RI To Review "Project Sustainability" Funding Model For DD Services With Help From NESCSO

By Gina Macris

The state of Rhode Island has hired NESCSO, the non-profit New England States Consortium Systems Organization, to review the fee-for-service Medicaid funding structure used to reimburse private providers of services for adults with developmental disabilities since 2011.

The project, launched by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), represents a key step toward meeting the overall objectives of a 2014 consent decree which requires the state to create a community-based system of services to correct violations of the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities (ADA.)

The current fee-for-service reimbursement model, called Project Sustainability, incentivizes facility-based, segregated services, according to findings of the U.S. Department of Justice which led to the consent decree.

Project Sustainability, accompanied by $26 million in budget cuts effective July 1, 2011, resulted in drastic wage reductions among private service providers, but raising worker pay alone will not fix the problem.

Project Sustainability also was set up to fund staffing for groups of people engaged in activities in one place but didn’t provide for the degree of supervision or transportation needed to individualize services in the community on a broad scale, as required by the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision re-affirmed the integration mandate of the ADA.

In sheltered settings, for example, the ratio of direct care workers to clients might have been set in the funding formula at 1 to 10, but additional staffing would be needed to support that many people in the community, according to language in the contract between NESCSO and BHDDH.

The contract says supplemental payments have been used to “address the deficiency in the payment rates.” These supplemental payments “are an increasing portion of overall payments, reflecting the inadequacy of the current rates,” the contract said.

It says BHDDDH is seeking technical assistance from NESCSO in reviewing the best strategies for achieving an integrated, individualized system of services that complies with both the consent decree and the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Final Rule.

The consent decree affects daytime services, with an emphasis on competitive employment for adults with developmental disabilities.

The Home and Community-Based Final Rule (HCBS) is Medicaid’s interpretation of what the ADA’s integration mandate should look like in practice. Unlike the consent decree, it addresses residential services, calling for options that enable clients to live in less restrictive settings than group homes.

BHDDH also asks NESCSO to help it develop an “optimal and balanced system of services and payments” that will promote individually-designed programs according to the preferences and direction of the consumers themselves.

As part of the overall picture, the design and oversight of individual service plans would be separated from funding and actual delivery of supports to protect the interests of consumers and comply with the HCBS Final Rule in so-called “conflict-free case management.”

The consent decree also calls for a separation between funding, case management, and delivery of services. Currently, BHDDH is responsible for both funding and case management.

The total contract, designed for an 18-month period, will cost nearly $1,366,000 in federal and state Medicaid funds. That sum includes the entire developmental disabilities project, a rate review for behavioral healthcare services, and technical assistance at Eleanor Slater Hospital in connection with developing outpatient services for patients.

A BHDDH spokeswoman said Feb. 28 that the amount to be spent in the current fiscal year on the developmental disabilities portion of the project, originally set at about $400,000, will be scaled back to $200,000, because the work did not begin as anticipated in January. The fiscal year ends June 30.

There is $500,000 budgeted for the developmental disabilities work in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

BHDDH director Rebecca Boss said the department “Is pleased to partner” with NESCSO.

“NESCSO offers BHDDH the expertise of the other New England states and brings a team with background in specialized population-based needs and solutions, financial expertise, analytical depth and knowledge of federal regulation, resources and compliance requirements,” she said.

NESCSO is a non-profit collaboration among the health and human services agencies of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Through shared information and expertise, it works to promote policies and programs that will serve the needs of New England states in a cost-effective manner, according to its website.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the chairman of special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability, said the review of the funding model will be “pivotal” in shaping the future of the private system of developmental disability services.

“I give the department (BHDDH) credit” for moving forward with the project, DiPalma said. NESCSO, led by a former Rhode Island Medicaid director, Elena Nicolella, is held in high regard, he said.

At the same time, DiPalma said it is imperative that the review of the funding structure begin immediately and be completed in time for Governor Gina Raimondo to submit her budget proposal to the General Assembly for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020.

Expert testimony already given to the Project Sustainability commission made it clear that a review of the funding structure was long overdue, DiPalma said. With BHDDH already taking that step, the commission might still say that a rate review should be conducted every five years, as recommended by healthcare consultant Mark Podrazik.

Podrazik is a principal in Burns & Associates, which was hired to help BHDDH develop Project Sustainability. Testifying in November, he made it clear that the state ignored some of the firm’s key recommendations, instead shaping the funding structure through a frenzy to control costs.

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“These are complex issues,” Mattiello said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RI DD Officials "Trying To Do The Right Thing," Says Judge In Review of 2014 Olmstead Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s efforts to implement a 2014 consent decree to help adults with developmental disabilities become part of their communities won plaudits from a federal judge July 28, althougth some officials indicated there’s still a long way before the changes permeate the system of state services. 

Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. said he is heartened “when a state entity is trying to do the right thing. It’s not the case where the state is acting in any way in bad faith.”

“Compared to about a year ago we are in a very different place,” he said.

In May, 2016, McConnell issued a 8-page order warning the state he would entertain contempt proceedings unless it moved forward with implementation of the consent decree, which at that time had been stalled for two years.

At the latest hearing, July 28, McConnell said there had been “positive movement” in the state’s efforts to carry out the requirements of the consent decree and urged state officials to “keep it up.” 

The judge acknowledged that sweeping changes in the leadership of state agencies responsible for the disabilities programs in recent months had left him feeling “quite nervous” about the state’s ability to comply with his orders, but he said “now it doesn’t feel that way at all.”

McConnell chose a relatively informal setting for the hearing, convening his review not in his courtroom but in the richly paneled library of the Beaux Arts federal building on Kennedy Plaza in Providence, and inviting participants around a conference table to remove their jackets.

A lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, Nicole Kovite Zeitler, and an independent court monitor, Charles Moseley, cited advances in the handling of bureaucratic issues that are pre-requisites for a turn-around in the system that will take years to accomplish. The areas they covered included:

  • The realignment of social work staff to better oversee changes in the way services are delivered
  • Additional steps intended to lay the foundation for an active, multi-faceted quality improvement effort involving the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS)
  • Improved communication with service providers, and with the publicThe expanded availability of training and information on the principles of individualized planning and personal choice that are at the heart of the consent decree – and the federal law behind it.

There were, however, signs that, for some individuals who depend on developmental disability services, change has not yet arrived.

For example, Zeitler said that of 22 private agencies participating in a pilot program to encourage job-placements, 42 percent –nearly half - say they can’t take new clients.

Moseley said he “regularly” gets reports from families who say that they have been turned down by service providers they sought out.

Although the pilot project in supported employment is billed as an “incentive” program, participating agencies report privately they operate at a loss for each client they place in a job.

