembered meetings in which participants expressed sentiments similar to the quotation highlighted by McQuaide.

Given the budgetary restrictions, Podrazik said, he favored reducing rates rather than cutting back on services or creating a waiting list for services.

Podrazik said Burns & Associates was hired to deal with certain problems; not to review services for adults with developmental disabilities top to bottom.

Assessment Used For Funding Became Controversial

Asked to change the assessment used to determine each person’s need for support, Burns and Associates recommended the Supports Intensity Scale, or SIS, and advised it should be administered by an entity “other than the provider or the state to avoid the perception of gaming the system,” he said.

The state went forward with the SIS, linked it to funding individual authorizations, or personal budgets for clients, and assigned the administration of the assessment to the state’s own social caseworkers.

The fact that the SIS is administered within BHDDH has been criticized by the DOJ and an independent federal court monitor. With federal scrutiny on BHDDH, and numerous complaints from families and providers that the SIS scores were manipulated to cut costs, the department switched to a revised SIS assessment and retrained all its assessors in November, 2016.

Funding Authorized Three Months At A Time To Control Costs

According to Podrazik, Burns & Associates recommended each client’s funding authorization – or personal budget – be awarded on an annual basis, to allow individuals to plan their lives and providers to look ahead in figuring out expenses.

But the state insisted on the option to change reimbursement rates on a quarterly basis as a means of managing costs more closely within a fiscal year. That was the feature of Project Sustainability which enabled BHDDH to impose two consecutive cuts on providers, once on July 1, 2011, and a second time on Oct. 1, 2011. Since then, rates have increased incrementally.

At the hearing, Podrazik illustrated the difference between a yearly authorization and a quarterly one in the life of a consumer.

“Maybe someone goes away for the month of August,” he said. If that person has a quarterly authorization, the money for services in August reverts to the state. But with an annual authorization, the funding can be used for the person’s benefit during another month of the year.

Podrazik agreed with a commission member, Peter Quattromani, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, that quarterly authorizations compromise the flexibility intended to be part of the design of Project Sustainability.

Podrazik said he knows of no other state that makes quarterly authorizations for developmental disability services.

DiPalma, the commission chairman, asked if there was any thought given to the impact of a requirement that providers document how each staff person working during the day spends his or her time with clients, in 15-minute blocks.

Podrazik said, “I don’t think people thought the impact would be negligible, but the desire for accountability outweighed that, and I fully endorsed them.”

Project Sustainability decreased overhead costs to private providers but did not offset those cuts with allowances for hiring the personnel necessary to process the documentation.

When DiPalma thanked Podrazik for his time, Podrazik quipped that Rhode Island was “the last place I thought I’d ever be.”

“The Rhode Island project wore me down, so I’m working with hospitals these days,” Podrazik said.

He said he came back to Rhode Island because DiPalma was very persuasive and because he wanted to “set the record straight” on the involvement of Burns & Associates with Project Sustainability.







Burns & Associates President To Speak To RI Senate Commission Studying DD Reimbursement

A special commission of the Rhode Island Senate on “Project Sustainability” will meet Tuesday, Nov. 13 to hear a presentation from the president of a healthcare consulting firm which helped the state develop its current fee-for-service Medicaid reimbursement system for private providers who serve adults with developmental disabilities.

The speaker, Mark Podrazik , is the president and co-founder of Burns & Associates, an Arizona-based company which advised the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) on recommendations BHDDH made to the General Assembly. The legislature made the final decisions about the reimbursement model, which was enacted in 2011.

Burns & Associates was paid nearly $1.4 million for their work developing “Project Sustainability” and analyzing its fiscal impact between 2010 and 2016, according to state records.

Tuesday’s public meeting will begin at 3 p.m. in the Senate Lounge of the State House. Public comment is invited at the end of the session, according to the commission chairman, State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. The commission includes 19 members from state government and a cross-section of the developmental disability community. Among them are two consumers and representatives of advocacy groups and service providers.

RI Project Sustainability's Plan For Enhanced DD Services Was "Cover" For Budget Cuts - Testimony

By Gina Macris

Louis DiPalma, Chairman of Project Sustainability Commission Photo By Anne PETERS

Louis DiPalma, Chairman of Project Sustainability Commission Photo By Anne PETERS

Project Sustainability, introduced in Rhode Island in 2011 as a method for enhancing individualized services for adults with developmental disabilities, instead has diminished the quality of their lives.

That assessment set the stage Oct. 9 for deliberations of a Senate-sponsored commission charged with studying Rhode Island’s past and present system of developmental disability services, with the aim of designing a better future.

At the same time, the chairman of the 19-member panel, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, emphasized that the purpose of the commission is not to assign blame but to learn from the past and present to figure out how to best move forward. The commission must report to the Senate by March 1.

Project Sustainability was “a well-manicured statement to cover up” cuts in funding and services, said Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, one of three dozen private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island.

Kim Einloth Testifies

Kim Einloth Testifies

Project Sustainability had a “major impact on the quality of service we were able to deliver,” said Kim Einloth, a senior director at Perspectives Corporation, one of Rhode Island’s largest service providers. She said the community-based program of day services was forced to put people in large groups, lay off specialists like occupational and speech therapists and discontinue consulting services with physical therapists.

Gloria Quinn, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, said she noticed immediately that the disabilities system was “demoralized, decreased and degraded” when she returned to Rhode Island after a nine-year absence in 2013. When Quinn moved out of state in 2004, she said, Rhode Island was one of the top-ranked states nationwide for its programs for adults with developmental disabilities. Quinn sits on the commission.

In a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes, the commission covered a broad range of topics related to Project Sustainability and the controversies linked to it: inadequate overall funding, depressed worker wages, and an assessment used – or misused - to determine individual allocations for services.

The planning and execution of Project Sustainability has been well documented, primarily by Burns & Associates, healthcare consultants hired by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) in 2010.

DiPalma said that from what he’s seen, Burns & Associates was “charged with providing a plan, and the state chose to do something different.”

Rebecca Boss, the current director of BHDDH, reviewed the history of Project Sustainability, designed to bring uniformity to funding for specific services and enable families to make informed choices about services. Project Sustainability aimed to use data gathered through new funding methods to create incentives for services to be delivered in the most integrated setting possible, she said.

“Change is hard, and even with perfect planning, it would not result in everyone’s needs being met,” Boss said.

“I think everyone knows” that the current administration – including Governor Gina Raimondo, Kerri Zanchi, the Director of Developmental Disabilities, herself, “is committed to working with our stakeholders” to figure out “where do we go from here,” said Boss.

“Many may have different views of history, as is often the case,” said Boss, a commission member.

Kane, of AccessPoint, said he didn’t want his anger about Project Sustainability to reflect the way he regards the current administration. The working relationship service providers now have with the BHDDH administration, he said, is “better than we’ve had in a very, very long time.”

Tom Kane Chats After The Commission Meeting

Tom Kane Chats After The Commission Meeting

The plans for Project Sustainability “talked about individualizing services and moving toward person-centeredness and all of the lovely buzz words,” said Kane, but the rhetoric really described “a system we already had that got dismantled.”

While Project Sustainability talked about individualization, inclusion and community support, the regulations governing developmental disability services “were always about center-based group activity.”

“Finally, under this administration, the regulations have been put forward that will put back the flexibility we need,” Kane said. The new regulations have passed a public comment period and are to be finalized by the end of the year.

