RI Consent Decree Task Force Wants Feds To Look At Accuracy Of Assessments Used In DD Funding

By Gina Macris

This article has been updated.*

Seven months after Rhode Island state social workers were retrained to better administer a questionnaire used to determine Medicaid funding for adults with developmental disabilities, signs have emerged that not all the interviewers may be conforming to the highly scripted assessment process.

On June 13, the chairman of the Employment First Task Force said the group needs more comprehensive information about any continuing problems with the assessment, the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS). He said he will make a request in writing to the U.S. Department of Justice and a federal court monitor, asking them to look into the situation.

Rhode Island is in the fourth year of implementation of a 2014 federal consent decree asserting the rights of adults with developmental disabilities under provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act to obtain the services they need to secure jobs and enjoy non-work opportunities in the community.

The consent decree is “very clear” on those rights, said the federal court monitor, Charles Moseley, who listened into the meeting in a conference call.

Moseley said he was “disturbed” to hear an account of a SIS interviewer who said that because a young man was employed, even part time, he could not have the extensive behavioral and medical supports that family members and the service providers said the man needed. In fact, without those supports, the young man could not keep his job.  The task force member who addressed Moseley by telephone in the meeting later asked not to be identified.

Another task force member, Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Supports Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, recalled two SIS interviews she has attended since the social workers administering them were re-trained. One was done very well. In the other, the SIS supervisor corrected the interviewer twice.

For example, an interviewer may ask whether certain behavioral problems occur, or whether they have occurred in the last year. But Rosenbaum indicated that the proper phrasing for the SIS is to ask what supports are necessary to prevent those behavioral problems.

The latter approach acknowledges the impact of existing supports in helping adults with developmental disabilities enjoy a better quality of life, something parents and providers had routinely complained was missing from the SIS before the interviewers were retrained.

*(On June 15, Claire Rosenbaum said her comments were not intended as criticism of the SIS interviewers but to make the point that the retraining of interviewers was followed up with supervisory coaching as reinforcement. The two SIS interviews she attended were appropriately administered, she said.  She said her comments, while intended to be positive, did not preclude the possibility that an interviewer or two may not be immediately absorbing the training and coaching provided).

SIS Has History of Controversy in RI

The way Rhode Island uses the SIS to establish funding has been criticized both by the monitor and the DOJ since 2014, when Justice Department lawyers found that there was at least the appearance of a conflict of interest because the agency which administers the questionnaire also allocates individual funding.

Since then, the fiscal arm of the agency which administers the SIS, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, (BHDDH) has been transferred to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS).

But Kevin Nerney, the Task Force chairman, said that to the average Rhode Islander, “the state is the state.”  Task Force members floated the idea of having a non-state entity administer the SIS assessment.  

The American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, (AAIDD), which developed the SIS, has urged states to avoid even the appearance of a conflict by making a clear separation, or firewall, between the actual interview and the allocation process.  

A U.S. District Court order issued in May, 2016, required the state to change its policy to specify that the  scores on the SIS will be “consistent with individuals’ support needs, separate and apart from resource allocation considerations.” 

Moseley, the monitor, in reporting to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., earlier this year, the monitor, Moseley, took that idea a step further. In conjunction with bringing greater individualization to supports for adults with developmental disabilities, he has ordered the state to give him quarterly progress reports as it works toward changing its approach to determining needs and funding.  Instead of translating SIS scores into one of five funding levels, as it does now, the state should use the interview results to first draw up individual programs of support. Only then should it apply funding, according to the model envisioned by the monitor.

Meanwhile, Nerney, the Task Force chairman, said outside the Tuesday meeting that the group has repeatedly asked BHDDH over the past two years – without success - for the number of appeals filed by providers or family members contesting funding levels resulting from the SIS.

While that number has not been made public, state Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, disclosed in a Senate Finance Committee hearing in April that the appeals generate a total of $21.5 million to $22 million a year in supplemental payments above and beyond the levels determined by the SIS. That amounts to about 10 percent of all payments made to the private agencies that provide most of the services.

Ten percent is too high, DiPalma said, urging BHDDH officials to rework the way they use the SIS.