The legislature allocated $6.8 million for supported employment in the fiscal year which ended June 30, but the pilot program did not begin operations until January, and in the first six months it paid out a total of about $122,000 to participating agencies, according to BHDDH calculations obtained by Developmental Disability News.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, acknowledged there are “challenges” to delivering those supported employment services but did not elaborate. A report from Moseley to the judge submitted the day before the hearing said there have been multiple meetings between state officials and the providers to discuss various factors affecting the supported employment program, including “operational issues that are reported to be impeding the ability of the organizations to meet their placement goals.”

McConnelland the consent decree officials at the table spent considerable time discussing a relatively low employment rate of young adults – the very group most likely to have had the broadest experiences in high school, including school-to work internships. 

The participants acknowledged that the employment rate for that group, 32 percent, was artificially depressed, because the number of individuals in the young adult category has grown dramatically, from 151 to 497, in the last nine months.  It takes time to find the right job, Zeitler said. 

But the monitor said in his latest report to the judge that progress in finding jobs for young adults “has been slow.”  Even if one analyzes only the original 151 young adults and discounts 60 of them who are not receiving BHDDH services, the employment rate is 51 percent, Moseley said in the report.

He recommended that the state contact each of the 60 not receiving services to make sure they know that supports are available if they need them.

Clients recently interviewed by Zeitler and DOJ colleagues said they were sometimes “bored” with their daytime non-work activities, Zeitler reported. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) says persons who receive public supports must have personal choice in deciding what they do with their time, both for work and leisure.

But the way resources are currently invested does not necessarily promote “inclusivity,” noted Boss, saying the department is hoping to do some “rebalancing” of the way money is spent.

The individual choice mandated in the consent decree implies one-to-one or small group staffing, assuming that a few friends want to do something together in the community. But a fairly rigid regulatory structure currently in place doesn’t allow for such staffing unless clients are deemed to have extensive disabilities.  

The Division of Developmental l Disabilities is in the process of rewriting all its regulations to change from a system that assigns funding based on the severity of a disability to one that stresses individualization and personal choice, or“person-centered planning,” in accordance with the ADA and the consent decree.

As Moseley noted, the state must make these changes anyway to comply with the broader federal Medicaid Home and Community Based Rule (HCBS). The federal-state Medicaid program pays for all developmental disability services in Rhode Island.

Like the consent decree, HCBS derives its authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Olmstead decision re-affirmed Title II of the ADA, which emphasizes its primary purpose to integrate those with disabilities into the mainstream of society and respects their individual choices on the degree to which they wish to participate. 

The last time BHDDH attempted regulatory reform along similar lines, in 2015, an internal BHDDH work group came up with recommendations that would have cost tens of millions of dollars. The proposed changes did not move forward.  

In his most recent report to the judge,  Moseley said that the effort to gain greater flexibility over existing funding “is a positive move, but additional steps need to be taken to map out a process for ensuring that funding supports integrated person-centered day services” that meet the standards of the consent decree.

Zeitler said management officials of direct service agencies seem to understand the principles of individualized, or “person-centered” activity plans, but some direct care workers “don’t speak the language.” 

Zeitler suggested that more training is in order.  Although the training is available, tuition-free, Kerri Zanchi, developmental disabilities chief at BHDDH,  indicated there was no “quick fix” to this problem, given the high turnover in the workforce.

Zeitler, meanwhile, praised the way Zanchi has moved around staff to make the most of available personnel, calling the reorganization “very creative.”  

Zanchi has added four workers to the case management unit, reducing caseloads from 205 to 152 per person. Two of the workers came from the unit that determines eligibility for services and two came from a separate group that assesses the support needs of clients once they are found eligible for services. 

Another worker has been tapped to serve in the newly created position of transition coordinator, to serve teenagers and young adults moving from high school to adult services. The Division of Developmental Disabilities has hired a new residential coordinator to address housing options for those who do not live with their families.

An outside quality improvement expert enlisted by Moseley has said in a report that "there is a significant commitment to change" at BHDDH and ORS to ensure high program standards are implemented across the board. 

"But the staff available to implement change are stretched very thin," wrote Gail Grossman in a report that is part of Moseley's latest filing with the court. Grossman continued: "Serious consideration needs to be given to the need for additional staff resources if DDD (the Division of Developmental Disabilities) and BHDDH are going to develop, manage and oversee a strong QMIS (Quality Management and Improvement System) structure."

BHDDH has a unit entitled quality improvement, but its scope is limited to investigations of neglect or abuse of vulnerable individuals.

Click here for the monitor's latest report to the judge.

Related articles: Judge Willing To Intervene In RI Budget Impasse

Supported Employment Program Falls Short Of Initial Goals in RI

Public Forum on DD Services in RI Scheduled For Nov. 9 at Cherry Hill Manor in Johnston

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island officials will explain continuing changes in the state's developmental disability service system during a public forum Wednesday, Nov. 9, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Cherry Hill Manor Nursing and Rehab Center, 2 Cherry Hill Road, Johnston.

The meeting will include updates on the search for a director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities as well as details of efforts to implement provisions of a federal consent decree calling on the state to end segregated daytime services that violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition, state officials will describe technical assistance the state receives from the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS). The state has asked the organization for guidance in implementing a shift to community-based services, with an emphasis on supported employment, as required by the consent decree.

The application process for adult developmental disability services and the assessment used to assign individual funding to those found eligible also will be reviewed, according to an announcement from the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Individuals who need interpreter services for the hearing impaired or need other accommodations for the meeting are asked to call Emily Limoges at 401.462.3405 or email her at Emily.Limoges@bhddh.ri.gov before Monday, November 7th.

Consumers and their families will have an opportunity to ask questions at the meeting.  The forum, the third to be held this year, represents part of the state's promise to the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Department of Justice, and an independent court monitor to improve communications with the public about the consent decree. BHDDH officials also will give an overview of the department's recently-revamped website at the meeting.

In the meantime, the Division of Developmental Disabilities has released contact information for those who wish to call or email the division directly concerning service-related issues.  

Monitor Gives RI Mostly Passing Grades, Except for Failure to Pay Bills

By Gina Macris

Update: At the close of business July 26, all nine developmental disability service providers owed money for start-up costs in converting from sheltered workshops to supported employment had received payment in full, according to a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services. A list of the agencies and the amounts appear at the end of this post.

With one exception, the state of Rhode Island largely has met the latest deadlines of a federal court order which spells out how it must lay the groundwork for long overdue compliance with a 2014 consent decree meant to desegregate adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The state has until Friday, July 29, to pay up to $800,000 in start-up costs, as specified in the consent decree, for nine private service providers converting to community-based services from sheltered workshops, according to the court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley.

If that deadline is not met, Mosely said in a new report to U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., the judge should impose fines of $5,000 a day, with an additional $100 per day for each person protected by the consent decree whose employment or integrated day services are delayed or interrupted as a result of the violation.