Funding, however, has a long way to go to support the kinds of changes providers, families, and consumers want, by all accounts.

Commission member Andrew McQuaide zeroed in on historical funding of developmental disability services.

McQuaide said that developmental disability spending had been on a downward trend in Rhode Island since 1993.That was the year before the last residents left the Ladd School, the state’s only institution for those with intellectual challenges.

Citing According to Burns & Associates, McQuaide said:

  • Between 1993 and 2008, Rhode Island’s expenditures for developmental disabilities decreased by 29.5 percent at the same time the national rate increased by 17.8 percent.

  • Rhode Island is only one of 14 states to report a reduction between 2007 and 2009 in per-person expenditure, a decrease of 4 percent at the same time the national trend registered a 5.6 percent increase.

McQuaide also said that anecdotal information indicates about half the state’s private providers were reporting operating deficits in 2009, ill-preparing them to absorb the additional funding cuts that came along with Project Sustainability.

An overview prepared by the Senate Fiscal Office showed that actual spending on developmental disabilities, including both state and federal Medicaid funds, dropped $26.2 million in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2011 when compared to spending during the previous 12 months.

The overview shows that, adjusted for inflation, the current budget still has not caught up to the spending reach of the developmental disability system in the year before Project Sustainability was enacted.

Chart courtesy of RI SENATE FISCAL OFFICE

Chart courtesy of RI SENATE FISCAL OFFICE

Prior to Project Sustainability, private agencies negotiated an annual sum for each individual in their care.

The new system generated standard reimbursement rates for each of 18 different services that agencies were authorized to provide.

Kane noted that from the outset, the funding for Project Sustainability was not designed to cover all of the actual costs of private providers, almost all of whom had submitted extensive financial data to the state.

A BHDDH memo for rate-setting that the department sent to the General Assembly noted that the reimbursement rates eventually adopted for Project Sustainability were 17 to 19 percent below “benchmark rates” which Burns & Associates calculated from the median wage for direct care jobs - $13.97 an hour.

The state could not afford more, the memo said, citing the poor economy at the time.

The memo said the lower reimbursement rates were calculated by reducing the allowances for fringe benefits for workers and in some cases, cutting transportation and program expenses.

Kane, who is familiar with the rates in the memo and other Burns & Associates documents, said providers were “actually told in a meeting, ’We’ll see what this (the benchmark wage) costs but we won’t actually bring this to the legislature because they’ll laugh at us.’

“I don’t understand why the expenditure of well over a million dollars on Burns & Associates wasn’t taken seriously enough” to put forward actual expenditures “and let the legislature decide whether it was appropriate,” Kane said.

McQuaide, meanwhile, quoted from the memo. “We did not reduce our assumptions for the level of staffing hours required to serve individuals. In other words, we are forcing the providers to stretch their dollars without compromising the level of services to individuals,” the memo said. See related article

McQuaide said the experience of the last seven years has shown that it was a “fiction” to think the system of private providers would be forced to implement Project Sustainability without compromising services.

The state has a separate system of group homes for adults with developmental disabilities which has not been subject to rules or the pay cuts that came with Project Sustainability. Instead, the workers are unionized state employees with full benefits.

Donna Martin and Andrew McQuaide

Donna Martin and Andrew McQuaide

In the privately-run system, McQuaide said, the wages paid direct care workers still don’t reach the original $13.97 per hour “benchmark”, or median-pay rate, calculated by Burns & Associates.

The most recent data available indicates that the average entry wage for direct care workers is $11.37 an hour. It comes from a survey of member agencies of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI) conducted last February, according to Donna Martin, executive director of the trade association, which represents about two thirds of service providers in Rhode Island. Martin said she is in the process of updating the figure.

Martin, a commission member, told the panel that CPNRI has met with the BHDDH leadership and representatives of Governor Raimondo’s office and the Office of Management and Budget to review current provider reimbursements in comparison to an extensive menu of rates envisioned by Burns & Associates in planning Project Sustainability. BHDDH, OMB, and the Governor have already planning a budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

DiPalma said Burns & Associates originally wanted to advance a “competitive” average wage of $15.46 an hour.

Addressing wage inequities will be a critical focus of the commission’s work, he said. Two years ago, DiPalma started a campaign to raise direct care wages to $15 an hour over five budget cycles. Massachusetts already pays its direct care workers a $15 hourly rate, and many Rhode Islanders find they don’t have to move to take advantage of these higher-paying positions at agencies that are an easy commute from their homes, DiPalma said.

Another source of rancor over the last several years has been the assessment used to determine individual funding levels under the terms of Project Sustainability – the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), which was updated in November, 2016.

Kane has said data compiled by Burns & Associates indicate the original version of the SIS was used to cut individual funding. See related article

A. Anthony Antosh

A. Anthony Antosh

Even though the SIS has been revised, the state’s top academic researcher in developmental disabilities, A. Anthony Antosh, told the commission that using the SIS as a funding tool violates the original intent of the instrument as an aid for professionals designing individual programs of support for persons with disabilities.

Antosh, a commission member, is the retiring Director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

His comments apparently prompted Kane to recall another moment in a Project Sustainability planning meeting in which Burns & Associates’ human services partner praised the multi-faceted assessment providers were using at the time to figure out how much funding a particular person needed. In each case, the assessment took into account intellectual capacity, responses in various situations and potential risks.

That Burns & Associates partner, the Human Services Research Institute of Oregon, wrote a memo to the General Assembly saying that “ ‘resource allocation’ should never be thought of as mostly an exercise involving the assessment and simple service delivery.”

Policy makers should also take into account the goals of the programs, such as increasing community integration or increasing employment, before determining the array of services and rate schedules, HSRI said.

“Data collected by a measure such as the SIS is necessary,” the memo said, “but certainly not sufficient.”

The memo was condensed before it reached the General Assembly, and the recommendation against using the SIS alone to determine individual funding was eliminated,

RI General Assembly Candidates In Newport County Say They Support DD Worker Raises

By Gina Macris

A call for higher pay for direct service workers who assist persons with developmental disabilities ran like a thread through a General Assembly candidates’ forum in Newport Oct. 3, with several speakers saying better wages will help stabilize the system and improve quality.

Legislators urged an audience of about 25 to make their names and faces known at the State House to press this and other concerns when the General Assembly convenes again in January.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Newport, Middletown, Little Compton and Tiverton, said that Rhode Island cannot transform services for adults with developmental disabilities on a budget that has the same buying power as it did in 2011.

In Fiscal Year 2011, Rhode Island spent about $242 million on developmental disabilities, DiPalma said. Adjusted for inflation, using the consumer price index, that’s equivalent to the $272 million currently budgeted for the state Division of Developmental Disabilities.

DiPalma offered a glimpse of the work ahead for a Senate-sponsored commission that will convene Tuesday, Oct. 9 to begin discussing the current fee-for-service reimbursement system for private providers of supports to adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges.

The reimbursement system, called “Project Sustainability,” was inaugurated in Fiscal Year 2012, along with cuts that slashed spending on developmental disabilities from $242.6 million to $216.5 million, according to state figures.

Since 2014, the state has been under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice to end an overreliance on sheltered workshops and other segregated care for adults with developmental disabilities, and instead emphasize competitive employment and integrated non-work activities to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

At the Oct. 3 forum, DiPalma said the current practice of awarding individual funding authorizations according to the “level” of a person’s lack of independence is “just wrong” when successful appeals of individual awards have resulted in supplemental expenditures of up to $25 million a year for legitimate additional services on a case-by-case basis.

