NESCSO Will Not Offer “Magic Number” on RI DD Rate Review, Leaving Decisions To BHDDH

Rick Jacobsen *** All Photos By Anne Peters

Rick Jacobsen *** All Photos By Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

A consultant to a regional consortium reviewing Rhode Island’s developmental disability service system outlined the scope of the group’s work and time line to a July 30 meeting of a special legislative commission.

The consultant also disclosed some preliminary findings about “Project Sustainability,” the fee-for-service reimbursement system also being studied by the General Assembly’s commission. No one appeared surprised by the early findings.

For example, the developmental disabilities caseload has had a compounded annual growth rate of 3 percent in the last five years, from 3,744 to a current total of 4,297.

And the data shows that the private agencies that provide most of the direct services – and bear the brunt of the work necessary to comply with a federal civil rights agreement - operate on precarious financial margins.

The presentation to the Project Sustainability Commission was made by consultant Rick Jacobsen and his boss, Elena Nicolella, executive director of the New England States Consortium Systems Organization (NESCSO), a non-profit group that provides analysis in the fields of health and human services to five states. The meeting was held at the Arnold Conference Center at the Eleanor Slater Hospital.

Nicolella and Jacobsen encountered pushback when they explained the role defined for NESCSO by the state Department Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.(BHDDH).

NESCSO will present options to BHDDH for system improvements toward the project goal of maximizing “opportunities for people to fully participate in their community,” according to a Powerpoint presentation that accompanied the talk. But it won’t deliver an independent recommendation or “magic number” on costs, Jacobsen and Nicolella said.

Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, a private provider, said long experience in system-wide reform has taught him that the approach chosen by BHDDH is doomed to fail unless the effort also states the true cost of evolving to an integrated community-based model.

L. to R.: Andrew McQuaide, Kim Einloth, Tom Kane

L. to R.: Andrew McQuaide, Kim Einloth, Tom Kane

There has been no “tolerance” for even “having a (public) discussion about the cost of investing in the change process,” said Kane. “If you shift funds in an underfunded system, it’s not going to work. It’s just going to make the hole deeper,” he said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when advocates pushed to close the Ladd School, the state’s only institution for people with developmental disabilities, “there was a community behind us, and we put an investment in the system in order to make that change happen, and it was dramatic change,” Kane said.

But there was no investment in changing the system in Project Sustainability, enacted in 2011, Kane said.

While the healthcare consultants Burns & Associates recommended an investment that was millions of dollars more than was being spent, Kane said, that number was never made public or discussed in the General Assembly. “What we ended up with was millions of dollars cut,” he said.

A few years later, when the demand grew for more community-based services, those reimbursement rates increased, but rates for center-based care decreased, despite the fact that providers continued to have the same fixed costs, Kane said.

The history of Project Sustainability has prompted a certain amount of “agida” among service providers regarding NESCSO’s work, said Andrew McQuaide, a Commission member.

“Having gone through a similar process and getting an end product that turned the system around and took us backward,”he said, providers are nervous that “we could go through a very similar process and come up with a poor product.”

He said his remarks did not reflect in any way on the current administration. Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, and Kerri Zanchi, the director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, are both commission members and attended the meeting.

McQuaide and A. Anthony Antosh, another commission member, both urged Boss to make public all the data and reports produced by NESCSO, whose contract runs through June, 2020.

Antosh said there ought to be a direct relationship between the goals of the rate review and the recommendations of the commission. Commission members have submitted individual recommendations, which all advocate for the self-determination of adults with developmental disabilities. Their work will be synthesized into a final report, according to the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown.

The manner in which NESCSO’s work will be shared with the public is under discussion, Boss said. She and Zanchi said they didn’t think it would be the best use of everyone’s time if the public discussion got bogged down in the minutia of the analytics at each stage in the process.

“We don’t want to be pulled off course but be mindful of the project as a whole,” Zanchi said.

Jacobsen and Nicolella said that NESCSO intends to produce data to enable BHDDH to make both near-term changes and longer-term reforms.

Preliminarily analysis of the audited financial statements of 16 private provider organizations confirms that the system is operating on a very close financial margin, said Jacobsen.

Elena Nicolella

Elena Nicolella

That’s not unusual, he said. Human services agencies across the country are in similar positions. At the same time, the tight finances mean the agencies may tend to be averse to risks like investing in system change or taking on new clients, Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen presented a preliminary analysis of audited financial statements from 16 provider agencies over the last two years, with tables organized according to the number of fiscal reports. The agencies were not identified.

For example, out of a total of 27 audited financial statements, 15 showed deficits and 11 showed surpluses. Of the 11 surpluses, 6 were less than 3 percent of revenues.

In another table summarizing 24 financial statements, 12 of them showed less than a month’s cash on hand at the end of the fiscal year.

And a third table on liquidity said that of a total 24 financial statements, only 4 had working capital to carry their agencies longer than 2 months. At the other extreme, 7 statements said their agencies had no working capital or were lacking up to two months’ worth at the end of the fiscal year.

Jaccobsen said the state has made advance payments to some struggling agencies, but these advances have been carried as liabilities on the books.