Those fines, with a maximum of $1 million per year, were set forth in the order McConnell issued May 18.  It is the second time in three months that the state has faced the prospect of fines for failing to pay its bills in relation to implementing the consent decree.

Moseley said he had received assurances from Jennifer Wood,  the Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services, Jennifer Wood, that the Friday deadline will be met.

The plans for converting sheltered workshop operations to integrated employment services had been approved by the state and the bills for start-up costs had been submitted by the agencies at least three months ago.

The start-up activities are necessary to enable the service providers to meet employment targets in the consent decree. Moseley noted, adding that this point was made during April 8 evidentiary hearing, which McConnell used as the basis for his order, issued May 18.

According to an investigation of the U.S. Department of Justice, the sheltered workshops violate Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which says, in effect, that individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities cannot be relegated to segregated settings simply because they are disabled.

In the 2014 consent decree, the state agreed to change its services to emphasize integrated employment paying minimum wage or higher and other community-based activities over a ten-year period.

Moseley’s most recent status report was submitted to the court last Friday, July 22.

In it, he said that the budget enacted by the General Assembly, a total of $246.2 million for developmental disabilities, will provide sufficient funding to meet requirements of the consent decree during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2017.

The budget is still a little more than $11 million more than Raimondo had originally requested.

Budget provisions specifically related to the consent decree include:  

  • A total of $9.1 million for wage increases and performance-based contracts for providers offering integrated employment supports.
  • Funding for four state (staff) positions focused on consent decree implementation, including chief transformation officer, consent decree coordinator, employment specialist, and program development director.

Although the General Assembly did not approve Raimondo’s request for $5.8 million for a caseload increase, citing flat enrollment, Moseley noted that the legislature left the door open to reconsider if the numbers changed.

The monitor said 125 new cases had been approved during the fiscal year which ended June 30, although most of them were still in high school and were not expected to need a full array of adult services during the coming fiscal year. (According to the state's report, these cases encompassed ages 17 to 24.) 

Mosely did ask the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to report to him on any individuals protected by the consent decree “whose acceptance into the adult DD system is delayed or deferred due to lack of funding.”

McConnell’s order required the state to develop a management plan for accomplishing consent decree goals and tasks, and while Moseley said the plan met basic criteria, he found it lacking in detail on organizational strategies within BHDDH  and on interagency cooperation.

The lack of specificity is “understandable,” he said, given that three key positions at BHDDH are vacant. They are the department director, the director of the division of developmental disabilities and the chief transformation officer.

Moseley recommended that the state have until December 1 to expand and strengthen the management plan.

Other comments in Moseley’s status report focused on high school students with developmental disabilities who are 14 years and older and of particular concern to federal officials because they are at risk for segregation as adults if they are not afforded transitional services.

He secured a commitment that state employees from BHDDH or from the state Office of Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Human Services would be available to attend all Individual Education Plan meetings for special education students with developmental disabilities who are at least 14 years old.

Moseley noted that BHDDH has developed a protocol for timely communications with individuals having developmental disabilities and their families concerning applications for adult services.

He also recommended that BHDDH develop and distribute a description of the process for determining eligibility that is “clear, easy to access, user-friendly and written in plain language,” including contact information for BHDDH employees who would be able to answer additional questions.

“It is important to note that the eligibility determination process frequently is associated with a great deal of anxiety and concern among individuals with disabilities and their families,” Moseley said.

“By its nature, the process is technical, complicated, and difficult for a lay person to understand. Direct contact with an eligibility determination staff member offers an important opportunity for famelies to learn about the process and have their questions answered,” he said. 

Click here to read the monitor's full report

Service providers that received start-up costs for supported employment, as required by the monitor 

ri executive office of health and human services

ri executive office of health and human services

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.

 

RI House Finance Chairman Asks Whether DD Services Really Need Money; Gets Emphatic Yes in Reply

Maureen Gaynor uses assistive technology to testify before the Rhode Island House Finance Committee May 26. She says people with disabilities want the same thing everyone else does; a job, a role in their communities, and purpose in their lives. To her left is Lisa Rafferty, executive director of Bridges, a disability service provider.

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s developmental disability agency needs more revenue in the next fiscal year because it will not come close to saving a target of $16.2 million in group home expenses, the agency’s director, Maria Montanaro, told the House Finance Committee in a hearing May 26.

Montanaro emphasized that after eight years of cost-cutting in the developmental disability budget, the state now needs to add revenue to ensure that Rhode Island residents who live with intellectual challenges get the Medicaid-funded services to which they are entitled by law.

The Committee chairman, Rep Marvin L. Abney, (D-Newport), wasn’t necessarily convinced by Montanaro’s testimony, asking rhetorically, “Is money really the problem?” 

ABNEY                                          Image by Capitol TV

ABNEY                                          Image by Capitol TV

“We’re going on and on and on and on,” Abney said. “I’ll leave you with this thought. It’s not a question, but we are concerned,  is money really the problem? When we’re talking about efficiencies to the system, is money always the answer to that? You don’t need to respond, but just think of that as a director,” he said.

Montanaro did not reply, but other witnesses did say a lack of money is a key factor in ongoing federal court oversight of the state’s compliance with a two-year-old consent degree in which Rhode Island agreed to bring its disabilities services in line with the Americans With Disabilities At (ADA).

The agreement, with the U.S. Department of Justice, requires the state to enable more persons with disabilities to work in regular jobs, rather than in “sheltered workshops.” The decree also requires the state to help persons with disabilities participate in other community-based activities.

In an order issued May 18, Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. laid out 22 short-term deadlines the state must meet. Missing even one of them could trigger a contempt of court hearing. If the state is found in contempt, the judge would require the state to pay a minimum of $1,000 a day for violations of the consent decree, or as much as $1 million a year.  

The first requirement in McConnell’s order is that “the State will appropriate the additional money contained in the Governor’s budget for fiscal 2017 in order to fund compliance with the Consent Decree.”

The subject of the House Finance Committee’s hearing was Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget amendments for the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH),  for 2016-2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

In all, Raimondo has requested $18.7 million in added revenue for developmental disabilities, offset by an accounting shift of $1.8 million in home health aide services from BHDDH to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Also on the table is a proposal for about $6.8 million in additional appropriations in the current fiscal year to address a current budget deficit in developmental disabilities. 

If the General Assembly approves the supplemental appropriation, the bottom line in BHDDH’s Division of Developmental Disabilities would increase from $230.9 million to $237.7 million before June 30. Raimondo’s request for an additional $16.9 million in the coming fiscal year would push the overall disabilities budget up to $254.6 million, with about half that amount coming from state coffers. 

In fiscal 2016-2017, Raimondo seeks to make up $10.2 million of the $16.2 million she originally envisioned saving in reduced group home costs.

The governor also wants an additional $9.2 million in funding to raise salaries for staff who work with adults with intellectual challenges, or $4.1 million more than she asked for in February. 