DiPalma, the chairman of the commission, said the panel will review every aspect of “Project Sustainability - what it is, how did we get there, and where do we want to go? What are the gaps?” The commission will meet at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 9 in Room 313 of the State House.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown and Middletown, who has six years’ experience on the House Finance Committee, said people with disabilities want the exact same thing that people without disabilities seek – meaningful lives.

“But I’m not sure it’s a one-size-fits-all model, “ she said. “The whole system needs a good 20,000-foot overview.”

“It’s not right that people can make more money at McDonald’s than they can supervising people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “ Ruggiero said.

One consequence of “Project Sustainability” has been double-digit cuts in wages, which also have derailed benefits such as health insurance, and opportunities for career advancement offered workers by private service-provider agencies. The wage cuts destabilized an entire workforce, which now averages a turnover rate of at least 33 percent a year.

Rep. Dennis Canario, D-Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton, himself the father of someone with developmental disabilities, said that people generally “don’t understand the detrimental effect” of staff turnover on the individuals they assist.

Workers must have “expertise” to keep their clients on an even keel, particularly in some cases where clients are “very involved,” He said that It takes “expertise to turn situations around” or to keep individuals focused on the job at hand.

“When they get up in the morning, they need something to look forward to,” he said of people with disabilities. “We need to provide that type of day to our friends with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Together we can come up with the answers and solutions.”

“Pay inequity is a serious problem,” Canario said. “You’re not going to attract someone highly qualified” for $11 an hour,” he said. (The average pay for direct support workers is slightly less than $11.50 an hour.)

Connecticut and Massachusetts “are way ahead of us,” he said.

DiPalma noted that Massachusetts has already negotiated a minimum $15 hourly wage for direct care workers who are members of the Service Employees International Union. Many of the workers in nearby Massachusetts towns have trained in Rhode Island and still live in Rhode Island, he said.

DiPalma has sponsored a campaign to get a $15 hourly wage in five years, but it stalled in the last session of the General Assembly, when the developmental disability system was threatened with an $18 million cut in services. In the end, the legislature restored the status quo, but no gains were made.

Nevertheless, advocates deserve a “great round of applause for restoring that funding,” said Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Jamestown and Newport. She and others, including Rep. Kenneth Mendonca, R-Portsmouth and Middletown, urged them to keep it up.

Sen. James Seveney, D-Portsmouth, Bristol and Tiverton, signaled that he and his colleagues will again be pushing for a wage increase for direct care workers in the 2019 General Assembly session.

With the 2014 federal consent decree driving more integrated employment and community –based activities, the state must invest in additional transportation to make those opportunities a reality, said Euer. Others echoed her concern about transportation.

Terri Cortvriend, the Democratic candidate for Mendonca’s seat in the House, said she wanted to learn more about developmental disability services, particularly whether individuals and families are satisfied with the greater emphasis on competitive employment. Cortvriend currently chairs the Portsmouth School Committee.

Susan Vandal, a member of the audience, said families who have a child with a developmental disability want a system that allows them a “single point of entry” that begins early intervention for infants and toddlers and takes them seamlessly through the school years into adult services.

Parents must now jump through too many hoops, particularly in the transition from school to adult services, she said. Transition from high school to the adult system is also one of the prime concerns of an independent court monitor overseeing implementation of the consent decree.

Addressing the audience, Canario said legislators “need your help so we can make recommendations on how to fix a broken system.”

“A lot of parents are in the dark and don’t know what to do,” he said. Sometimes they are misled, with plans for services that are on paper but don’t become reality.”

The forum held at the Newport campus of the Community College of Rhode Island, was sponsored by the Newport County Parents Advocacy Group and Rhode Island FORCE (Families Organized for Reform, Change, and Empowerment.) RI FORCE streamed the event live and has posted the recording on its Facebook page, here.

DD Advocates Plan Candidates' Forum Oct. 3

By Gina Macris

Two advocacy groups for Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities will sponsor a legislative forum Wednesday, Oct. 3 at the Newport campus of the Community College of Rhode Island.  

As of Sept. 28, seven candidates, including four state senators , two state representatives and one challenger, had confirmed their attendance, according to a spokesman for Rhode Island FORCE and the Newport County Parents Advocacy Group.  

The seven candidates are: Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, and Tiverton; Sen. James Seveney, D-Portsmouth, Bristol, and Tiverton; Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport and Jamestown; and  Sen. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown and Middletown.  

The candidates for state representative are: Rep. Dennis Canario, D-Portsmouth, Tiverton, and Little Compton; Rep. Kenneth J. Mendonca, R-Portsmouth and Middletown;  and Mendonca’s Democratic challenger, Terri Cortvriend, who chairs the Portsmouth School Committee.  

Christopher Semonelli, spokesman for the two advocacy groups, said the forum will run from 5 to 7 p.m. RI FORCE, which stands for Families Organized For Reform, Change, and Empowerment, plans to stream the session live on its Facebook page here.  

For an hour prior to the session, various organizations will hold an information fair geared to families supporting those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  

Semonelli said anyone planning to attend is asked to sign up at Eventbrite

RI Project Sustainability Study Commission To Meet October 9 For First Session

By Gina Macris

A special Commission of the Rhode Island Senate will hold its first meeting Tuesday, Oct. 9 to begin studying the impact of “Project Sustainability” on services for adults with developmental disabilities, its chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, has announced. The meeting is open to the public.

Project Sustainability is the name of the fee-for-service reimbursement system for Medicaid-funded supports for adults with intellectual challenges that was enacted by the General Assembly in 2011. 

The system features a standardized assessment of each client’s needs which is then translated by an algorithm into one of five levels of individual funding.  It was introduced as a more equitable way of allocating funds than the previous method, in which providers negotiated flat rates for each client in their care. 

But Project Sustainability, which was accompanied by significant budget cuts, has been controversial from the start. The state first calculated a myriad of distinct reimbursement rates based on existing median wages for direct care workers. From there it slashed the rates an average of 17 percent in the budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, citing a poor economy.   

Providers were forced to cut wages drastically, leading to an instability in the workforce that persists today. Advocates say the high turnover prevents the state from achieving the goals of a 2014 federal civil rights decree that followed in the wake of Project Sustainability.

The U.S. Department of Justice criticized the state for incentivizing segregated care in day centers or sheltered workshops that can be managed with a minimum of staff. An over-reliance on this type of care violates the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the DOJ found.  

DiPalma, the commission chairman, said the 19-member commission includes two consumers, other advocates, providers and representatives of the executive branch of state government. The commission will accept public comment at every meeting, he said.

The first meeting will cover the history of Project Sustainability and spell out the goals of the commission, according to a statement issued in DiPalma’s behalf. The meeting will begin at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at the State House, but the room has not yet been selected, DiPalma said.

Artist And Others Who Rely On State-Funded Support Speak Up For What Matters To Them

Wendy LeBeau.jpg

By Gina Macris

Most people don’t  give a second thought to what it takes to meet a friend for coffee or a shopping foray. They just call or text and go. 

But for Wendy LeBeau, a Rhode Islander living with the challenges of developmental disabilities, arranging a casual get-together is a big deal. She’d have to get someone to drive, not so easy when her schedule of state-funded supports allows limited time for one-on-one service.