Commission members said that for some organizations with multiple sources of income, the agency-wide audited statements do not give an accurate picture of the fiscal margins in developmental disabilities.

Regina Hayes, CEO of Spurwink RI, and Peter Quattromani, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, suggested that the financial picture is worse than it looked in Jacobsen’s tables and asked him to go back and look only at the income and expenses related to developmental disabilities.

Jacobsen said NESCSO will spend the entire month of August listening to providers. Engagement with consumers and their families is scheduled for September.

An analysis of earnings figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for May, 2018 indicated that the wages for direct care workers in Rhode Island are close to the median in comparison to other states. That doesn’t mean that agencies can hire and retain employees, Jacobsen said.

Here too, Jacobsen was asked to look more closely at the figures.

Louis DiPalma and Rebecca Boss

Louis DiPalma and Rebecca Boss

The commission chairman, DiPalma, said the figures Jacobsen used didn’t account for a raise the Connecticut legislature gave to all its developmental disability direct care workers to a minimum of $14.75. In Massachusetts, 30,000 people working as personal care attendants, including many working with adults with developmental disabilities, make $15 an hour, DiPalma said. And the figures Rhode Island reports to the Bureau of Labor Statistics put developmental disability workers in the same category as home health aides, who make more, DiPalma said. According to a trade association representing two thirds of private providers in Rhode Island, entry-level direct care workers make an average of $11.44 an hour. (They are soon to get raises.)

When Jacobsen mentioned that NESCSO plans to compare Rhode Island’s developmental disability services to those in other states, Kane, the AccessPoint CEO, said the consultants must make sure to include the amounts the other states spend on institutional care.

A comparison of community-based services among states does not yield a true picture of total state spending on developmental disabilities, since most other states also have institutions, Kane said. But Rhode Islanders who in other states would be institutionalized live in the community in Rhode Island instead, said Kane.

Jacobsen also presented other preliminary statistics:

  • There has been a 15 percent compounded increase in the number of people who direct their own programs in the last five years. NECSCO will look further at whether the increase has occurred by choice or whether it results from individuals and families being unable to find suitable services from agencies. “I suspect it’s a mix of both,” Jacobsen said.

  • Of a total of nearly $216.2 million in reimbursement claims paid by the state in the 2018 fiscal year, 51.4 percent was for residential expenses and 48.6 percent was for daytime services, case management, respite care, and independent living or family supports.

· In the category of daytime services, 4.2 percent, or nearly $4.5 million, was spent for employment-related and pre-vocational activities. Increasing employment is one of the main goals of the consent decree.

Collaboration Needed to Find Jobs, Solve Transportation Problems, For People With DD

By Gina Macris

For people with developmental disabilities, reliable public transportation – or the lack of it – can mean the difference between accepting a job offer and staying home.

A Coventry, RI man who had a chance to work at a Home Depot near his home faced that dilemma when he learned that the state’s paratransit system for people with disabilities could not go into the shopping center where the store is located.

To solve the transportation problem, the man’s family and his job developer, Rory Carmody, Director of Program Services at AccessPoint RI, pitch in to drive him to and from work, said Carmody’s boss, Tom Kane. But the hours the man can work are limited to the times Carmody and the man’s family are available for drop-off and pick-up, said Kane.

Kane, the CEO of AccessPoint, shared the story in a conversation after a June 18 meeting of a special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability, the state’s fee-for-service reimbursement system for private services for adults with developmental disabilities.

L to R: Scott Jensen and Scott Avedesian

L to R: Scott Jensen and Scott Avedesian

The session focused on the intersection of jobs and transportation, featuring remarks from three speakers:

· Scott Avedesian, CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA)

· Scott Jensen, Director of the Department of Labor and Training (DLT)

· Robert Kalaskowski, Chief of Policy and Planning for the Governor’s Workforce Board.

The example of the Coventry man illustrates the challenges of relying on the paratransit program, which operates only along corridors that mimic RIPTA’s regular bus routes. The shared RIde program for people with disabilities may drop off and pick up at sites no more than three-quarters of a mile outside a regular bus route, according to the RIPTA website.

Because RIPTA doesn’t send regular buses to Little Compton or Foster, the RIde option for residents with disabilities is not available either, said Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. And, he added, there’s only one public transit stop in Tiverton.

Recently, the directors of the agencies responsible for services for the elderly and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities accompanied Avedesian on a paratransit run that picked up four individuals, one of them in a wheelchair, and took them to their various destinations.

Rebecca Boss, the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), said it was a “really good experience for everyone to see the hands-on, labor-intensive type of transit that we perform.”

For the officials, the experience took two and a half hours, from the time the van left the RIPTA garage to get the first client until the time it returned, Avedesian and Boss agreed. It happened to be a day with a lot of traffic, Avedesian added.

Even though the clients weren’t on the van all that time, Kate Sherlock, a commission member, said the run took too long. “I cry when I have to be in the car for two hours,” she said.

Avedesian said that for him, the biggest takeaway from the experience was the need for matching the locations of clients and available jobs to minimize travel time, “so that we’re not taking someone all the way from Woonsocket to Newport.”