In addition:

  • $180,000 would be set aside for an ombudsperson to protect the rights of persons with developmental disabilities
  • ·4.4 million would be restored to the BHDDH budget to prevent the inadvertent loss of professional services like occupational and physical therapy for some persons with developmental disabilities.

All the money comes from Medicaid, with a roughly dollar-for-dollar match in federal and state spending.

Montanaro, the BHDDH director, said adequate funding of developmental disabilities in the next budget would prevent BHDDH from running a deficit every year.

The developmental disability caseload, 4,000 to 4200 annually, also should be included in calculations of the state’s semi-annual Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference to prevent unexpected surprises in the budget, she said. 

Montanaro                                                               Image by Capitol TV

Montanaro                                                               Image by Capitol TV

The twice-yearly conference is a forum for top fiscal advisors to the Governor, the House and the Senate to reach consensus on the state’s revenues and Medicaid caseload expenses for the coming budget year.  

Montanaro said the $9.1 million in raises for direct care workers are necessary to satisfy the consent decree.

Without being able to offer higher pay, the private agencies that provide most of the direct services won’t be able to re-direct their efforts toward supporting their clients in jobs as the consent decree requires, Montanaro explained.

Workers make an average of about $11.50 an hour, often less than the clients they support in jobs in fast food restaurants, according to testimony at the hearing.

BHDDH originally counted on achieving $16.2 million in savings in the next fiscal year by convincing hundreds of group home residents to move into less expensive shared living arrangements with individual families, Montanaro said.

However, that effort has encountered resistance by individuals and families who find safety and security in group home living, she said.

Since BHDDH began what Montanaro described as a “full court press” on shared living at the beginning of this year, 10 group home residents have moved into private homes with host families, according to BHDDH statistics.

There are now 288 adults with developmental disabilities in shared living – an option that has been available for a decade in Rhode Island – and about 1300 persons living in group homes in Rhode Island.

Tobon                                                           Image by Capitol TV 

Tobon                                                           Image by Capitol TV 

When Montanaro originally testified in January about the plan to shift to shared living, it was in the context of closing a projected $6 million deficit in the current fiscal year.

Recalling that testimony, Rep. Carlos E. Tobon, (D-Pawtucket), a Finance Committee member, said he had been “really concerned” about the timetable.

“You had to sit over there and pretty much, not  convince us, but tell us that this is what you were going to do,” Tobon said. “What was your confidence in actually achieving that?”

“I think I was very clear with the committee that it was a very aggressive approach,” Montanaro replied.

“But the problem, Representative, that I want you to understand, is that we are mandated by (state) law to come up with a corrective action plan” to close a budget deficit, she said.

The choice was either to continue the eight-year pattern of cutting benefits or eligibility, while the federal court watched “the crumbling of that system,” Montanaro said, or to try to get savings by encouraging persons with disabilities to move into more integrated living arrangements.

Montanaro described it as a “Sophie’s Choice,” a dramatic allusion to a forced decision being forced to decide between two terrible options.

 “We knew we might have to come back and tell you our actual experience with that,” she said alluding to the fact that the short-term shared living effort has fallen far short of the goal.

 A gradual shift toward shared living is in keeping with a broad, long-range federal mandate to desegregate services for individuals with a variety of disabilities, but it does not address the Rhode Island consent decree, Montanaro said.

 
In the past several months, as the federal court watched BHDDH spending nearly all its efforts to try to save more money instead of working on the employment requirements of the consent decree, Montanaro said, the judge and the court monitor in the case became “very worried.”

The monitor, Charles Moseley, has said that timing is critical.

Unless the state meets certain benchmarks now, Moseley has said in reports to the court, it will not be able to fulfill the long-range requirements of the consent decree, which calls for a ten-year, system-wide shift from segregated to integrated day time supports for adults with developmental disabilities to comply with the ADA. The decree, signed April 8, 2014, expires Jan. 1, 2024. 

Montanaro said that concerns of the monitor and the judge over the state’s emphasis on cost-cutting instead of the consent decree requirements prompted a recent court order that spells out conditions under which Rhode Island could be fined as much as $1 million this year for contempt. 

In her testimony before the House Finance Committee, Montanaro drove home her point.

“The last thing I’ll say about it is that we really can’t afford to direct all of our departmental activity toward an effort that isn’t actually the effort that the consent decree is obligating us to pay the most close attention to, which is the employment issue,” Montanaro said.

“Judge McConnell and the court monitor want to see the state of Rhode Island make the necessary financial investments in transforming the system, and you can’t transform everything at once,” she said, alluding to Moseley’s concerns about timing.

Montanaro continued to explain, but that’s when Abney, the committee chairman, interrupted, asking his rhetorical question: “Is money really the problem?” 

Later in a hearing that lasted nearly two hours, Tom Kane, CEO of a private service agency, and Kevin Nerney, associate director of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, each told Abney that “it is about the money.”

Nerney said, “Whether I think it’s about money, or whether anyone else thinks it’s about money, there’s a federal court judge that thinks it’s about money, and the Department of Justice does, as well.”

Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, said “The reason the DOJ is here is a money problem,” he said. “We have jobs available for people (with disabilities) waiting to work,” he said, but providers of developmental disability services can’t hire the support staff “to make that happen,” he said.

Of 77 job applicants at AccessPoint RI during the month of April, 35 refused a job offer because of the low pay, Kane said. “They tell me they can make more sitting home collecting” unemployment benefits, he said.

Serpa                                                  Image by RI Capitol TV 

Serpa                                                  Image by RI Capitol TV 

As he has testified at previous State House hearings on the developmental disabilities budget, Kane said private service providers operate at an average loss of about $5,000 a year for each person they employ. 

Rep. Patricia A. Serpa, (D-West Warwick, Coventry and Warwick), asked whether executives of developmental disability agencies have received raises while their workers have been paid low wages in recent years.

Kane said he gave all AccessPoint RI employees a 3 percent raise in January, the first time since 2006. At the start of the 2011-2012 fiscal year, after the General Assembly voted to cut $24 million from the developmental disabilities budget, everyone took a 7.5 percent pay cut, he said.

Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, CPNRI, said all the member agencies that cut pay that year started at the top.

A review of IRS reports from organizations exempt from taxes shows that executives of developmental disability agencies with budgets less than $5 million make 25 percent less than those of other non-profit agencies in Rhode Island, Martin said.

In developmental disability agencies with budgets greater than $5 million, the executives make 30 percent less than those of other non-profit organizations in the state, she said.

Kane, meanwhile, asked the committee to think of the governor’s budget proposal as a “jobs request.”

KanE                                                    ImAge by Capitol TV 

KanE                                                    ImAge by Capitol TV 

Kane submitted a copy of research done by the University of Massachusetts Amherst which indicates that every million dollars invested in disability services in Rhode Island creates a total of 25 jobs. Based on that research, Kane said later, the $9 million Raimondo has requested to raise pay for direct care workers would translate into a total of 225 jobs.