 On Aug. 7, LeBeau joined some 50 people at an event space next to The BRASS in Warren– an art gallery where she works – for the first of several  “Community Conversations” sponsored by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association of private service providers that support adults with developmental and intellectual challenges.

When LeBeau was asked about her ability to connect with friends, she replied “only at work.”  She is a contributing artist at The BRASS, where she has created abstract canvases of dancing, swishing color. 

The work of LeBeau, which features a carefully chosen palette and controlled style that belies the flowing compositions, has been shown at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute and an annual Art Ability exhibit at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital in Philadelphia.

LeBeau’s comments, as well as those of others, put a face on what it means to depend on others to arrange even a simple outing.  

The remarks responded to questions posed by Donna Martin, executive director of CPNRI, who made her way around the audience, asking individuals seated in a huge circle of chairs to share their experiences, including any barriers they faced to feeling included in their communities.

In various ways, LeBeau and others pointed to a common underlying theme – a shortage of qualified staff available to individualize services so that adults with developmental disabilities may access their communities for work and leisure, as envisioned by the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Margaret, who uses a wheelchair, said as much: “We need more staff.”  

Since a $26 million funding cut by the General Assembly forced private service providers to slash wages in 2011, the field has been plagued by high turnover and difficulty among employers in recruiting and retaining new staff.  At the same time, a federal consent decree in effect since 2014 requires more training and professionalism in the way adults with developmental disabilities receive support services. 

Since 2011, there have been a few incremental wage increases, but the field of direct care has not recovered. 

Martin puts the current average pay for direct service workers at about $11.45 an hour.  That’s $1.30 above the minimum wage of $10.10. Rhode Island’s minimum wage is set to increase to $10.50 January 1, 2019, but the pay for those who work with adults with developmental disabilities will remain the same. 

Darlene Faust, Director of Self-Advocacy and Work Preparedness at Looking Upwards, cited the labor shortage and a lack of adequate transportation as barriers to inclusion.

She said her agency recently lost a staff member to Walmart.

After the meeting, Faust elaborated on the staffing situation. When workers call in sick, she said, she and others in management often must fill in to provide direct support, because the back-up pool is so small.

And when the agency is short-staffed, trips into the community must be prioritized. Clients must get to their doctors’ appointments and to their jobs no matter what, she said. 

Faust has worked with adults with developmental disabilities for 20 years, she said, because “I love it.”

But the struggles are “heartbreaking right now,” she said. “We’re all in it together. It’s all the same community, whether you’re providing service or receiving support.”

“People outside the community don’t always understand,” she said.

A number of people who spoke in American Sign Language said that a lack of interpreters posed barriers in various areas of daily living, including their ability to find jobs.

Meanwhile, a Woonsocket man who called himself Tim said he is 28 and has been looking for work since he was in high school.

Although several  prominent  corporate employers  have taken the lead in hiring adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island, Tim said he believes there is still “a lot of prejudice out there” against taking on workers who face intellectual or developmental challenges. 

He said it would be helpful if agencies providing employment supports could offer “task-oriented vocational training” to job seekers before they actually apply for a particular position.

The “community conversation” is the first of five such meetings planned by CPNRI in the coming months to cultivate and encourage sustained grass-roots advocacy on issues affecting anyone with a stake in services for adults with developmental disabilities, Martin said after the meeting.

The schedule for the remaining conversations, in different areas of the state, is still being finalized, she said.

CPNRI also plans candidate forums for legislative and gubernatorial candidates after the September primary elections, Martin said.

In a show of hands, about two thirds of the audience indicated they were registered to vote, including most of those who receive services funded by the state.

 

RI House Finance Committee Recommends Restoring DD Services To Current Levels

By Gina Macris

RI HOUSE SPEAKER Nicholas A. Mattiello  

RI HOUSE SPEAKER Nicholas A. Mattiello  

In a midnight session June 8, the Rhode Island House Finance Committee added nearly $18 million to Governor Gina Raimondo’s original budget proposal for developmental disabilities in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Both the House and Senate leadership and the governor herself supported increased funding for developmental disabilities after better-than-expected revenue projections were announced May 10.

The additional funding, all Medicaid money, includes about $8.8 million in state revenue and the remainder from federal funds, according to documents prepared by the House fiscal staff. The Finance Committee’s budget raised Raimondo’s bottom line for developmental disabilities from $250.8 million to $271.4 million. The state’s share would be $126.3 million.

Raimondo’s original budget would not have allowed the state to continue to implement a 2014 federal consent decree designed to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to an independent court monitor, who had been prepared to make recommendations to the judge in the case to ensure adequate funding.

The overall $9.55 billion statewide package passed the House Finance Committee, mostly along party lines without debate, on a vote of 15-3. Opposed were Republicans Patricia Morgan, a gubernatorial candidate representing West Warwick, Warwick, and Coventry,  Antonio Giarrusso, representing East Greenwich and West Greenwich, and Robert Quattrocchi, representing Scituate and Cranston.

The measure is slated to go before the full house June 15, and Chairman Marvin Abney-D-Newport, said there would be plenty of debate on the House floor.

 As it now stands, the budget maintains the level of developmental disability services at current reimbursement rates to private providers. The Finance Committee did not reverse a $3 million cut to the state-run group home system imposed by the Governor, and it does not improve wages for direct care workers, as has been the practice in the last three budgets.

Direct care workers in developmental disability services make significantly less than their counterparts in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Providers say they struggle to recruit, train and keep qualified employees, who often go to neighboring states or leave the field entirely. 

In a briefing with reporters before the Finance Committee convened, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said the budget did not go further in addressing needs of the Division of Developmental Disabilities because of the necessity to restore funding in many human service areas.

“We were thinking of all segments of society and balanced it as well as we can,” he said. “We took care of our economy, and we took care of our citizens.”

The Finance Committee added $15.7 million payments for hospitals and another $17.2 million to the Department of Children, Youth and Families for services for children and teenagers in state care. Some of the added DCYF funding would provide for older teens who choose to receive services until age 21 – an option that has been unavailable in recent years.

The House Finance Committee also granted a 10 percent rate hike to in-home caregivers of the elderly and disabled. Most of the individuals served by those workers do not have developmental disabilities, according to Sharon Reynolds Ferland, the House Fiscal Advisor. But Mattiello said there are significant savings to the state in keeping those individuals out of nursing homes.

The revised budget also reversed Raimondo’s plan to require Medicaid patients to shoulder co-pays for health care, although the original proposal was not designed to affect individuals with disabilities.

Just as the Finance Committee increased Medicaid reimbursement rates to hospitals to make them competitive with Massachusetts and Connecticut, Mattiello said, he believes wages for direct care workers probably should be raised to keep them in Rhode Island.

“Yes, I do believe we have to look at those rates,” he said in response to a question about the wages. He said direct care wages “should probably be increased but there’s so much resources, and when you run out, you run out.”

Mattiello held out the hope that direct care worker wages in developmental disabilities would be revisited next year.

He said he wants to continue to increase resources for developmental disabilities, “but that increase is incremental and slower than we would like.”

“We’re continuing to work on improving our economy so we can continue to work on the needs of society and balance those needs,” Mattiello said.

While the House leadership usually drives the budget, the Senate will weigh in after the package clears the lower chamber.

Court Monitor Says Court Order Not Needed To Ensure RI DD Funding; State Budget To Move Forward Thursday In House Finance Committee

By Gina Macris

An independent court monitor has advised a federal judge that a court order isn’t necessary to ensure adequate funding and staffing for Rhode Island’s developmental disability services.