Consent Decree Allows Exceptions to 'Employment First'

The Task Force also discussed various approaches to developing a variance process under provisions of the consent decree for individuals with developmental disabilities who can’t work or don’t want to work because they fear the challenges of the regular employment.  Language for one or more kinds of variances or exceptions is being drafted, task members reported.

In conjunction with an interim settlement between the City of Providence and the DOJ in 2013 and the subsequent statewide agreement in 2014, the state has adopted an “Employment First” policy which assumes that adults with developmental disabilities can work at regular jobs, with support.

This policy generally has been welcomed by young people, particularly those who have had internships as part of their special education programs in high school and looked forward to working as adults. 

But that reaction has not been universal.  After the policy was adopted in 2013, BHDDH abruptly closed most sheltered workshops without having any plan in place to gradually acclimate those clients to community-based services. The move generated a wave of anger from families whose loved ones had enjoyed the social aspect of the workshops and took pride in their paychecks, even if they were a fraction of the minimum wage. 

Since Governor Gina Raimondo beefed up the state’s response to the consent decree in 2016, various high-ranking state officials have made public assurances that no one will be forced to work if they don’t want to or are unable, contrary to what some families say they have heard from rank-and-file employees in the developmental disability system. 

In a task force discussion on Tuesday of what a variance to the “Employment First” policy might look like. Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said she understands that some families are turning to segregated adult day care programs for their loved ones that are outside the system licensed by BHDDH. 

These adult programs, licensed by the Department of Health, may take private payments or federal Medicaid funding, according to anecdotal remarks by various task force members.

Moseley, the monitor, said that if Medicaid funding is involved, federal regulations emphasizing community-based services, similar to those of the consent decree, would apply. Both the consent decree and Medicaid regulations governing Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) derive their authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The High Court said that individuals with disabilities must be offered services in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate, and that environment is presumed to be the community.

Kiernan O’Donnell, co-president of the Rhode Island Association of People Supporting Employment First, said that if families had more information, they wouldn’t be going to segregated programs.

The Task Force, meanwhile, discussed the importance of planning around the individual needs of a particular person. While the principal goal may be employment for one person, it may be health for another, said Deb Kney, director of Advocates in Action.

Planning is a “process. It’s not a form” for checking boxes, she said. Others agreed.

The Employment First Task Force was created by the 2014 Consent Decree to serve as a bridge between the community and state government, with membership drawn from community agencies serving adults and teenagers with developmental disabilities, those who receive services and advocate for themselves, and families. Nerney, the chairman, represents the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council.

RI Tries To Improve Assessment Used For DD Funding; Families Not Feeling It Yet

Christine Vriend, Senior Trainer for AAIDD

Christine Vriend, Senior Trainer for AAIDD

By Gina Macris 

A two-hour discussion about the Supports Intensity Scale, used by Rhode Island to assign funding to adults with developmental disabilities, exposed a big gap between the vision of the professionals who created the assessment and the practical experience of families and service providers who must respond to the extensive questionnaire.  

At the Arnold Conference Center in Cranston Nov. 17, Christine Vriend, senior trainer for the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), explained the newest version of the assessment as a guide for developing better individualized plans of support.

But many family members and service providers described the SIS as a tool for cutting funding. They said interviewers administering the questionnaire have been argumentative and combative, showing little respect for them, while seeming determined to lower assessment scores.

Heather Mincey, administrator of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said she and other officials are working as hard as they can to make changes.



Vriend, said new features of the Supports Intensity Scale are designed to better capture the need for support for exceptionalmedical needs or behavioral issues. 

AAIDD did not design the SIS as a funding tool, but many states use it that way, Rhode Island included. 

In July, in response to a federal consent decree and U.S. District Court order, the state changed its assessment policy in an attempt to separate a determination of what kind of support someone needs from the allocation of money to pay for it. The U.S. Department of Justice and the independent court monitor in the consent decree both have said there was a conflict of interest in having the same agency of state government conduct the assessments and determine the funding.

Most provisions of the consent decree address a shift away from sheltered workshops and isolated day programs to a network of community-based job and leisure activities, in keeping with the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that a reliance on segregated services violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Since July, state developmental disabilities officials, under the direction of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), have begun to re-train their assessors to use the relatively new SIS-A, released by AAIDD in 2015.