Kane also said the state should “braid” funding from BHDDH with the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the state Department of Human Services (ORS) to fund “employment teams” that would be more effective than the two agencies working separately to try to do the same thing.

That idea came out of recent discussions between state officials and private agencies about a system-wide redesign of services, Kane said.

Bob Cooper, executive secretary of the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities, said he would add the state Department of Labor and Training (DLT) as another “braid” in Kane’s analogy.

Federal rehabilitation dollars channeled through DLT reimburse the state 78 cents for every dollar the state spends; a better deal than the 50-50 match from the Medicaid program, he said.

The federally-funded Disability Employment Initiative, a workforce development demonstration grant run by DLT, “was making a difference” before the grant ended and the program shut down March 30, Cooper said.

If the state is to comply with the consent decree, disability-related job supports involving BHDDH and ORS must be merged with DLT, the state’s primary economic development agency, Cooper said.

 

 

RI Governor's New Request for More DD Funding To Go Before House Finance Committee Thursday

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed adding nearly $16.9 million in state and federal revenue funds during the next fiscal year to shore up the state’s developmental disability system, which is under a federal court order to expand participation of adults with intellectual challenges in work and leisure activities in their communities to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The addition of these funds, in four disability-related categories, will be heard by the House Finance Committee May 26, along with dozens of other proposed amendments Raimondo submitted in light of positive revenue estimates made a few weeks ago by state fiscal analysts. 

The new revenue reflects a change in the Governor’s approach to budgeting for developmental disability reforms, which originally depended on cost-shifting within the Division of Disabilities in the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The disability-related amendments are:

  •  An additional $4 million - about equally divided between state and federal funds – to raise the wages of some 4,000 direct care workers for private agencies that provide most of the services to adults with developmental disabilities. The amendment would raise the total allocation for worker raises from $5 million to $9 million.
  • A $10 million increase in reimbursements to private providers, including $5 million in additional state revenue, to restore most of the cuts in housing costs made in the Governor’s original budget. That proposal projected 500 adults with developmental disabilities would move from group homes to shared living arrangements with individual families by June 30, 2017, although those estimates were later lowered to 300.  A total of 21 individuals have moved during the current fiscal year, according to the latest figures released by BHDDH. The added revenue will enable BHDDH to take a “more appropriate, more deliberative approach to transition individuals from group homes to shared living arrangements” in the future, according to Michael Raia, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
  • A total of $170,000 in state and federal funding for an ombudsman who would protect the rights of adults with developmental disabilities. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to define the office and its duties, in response to the death of a resident of a state-run group home in February.
  • Restoration of $4.4 million in state and federal funds used to pay for professional services like physical therapy in day centers, In February, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) sought to shift the entire $2.2 million to Medicaid managed care organizations, but families complained that services had in fact been denied. The action was rescinded in March.

One of many provisions of a U.S. District Court order issued by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. on May 18 is that “the State will appropriate the additional money contained in the Governor’s budget for fiscal year 2017 in order to fund compliance with the Consent Decree.” 

Any violation of that or any other requirement in the 21-point court order would allow the U.S. Department of Justice or the independent court monitor in the case to ask the judge for a contempt hearing. If the state is found in contempt, it will be fined a minimum of $5,000 a day for the duration of the violation, up to $1 million a year. 

In a telephone interview May 25, BHDDH director Maria Montanaro emphasized the need for the total $9 million Governor Raimondo has earmarked for wage hikes for direct care staff in the private service system, in addition to the other adjustments.  

Part of what the court wants is a redesign of reimbursement rates, which is more complicated than only raising wages, Montanaro said. The changes in reimbursement that the judge wants, however, can’t be accomplished without paying the workers more, she said. 

Raimondo’s budget originally envisioned an increase of $5 million in state and federal funds to pay for a 45-cent hourly wage increase for a workforce now making an average of roughly $11.50 an hour, according to testimony in recent House and Senate committee hearings. 

Montanaro could not say exactly how the additional $4 million in federal and state funds would further affect wages, but it would allow BHDDH management and agency representatives to discuss factors like the salaries of supervisors of direct care staff and the cost of employer taxes and benefits, she said. Those discussions would be held after the budget is adopted, she said. 

 Currently, private agencies are not fully reimbursed for those employer costs, spokesmen for the service providers have testified at recent budget hearings, and they operate at loss for each person they employ.  

 

 

Judge Says RI General Assembly Shares Responsibility for Implementing Decree

By Gina Macris

Key elements of Rhode Island’s compliance with a federal consent decree aimed at correcting violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act depend on funding that has not yet materialized.

The funding issue surfaced repeatedly during day-long testimony April 8 before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. who is overseeing compliance with the consent decree, signed in April, 2014.

 Officials who took the witness stand referred often to two items in Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year:  $5 million for wage increases to staff who provide direct care to the developmentally disabled and nearly $1.9 million for enhanced services to help a target group of about 75 people get jobs and gain access to non-work activities in their communities.

 Jennifer Wood, deputy secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said, “My task is to ensure that when the legislature goes home in July, that budget is intact.”

To which McConnell responded:  “I hope the legislature understands it is equally as responsible as the Governor for compliance. The Court will take action against whoever in government fails to fund it,” he said.

Wood said she would be sure to convey the message.

On Tuesday April 12, the House Finance Committee is expected to hear the budget proposal for the agency principally responsible for implementing of the consent decree, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Nicole Kovite Zeitler, a lawyer for the Department of Justice, contested the assertion the state made in an April 1 status report that it is in “substantial compliance” with the consent decree. The decree resulted from DOJ’s investigation of sheltered workshops that employed people with developmental disabilities at sub-minimum wage.

Any increase in the number of people with developmental disabilities who have gotten jobs in the last two years has not been the result of any state efforts, Zeitler said.

Rather, “if people are working it’s because job coaches and families work really hard” to help them, Zeitler said.

“The system will be at a standstill until a rate redesign allows employers to actually pay direct service providers a living wage,” she told the judge.

A redesign of the reimbursement rates to private agencies is one of several compliance efforts that the state has in the planning stages, although those talks have been going on for nearly a year, according to A. Anthony Antosh, director of the Sherlock Center at Rhode Island College. The Sherlock Center provides technical assistance and guidance to BHDDH on implementing the consent decree.

None of the testimony in federal court on April 8 made it clear how much money it would cost to overhaul the current reimbursement rate system or whether Raimondo’s budget proposal to increase funding is enough to accommodate such a change.

Antosh, however, said that the state is spending about $15,000 for each person with a developmental disability who attends a segregated day program, about half what it costs for job coaching and other community-based services.