In a June 1 report to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court, the monitor, Charles Moseley, cited recent assurances from Governor Gina Raimondo that revisions will be made to the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to enable the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to continue implementing a 2014 consent decree correcting violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA.)  

After a positive report from the semi-annual Revenue Estimating Conference May 10, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio took the lead in promising to restore $18.4 million in reimbursements to private service providers that Raimondo had originally eliminated from her budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  Raimondo's original proposal had been unacceptable to Moseley, who had told McConnell in April that the cut would leave BHDDH unable to maintain consent decree reforms.  

The May  Revenue Estimating Conference concluded the state would take in a total of $135 million more than had been previously projected to close out the existing budget and to fund the next one, but Mattiello warned that extra cash should not be viewed as a panacea, because of multiple demands on the state’s resources.

Those obligations could include an estimated $24 million in federal and state Medicaid funds the state has not budgeted for retroactive payments to nursing homes. Whether the state must make those payments is wrapped up in a lawsuit brought by nursing home operators in state court over reductions in reimbursements imposed by the Raimondo administration.

The nursing homes prevailed in the litigation and the state failed to file a timely appeal, with the administration blaming a lawyer at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services who simply missed a May 23 filing deadline. The state is now trying to convince the judge in the case to accept an appeal anyway.  

Payments to nursing homes would eat up about $12 million in state revenue, or 8 percent of the $135 million in extra state revenue lawmakers had been planning to use to fill holes in the budget – including reimbursements to private providers of developmental disability services. (The remainder of the retroactive payments would come from the federal government's share of the Medicaid program.) 

The revised budget is scheduled to go before the House Finance Committee the evening of Thursday, June 7.

Besides an enhanced bottom line on funding, the court monitor will be looking for the addition of three BHDDH employees to staff a quality improvement unit which is deemed critical to ensuring that current and future reforms adhere to consent decree standards.

It is not immediately clear how those three added staffers would be used. As late as the first week of May, the monitor and BHDDH officials had been at odds about both the number of officials needed in the quality improvement unit and their respective roles.   

The consent decree gets its authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Title II of the ADA requires services for disabled individuals to be offered in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate. That environment is presumed to be the community.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice cited Rhode Island’s overreliance on sheltered workshops and adult day care programs as violations of  Title II of the ADA. In the consent decree, the state agreed to ten years of federal oversight while it transforms the segregated system of daytime services to an integrated one based in the community.

This article has been corrected to show that, depending on a judge's final ruling, half of an unbudgeted $24 million in retroactive payments to Rhode Island nursing home operators would come from state revenue.

RI Gov Pledges To Support "Current Level" Of DD Services In FY 19; No Fiscal Details Yet

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo says her administration is committed to maintaining “the current level of services” for adults with developmental disabilities in order to meet the demands of a 2014 consent decree between the state and federal government.

But in a letter to a federal court monitor in the consent decree case, the governor did not spell out how much money the administration believes the state should spend.

The consent decree is a 2014 agreement between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) which requires Rhode Island to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act by enabling adults with intellectual or developmental challenges to seek competitive employment and enjoy community-based, integrated non-work activities.

In the letter to the monitor, Raimondo wrote: “I will continue to work collaboratively with the General Assembly on all funding recommendations, including those supporting efforts under the Consent Decree.”  

Following better-than-expected revenue projections issued May 10, both House and Senate leaders said that at a minimum, they support restoration of an $18.4 million reduction in reimbursements to private service providers that Raimondo has proposed for the budget cycle beginning July 1.

The consent decree monitor, Charles Moseley, had sought three specific assurances from Raimondo, in the form of a letter or statement to U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr.

Moseley asked that the letter or statement say that the budget would:

  •  “be re-set to reflect current FY 2018 expenditure and service levels”
  •  “continue to be revised throughout FY 2019 as needed to fully fund the provision of services”           consistent with requirements of the consent decree
  •  provide “sufficient personnel resources” to the Division of Developmental Disabilities to   “carry out  quality improvement activities consistent with Consent Decree requirements.”

Raimondo’s letter to Moseley, dated May 14, contains no details about any budget changes she may be planning. Nor does it mention quality improvement activities. 

On May 18, a spokeswoman for Raimondo said that “increasing funding for developmental disability support services is one shared priority for which she (the governor) continues to advocate as we further engage in discussions with the General Assembly about the final budget."

Asked whether the governor supports the employment of adults with disabilities as one of the state's workforce solutions, the governor's spokeswoman pointed out the new Real Pathways RI program. It is a workforce investment initiative that focuses on job-seekers who face various barriers to employment. Among the public, private, and non-profit organizations that participate in the program are four providers of developmental disability services, who are working with Home Depot and CVS to match their clients to jobs. 

Moseley had requested a statement from the governor on her position as he prepared to make recommendations to McConnell about what court action, if any, might be needed to ensure that compliance with the consent decree moves forward.

At the most recent court hearing April 10, the judge directed Moseley to find out if there was consensus among state officials and DOJ lawyers about a course of action the court might take to ensure enough funding. Failing such an agreement, McConnell said, he would hold an evidentiary hearing to lay the groundwork for a court order.

Moseley has concluded that Raimondo’s proposed budget, as it now stands, is insufficient to continue to support the modest salary increases to direct support workers put forward by Raimondo and approved by the General Assembly in the last two years. In addition, it would not allow the state to “continue services at current levels,” he said.

The monitor described his efforts to get a sense of the state’s position a  letter to Eric Beane, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, dated May 9. That was a day before the state’s revenue estimating conference concluded that revenues were projected to exceed previous estimates by $135 million through the end of Fiscal 2019.

A week earlier, on May 2, the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) did not dispute the monitor’s conclusions about the inadequacy of the proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Moseley wrote to Beane.

But the director, Rebecca Boss, “affirmed governor’s commitment to fully fund Consent Decree activities during FY (Fiscal Year) 19 and said that no rate cuts in reimbursements or spending reductions were being proposed,” according to Moseley.

“She noted that the Governor had demonstrated a history of including supplemental funding to the DD (developmental disabilities) services budget when expenditures exceeded enacted amounts and would continue to do so if necessary,”  Moseley wrote.

On separate occasions, both Boss and Beane said assurances about the state’s support of the consent decree could be sought from the governor, Moseley recalled.

For some time, Moseley has said that the Division of Developmental Disabilities needs four fulltime inspectors to conduct onsite reviews of all three dozen private service providers every two years and to ensure their services meet the standards of the consent decree.

He said Kerri Zanchi, director of developmental disabilities, and Kevin Savage, the BHDDH licensing administrator, “argued strongly” during a meeting with Moseley May 2 that two inspectors, or “surveyors” as they will be called, “would be sufficient to meet the need and ensure compliance” along with an data analyst and “other measures.”  Zanchi was to provide a subsequent written analysis of the rationale for the BHDDH approach.

In an earlier report to the monitor, BHDDH officials explained their plan for a centralized, departmental quality assurance unit. In the first year, the two surveyors would be supervised by Anne LeClerc, Associate Director of Program Performance in the Division of Developmental Disabilities, which is also to have the benefit of its own data analyst and a divisional operations manager.

In this initial year, the new “surveyors” will enable the division to rigorously analyze the effectiveness of its existing day services to better plan for future improvements, according to the state’s report to the monitor April 30.