One mother, Tammy Russo, had an interview with a newly re-trained assessor last week. She said the assessor collapsed eight questions into one, stringing together references to several types of medical care into a single sentence, making the information sound so complex that she couldn’t follow what was being said.

Russo, however, said the interviewer ultimately gave her a copy of the questionnaire so she could read along as the questions were being asked.

Russo was asked by officials at the forum to follow up on her experience by calling the supervisor of the SIS interviewers.

Ed McLoughlin, another parent, said that in the SIS interview he attended, “the woman clearly was working to get a lower rating.”

Mincey said that kind of feedback has been discussed a great deal: “If you’re not describing exactly what you need and we’re not getting what you need, that information is not part of the SIS.”

The key to answering the questions, Vriend explained, is not to explain what a person can or cannot do but to think about what supports are needed for someone to be successful at a particular activity – even a hypothetical one. Interviewers are instructed to ask all the questions on the form, whether the topics fit an individuals’ current activities or not.

She declined to answer funding-related questions, emphasizing that she works for AAIDD, not the state.

One woman, who declined to give her name, said a mother who knows exactly how to answer questionsin a SIS interview had a “really horrific” experience when her daughter’s funding was reduced from the highest levelto an average level, even though there had been no change in her condition.

“What the mother and the agency had to go through (on appeal) was heartbreaking,” the woman said.

Megan DiPrete, a family member of an adult with developmental disabilities, said it’s her experience that SIS interviews are conducted in a “combative environment.”

“It’s clearly an issue that needs to be addressed, she said.



Another woman spelled out the disrespect she said she witnessed, although she declined to give her name because she works for a direct service provider and is not authorized to speak on the agency’s behalf.

The woman said she asked the interviewer not to speak so fast so that the person under assessment could better follow the conversation. The interviewer refused, saying that if she did so, she would stutter.

Then three people told the interviewer that the person under assessment could not advocate for himself, and the interviewer responded, “Well, he can talk can’t he?”

Vriend likened the discussion that is supposed to occur at SIS interviews as a “table of supports.” The various participants are not supposed to be “butting heads,” she said.

Interviewers have a responsibility to describe the question using consistent language and to help respondents understand the intent of the item, she said. It is important for respondents to be “fully engaged in that process” and provide “perspective and justification for a score.”

All sides should be in agreement with the scores, but if “if you disagree, you should have an avenue to take this further,” Vriend said.

Vriend said AAIDD verification procedures generally confirm the accuracy of the SIS as it is administered in the field. The SIS is used in about half the United States and abroad.

But recurring complaints about the SIS in Rhode Island that have surfaced at public sessions throughout the year indicate there a lack of public confidence in the SIS. AAIDD says public confidence is important in the successful implementation of the assessment program.

In her role as a trainer, Vriend addressed one of the most controversial parts of the assessment in Rhode Island; the need for exceptional supports for individuals for behavioral issues. Those supports can be labor-intensive, and therefore costly. 

She said,  ”We’re not rating the severity of the behavior or how often it occurs. What we’re rating is the support needed to address that behavior or prevent it. If you haven’t had an assault in three years, but one of the reasons is solid support, then we’ve got to recognize that.”

In other public sessions, parents and providers have expressed the view that in some cases, once such exceptional supports are in place and have been given time to stabilize a client, the assessor looks only at the improved behavior. In those cases, all the effort put into realizing those improvements are discounted in the ratings, which lead to lower scores and less funding, they say.

Several suggestions emerged from the audience to help family members and providers feel more confident in the SIS process. They urged the state to put into place several safeguards. Among them:

·         Families and providers should be given copies of the questionnaire so they can read the questions as they are being asked. (On Nov. 18, Mincey issued a statement saying this change will be implemented immediately.)  

·         Families and providers should be informed at the interview that they have a right to appeal and should be given contact information for lodging complaints. They should be asked to fill out evaluation forms on the interviewers

·         Families and providers should be given copies of the completed questionnaires to better understand the scores.

Individuals with developmental disabilities and their guardians have a legal right to their own health care records, including assessments like the SIS, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

At the meeting, Mincey acknowledged that families have had difficulty in the past obtaining copies of their loved ones’ SIS results, but she said the Division of Disabilities is now granting those requests.