Zeitler noted that funding letters that go out to individuals with disabilities do not say anything about employment-related services. Rather the letters list other categories of services and the associated funding.


“They need to cash in their hours for day services to buy employment services,” Zeitler said.  Moreover, the rate for job-related services is twice as much as for day services, she said. 


“That’s why we need to move to a different system,” said Wood, the deputy secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Zeitler said that the consent decree requires individuals have meaningful options for community integration no later than their 18th birthdays.

Wood said “that is occurring, but sometimes there’s a delay in the handoff.”

McConnell, however, referred to a statement filed with the court by the Rhode Island Disability Law Center, which said clients had experienced delays in obtaining services up to a year after their 21st birthdays.

Wood said she was troubled by that statement, and had asked staff to follow up.

“I am not in any way saying that is acceptable,” she said.

She said it is not state policy to begin adult services at age 21, but “it takes time for practice to meet policy.” (State law says persons with developmental disabilities become eligible for adult services at age 18.)

Wood testified extensively about efforts at high-level interdepartmental coordination, especially when it came to generating data for the purposes of complying with the consent decree. In fact, Wood herself emailed the most recent set of figures to DOJ lawyers after midnight the night before the hearing.

Lawyers for the DOJ and Charles Moseley, the court monitor for the consent decree, have been pressing for an accurate census of the population covered by the consent decree as a pre-requisite for determining whether the state is meeting its compliance targets on a continuing basis.

At the end of the day, Zeitler and Moseley said they still need time to figure out whether the latest head count - about 400 more than the 3,000 reported last week - was accurate and unduplicated.

Wood said a chief problem in gathering the data was that young people and adults with developmental disabilities may receive services from one to three agencies that for decades have not shared confidential information with each other.

But in the past few months, Wood said, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services has coordinated a push to change that practice. “We are now one big happy data family,” she said.

Going forward, Zeitler said, the DOJ will be watching to see whether the state fulfills its promises, like having an improved reimbursement structure in place for private service providers by July 1. 

McConnell’s next review of the case is scheduled for May 2.

“For whatever it took,” McConnell told Zeitler, “it looks like you got people’s attention. I hope you don’t lose that, either in the short run or the long run,” he said.

 

Court to Hear Evidence Friday on RI Compliance with Olmstead Decree

By Gina Macris

The state of Rhode Island says it is in “substantial compliance” with a 2014 consent decree  mandating a decade-long transformation of services for people with developmental disabilities to conform with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

That assertion, made in a compliance report filed April 1 in U.S. District Court, will face close scrutiny in an evidentiary hearing scheduled for April 8 before Judge John J. McConnell, Jr.

The judge also has in hand a recent report from the court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, that expresses doubts about the state’s ability to meet employment targets in the decree or sustain them over time. The decree remains in effect until Jan 1, 2024.

Other filings submitted this week say the state developmental disabilities agency delays services until young people reach the age of 21 – or later – in violation of state law.

One of the statements also says there is a dearth of job development services available to individuals with disabilities, because the state does not fund these supports. Instead, the state expects service providers to shift money from other funding categories to pay for job development.

In a joint motion filed March 1, Moseley and lawyers for both the state and the U.S. Department of Justice identified three issues that could stand in the way of full compliance: a lack funding, too few placements in community-based employment and other integrated activities, and insufficient leadership necessary to fulfill the requirements of the consent decree.

A month later, the state’s report says it has:  

  •   Put the necessary interdepartmental leadership in place, at an annual cost of $591,244.
  •   Exceeded current targets for supported employment.
  •  Has remained “fully committed to providing sufficient funding to effectuate the goals and targets in the consent decree.” The report cites millions of dollars spent since 2014 and proposed by Governor Raimondo in budgets submitted for General Assembly approval for the remainder of this fiscal year and for the next year.

The state identified more than 3,000 adults in segregated programs and secondary-school special education students who are currently covered by the decree.

In terms of employment goals, the decree requires relatively modest targets, starting with perhaps 150 new jobs a year, depending on how many of the job seekers are eligible high school students in a particular graduating class.

At its heart, the agreement requires the state to fundamentally transform its approach to daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities, and to show exactly where it is putting its money. Most of the population affected by the consent decree has worked in sheltered workshops or stayed in segregated day programs in violation of the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the right of people with disabilities live and work in their communities under Title II of the ADA.  

Among the key budget items the state cited in its April 1 report is a proposed $5 million increase for the wages of private agency staff during the next fiscal year; it would hike workers’ pay by about 45 cents an hour.

The “Enhanced Payments Direct Care Staff” would provide financial incentives to providers who commit to achieve targets for placing people with developmental disabilities in jobs according to timelines that satisfy the consent decree, according to the state’s report. 

The labor force working directly with people who have intellectual challenges makes an average of about $11.55 an hour, according to a spokeswoman for the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, which represents 23 private agencies that provide most of the services in Rhode Island.

Agencies operate at a loss for each worker they employ, because the state does not reimburse them for the full cost of employer-related taxes and other benefits, according to the spokeswoman, Donna Martin, who was interviewed about Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal in February.  The $5 million proposal does not contain a provision for employer-related costs.

 

DD System Under Financial Strain

BHDDH director Maria Montanaro, meanwhile, has acknowledged that past cuts in reimbursement rates have left the private provider system “fragile,” according to a Providence Journal report on her testimony before the House Finance Committee in early January. 

Providers report that the cuts have forced them to reduce wages, resulting in lower quality applicants and high turnover.

In a court order spelling out the parameters for the April 1 report, McConnell asked for evidence that the state is implementing performance-based contracts for community services, in conjunction with a “flexible reimbursement model” that includes incentives to service providers for placing clients in jobs. 

The state’s report does not mention a flexible reimbursement model.

The consent decree requires that the state “ensure that its reimbursement model for day activity services is sufficiently flexible to allow providers to be reimbursed for costs” directly related to supporting integrated employment, including those that are carried out “when service provider staff is not face-to-face with a client.”

The decree goes so far as to cite specific reimbursable activities, including negotiating with employers and counseling clients by telephone, which are not covered by the current system.

Currently, BHDDH reimburses private agencies for daytime services according to the amount of time each worker spends with a client. The time must be documented for each client and worker in 15-minute increments. Agencies are not reimbursed when clients are absent, for whatever reason. Unless a client has 100 percent attendance, the agency cannot collect the full amount of funding that BHDDH authorizes for each person on an annual basis.

In response to McConnell’s request for information on performance-based contracts, the state’s report says those are still in the planning stages in all agencies governed by the state’s Executive Office of Human Services, including BHDDH. The report indicated BHDDH would have performance-based contracts in place with service providers during the next fiscal year.  The consent decree says performance-based contracts were to have implemented by Jan. 1, 2015.