In the second year, however, the surveyors will be assigned to a centralized quality management unit to connect the BHDDH investigatory unit with licensing and certification of private service providers, according to the state’s quarterly report. 

Raimondo's spokeswoman said she supports the BHDDH quality improvement plan. 

To date, there have been no filings in the court record indicating what Moseley will recommend to the judge.

To read Governor Raimondo's letter to the consent decree monitor, click here.

To read the consent decree monitor's letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services click here.

DiPalma: RI DD Services Need More Than $18 Million To Continue Consent Decree Reforms

By Gina Macris

One of the Rhode Island Senate’s chief advocates for adults with developmental disabilities applauded the House and Senate consensus on restoring $18.4 million to reimbursements for private service providers but said that amount is not enough to enable the state to continue transforming its programs to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Reacting to the latest positive revenue estimates, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, said May 11 that reversing a cut planned by Governor Gina Raimondo for the fiscal year beginning July 1 would be a “phenomenal step forward.” 

But DiPalma, who has closely followed developmental disability issues, said he hopes the General Assembly can find additional funds so that the state can continue to invest in the goals of a 2014 civil rights federal consent decree and also, for a third consecutive year,  raise wages for direct care workers who provide services to adults with developmental disabilities. 

Restoring $18.4 million to private providers, and an additional $3 million to a state-run network of group homes, would bring the developmental disabilities budget to about $272.2 million. That reflects the pace of spending for the current fiscal year.

DiPalma said developmental disabilities will need about $275 million to $280 million in federal and state Medicaid funding during the next fiscal year to continue the decade-long transformation of services from a segregated to an integrated model, as mandated by 2014 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

DiPalma’s remarks came the day after the state Revenue Estimating Conference concluded May 10 that revenues for the next 14 months are expected to run a total of nearly $135 million ahead of estimates made in November.  That total includes an additional $75.5 million for the fiscal year ending June 30 and another $59.4 million in Fiscal 2019, which begins July 1.

The $18.4 million gap in reimbursements to private providers for Fiscal 2019 refers tMo both federal and state Medicaid funds, with the federal government providing roughly 52 cents on the dollar.  That means the state would have to put up about $9 million to close the $18.4 million hole.

House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello and the President of the Senate, Dominick J. Ruggerio, issued separate statements saying they were pleased that revenues exceeded prior estimates. In recent days, they also have listed developmental disabilities as one of the priorities that must be addressed, although neither viewed the extra cash as a panacea, because of multiple unmet demands on the state budget. 

Mattiello’s statement said, “This offers some more options for us as we consider some very tough choices in our budget deliberations. I am committed to making sure we pass a responsible budget that addresses the critical needs of our citizens and continues to move the state forward.”

In addition, on May 11, he said the House “always” planned to address the $18.4 million gap between current spending for developmental disabilities and the governor’s proposal for the budget cycle beginning July 1.

Ruggerio, the Senate president, said, “As we work together to craft a responsible budget, it is important to consider that a significant portion of this increase is one-time revenue that may not continue in future years, and that there are significant gaps in the current budget proposal that need to be filled. However, the additional revenue does provide some flexibility to address Senate priorities such as funding for developmental disabilities care within the BHDDH budget and funding for DCYF.” Ruggerio referred to the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, and to the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

While adequate funding is the most immediate issue, there are other regulatory matters that concern a federal court monitor and the BHDDH administration. The Senate has signaled it is open to change, both in the short term and the long run.

In a brief telephone interview May 11, Mattiello said he, too, is open to considering changes, although he did not get  into specifics.

“I know the needs are significant,” he said. “I’ve got constituents in the community that have developmentally challenged family members. These folks need help, and I’m very, very available to that.”

“I’m open to study and to doing things better,” Mattiello said. “The department (BHDDH) and the administration certainly can do things better.”

“These are complex issues,” Mattiello said.

The Senate has passed a resolution authorizing a 19-member commission to study the fee-for-service reimbursement structure, with a report due March 1, 2019.

In addition, the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services is to vote May 15 on a bill to change the timing of individual funding authorizations for developmental disability services from quarterly to an annual basis.

An independent federal court monitor in the consent decree case, administrators at BHDDH, and private service providers all have found the quarterly authorizations problematic for a variety of reasons.

Providers have said the quarterly authorization system does not allow them to do any long-range budgeting. Anecdotal accounts of families unable to find services indicate a tendency in recent years for providers to avoid taking on clients with complex and costly needs for fear of financial risk that they may not be to cover.

Meanwhile, the Director of Developmental Disabilities testified at a recent Senate Finance Committee meeting that quarterly authorizations are administratively burdensome. The 3700 individual authorizations in the division’s caseload must be entered manually in the state reimbursement system four times a year, said the director, Kerri Zanchi. 

At the same time, DiPalma, the first vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, noticed that in some years there are significant dips in the caseload numbers in April and October – as many as 145 or 150.  This timing coincides with the governor’s budget preparation process in the fall and the legislature’s refinement of the final figures in the spring.  In general, each client represents an average of $60,000 in federal-state Medicaid funding. 

One reason for that variability might be data entry errors, according to Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association of service providers.

The bill requiring annual authorizations says they are necessary to allow adults with developmental disabilities to plan their services in a “flexible manner consistent with their stated goals and plan of care,” in accordance with the principles of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Home and Community Based Services Final Rule. Among other things, the Final Rule requires service plans to be based on an individual’s needs and preferences.

The bill would not preclude the state from changing reimbursement rates to providers in the middle of a fiscal year, but they and their clients would have to receive 45 days’ notice.

RI Senate Finance, BHDDH To Seek More Funding To Protect Services And Rights Of Adults with DD

By Gina Macris

Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed $18.4 million cut to developmental disability services for the next fiscal year would not allow Rhode Island to continue its compliance efforts in connection with a 2014 federal consent decree, Rebecca Boss acknowledged for the first time during a budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on May 3.  

Boss - RI CApitol tv

Boss - RI CApitol tv

Boss is the highest ranking official in the Raimondo administration responsible for adults with developmental disabilities in her position as the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).  

Her admission came in response to the finance committee chairman, Sen. William J. Conley, Jr., who laid out a detailed and persistent line of questioning that revealed an authoritative grasp of the issues of the the consent decree and established him as a leading advocate for expanding the developmental disabilities budget.  

Boss said in initial remarks that based on an “updated data analysis of monthly caseloads and more positive revenue trends, we will be advocating for increased funding for BHDDH so Rhode Islanders’ needs are met.”

Conley - RI CAPITOL TV 

Conley - RI CAPITOL TV 

But Conley asked her to revisit a specific question about funding that had first been posed to her by U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. during a hearing April 10. McConnell asked whether the proposed $18.4 million cut in reimbursements to private providers effective July 1 would affect the state’s ability to move forward with compliance efforts related to the consent decree.

At the time, Boss said BHDDH did not have enough data to give an answer.

Conley said the consent decree “does nothing more, quite frankly, than require the same standards that the U.S. Supreme Court established in 1999.”

The so-called Olmstead decision clarified the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, spelling out the rights of all individuals with disabilities to choose services that are part of their communities.    

Nearly 20 years after the Olmstead decision, Rhode Island is “still struggling to meet a constitutional standard of care,” Conley said.

“Four years after the consent decree was entered and after repeated court monitor reports, we still cannot answer the question as to whether or not we are providing sufficient resources, really, to provide justice and dignity to the people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the state of Rhode Island.”