Avedesian said he’s impressed by the “intensive amount of time, money and labor involved in moving one person from one end of the state to the other.”

DiPalma said the average cost of a paratransit run is $34, but the program is reimbursed roughly $8 to $14 of that cost, depending on the intensity of the client’s disability. He said the reimbursements are Medicaid-authorized federal and state transportation dollars assigned to BHDDH clients to cover travel. No public transit system in the country is financially self-sufficient, DiPalma noted.

DiPalma has convened an informal group of representatives of public and private agencies who are interested in solving the transportation problems of people with disabilities. The agencies include BHDDH , DLT, RIPTA, the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, the Providence Chamber of Commerce, the office of U.S. Rep. James Langevin, and others, he said.

Moving forward, transportation must become more malleable to the needs of the people, he said. If someone lives in Glocester and has a job in Newport, that person may be able to get work closer to home, but “if that’s the job they have, that’s the job they have,” DiPalma said.

Jensen

Jensen

Jensen of DLT offered a different way of looking at the transportation problem.

If people with developmental disabilities can be viewed as a source of excellent workers, rather than a population needing support, a stronger argument can be made for investing more in transportation, because of the value this group brings to the economy, he said.

“The company will be receiving value, the person will be paying income tax and can buy more things than they otherwise would,” Jensen said.

He said “coalitions of the willing” are “trying to find those positions where companies recognize the value of people with developmental disabilities. That takes time.”

He said a “handful” of companies, like Home Depot and CVS, have made the “moral choice” to employ individuals with developmental disabilities.

“We want to also help make this a practical choice” for many businesses, Jensen said, by starting with employers’ demands and finding the right match in the labor force - “the right person, in the right place, at the right time, and with the right skill set.”

BHDDH officials recently put the employment rate for adults with developmental disabilities at 29 percent.

Kalaskowski

Kalaskowski

Kalaskowski, of the Governor’s Workforce Board, said the state is promoting that strategy in the Real Pathways program, part of the broader Real Jobs initiative.

In Real Pathways, DLT works with private providers of employment-related services for adults with developmental disabilities, promoting collaboration among job developers to find the best match between the employer’s demand and worker skills.

A job developer working alone may not have just the right client and face the choice of either forcing a match that won’t work out in the long run or letting a relationship with an employer die, Kalaskowski said. In a network of job developers, one may pass along a lead to another and they will return the favor down the line, he said.

Andrew McQuaide, a senior director with Perspectives Corporation, said Jensen and his team deserve “a lot of credit” for fostering a culture of collaboration.

McQuaide recalled how one man with developmental disabilities connected with a training opportunity offered by the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association because both he and AccessPoint’s Rory Carmody “spread the word.”

Then, when a job with a landscaping company opened up, someone in the community who knew the man from the RINLA training recommended him for the position. The man got the job “not because DLT put any dollars forward,” McQuaide said, but because of the “culture and the connections” that DLT promoted.

Boss, the BHDDH director, said she is excited about the collaboration with DLT. Tracey Cunningham, the director of employment services, and other dedicated officials at BHDDH do a good job in helping adults with developmental disabilities find work, but the staff at DLT “lives, eats and breathes” jobs, she said.

The next meeting of the Project Sustainability commission, set for June 25, has been cancelled because of likely schedule conflicts as the General Assembly wraps up its 2019 session, DiPalma said. He said the meeting will be re-scheduled sometime in July.

RI DD Funding System Harms Quality Of Life, Advocates Tell House Finance Subcommittee

By Gina Macris

Anxiety, frustration, and fear permeate the lives of adults facing the daily challenges of developmental disabilities, and by extension, the lives of families and caregivers who support them, say numerous Rhode Islanders who wrote to members of the House Finance Committee recently to explain the human effects of chronically underfunded services.

“The person receiving support grieves and is forced to live in a state of perpetual frustration” because of missed opportunities resulting from staff shortages, wrote Diane Scott, who has worked 29 years at West Bay Residential Services. Likewise, “the impact on employee morale is a palpable anxiety and frustration,” Scott said.

Howard Cohen * Photo by Anne Peters

Howard Cohen * Photo by Anne Peters

Jacob Cohen has had to begin taking a “significant regimen of medication to control his anxiety so he could deal with his daily life,” wrote his parents, Howard and Patricia Cohen of North Kingstown. They said it has been “heartbreaking” to watch him lose control of his daily activities as funding has shrunk over the last decade.

The letters from Scott, the Cohens, and others served as written testimony in a March 28 budget hearing on the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) before the House Finance Subcommittee on Human Services, chaired by Rep. Alex Marszalkowski, D-Cumberland.

And some of concerns expressed before the finance subcommittee about the quality of care overlapped with remarks made a few hours earlier the same day before a special legislative commission studying the state’s fee-for-service reimbursement system for private developmental disability services, Project Sustainability.

Another letter writer, Holly Walker said she knows a client of AccessPointRI who spends every Monday morning telling everyone how upset she is that she missed Sunday church services – again – because there was no one available to take her.G

A Warwick mother, Pam Goes, wrote that frequent change of staff has increased her own fears about the safety of her non-verbal son.