 

Consent Decree Requires its Own Budget

The 2014 agreement between the state and the Justice Department requires that the state maintain a budget that can track the amount spent on consent decree compliance that is distinct from general expenditures on behalf of adults and adolescents with developmental disabilities.

Besides the planned $5 million in wage increases, the state’s compliance report cites another $1,870,474 in enhanced services targeted for a total of 75 individuals who would move to supported employment from a sheltered workshop or a segregated day program during the next fiscal year.

McConnell had asked the state for individualized funding information and other information that “follows the person” as each of the individuals under the jurisdiction of the consent decree makes the transition from a sheltered workshop to community-based employment or integrated day services.

So that the court, the monitor, and lawyers for both sides can track specific individuals’ progress over time while protecting their privacy, McConnell said that each person should be identified by a letter code that blocks personally identifiable information.

The state did not submit any information that could be tracked on an individual level, but its report says that it has contracted with the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College to reconfigure an existing “Employment and Day Supports Survey” to accomplish that goal.

Beginning in June, the Sherlock Center will conduct the survey quarterly, providing all the requested data and enabling “ongoing measurement of targets related to the consent decree at the individual level,” according to the report.

BHDDH already has a $675,000 contract with the Sherlock Center to provide technical expertise and guidance to private agencies converting from segregated programs to community-based day services in a so-called “Conversion Institute” required by the consent decree. Governor Raimondo would keep that level of funding for the Conversion Institute in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

The state is “working systematically” with Sherlock Center on the Conversion Institute, as well as with direct support agencies, “to entirely transform the delivery system” for supported employment and integrated day services in Rhode Island, according to the report.

The state’s report identifies a total of 3,076 individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities under the purview of the consent decree, including 99 who left high school in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years.

The consent decree requires integrated employment for 75 adults formerly in sheltered workshops or segregated day programs by Jan. 1, 2016, and the state ’s report counted 101 who had met that goal.

Another of the decree’s requirements is that all of the 99 students who left high school in the past two years were to have jobs by July 1, 2015, but as of April 1, the state had identified 37 in that category who have work.  

Moseley, the monitor, told the judge in his most recent report report that his conversations with private providers and with BHDDH staff indicate that the agencies are not receiving any extra support to place people in jobs and may not be able to keep up the current pace.

 

Other Consent Decree-Related Funding

The state’s April 1 submission enumerates other consent decree expenditures, from July 1, 2014 through the end of the next fiscal year, June 30, 2017, at the three agencies responsible for implementation: BHDDH, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the Department of Human Services (ORS.)

The categories and amounts are:

  • $800,000 in each of the current and previous fiscal years for a consent decree “trust fund” to help direct service agencies with start-up costs for converting from sheltered workshop operations and segregated day programs to community-based supports.
  • $244,260 to the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS) and its State Employment Leadership Network (SELN) for guidance and technical assistance in transforming the state’s system of services. The SELN is a partnership between the NASDDS and Institute of Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
  • ·A tripling of the ORS budget for services to individuals with developmental disabilities, from $884,370 in the first fiscal year of the consent decree (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015)  to a projected $2,603,374 in the next fiscal year.
  •  More than $300,000 a year, through the next fiscal year, budgeted by RIDE for personnel and contracts to help implement the consent decree, in addition to supports provided by individual school districts to transition-aged special education students.
  • A total of $591,244 for new leadership positions focused on implementation of the consent decree: a consent decree coordinator, a chief transformation specialist, an employment specialist and a program development director.

Moving to Fill Leadership Gap

The most critical of the posts is that of the consent decree coordinator, Mary Madden, whose position gives her authority to bring about cooperation among BHDDH, ORS, and RIDE in implementing the consent decree, according to the report.

As recently as December, Moseley and lawyers for the DOJ had expressed concerns that the coordinator’s position, subordinate to BHDDH director Montanaro, did not have enough clout and that leadership was foundering. 

Since then, Madden has been appointed as the coordinator on a permanent basis and reports directly to the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Roberts, “with the full authority of the Secretary and the Governor,” according to the report.

“The Secretary of Health and Human Services, the deputy secretaries and each of the directors of the state agencies are personally involved in monitoring consent decree implementation” and are briefed regularly by Madden and by their representatives on an “Interagency Consent Decree Team,” the report said.

 

 

Judge to Consider Remedial Plan

 By Gina Macris

U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. is poised to consider a remedial action plan to hasten Rhode Island’s compliance with a two- year-old federal consent decree requiring the state to provide community-based daytime services, including employment supports, to people with developmental disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the state have “jointly determined that, in order to facilitate compliance with the consent decree in this matter, the parties would benefit from a court ordered remedial action plan,” according to a proposed order filed with McConnell in Providence March 1.

 The judge is scheduled to hear the status of the case on Monday, March 14 in Providence, although a spokeswoman for the Court indicated March 8 that the hearing date may be rescheduled. (Update: March 14 at 10 a.m. confirmed as date and time) 

 The proposed Court order, along with a supporting joint motion submitted by the DOJ and the state, spell out a road map for the Court to proceed in considering the facts in the case over the next two months.

In a telephone conference Feb. 24 requested by the state, all sides agreed that three issues stand in the way of full compliance, according to the proposed order. The order and the supporting motion both cite money, the number of integrated, community-based placements, and leadership.

 

Both sides committed to compliance

"Both Plaintiff and Defendant remain committed to resolving the above listed issues and any other issues identified by the court," according to the joint motion, signed for the DOJ by Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division, and for the state by lawyer Marc DeSisto.

DeSisto and lawyers for the DOJ, as well as a Court monitor in the case, have told McConnell that the state budget does not now have enough money allocated to implement the consent decree. The monitor, Charles Moseley, also has said that if the state does not meet certain benchmarks now, it will not be able to comply with the final requirements of the order once the decade of federal oversight concludes in 2024. 

The joint motion and proposed order both call for an evidentiary hearing on April 18 that would require the appearance of the head of the state Office of Management and Budget as well as the directors of three agencies responsible for carrying out the consent decree: the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) of the state Department of Human Services and the state Department of Education (RIDE). 

 A week before the hearing, the state would provide the judge with a written report on the status of compliance. During the hearing itself, “Defendant will provide the court with the information necessary to issue an order for remedial action to spur prompt compliance,” according to the proposed court order.

 The parties would reconvene May 2 so that the state can report on “progress relating to funding, placements, and the leadership required for full compliance,” as well as any other court order that may be outstanding at the time.

The monitor has sought the appointment of a secretary-level Consent Decree Coordinator who would have the authority to oversee compliance efforts of the three state agencies involved.   A secretary-level coordinator has been appointed only on an interim basis in recent weeks. 

RIDE is involved because it is responsible for providing transitional services, including school-to-work opportunities, for youth in special education as they approach their 21st birthday. These youth are of particular concern, according to the consent decree, because they are “at risk of entering sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs” when they reach adulthood.” 

 

Origins of the Consent Decree

The federal case started with a U.S. Department of Labor investigation into sub-minimum wages paid to people in one sheltered workshop. An expanded DOJ inquiry found that (Cut: found) teenagers and adults with developmental disabilities were being segregated from the general population in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The U.S. Supreme Court clarified the ADA’s mandate for integration in a landmark 1999 decision that many say struck down segregation for people with disabilities in the same sweeping way that Brown V. Board of Education banned “separate but equal” education for black students.

 The 2014 consent decree in Rhode Island, the first of its kind in the nation, spells out a series of specific deadlines for achieving an increasing number of supported job placements and individualized daytime activity plans over the 10-year period of federal oversight. 

Meanwhile, Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed a net increase of $8 million to the developmental disabilities budget now in place, with the total going from $229.7 million to $237.7 million for the period ending June 30. In the next fiscal year, developmental disabilities would receive a total of $235.2 million. 

Over the next 16 months, the governor’s plan would redirect more than $23 million within the developmental disabilities budget toward private agencies providing integrated daytime services. The state would create this financial boost largely by moving people out of group homes into shared living arrangements with families in communities throughout the state. 

This housing shift would involve 500 of 1300 people now in group homes moving into so-called shared living arrangements voluntarily by June 30, 2017, according to a BHDDH spokesman.  

Donna Martin, who represents an association of private agencies that support families offering shared living in their homes, has called the goal “very ambitious.”

 

Will the Budget Pass Muster with the Judge in Disabilities Case?

By Gina Macris

When Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo proposes a new state budget on Tuesday, Feb.
2, U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. will be watching to see how the state plans to keep its promise to reform employment opportunities and other daytime services for people with disabilities.

 Rhode Island isn’t spending enough money to meet the deadlines set out in two and three-year-old consent decrees reached in landmark cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

 And an independent Court monitor overseeing the state’s efforts has said that if Rhode Island doesn’t meet certain benchmarks now, it will be unable to accomplish long-term goals at the end of the decade-long federal supervision spelled out in the consent decree.  

 But at a hearing Jan. 26, a state lawyer told McConnell that Raimondo’s budget would be a “game changer” in advancing Rhode Island’s response to the mandates.

 An internal committee of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) tasked with redesigning services for people with developmental disabilities recommended $36 million in reforms last May,  but in an interview last Friday, a BHDDH spokesman said it is “very unlikely” that sum might appear in the governor’s proposal. 

If the Governor’s proposal falls short of McConnell’s expectations, it could set the scene for some courtroom drama during the upcoming months of budget deliberations at the State House.

The Court has the power to find the state in contempt – if it comes to that – and McConnell made it clear on Jan. 26 that he would not hesitate to use his authority if it is necessary. But said he hoped to avoid it.

 Let’s follow the case and the money at the heart of the issue before the Court.

The case surfaced in 2013 with a consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of Providence over Providence teenagers with developmental disabilities, who had been segregated in a program called the Harold A. Birch Vocational School. Birch prepared them for a lifetime of rote assembly-line jobs –at sub-minimum wage – in a sheltered workshop for adults at an agency called Training Through Placement in adjoining North Providence.

 The 2013 settlement – the first of its kind in the nation - asserted the young people’s right to receive services to support them in employment and day activities in more integrated, community-based settings in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 "The Supreme Court made clear over a decade ago (in the so-called Olmstead decision of 1999) that unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities is discriminatory. Such segregation is impermissible in any state or local government program, whether it be residential services, employment services or other programs,” a U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman said at the time.

A year later, in June, 2014, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division reached a statewide agreement with then-Governor Lincoln Chafee which mirrored the Providence settlement.

Today, 31 percent of Birch graduates are employed in community-based settings – up from 14 percent six months ago – but those numbers fall far short of the mandated goal of 100 percent, according to the independent Court monitor, Charles Moseley, whose oversight continues through 2024. 

 He and a Justice Department lawyer, Victoria Thomas, each laid out a laundry list of other deficiencies in the Jan. 26 hearing before McConnell, who said he wanted to see the parties before him again in three months. 

 Now to the money:

 In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005, Rhode Island paid $187.3 million in state and federal dollars to private agencies providing services to Rhode Islanders with intellectual disabilities, according to state figures. Currently, the state allocates $188.4 million to those services.  It’s all Medicaid money, with the state providing 45 cents on the dollar and the federal government paying the rest, according to the BHDDH spokesman.  

In the meantime, the number of people reaching adulthood with developmental disabilities has been increasing. The current annual rate is about 100, and the average yearly cost of supporting one person is $55,000. 

 From 2005 through fiscal 2008, the DD budget rose to $215.3 million. But as the shockwaves of the 2008 economic crash reverberated, the budget shrank, as did DD allocations in other states.

 While some other states started restoring money to DD services, Rhode Island slashed further.

 For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, the Rhode Island General Assembly chopped nearly $26.5 million off the allocation, reducing it from $206.5 million to just under $180 million. That’s a cut of 12.8 percent in one year.

And BHDDH put in place a reimbursement system that does not cover all the services that agencies provide during daytime activities – only face-to-face contact with clients. The legwork necessary to set up job interviews or community activities, for example, is excluded. This arrangement “incentivized” the segregation of people with developmental disabilities in sheltered workshops and day facilities, Thomas, the Justice department lawyer, told McConnell on Jan. 26.

 Even though the BHDDH administration changed with the inauguration of Raimondo as Governor in 2015, the reimbursement system remains in place. Moreover, BHDDH allows agencies to collect the money owed for daytime supports only through a burdensome reporting process that requires documenting each worker’s time in 15-minute blocks, for each client. If a client is sick, the agency does not get its client-specific incremental payment for that day.   

Since 2011,  private nonprofit providers have cut workers’ pay to an average of $11 an hour, staff turnover has skyrocketed, and two agencies have closed their doors.

 In an interview on Friday, the BHDDH spokesman, Andrew J. McQuaide, acknowledged that satisfying the mandate for integration “fundamentally costs more than the system we have now.” He agreed that the system is geared toward “congregate centers for day programs and employment.”  Service providers should be held accountable, though, said McQuaide, the department’s new Chief Transformation Officer.

 Last October, Maria Montanaro, the BHDDH director, told a group of parents that the $36 million in redesign recommendations had been tabled because of the cost.

 On Friday, McQuaide said it’s “very unlikely” the $36 million in reforms would re-surface in the Governor’s budget proposal. 

“I’m unaware of anyone who thinks the state can afford to increase the DD funding by $36 million in a single year,” he said. “It would be unprecedented in a single fiscal year.”

“The question becomes how to sequence this,” McQuaide said.

 He said he couldn’t speculate on how the court will react.

 “There’s no way of knowing what would please the court,” he said. But “at the end of the day I am optimistic we will move in the right direction.”