“While I understand you have to represent the voice of the administration, and everybody expects you to be a loyal soldier and team player, the budget that you are giving us doesn’t do that,” Conley said, addressing Boss.

Otherwise, Boss would have been able to clearly answer the judge that the loss of $18 million would not affect progress on the consent decree and would have been able to spell out how its goals would be achieved with the remaining funds, Conley said.

When Conley asked what the Senate Finance Committee could do to help BHDDH, Boss and the Director of Developmental Disabilities, Kerri Zanchi, both said members could advocate for more flexibility for the department to assign resources.

Boss said she agreed that the department needs more resources but wasn’t sure that the prescriptive nature of the consent decree was the best approach.

But Conley replied said that when the state isn’t meeting the standards, or doesn’t have the data to show its progress – a problem since 2014 – “the default position is prescriptive standards, because they need some kind of measuring stick.”

One measure is whether the “proposed budget would provide the level of services that are constitutionally mandated,” Conley said.

“What’s your answer today?” he asked, bringing the discussion full circle back to the judge’s question.  

Boss said, “With the revised analytics done, we could say today that the budget proposed would not continue the service delivery” in the current fiscal year.  The consent decree requires an increase in commitment during each year of implementation. equired by the consent decree.

While Boss did not offer a figure, Sen. Louis D. DiPalma, D-Middletown, the first vice-chairman of the committee, said developmental disabilities would need about $275 million to $280 million in federal and state funding during the next fiscal year, based on the original budget request the department made to the Governor’s office last fall.

DiPalma presented a chart showing that actual funding for developmental disabilities has lagged behind inflation since July 1, 2011, which marked the introduction of “Project Sustainability,” the current fee-for service reimbursement system that has come under increasing criticism for imposing restrictions on providers – and the state bureaucracy – in implementing the consent decree.

For example, the chart shows that the $239.8 million allocated for developmental disabilities effective July 1, 2010 would be the equivalent of $274.5 million allocated effective July 1, 2018, the start of the next fiscal year, with an adjustment for inflation according to the consumer price index.

Raimondo’s proposal, as it now stands, would allocate only $248.1 million effective July 1, counting only the federal-state Medicaid funding. (Other miscellaneous funds would add slightly more than $2 million to the bottom line.)

The Senate on May 1 gave final approval to a resolution creating a special commission to study the reimbursement system under Project Sustainability, including the use of a standardized assessment tool keyed to a funding formula that has never been disclosed. The commission has until March 1, 2019 to issue its report.

Sen. Walter S. Felag, Jr., D-Warren, Bristol and Tiverton, said he favors fully funding developmental disabilities.

He said it seems that in the last eight to ten years, there has been “tremendous pressure” to decrease these expenditures,” with particular challenges on residential costs from 2013 to 2017 as BHDDH has tried to move people out of group homes to less expensive shared living arrangements.  He questioned whether it has been all worthwhile.

Boss said there have been investments in developmental disabilities in that time, and Conley remarked that Boss and her staff are doing “tremendous work” with the resources they do have.

Beth Upham put a parent’s perspective on services. Her daughter, Stacy, a resident of a group home with an active calendar, “has a life we never could have given her,” she said.

She said she has met with Governor Raimondo, who has “promised she would support this community.”

But if the governor’s existing budget proposal is enacted, Upham said, “every person in the system will suffer. They will be sicker. There will be more hospitalizations. My daughter, my baby girl, will suffer,” Upham said.

“We have been fighting this system ever since she turned 21,” Upham said.

She asked, “why, for the last 15 years, has this community been targeted for cuts?”

RI Senate Poised To Launch Study of The Way State Reimburses Private Providers of DD Services

By Gina Macris

A proposal for a special commission to study Rhode Island’s fee-for-service reimbursement system for private providers of developmental disability services appears headed for approval on the Rhode Island Senate floor May 1.

The 19-member Senate commission, including representatives of state government, service providers, advocates and the public, would report its findings by March 1, 2019, in time for any recommended legislation to be enacted during next year’s session of the General Assembly.

The  Senate’s Committee on Health and Human Services recommended passage of a resolution creating the commission on a unanimous vote April 24.

The current reimbursement system, called “Project Sustainability,” has been in effect for nearly seven years, which means that there is plenty of data available for analysis, according to Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the principal sponsor of the resolution.

“The goal of 'Project Sustainability' was to bring predictability, efficiency and transparency to the way in which the state pays for the developmentally disabled,” according to the resolution.

But DiPalma said that “we’ve seen some challenges” in Project Sustainability, like a requirement that providers document daytime services in 15-minute increments. That feature has been assailed by service agencies as overly burdensome and costly.

“We have to take a look back and see what worked, what hasn’t worked, and what changes are needed going forward,” DiPalma said.

DiPalma, the Senate’s most vocal advocate for adults with developmental disabilities, is expected to be among three legislators on the 19-member commission to be appointed by the Senate President. 

He said its recommendations would not sit on the shelf. “I don’t do anything for the sake of doing it. I’m about doing the analysis and getting the job done,”  said DiPalma.

In addition, “the members of the commission won’t let it happen,” he said. There will be “joint accountability” for what happens, inside and outside the General Assembly, DiPalma said. 

The membership of the commission would include representation from the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council and a parent group, Rhode Island Families Organized For Reform Change And Empowerment (RI FORCE), as well as the Rhode Island Disability Law Center. Human services officials from the executive branch of government would include the director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and several other representatives of BHDDH and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.  

The commission would convene at a time of renewed parent advocacy and heightened scrutiny of developmental disability funding by the U.S. District Court in the wake of Governor Gina Raimondo's plans to cut $18.4 million from reimbursements to private providers beginning July 1.

In a 2014 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, the state pledged to move from segregated sheltered workshops and non-work day services to an integrated, community-based system to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

In the most recent court hearing April 10, providers warned Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. that they would not be able to continue consent decree compliance efforts if the state enacts Raimondo's proposed budget cuts. d

McConnell is expected to consider taking action on the basis of recommendations from an independent monitor in the case sometime before the General Assembly finalizes the next budget. The monitor, Charles Moseley, was to seek consensus from state officials and service providers before submitting his report to McConnell.

If no agreement can be reached, McConnell has said, he is prepared to hear evidence and arguments before deciding on a course of action. 

RI DD Advocates Warn Of 'Massive Retrenchment' From Proposed $21.4 Million Spending Reduction

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           All Photos by Anne Peters

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           All Photos by Anne Peters

Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island,  speaks during the Day Of Action, sponsored by the provider network. Standing, l to r, are Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, (D-Jamestown and Middletown); Rep. Dennis M. Canario, (D-Portsmouth, Little Compton and Tiverton), and Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi, (D-Narragansett and South Kingstown.  Seated on the steps below the State House Rotunda are advocates representing the service provider Spurwink RI. 

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island would see a “massive retrenchment” in services for adults with developmental disabilities if Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget is enacted for the next fiscal year, a spokeswoman for providers told members of the House Finance Committee at a hearing March 29.

Pam Goes 

Pam Goes 

In human terms, Raimondo’s plan to cut $21.4 million from current spending levels would diminish the quality of life for some 4,000 individuals whose care is already undercut by low wages and high turnover among caregivers, said Pam Goes of Warwick, who has two sons with developmental disabilities, including one who cannot express his needs verbally. 

Goes delivered the same message at a “Day of Action” in commemoration of March as Developmental Disability Awareness Month under the State House Rotunda in mid-afternoon as scores of adults with disabilities and their supporters lined the steps leading to the House and Senate.  