Mincey referred questions about the SIS to Donna Standish, the SIS supervisor. Standish can be reached at 401-462-2628 or Donna.Standish@bhddh.ri.gov

Lack of Resources Underlies Problems with Supports Intensity Scale, Other RI DD Issues

photo by anne peters  

photo by anne peters  

Eileen Vieira and Greg Mroczek both express concerns about the assessment used to determine funding for their adult children with developmental disabilities. 

By Gina Macris

The issue of resources – a scarcity of services and the money to finance them – ran like a thread through a public forum on Rhode Island’s developmental disability system Nov. 9 that brought together families, provider agencies and state officials. 

At the same time, participants applauded the willingness of new roster of state developmental disability officials to listen to their concerns.

Much of the discussion, during the meeting at the Cherry Hill Manor Nursing and Rehab Center in Johnston, concerned an assessment called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS) that is used to assign individual funding packages to those persons receiving services.

“If there was adequate funding to pay for the needs” identified by the assessment, ”we would have much fewer problems with the SIS,” said Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, a service agency.

“There’s not enough money there,” he said.

 Kane and others expressed skepticism about the accuracy of the assessment.

For example, Greg Mroczek said his son and daughter are very similar in their disabilities and needs, and yet they were assigned different funding levels.

“It flies in the face of the accuracy of the tool,” he said.

Eileen Vieira, who has a son with developmental disabilities, said some people who do the assessments “have no clue.”

They are not familiar with the person’s medical conditions or mental health issues or what is happening in the client’s life, she said. She said she did not believe the SIS captured her son’s need for behavioral support.

Heather Mincey, administrator in the Division of Developmental Disabilities, acknowledged that “a lot of times the SIS administrators did not get all of the information” necessary to make an accurate assessment of a person’s needs.

Heather Mincey

Heather Mincey

On Nov. 6, the Division switched over to a new form of the SIS which Mincey said she believes “will help a lot.” Called the SIS-A, the assessment is designed to capture behavioral and medical needs that were sometimes not apparent in results of the original SIS, according to Mincey. 

Kane said he has “never been a cheerleader for the SIS.”

The developer of the SIS, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), maintains it differs from other assessments because it focuses not on shortcomings but on the supports an individual needs to be successful at a particular task.

Kane, however, said most family members and professionals in the field of developmental disabilities find it difficult to talk about the issues raised in the questions because “you have to examine what’s wrong” to arrive at the necessary supports.

“It’s a deficit-based tool,” he said.

A representative of AAIDD will visit Rhode Island to explain the SIS-A at an information and training session Nov. 17. (See related article.)

Mincey, meanwhile, encouraged parents to file appeals if they believe the SIS results for their sons or daughters are inaccurate – or if they have problems with a shortage of funds for transportation or other issues.

But Vieira indicated that the appeals are continuous and time-consuming, especially for parents who have full time jobs. “You have to appeal and you have to appeal,” she said. 

Brian Gosselin, Chief Strategy Officer for the Executive Office of Human Services, said developmental disabilities officials will use feedback from appeals of decisions on the SIS, along with experiences trying to solve other problems, to improve the system.

In whittling down a backlog of 224 applications for adult developmental disability services, for example, workers learned that nearly half the submissions did not contain all the required documentation, Gosselin said.  That experience will result in a redesign of the application process, he said.

Carla Russo

Carla Russo

An independent court monitor in a federal consent decree mandating expansion of community-based services for adults with developmental disabilities has pressed the state to work through the backlog and identify all individuals aged 14 to 21 who might qualify for services after high school. 

One mother, Carla Russo, said her son left school in the 20013-2014 school year and still does not have adult services. 

Iraida Williams, an employee of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, asked whether the application materials would be available in Spanish. Williams has appeared at several public forums on developmental disability services since April 2015, to ask the state to hire a Spanish-speaking social worker or interpreter who could field questions from non English-speaking families.

“That’s the type of feedback that we need,” Gosselin said.

tracey cunningham

tracey cunningham

Tracey Cunningham, Chief Employment Specialist at the Division of Disabilities, said 23 service providers have applied for a supported employment incentive program that is gearing up as a result of the consent decree.