“Staff who don’t know him struggle to know what he needs, at home and in the community. He is unable to tell them when he is sick, when something hurts, when he is afraid. And my fears are increased as well,” Goes wrote.

Two other mothers, Lisa Rego and Claudia Swiader, asked members of the Finance Committee “to put themselves in the shoes of the parents and families of individuals with a developmental disability.”

“Wouldn’t you want to know that your loved one was being cared for by someone who wanted to be there? Wouldn’t you want to know that your loved one was receiving the support they needed to keep them safe, healthy and happy?” wrote Rego and Swiader, president and vice president, respectively, of the Autism Society of Rhode Island.

Scott, the veteran caregiver at West Bay Residential Services, reminded legislators that “any Rhode Island citizen may be one injury or disease away from needing support for a disability.”

The children and families of workers also suffer the consequences of inadequate funding, others said.

Brandi Ekwegh of Cumberland, a former manager of an AccessPoint group home and a single parent, described missing her tween-aged daughter’s concerts and award ceremonies and even leaving her home alone at 2 a.m. because there was no one else to de-escalate a client’s behavioral outburst at work.

When her daughter said she spent more time with her clients than with her, Ekwegh said, “I was crushed but she was absolutely correct.”

Disabled Have Civil Right To Services

By any measure, caring for adults with developmental disabilities is costly, but the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act also entitles them to services that allow them to access their communities for competitive employment and leisure activities of their own choosing.

The currently enacted budget for the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) totals $271.7 million in federal and state Medicaid money and miscellaneous other funds. Governor Gina Raimondo would add another $9.2 million to that bottom line, for an overall $280.9 million, to erase an existing deficit and pay for services during the fiscal year beginning July 1.

About $1.6 million in savings taken from the state-operated group home system, Rhode Island Community Living and Supports, would boost funding for privately-run services by $11 million over the next 15 months, according to information presented by the House Fiscal Office.

Within the $11 million total increase, Raimondo would set aside $6.4 million in Medicaid funds, including $3 million in state revenue, to raise the wages of front-line developmental disability staff by an estimated 34 to 41 cents an hour, depending on who’s drafting the projection.

Providers, Families, Seek $28.5 Million For Wages

Many of the letter-writers urged the Finance Committee to hike the state’s commitment for wages to $28.5 million, so that employers can meet unfunded overhead expenses in addition to passing along a wage increase to all their employees. Every Medicaid dollar the state spends generates a little more than a dollar in the federal Medicaid match.

As it now stands, the governor’s proposed increase would apply only to front-line workers, who typically make roughly $1 to $2 above minimum wage, if that.

In a letter to Marszalkowski , the subcommittee chairman, Kevin McHale, an administrator at AccessPoint, wrote that the average direct care worker at his agency makes $10.77 an hour, only slightly above minimum wage.

McHale, once a direct care worker himself, recalled that in 1987, the General Assembly voted to make a “substantial investment” in the private provider system by raising the pay of direct care workers to $7 an hour, about 90 percent above minimum wage, which was then $3.65 an hour.

At a time when the state was preparing to close the Ladd School, its only institution for persons with developmental disabilities, “this investment was seen as an intentional statement on the importance and value of the vital and challenging (yet rewarding) work that direct support professionals perform,” McHale wrote.

Today, private service providers operate at a loss for each person they employ, they say.

Regina C. Hayes, executive director of Spurwink RI, provided the committee with tables showing that the state funds a fulltime direct care position at $34,454, including an allowance of 35 percent of wages for employee-related expenses. But that figure is almost $9,900 per-person less than what it costs Spurwink for mandatory taxes, vacation, sick and holiday pay and health insurance, Hayes said.

The percentage the state pays for employee-related overhead is set through “Project Sustainability,” the controversial fee-for-service system enacted by the General Assembly in 2011.

Howard and Patricia Cohen, Jacob’s parents, say that Project Sustainability has harmed their son. The change in reimbursement methods “masqueraded as an improvement but in effect was merely a way to reduce costs,” they wrote.

Those already receiving services are not the only ones affected by the budget constraints.

Agencies Can’t Afford New Clients

Linda Ward, executive director of Opportunities Unlimited, a service provider, said that current funding and staffing situation makes it difficult for her agency to take on new clients or launch new initiatives.

Opportunities Unlimited recently had to “step back” from plans to develop a home designed to meet the significant psychiatric and behavioral needs of four women, Ward said.

Her testimony echoed comments made earlier in the day by Gloria Quinn, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, who addressed the special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability.

Families of young people aging out of the special education system often struggle to find agencies that are able to provide services for their sons or daughters, she said.

“We can’t find the staff”, said Quinn, a commission member. An agency’s ability to respond to the demands of the community is at its heart “a wage issue,” she said.

Andrew McQuaide, a senior director at the Perspectives Corporation, called the situation “self-directed by default,” meaning that parents who may not otherwise chose to do so are left to manage their loved ones’ individual programs because they can’t find an agency to provide appropriate services.

McQuaide, another member of the Project Sustainability commission, said that so-called self-directed families are having the same problems as the agencies in hiring direct care workers, but the families are doing it “without support.”

At the commission meeting, Barbara Burns said she recently decided to do a self-directed program of day services for her sister, not because she wants to do it but because it was the only way she could get respite care. Burns’ sister has Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease and lives with her on Aquidneck Island.

A proposal in the governor’s budget would create an “independent provider” model of care through the Executive Office of Human Services with a single fiscal intermediary to give those needing services at home broader choice in selecting caregivers.

The independent provider model also would give BHDDH the option selecting one fiscal agent to manage the accounts of self-directed families of adults with developmental disabilities, Linda Haley, a House fiscal advisor, told the finance subcommittee.

The prospect of unwanted change has worried some families, but a BHDDH spokesman said April 1 that DDD will continue with five fiscal intermediaries in accordance with its regulations, as well as a desire to give consumers choice.

Burns, meanwhile, said there should be a single state bureaucracy to address the needs of people with developmental disabilities, whether they are children in school, healthy adults, or people facing chronic illness or the end of life. Families face enough challenges caring for a special child, she said.

Semonelli * image courtesy of capitol tv

Semonelli * image courtesy of capitol tv

Christopher Semonelli, vice president of Rhode Island Families Organized for Change and Empowerment (RIFORCE) , made the same point to the finance committee’s human services subcommittee a few hours later.

Parents of special education students describe the transition to adult services as “falling off a cliff,” said A. Anthony Antosh, Director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, told commission members that there are other ways to increase wages for direct care workers besides adding to the bottom line.

Even if the state increased wages, Boss said, the milennials millennials making up the current entry-level workforce are “a little different.” Direct care workers need adequate training and supports. “It’s about making sure people love their jobs,” Boss said.

L to R: Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss, Heather Mincey OF DDD. * Photo By Anne Peters

L to R: Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss, Heather Mincey OF DDD. * Photo By Anne Peters

Wages are “part of it,” she said, but “I’m hesitant to say it’s the solution. It’s part of the solution.”

She recalled testimony presented to the commission in January about Vermont’s system, which included higher rates for direct care workers but much less reliance than Rhode Island on costly group homes.

Later, Boss told the House Finance subcommittee that she wants to reduce the number of adults with developmental disabilities living in group homes from the current 32 percent to the national average, 26 percent.

BHDDH also has launched a review of the reimbursement rates the state pays to private providers under the terms of Project Sustainability, with an eye toward creating an alternate payment model to the current fee-for service system.

Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint, reminded the finance committee members that the same healthcare consultant who helped develop Project Sustainability has just recommended that California increase developmental disability budget by 40 percent, or $1.8 billion. Rhode Island should be prepared for a a report that recommends a similar percentage increase, ane said, given that the state underfunded Project Sustainability from its inception.

Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the chairman of the Project Sustainability commission, made the same point earlier in the day.

The consultant hired for the rate review and study of alternate payment model, Elena Nicolella, executive director of the New England States Consortium Systems Organization, will speak at the next meeting of the Project Sustainability commission, according to DiPalma, the commission chairman. Nicolella is also a former Medicaid director in Rhode Island. The date of that meeting has not yet been set.

Advocates: RI Must Put Higher Value On DD Workforce To Ensure Stability In Client Services

Image courtesy of RI Capitol TV

Image courtesy of RI Capitol TV

By Gina Macris

The incremental pay increase that Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo proposes for those who care for adults with developmental disabilities- about 34 to 41 cents an hour - is “much appreciated,” Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, told the House Finance Committee recently.

But “it’s not enough,” Kane added quickly.

Entry-level workers making an average of $11.44 an hour, or more experienced colleagues paid an average of $12.50 an hour, are “often helping a person eat, shower, use the bathroom, or they could be helping someone learn how to drive their car,” Kane said.

“It is a completely and utterly important job, but based on the funding available, it is not really valued by our state,” Kane continued.

“ I’ve said this in this room a number of times. A budget is a statement of values, and what we’re saying is that this work isn’t worth enough money to make a living.”

To illustrate his point, Kane told Finance Committee members that he searched for jobs on the website Indeed.com to prepare for his testimony March 13 and found a posting from a kennel seeking someone to clean cages for $14 an hour.

“Not that I would disparage any job that anyone would have,” Kane said. “I think there should be dignity in all work. I think as a society we have to say, for those who care and support the people to live in the community, to try to have the best life possible, we need to fund the agencies to pay a reasonable rate.”

Kane spoke from the perspective of some three dozen private service providers in Rhode Island, the core of the state’s developmental disability service system. These agencies are trying to make ends meet while dealing with high job turnover and high vacancy rates, as well as the costly overtime it requires to ensure the safety of the vulnerable people in their care.

In the context of the state’s fee-for-service Medicaid reimbursement system, now in its eighth year, the concerns of the providers converge with those of a 2014 federal consent decree which spells out the civil rights of people who, through an accident of birth, spend a lifetime trying each day to rise to the challenge of diverse disabilities.

And in the past year, there has been growing pressure for change, both from those overseeing the implementation of the consent decree and from an expanding chorus of advocates.

In a “Week of Action” planned by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI) March 26 through 28, providers and their supporters, including consumers and their families, will fan out under the State House rotunda to buttonhole individual legislators in the hours before the bell sounds shrilly at 4 p.m. calling the House and Senate to order.

In the fiscal year beginning July 1, Raimondo has proposed a $6.4 million budget increase targeted for pay raises, including $3 million in state revenue and $3.4 million in federal Medicaid funds. This sum would raise the wages of direct support workers by what state officials estimate as 43 cents an hour.

But the leaders of CPNRI and the Provider Council, another trade association, say that to stabilize the private system of developmental disability services, providers need about $28.5 million in state revenue, which would generate a roughly equal amount in federal Medicaid payments.

“We recognize that this is a substantial amount of money, but it is a result of chronic underfunding,” said Donna Martin and Peter Quattromani in a letter to Raimondo dated Jan. 9. Until March, Martin was executive director of CPNRI. Quattromani, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Rhode Island, represented the Provider Council.

Their reference to “chronic underfunding” alludes to “Project Sustainability,” the fee-for service funding model enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 with a $26-million budget cut. Project Sustainability was cited by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 as contributing to a segregated system of services that violated the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

With the closing of the Ladd School in 1994, Rhode Island was once first in the nation in de-institutionalizing adults with developmental disabilities and its efforts to include former residents in everyday life in the community. Today, 25 years after the Ladd School was shuttered, Rhode Island is ranked 32nd among the states in its inclusion efforts by CPNRI’s national affiliate, the American Network of Community Options and Resources.

Project Sustainability is currently the subject of two separate reviews, one by a special legislative commission and another by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), which has hired a consultant to scrutinize both the reimbursement rates and the fee-for-service model itself.

Between 2011 and 2012, Project Sustainability exacerbated a downward trend in funding for developmental disabilities that eventually leveled off but has not caught up with the pace of inflation, despite budget increases in recent years, according to a ten-year analysis done by CPNRI. The study used state budget figures and consumer price index information kept by the state Department of Labor and Training.

Chart Courtesy of CPNRI

Chart Courtesy of CPNRI

Low wages have put Rhode Island service providers at a disadvantage in trying to recruit a variety of personal care workers like those who work with adults with developmental disabilities, experts say.

CPNRI reports that about one in three workers leave a developmental disability job every year, mostly, they say, because they can’t pay their bills. One in five positions remain vacant, driving up the cost of overtime necessary to ensure the safety of the vulnerable people in care, according to the trade association.

PHI National, long-term care consultants, have produced a chart comparing the earnings of personal care workers in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts that shows Rhode Island with the lowest wages and the least buying power relative to the minimum wage.

chart courtesty of PHI and CPNRI

chart courtesty of PHI and CPNRI

Policy experts say that basic demographic data for the nation indicates a shortage of personal care workers in the next few decades. That was one of the key messages delivered by Mary Lee Faye, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, to the Project Sustainability study commission in January.

Meanwhile, the House Fiscal Office estimates that the governor’s proposed raise for front-line developmental disability workers would add add 41 cents to their average hourly wage, lifting it from $12.27 an hour to $12.68 an hour. The overall $6.4 million pay hike doesn’t include raises for supervisors or job development and support coordinators, the House Fiscal Advisor, Sharon Reynolds Ferland, has told the House Finance Committee.

Providers say the state’s estimates don’t match up with actual costs. The state funds 35 percent of overhead related to employment, including mandatory costs like health and dental insurance, workers compensation insurance, payroll taxes, paid time off and other items, according to a CPNRI policy paper.

In reality, providers say, these employee-related expenses cost 64 percent[1] of wages – a point CPNRI’s Martin and the Provider Council’s Quattromani made in their Jan. 9 letter to Raimondo.

Providers fill the gap between the available state and federal Medicaid funding and the actual costs of employee-related overhead by reducing the amount of the wage increase passed along to workers. Kane, in his testimony, said that for the lowest-paid direct care workers, Raimondo’s planned pay increase will not even cover the cost of a separate proposal she has made to increase the state’s minimum wage for all workers from $10.50 to $11.10.

In the last few years, individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and providers have gained legislative advocates, most prominently Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, who is the first vice-president of the Senate Finance Committee.

DiPalma, as chairman of the special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability, convinced a consultant involved in developing that fee-for-service model to return to Rhode Island and testify about his work last November.

Mark Podrazik, a principal in the Arizona-based Burns & Associates, made it clear that Project Sustainability was shaped in a frantic effort to control costs.

Mark Podrazik * Photo By Anne Peters

Mark Podrazik * Photo By Anne Peters

The firm ultimately was paid a total of $1.4 million to develop Project Sustainability and monitor how it affected spending for developmental disabilities services. (The funding model contains no provisions for measuring the impact of services on individuals.)

Podrazik testified that some of Burn’s key recommendations were ignored, including a proposed base pay of $13.97 an hour for direct care workers that would increase within a year or two to $15 an hour. That was in 2011.

Today, eight years later, advocates are still chasing that $15-hour wage. About a month ago, DiPalma and Rep. Evan Shanley, D-Warwick, introduced companion bills to raise direct care workers’ pay to $15 an hour by July 1, 2020. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, William D. Conley, was among the co-sponsors of DiPalma’s bill.

More recently, DiPalma introduced a second bill that would require all private human service agencies under contract with the state to pay their employees at least 44 percent above the minimum wage at any given time. Both Conley and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have signed on to this bill as co-sponsors.

A year ago at this time, Raimondo had proposed an $18.4 million cut in developmental disability services for reasons that were never spelled out in public. Raimondo rejected warnings of(BHDDH) that the move would result in waiting lists for services or cuts in programming.

The proposed cut appeared to be unacceptable to an independent court monitor who continues to oversee implementation of the 2014 consent decree. The agreement calls for integrated, community-based services that are inherently more costly than the facility-based system embedded in Project Sustainability.

In May, 2018, the monitor, Charles Moseley, obtained written assurances from Raimondo that she would continue to support the work of the consent decree, which in the moment meant restoring the almost all the $18-million cut.

In the courtroom, the judge who periodically oversees the status of the consent decree, John j. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court, has indicated his willingness to issue orders to ensure that specific goals of the consent decree are met. At the same time, he said he couldn’t order the state to spend a certain amount to achieve them.

Meanwhile, Moseley has continued to keep abreast of budget developments. In February he wrote McConnell, saying Raimondo’s proposed budget “appears adequate” to cover a deficit in the current fiscal year and fund the consent decree in the budget beginning July 1.

Without mentioning how the Governor may have calculated developmental disability budgets in the past, Moseley made a point of saying he has received assurances that the latest figures are based on real-time data about the projected use of developmental disability services.

The state’s lawyer, Marc DeSisto, has assured him that “the Governor’s recommended budget accepts the most up-to-date projections for financing the current costs of the system to ensure no changes for individuals with DD and continued commitment to achieving Consent Decree outcomes,” Moseley wrote the judge.

Moseley put the current working budget for the private system of developmental disability services at about $229.4 million. Raimondo’s proposal adds about $4 million to finish the current fiscal year, for a total of $233.4 million. Moseley said the increase includes:

· $1 million for the estimated growth in the number of people receiving services

· $1.3 million for increased costs of providing services

· $645,000 to compensate for unrealized savings in moving group home residents into less costly residential options

· $500,000 in other priorities.

In the fiscal year beginning July 1, Moseley said, Raimondo would add about $7.3 million to the private developmental disability system, for a total of $240.2 million. That figure includes:

  • $516,000 for continued growth in the number of people receiving services

  • $2.7 million for increased costs in providing services.

  • $6.4 million for the wage increase to direct care staff.

Those totals are offset by about $1.3 million in increased expectations for savings in residential costs and another million in savings from a reform initiative that didn’t start on time.

Moseley said all his figures were rounded off.

Deep in the background, BHDDH is quietly gearing up for a top-to-bottom analysis of Project Sustainability itself – a move applauded by DiPalma, providers, families and consumers. The lack of flexibility in services provided by Project Sustainability also has drawn the criticism of the court monitor.

Providers have said the funding formula does not allow them to plan on services for longer than three months at a time and makes it difficult for them to base their services in the community.

For example, Project Sustainability assigns staffing ratios according to the degree to which a person may be unable to do basic things independently, but doesn’t take into account the resources that person might need to get to a job – or hockey game – in the community.

Project Sustainability originally made it difficult for individuals to hold jobs in the community by providing work-related services only at the expense of other kinds of daytime supports.

In 2017, to comply with the work goals of the consent decree, BHDDH launched an add-on program of performance payments for providers for placing clients in community-based employment and for meeting job-retention goals.

DiPalma has said it is imperative that BHDDH finish a new rate model for private developmental disability services in time for Raimondo to introduce her budget to the General Assembly next January.

To satisfy the consent decree, the new design would have to focus on helping individuals lead regular lives in the community. Such a model would inevitably demand a greater financial commitment from the state and pose a new test of lawmakers’ values.

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 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.”

 

One In Six DD Jobs in RI Goes Unfilled; Raises Would Ease Crisis and Improve Service Quality

image by capitol tv 

image by capitol tv 

Kevin Nerney of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, left, and Maureen Gaynor, second from right, share pleasantries just before their testimony before the House Finance Committee on Feb. 8. Looking on are Gaynor's support worker, Melanie Monti, and Emmanuel Falck of the Service Employees International Union State Council.  Image by RI Capitol TV. 

By Gina Macris

Raising the pay of Rhode Islanders who serve adults with developmental disabilities is not only about helping these poverty-level workers pay their bills, according to testimony before the House Finance Committee Feb. 8.

The proposed raises also will reduce staff turnover and, in turn, improve the quality of life for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), told the legislators. 

Kerri Zanchi, the new director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, agrees with Martin’s assessment. Zanchi says the pay hike is not only an “investment in the direct service professional, but an investment in our community" and in high quality services.  

She estimates that the wage increase will amount to an average of 42 cents an hour, and says that provider agencies are now experiencing a staff turnover rate of about 33 percent.

Carol Dorros, the mother of a 21-year-old man with behavioral issues and other complex problems, knows firsthand the value of support staff retention. When her son was still in high school and receiving some adult services from a private agency, his support worker changed four times during a single academic year. As a result, he made “no progress” from September to June, Dorros said.

 Maureen Gaynor rolled up to the speakers’ table in a power chair and used a computerized voice to speak the text she had written with a “headstick,” a pointer attached to a band around her head.

These people deserve higher pay, Gaynor said, explaining that support staff sometimes must help with the most intimate care, such as bathing, dressing and using the toilet.

And she reminded the legislators that she would not have been able to attend the hearing without an aide willing to drive her to the State House and get her to the basement hearing room.

After she spoke, Kevin Nerney of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council reinforced her remarks:  “When you help someone eat, drink or bathe, you need to have a really good relationship with that person. We’re not talking about folding shirts at the Gap or flipping burgers at McDonald's,” said Nerney.

At AccessPoint RI, a service provider, the starting salary is $10 an hour, or $22,000 a year, said the agency’s executive director, Tom Kane. The average pay was $10.82 an hour until the current fiscal year, when the General Assembly set aside $5 million for raises for developmental disability workers – the first pay increases since 2006, Kane said.

The added funding resulted in a 36-cent hourly increase, raising the average to $11.18, according to calculations made by service providers and others.

When Kane reviewed the the roster of employees at the time his agency processed the raises last fall, he said he was heartbroken to find a 30-year employee who was to receive a total of $13.10, with the pay bump.

Kane and others indicated they believe that a “15 in 5” campaign to raise the pay of direct care workers to $15 in five years (by July 1, 2021), is simply not enough.

Kane alluded to a drive launched by State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, last fall when he asked Governor Raimondo to include a raise for direct care workers in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year.. While she has done so, her $6.2 million set-aside for wages is about $$600,000 shy of what DiPalma requested.

Kane said raises should not only be based on a percentage increase.

 “A four or five percent increase on an insufficient wage is an insufficient increase,” he said.

If the minimum wage increases to $10.50 an hour, as Governor Raimondo has proposed, “and we give 5 percent” raises, Kane said, “we’re paying minimum wage again.”

Kane took issue with figures presented by Linda Haley of the House Fiscal Staff that the raises in the current budget also bumped up pay for supervisory personnel.

He said the raises all went to direct care workers, (as stipulated in current state budget.)  Some agencies, including AccessPoint, used other funding sources to provide raises or bonuses to supervisory employees.

At AccessPoint, Kane said, front-line supervisors spend half their time doing direct care anyway.

“It is incredibly important that this bill passes, hopefully with more money in it,” to support not only those providing direct care but people who perform other important tasks, like writing clients’ state-mandated individual support plans, which are akin to road maps for services that are specific to each client. Most of these employees “have not had a raise in 11 years,” he said. “I don’t know why they stay.”

Emmanuel Falck of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) State Council represents 270 workers at the Arc of Blackstone Valley. One of them, a 52- year-old woman with 20 years’ experience in the field, used to be able to make ends meet by working 60 to 65 hours a week, he said.

But after an 18-month bout with cancer, the most she can now work is 20 hours a week. And the last vacation she had was three days in Washington, D.C., in 2000, Falck said.

He said the proposed 42-cent increase to the hourly rate would be much appreciated, but the state needs to move faster to raise workers’ pay to a living wage.

“I urge this committee to bump it up as fast as possible,” he said, proposing a $15 hourly wage by 2019 instead of 2021. As it is, direct support workers living in Rhode Island will be able to cross the state line to neighboring Massachusetts and do the same work for $15 an hour on July 1, 2018, Falck said.

Donna Martin, the CPNRI director, said that developmental disability service providers face a “tremendous crisis” in competing for the same pool of workers who serve elderly clients, thanks to a growing number of aging baby-boomers.

On average, the 27 providers belonging to CPNRI cannot fill one in six job openings, creating a vacancy rate of about 16 percent, she said. During exit interviews, workers say that they love their jobs but can’t feed their families with what they are paid, according to Martin.

As a result of the vacancies, employers are forced to spend money on overtime that they would rather put into worker pay and training, Martin said.

“I appreciate your sensitivity to the struggles of our staff,” Martin told the finance committee members.  “They are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to quality.”

Chris Semonelli of Middletown, the father of a 14-year-old girl with autism, put some historical context around the discussion of the wage proposal.

From 2006 through 2011, the budget for developmental disability services was reduced 20 percent, Semonelli said, quoting a profile of the system written by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College in 2013. And the services are not designed with an eye toward results. In the current design, more money gives more of the same service, he said.

That said, Semonelli said he strongly supports Governor Raimondo’s proposed wage increase in the next budget, as well as the “15 in 5” campaign. The governor’s plan for the next fiscal year “is a start,” said Semonelli, who also is co-director of an advocacy group called Friends of the Disabled on Aquidneck Island.

Although Wednesday’s hearing sounded like a budget discussion, it focused only on Article 23 – one of 24 chapters in the overall fiscal package Raimondo has submitted to the General Assembly.

The provision would require a one-time increase in the base pay of direct care workers, “in an amount to be determined by the appropriations process” and also require the Office of Management and Budget to perform an audit to ensure that the raises go only to those workers.