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, told the crowd that “people with developmental disabilities have the ability to lead a full and prosperous life. That’s why I’m here.'

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narraganset and South Kingstown, said that for the compassionate work they do, the wages of direct care workers are an “injustice.”

Tanzi, who chairs the Human Services Subcommitte of the House Finance Committee, presided over the budget hearing later in the afternoon.

Of the overall $21.4 million reduction from current spending levels in the next fiscal year, $18.4 million would come from private the agencies that provide most of the services and $3 million would be taken from a state-operated system of group homes.

Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), did not mince words when she addressed Tanzi and other members of the House Finance Subcommittee.

She said “there is no way” that service providers will be able continue efforts to comply with new federal Medicaid regulations requiring integrated, community-based services and a 2014 federal consent decree that focuses on competitive employment for adults with developmental disabilities.

Needed Changes Are "Not Going To Happen" 

Compliance with the 2014 consent decree and the new Medicaid regulations, called the Home and Community Based Final Rule, depends on system-wide changes in the manner of care, and “that’s not going to happen” with an $18 million cut to private service providers, Martin said.

Instead, there will be a “tremendous reduction” in services, she said, with agencies forced to prioritize the health and safety individuals in their care. Employment –related services and the services necessary to provide community integration will suffer if the agencies must absorb an $18 million, Martin said. Workers’ hours and wages – which hover slightly above minimum wage – would be cut.

David Reiss, CEO of the Fogarty Center, the largest non-profit service provider in the state, said the agency simply cannot survive if the state imposes the $18.4 million reduction across the board. It represents about a 7 percent cut in spending. 

Reiss said he has closed five group homes in the past year, not because of a lack of demand but because he couldn’t find enough workers to staff them. Staff turnover is about 40 percent, he said. 

The starting wage at the Fogarty Center is $10.50 an hour, he said. Although the General Assembly has raised the pay for direct care workers slightly in the past two years, the minimum wage also has increased. It is now $10.10 and is scheduled to go up again next January to $10.50 an hour. Massachusetts has an $11.00 minimum wage and has agreed to pay direct care workers a minimum of $15 an hour beginning in July.

Raimondo’s budget includes no money for raising the wages of direct care workers this year, although a bill in the legislature would link increases in the minimum wage to raises for front-line staff, according to Martin, the CPNRI director.

High Staff Turnover Worries Parents

Pam Goes, the Warwick mother, discussed the impact of the high staff turnover on her non-verbal son.

“We feel like we are constantly starting over,” she said. Her son Paul needs to trust his caregiver, and that trust comes only with time and continuity of high quality care.

“It’s a difficult job for them to be on top of his moods ,” she said. “You need to get to know him,” she said. Paul will often test new staff to see how much he can get away with, she said, and he can become aggressive.

“I worry that there are so many people in and out of his life,” she said. “I worry that his communication is so limited. I especially worry about what happens when I’m gone,” she said.

“I want to advocate for a sustainable system where people live a good life,” she said. “It’s a lot of stress knowing the situation could become more untenable.”

About four thousand people receive services, she said, and “every family has a story like mine.”

Tom Kane, the CEO of AccessPoint Rhode Island, said Goes reminded him of the best compliment his agency ever received: “The work you did for our son allowed us to be the family we wanted to be."

A Call For More Funding

The budget is “about priorities. It’s about morality, and it’s about people” he said. “It should be about people.”

Kane called on the legislators to approve a proposed $15.3 million budget increase to cover cost overruns in the current fiscal year, as Raimondo has proposed, and then to add another $15 million in the budget cycle beginning July 1 to deal with a structural deficit and allow some growth.

Raimondo’s budget proposal does not acknowledge the structural deficit, he said. Instead her plan only temporarily grants additional funding, only to take it away in the next fiscal year.

The General Assembly approved total spending of $256.9 million for the current fiscal year. Raiimondo’s proposal would increase that figure to to $272.2 million. But in the fiscal year beginning July 1, her bottom line would drop to  $250.8 million. That figure is  $6.1 million less than the enacted budget and $21.4 million less than the temporary budget expansion Raimondo has proposed through June 30.

Kane presented figures which showed Rhode Island spends significantly less on adults with developmental disabilities than neighboring Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The State of the States in Developmental Disabilities, a research project sponsored by the University of Colorado, tracks residential costs for adults with intellectual challenges. In 2015, the latest year for which data is available, the national average for residents of institutions with 16 or more beds was $256, 400 per person.

  • Massachusetts spent $287,434 per person
  • Connecticut spent $403,496
  • Rhode Island spent nothing in that category. All those who would be in institutions in Massachusetts or Connecticut live in group homes in Rhode Island, Kane pointed out.

The average cost for group homes with six or fewer residents nationwide was $129,233 in 2015, according to the State of the States.

  • Massachusetts spent $170,682 per person
  • Connecticut spent $172,067 per person
  • Rhode Island spent $114,973 per person                                       

Kane said the average per-person cost in Rhode Island is skewed upward by the state-operated system of group homes. According to the House Fiscal Office, the average per-capita cost for 139 residents of the state operated system is $207,251.

In the privately-operated group homes, however, the state spends about $60,000 a year per person, Kane said. Roughly 1200 individuals live in houses run by private agencies like Access Point RI  and the Fogarty Center.

Controversy Continues over Assessment

Kane turned to a discussion of the Supports Intensity Scale, a controversial assessment methodology that uses lengthy interviews to determine the level of services needed by persons with developmental disabilities on a case-by-case basis. It was introduced in 2011, ostensibly to correct “special considerations” for individual clients that state officials said posed a problem because they were driving up costs, Kane said. 

Ironically, he said, the assessment has prompted many more appeals of individual funding than the number of “special considerations” that had been granted previously.

Some people see the assessment as a problem since it was revised in November, 2016, because it has it has led to larger awards, Kane said.  A House fiscal analysis says the new assessment has added $17 million to developmental disability costs in the first 12 months it was used. 

Kane said service providers believe that the results of the original assessment were “manipulated to back into a budget that didn’t accurately reflect the needs of people.”  

The revised assessment, the Supports Intensity Scale – A, is being used “far more appropriately now,” he said.

The House Fiscal Advisor, Linda Haley, noted a “moratorium” in the use of the SIS-A. The director of the agency responsible for developmental disabilities, Rebecca Boss, explained that it was temporary, to allow officials to review their implementation of the revised assessment. 

A total of 46 errors in funding were corrected (see related article) and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals continues to use the assessment for new entrants and for regularly-scheduled re-evaluations of clients. Boss said.

If an appeal includes documentation of changes in a person’s medical or behavioral needs that are likely to be long term, perhaps as part of the aging process, a client will receive a re-assessment with the SIS-A ahead of schedule, added Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities.

Kevin Nerney, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, discussed several initiatives that are intended to both improve services in compliance with federal law and cut costs over the long term.

But Rhode Island is not there yet, he said.

“We don’t want to destroy one system (of services) before creating a new one,” Nerney said. “We don’t want to leave people behind based on an arbitrary fiscal goal rather than the needs of people.”

He said he knows that some eligible individuals are unable to find services that fit their needs, alluding to an increase in the number of individuals who are receiving only case management  during the last couple of years. That figure jumped from 451 in 2016 to 643 this year.

“On paper, it may look like savings” for the state, Nerney said, but some of those families “are in crisis.”