Nearly every one of the 23 providers has talked about taking on new clients in the process, Cunningham said, although she didn't expect the program to begin operations until January.

If that many agencies do expand, it would be a significant shift from a system that has been in a holding pattern because of a shortage of funding. 

Cunningham said the Division of Disabilities also wants to hear from families who organize their own supports and might want to purchase supported employment services.

One mother, Mary Beth Cournoyer, said parents, who themselves have jobs, need to cover a certain number of hours of care for their sons and daughters and can’t afford to divert much, if any, funding to job development. 

Cunningham said that “we are looking” at the possibility of providing additional funding for supported employment services rather than requiring individuals to stretch their budgets.

Gosselin, meanwhile, said that state officials will be working with consultants from the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services for the next six months to try to come up with better ways to serve individuals and families and at the same time comply with new Medicaid regulations affecting individuals with developmental disabilities.

All photos by Anne Peters

RI BHDDH Corrects Contact Info For Next Week's Forum on SIS

The Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals has issued issued a corrected email address for those who wish to sign up for the public forum Thursday, Nov. 17, on the Supports Intensity Scale, the assessment used to set individual budgets for adults receiving developmental disability services. The BHDDH statement follows: 

Our apologies that the RSVP email address in our newsletter inviting you to the SIS-A Training was incorrect. The correct RSVP email address is BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov. 

Reminder --
We are holding an informational session with an AAIDD representative to help individuals and families prepare for this change and to answer questions. Details on this training are available below. Additional trainings will be planned for families and providers.

What: SIS-A Training and Information Session

When: Thursday, November 17, 2016 – 4:30 - 6:30pm

Where:  Arnold Conference Center, Eleanor Slater Hospital Regan Building, 111 Howard Avenue, Cranston, RI 02920

RVSP:  Please email BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov. We hope to see you there. 

More information about the SIS-A is available on the AAIDD website. For additional questions, email BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov 

Public Information Session Nov. 17 on New Individual Assessment of DD Support Needs

By Gina Macris

This article has been updated

A representative of the national organization which created the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), the individual assessment used to assign Medicaid funding to adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island, will help explain a new version of the questionnaire at a public information and training session Thursday, Nov. 17.

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), which created the SIS used in Rhode Island since 2011, released a new version in 2015 that the organization says is better designed to capture the needs of adults with developmental disabilities.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) said that the new version, called the SIS-A, is being put into use this month in individual reassessments.  

The SIS, rather than focusing on an individual’s handicaps, was designed to determine how much support a person needs to function successfully in the various activities of daily living. It was not designed as a funding tool, but many states, including Rhode Island, use the SIS to determine individual budgets for support services.

The administration of the SIS in Rhode Island ranks high on the list of parental complaints, judging from comments made at public forums earlier this year.

The Nov. 17 forum will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.  in the Arnold Conference Center of the Regan Building at Eleanor Slater Hospital, 111 Howard Ave., Cranston.

BHDDH officials ask that participants RSVP by emailing BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov

More information about the SIS-A is available on the AAIDD website. For additional questions, email BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov

The SIS also will be on the agenda of a general public forum on adult developmental disability services, tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 9, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Cherry Hill Manor Nursing and Rehab Center, 2 Cherry Hill Rd., Johnston.

Jane Gallivan, a consultant to the Executive Office of Human Services, explained in some detail the rationale for moving to the SIS-A during an interview in late September. To read that entire article, click here.


Task Force Members Say Interviews to Assess DD Needs in RI Apparently Used to Cut Funds

By Gina Macris

Four Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities who all need nearly constant attention have had their residential funding cut by a total of about $125,000 a year.

The most recent scoring on an extensive questionnaire that is supposed to assess their support needs says they have become much more self-sufficient. Instead of having extensive needs, they now require only moderate supports, according to the results of the questionnaire, the Supports Intensity Scale, or SIS. 

But Tom Kane, the CEO of the agency that runs the men’s group home, says that if he withdraws $125,000 worth of residential staff hours for these men, “someone will get hurt.” 

“It’s not a position these four men should be in, nor should the agency be in this position,” Kane told state officials at a meeting of the Employment First Task Force July 12. 

Professionals acknowledge that, barring a traumatic event, the needs of a person with intellectual or developmental disabilities remain relatively stable over the course of a lifetime. 

Yet one chart prepared in 2015 by a healthcare consulting company under contract with the state shows the level of need changed for 47 percent of clients who had been re-assessed since the Supports Intensity Scale was introduced in 2011. 

For AccessPoint RI, a private service provider, those changes have resulted in a cumulative loss of $970.000 in developmental disability funding, roughly 12 percent of the budget, Kane said. 

If the tool is reliable, the score shouldn’t change dramatically,” Kane said. “Either the tool is not reliable, or you know it was all manipulated” to reduce pressure on state spending, he said.

Jane Gallivan, the interim Director of Developmental Disabilities in the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, said, “We definitely will take a hard look.”

Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator for the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said she has received numerous reports that social workers conducting the SIS interviews challenge the accuracy of answers family members give to specific questions. 

Or, said Mary Beth Cournoyer, a parent member of the Employment First Task Force, the interviewer does not argue with family members’ answers but merely substitutes other ones.  This becomes apparent, she said, when parents review the completed assessment and see that the ratings on needs differ from the ones they had given. 

Cournoyer said parents need training on what to expect from a SIS questionnaire because the answers they give could have unexpected ramifications.  

For example, parents may say that their sons or daughters can dress themselves, when the reality is much more nuanced. Without someone to put away the out-of-season clothes so they are out of reach, individuals with disabilities may dress inappropriately for the weather, she said. They may be capable of dressing themselves, but may sometimes refuse to do so.

Cournoyer indicated that parents don’t realize they need to completely remove from the picture the supports they and other family members provide naturally before they say whether their sons or daughters can perform a particular task. 

Jennifer Wood, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, said “no topic has come up with more regularity than the SIS. We should have some focus groups.”  

Under order of the U.S. District Court, and to avoid a possible contempt hearing, BHDDH changed its SIS policy July1 –nearly two years after it first agreed to do so -to divorce the assessment of need from funding considerations. 

That new language is intended to resolve a conflict of interest noted by the U.S. Department of Justice in its 2014 findings that the state’s sheltered workshops and segregated day programs violatedthe integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, The 1999 as spelled out by the  1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.  

In a subsequent consent decree designed to remedy the ADA violations, the state agreed to change its SIS policy by Sept. 1, 2014. 

The policy then in place said, in part: “Starting January 1, 2013 BHDDH will assign service tiers (funding allocations) based on the results of an individual SIS assessment. 

A year later, the DOJ said in its findings: 

“Our investigation revealed that BHDDH staff maintains primary responsibility for administering the Supports Intensity Scale, and they are also part of the agency that administers the statewide budget for developmental disability services.This is a seeming conflict of interest because the need to keep consumers’ resource allocations within budget may influence staff to administer the SIS in a way that reaches the pre-determined budgetary result.” 

The DOJ  referred to similar warnings from the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which created the SIS.   

The consent decree prohibits the SIS from being used as a funding mechanism.  

The new state policy, adopted July 1, reads, in part: “All decisions involving SIS tier assignments (levels of need) and any changes to SIS tier assignments are made solely on the basis of individual support needs as indicated by the SIS assessment in a manner that is consistent with individual’s support needs, separate and apart from resource allocation considerations.” 

How the change in policy will play out in practice is not yet clear.

According to a monitor’s report to the court in August, 2015, the state reported making the necessary changes in the administration of the questionnaire, including the re-training of interviewers, but complaints from parents have persisted. 

The disagreements over the SIS have resulted in families filing appeals. Most appeals are granted, according to Charles Williams, who retires as Director of Developmental Disabilities July 22. Data on the number of appeals, successful or otherwise, is not readily available. 

Wood and Gallivan promised members of the Employment First Task Force they would get to the bottom of the issue.                               

The Employment First Task Force, created by the consent decree, consists of members representing community organizations, adults who themselves have disabilities, and parents.   The task force, which holds public meetings, is intended to serve as a bridge between state government and consumers and families. 

The next meeting is August 12 at 2 p.m. at the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, 110 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick.