RI Consent Decree Task Force Details Concerns About DD Services In Report To Federal Monitor

By Gina Macris

Many young adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island are still not receiving services to which they are entitled in a timely manner. Some are not getting services at all.

These conclusions have emerged as the consensus of the Employment First Task Force (EFTF) concerning Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental challenges who are trying to get regular jobs and other integrated services promised by a federal consent decree signed nearly four years ago.

The EFTF grew out of a provision of the 2014 federal consent decree which called for a bridge between the public and state government.  An independent court monitor on the case has made it clear that he expects the EFTF to provide a reality check from the community as the state tries to desegregate its services for adults with developmental disabilities to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Task Force, including developmental disability professionals in the private sector, family members and consumers themselves, summarized its observations and recommendations covering the last half of 2017 in a recent progress report to the court monitor, Charles Moseley.

In 2016, under pressure from Moseley, the U.S. Department of Justice, and U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., the state cleared a backlog of as many as 250 applications for adult services and developed an “eligibility by 17” policy.

The policy is intended to allow families plenty of time to plan a smooth transition for their sons and daughters to move from high school to the adult world. Most special education students eligible for adult services from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) stay in school until the age of 21.

Nearly a year after the “eligibility by 17” policy was announced, in July, 2017, EFTF members were still hearing comments relayed by special education professionals that some families of students were notified of their eligibility but weren’t told how much money they would be allocated in time to plan individualized and meaningful services.

In response to follow-up questions from Developmental Disability News, a BHDDH spokeswoman said in an email August 3 that the agency, working with the Rhode Island Department of Education, local school districts and the Rhode Island Parent Information Network,  is “able to adhere to (the state’s) ‘eligibility by 17 policy.’ ”

"Logjam Cited In Onset Of Adult Services

 But five days later, Claire Rosenbaum, an EFTF member who works as the adult services coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said at a public forum that “there seems to be a logjam” when families are trying to figure out how much money the state has awarded them and what it will buy.

At the time, Kerri Zanchi, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, (DDD) said her division aimed to give families a one year to plan before their son or daughter leaves left high school and needs needed adult services.

But Rosenbaum said a year is not long enough. Families may explore their options and settle on a particular agency, only to be told it cannot accept a new client with a particular disability or disabilities, she said.

That scenario is not uncommon. A precarious fiscal landscape has prompted many providers of developmental disability services to limit the number of new clients. 

Often, families turned down by one or more agencies  decide that the only way they can get a customized, high quality program is to organize it themselves and pay individual workers through a designated fiscal agent that handles the budget. Once that decision has been made, the families must begin planning all over again, Rosenbaum said, reiterating her conclusion that a year is not enough.

In December, DDD provided data about "eligibility by 17" that EFTF had requested six months earlier, including:

  •  The number of applications and the ages of applicants
  •  The number found eligible and the time span between application and eligibility determination
  •  The number of newly eligible persons who received an initial needs assessment and the time span between the eligibility determination and the assessment interview
  • The number who began receiving adult services and the time span from the completion of the needs assessment

In its report, EFTF said that DDD is “actively charting when and why gaps in the process appear.” 

The “gaps in the process” are not defined in the report. But it said Task Force members and state officials agreed to meet regularly to “determine what issues, if any, exist in this process and how to address these issues.”

Data released by BHDDH in quarterly public forums in November and February shed light on some of the requests that had been made by EFTF; the number of applications, the ages of the applicants, and a breakdown on the proportion found eligible. 

The “eligibility by 17” policy assumes that 16 and 17-year olds are submitting applications to BHDDH for adult services, but the most recent data indicates that the 16 and 17year-old age group accounted for only 11 percent of applications between August, 2016 and February 10, 2018. The lack of applications from younger students suggests that the “eligibility by 17” policy hasn’t been thoroughly communicated to families. (See chart below.) 

graph on age distribution of applicants.JPG

At the same time, one table indicates that the proportion of applications from 16 and 17 year-olds has been increasing in the last year.

students applying earlier.jpg

At the most recent public forum, BHDDH officials also presented information on the proportion of applicants that have been found eligible for services. Of 635 applications received between August, 2016 and Feb. 16, 2018, a total of 595 have been decided, including 264, or 44 percent, that were approved without any additional documentation.

The data indicated that an additional 158, or 27 percent, eventually would be approved once documentation was completed.  

Other Issues Raised By Task Force

The Task Force also expressed concerns about other issues. They include:

  • A lengthy needs assessment done for each person eligible for services
  • The ramifications of a push for more individualized, or “person-centered” services and the planning that goes into them
  • An overall approach, dubbed “conflict-free,” in which planning, funding, and service delivery are handled by separate entities so that the best interests of individuals with developmental disabilities are not compromised. Currently, BHDDH handles funding and assessment and approves individual service plans developed by private agencies or independent developmental disability professionals.

Assessing Individual Needs  

 In November, 2016, the state implemented a revised needs assessment, called the SIS-A  (Supports Intensity Scale - A). The SIS-A had been promoted as more accurate than the previous version, and the Task Force concurred.

“Reports seem to indicate better results,” the report said.

At the same time, the Task Force found “ongoing challenges.”

For example, the Task Force said the SIS-A, developed by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was “not intended to be a funding mechanism.” That’s the purpose for which it is used in Rhode Island and many other states.

The Task Force recommended that an independent third party be chosen to provide “better interviews” and eliminate conflicts with funding decisions.

Highly detailed interviews with persons eligible for developmental disability services and their families are at the heart of the SIS-A assessment process. Both the assessment and the individual funding decisions are in the hands of BHDDH.

During the interviews, families are very reluctant to speak in great detail about the “deficits and struggles” of the individual at the center of the assessment process, but they don’t understand that this hesitance may result in lower funding for their loved one, the Task Force said.

“Families don’t understand that the first ten minutes of questions which capture exceptional medical and behavioral issues dictate a substantial difference in funding,” the report said.

The Task Force recommended that community organizations, like Advocates In Action, the Cross Disability Coalition, The Rhode Island Public Information Network, and a new parent advocacy group called  RI-FORCE, offer training to their constituencies on the interview process of the SIS-A.

A Call for True Conflict–Free Planning

The report tackled the challenges of so-called person-centered planning, in which the needs and preferences of an individual drive short-range and long-range career and life goals, regardless of the immediate limitations of program offerings of a particular agency.

 In person-centered planning, these individual needs and preferences also drive budgetary decisions, although it is generally understood that not all the supports needed by a person with developmental disabilities will be provided by paid staff.  

“It is our opinion that implementing real, conflict free person-centered planning could have a greater positive effect on people’s lives than the consent decree itself,” the Task Force wrote.

“While there has been some recent movement on the issue,” according to the report,  Rhode Island has been out of compliance for four years with Medicaid regulations for conflict-free individualized planning and management of services.

The Task Force said individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and service providers all have shown resistance to the person-centered planning initiative now underway.

Some consumers and their families “view this as an additional layer of bureaucracy, while others would prefer all their dollars go to services rather than planning. Some family members are concerned that they would not be as involved using this process,” the report said.

Service providers, who are paid for planning individualized client programs, fear that they will not be able to meet the individualized needs of clients, particularly with limited funds, high staff turnover, and limited transportation options, according to the report.

There is a concern that “conflict-free” removes the staff who best know the individual from the planning process, the Task Force said.

It also expressed concern that there are no additional funds to provide conflict-free planning, saying that redistributing existing planning funds that now go to private providers “may destabilize already underfunded services.”

While calling for additional funding for person-centered planning, the Task Force also urged a continuation of a series of workshops on “person-centered” thinking and planning that is offered by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College to promote better communication on the topic. 

Some of the perceptions about person-centered planning “are based on misunderstandings and the general fear that comes with any change,” according to the report. “Communication on this issue will be extremely important.”

BHDDH is trying to address the issue of funding, both to achieve conflict-free planning and case management and to balance its budget in the next fiscal year.

Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal seeks the General Assembly’s approval to amend the Medicaid State Plan so BHDDH can apply for a Health Home waiver that would provide a 90 percent reimbursement rate for person-centered planning and other specific services for two years. 

The earliest such a Health Home might begin operation, on a pilot basis, would be in January, 2019,  and that might be optimistic, according to Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director.

Supported Employment At Issue

The Task Force, meanwhile, expressed concern about the overall effectiveness of a pilot program in supported employment that is intended to focus on the individual.

“Task Force members expressed concerns regarding the ‘person-centeredness’ of the program, the training requirements to participate, communications regarding the program, and overall effectiveness,” the report said.

Existing staff-to-client ratios prohibit individualizing job seekers’ daily and weekly schedules, according to the Task Force, although that comment did not refer specifically to the pilot program.  DDD also offers job-related services outside the demonstration program.

The Task Force recommended some of its members meet with state officials regularly to review data and develop strategies to ensure the success of the Person-Centered Supported Employment Performance Program.

RI Employment First Task Force Seeks Data To Compare DD Eligibility Policy and Practice

By Gina Macris

A year ago, Rhode Island adopted a policy allowing students with developmental disabilities at least 12 months before they left high school to plan their entry into the adult world.

Now, the Employment First Task Force wants to know whether the policy and the reality are one and the same.

Word of mouth among special education professionals is that in some cases, the families of students notified they will be eligible for adult services from the state Division of Developmental Disabilities nevertheless aren’t given a budget in enough time to make a good adult service plan before they leave school.

Claire Rosenbaum, the Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, raised the issue at the most recent meeting of the Employment First Task Force July 18.

The task force chairman, Kevin Nerney, of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, said he would ask state developmental disability officials in writing to come to the group’s next meeting with data showing how closely the state is adhering to its “eligibility by 17” policy.

The state established the policy in July, 2016, in response to a U.S. District Court order which said it must eliminate service gaps for eligible young adults once they leave high school. Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. had been presented with evidence that eligible young adults sat at home doing nothing for weeks or months after they left high school because adult services were not in place.

Young adults are one of four categories of individuals with developmental disabilities who are protected by a 2014 consent decree requiring the state to move away from sheltered workshops and non-work programs akin to day care toward purposeful activities in the community, with an emphasis on jobs paying at least minimum wage. 

The consent decree envisioned the Employment First Task Force as a group representative of adults with developmental disabilities, families, and community organizations that could serve as a bridge between the public and state government.

The eligibility policy says that, unless there is a need for extra documentation, students should be notified within 30 days of filing applications whether they will receive adult services. If they are eligible, they should be scheduled for an assessment of need, called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS, within 30 days. And 30 days after the assessment, they should be notified of the individual funding allocations they have received, according to the policy.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) said July 20 that "it will take some time" to gather answers to detailed questions about adherence to the timelines in the "eligibility by 17"  policy and additional questions about the SIS.

Questions raised at Tuesday’s meeting about the eligibility timeline overlapped with queries contained in a task force report to Charles Moseley, an independent monitor appointed by the court to oversee  implementation of the consent decree.

In the report, approved by consensus Tuesday, the task force recommends that Moseley collect detailed information on various aspects of the application and funding process and appeals of decisions made by the state. The task force previously has requested application and eligibility data from the state but has not received it, according to the report.

Other sections of the report covered a number of topics, including “person-centered planning,” an individualized approach to arranging services that incorporates a range of personal choices that go far beyond menus of activities that may offered by one provider or another.

Moseley has made it clear he believes person-centered planning is the foundation for compliance with the consent decree,

Nerney, the task force chairman, said in the group's report that he believes such truly individualized planning “could have a greater positive effect on people’s lives than the consent decree itself. “

At the same time, “you can’t destabilize the current provider system while building a new one,” Nerney warned.

Rosenbaum said that truly individualized, or “person-centered” planning, a comprehensive process requiring a skilled facilitator, can’t be done properly with the amount of money available in the state’s developmental disability system.

The next meeting of the Employment First Task Force, open to the public, has been set for Aug. 8 at 2 p.m. at the Community Provider Network of RI, 110 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. It will adjourn at 3 p.m. to avoid any conflict with the quarterly public forum sponsored by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities. That forum runs from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Coventry Department of Human Services and Senior Center, 50 Wood St., Coventry.

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 DD Director Invites Families to Help Overhaul Design of Services With Individual Needs in Mind

Photos by Anne Peters

Photos by Anne Peters

Kerri Zanchi, center, Director of the RI Division of Developmental Disabilities, is flanked by administrators Heather Mincey, left, and Anne LeClerc, right, as she addresses the audience at a public forum in Newport May 2. 

By Gina Macris

Beginning May 10, Rhode Island’s Division of Developmental Disabilities plans to involve the adults it serves, their families, service providers and advocates in a step-by-step process to overhaul the way it does business .

Kerri Zanchi, the new director of the division, told Aquidneck Island residents who attended a public forum May 2 at the Community College of Rhode Island that the initial discussions will inform an effort to re-write the regulations governing developmental disability services to put the needs and wants of its clients front and center. 

The changes have two drivers:

  • A 2014 consent decree requiring the state to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act by providing employment supports and access to non-work supports in the community.
  • A compliance deadline of March, 2019 for implementation of a Medicaid rule on Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), which requires an individualized approach to care, treating individuals with disabilities as full-fledged members of their communities.  

Both the consent decree and the HCBS rule draw their authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which amounted to a desegregation order affecting all services for all individuals with disabilities.

 Zanchi used the term “person-centered” to sum up the kind of planning and practices that go into the new inclusive approach.  A. Anthony Antosh, director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, elaborated.

A. Anthony Antosh

A. Anthony Antosh

“The way the system has worked forever is that someone else controls what people get. We want people with disabilities to get more control of their own lives,” he said. “Resources support part of their lives but not all of their lives,” he said.

He said that in several states, including Texas, Kentucky and North Carolina, faith-based support networks in various communities have resulted in a “dramatically broader network” of personal relationships for individuals with disabilities. “And 80 percent of them have jobs,” Antosh said.

To flesh out the concepts of individualization and integration and how they might work in Rhode Island,  Antosh and Zanchi will co-host a series of discussions to explore the idea and solicit comments throughout the month of May.

The first two sessions will be held in the morning and evening of Wednesday, May 10 at the Sherlock Center. (Details at end of article.)

 “It’s a lot of change. It’s a pivotal time,” Zanchi said. But “if you don’t have a strong person-centered practice, it’s really hard to move the system forward and comply with the consent decree and HCBS.”

Zanchi said she and her staff will pull together comments from all the public sessions and present the results to the public in the early summer, setting the stage for regulatory reform.

Howard Cohen

Howard Cohen

Howard Cohen, whose adult son has developmental disabilities, took a dim view of the current regulations.  While the goal was to “even up the playing field among the agencies” by establishing uniform rates of reimbursement, he said, the regulations resulted in “a lot of resources toward book keeping rather than managing care.” 

And “the last time, the regulations got ramrodded through,” Cohen said, an allusion to the regulatory changes adopted by the General Assembly in 2011 as part of “Project Sustainability.”

Kevin Savage, director of licensing for developmental disability services, said all those with a stake in the regulations – including families – will be invited to participate in writing new ones.

The new regulations will not be aimed at “correcting past mistakes” but will try to conform to the law reflected in the consent decree and in HCBS, he said. The process also is expected to result in 20 percent fewer regulations than there are now, Savage said.

Zanchi emphasized that compliance with HCBS will mean a change in case management, or the formal approval process for allocating resources to each person’s program of services.

Currently social workers, who have an average caseload of 205 clients per person, share the case management responsibilities with provider agencies, she said. But HCBS sees an inherent conflict of interest in providers making decisions about the services they themselves furnish, to the possible detriment of the individualized goals of the client.

Zanchi said some states use third-party case management and others have state employees do the job, with a “firewall” between them and the fiscal arm of state government.  In Rhode Island, changes in case management won’t come until 2018, she said.

She also told family members that the state would explore expanding the options for residential care, an issue of particular concern to older parents in light of a virtual freeze on group home admissions. HCBS expects states will move away from group home residential care.

After the meeting, Zanchi was asked how changes in practice brought about by the new regulations would be funded.

“When we figure out what it (the service system) would look like, then we need to figure out the funding for it,” she said.

During the forum, Dottie Darcy, the mother of an adult with developmental disabilities, wondered aloud how officials would “develop a system, without money, to account for the needs of all the people. At some point funding has to be addressed,” she said.

“I think it’s outrageous” that service providers “can’t keep workers” because they can’t pay enough, Darcy said.

She lamented a lack of organized advocacy with members of the General Assembly on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Claire Rosenbaum, a member of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, said it is in the process of trying to revive its family organization to do exactly the kind of work Darcy described, “but it’s not there yet.”

The first two sessions on “Person-Centered Thinking and Planning” will be Wednesday, May 10, from 10 a.m. to noon and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities on the campus of Rhode Island College, 600 Mount Pleasant Ave., Providence. These meetings will be of particular interest to families who direct their own programs of services for family members, but all sessions in the series are open to the public.

Those wishing to attend should RSVP with Claire Rosenbaum by May 8 at 401-456-4732 or crosenbaum@ric.edu

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.

 

Consent Decree Task Force Session Separates "Employment First" Fact From Myth

Photo by Anne Peters

Photo by Anne Peters

Mary M. Madden, Rhode Island Consent Decree Coordinator, left; and Ray Bandusky, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Disability Law Centerm right. Madden spoke about exceptions to the consent decree "employment first" policy at a recent meeting of the Employment First Task Force.  

By Gina Macris

The 2014 consent decree designed to broaden employment opportunities for persons with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island doesn’t mean that everyone who receives adult services must work.

Yet the idea that there are no exceptions to the consent decree’s “employment first” philosophy has grown into a myth, resulting in considerable confusion and anxiety about the impact of the agreement on those who might not be suited for supported employment in the community.

The issue surfaced in several public forums in the past few months.

For example, in early April, state lawmakers heard from one of their colleagues about a man whose medical records listed 17 surgeries, and yet his family was told his support services for daytime activities would be cut off unless he looked for work.

A few weeks later, at a different forum, state officials were told about a 56-year old man who, according to his sister, doesn’t understand the concept of work. His family also was told he needed to look for work, or face loss of daytime support services.

In fact, the consent decree makes allowances for these kinds of cases. But it appears that its provisions are not well understood by the public, and in at least in some cases, by state employees assigned to help individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

At a statewide meeting in late March, the organization Advocates in Action poked holes in several misconceptions about the consent decree with a series of wacky skits wrapped around the title “Mythbusters,” a take-off on the movie “Ghostbusters.” Advocates in Action, whose members are consumers of developmental disability services advocating for themselves, produced the show, with support from their peers and staff. The first myth they debunked was the “no-work/ no-funding” notion.

The topic of exceptions to the employment policy in consent decree came up most recently at the May 10 meeting of the Employment First Task Force at the offices of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI) in Warwick.

The Task Force is a creature of the consent decree, which specifies that its membership must include representatives of consumers, families, and a variety of community organizations focused on developmental disabilities, like the Rhode Island Disability Law Center, the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, the Rhode Island Parent Information Network (RIPIN), and others..

The Task Force, whose membership does not include any representative of the state disability agency, is intended to serve as a resource for both government and the community.

At the May 10 meeting, the federal consent decree monitor, Charles Moseley, pointed out in a telephone conference call that the agreement does contain an “employment first” policy. The policy serves as the foundation for remedying Rhode Island’s violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA), which says that disability services and supports should be applied in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate for an individual.

The policy makes “work in integrated employment settings the first and priority service option” for adults with disabilities, according to the consent decree.

That said, both Moseley and the state’s consent decree coordinator, Mary M. Madden, agreed on the exceptions to the policy.

Madden, who attended the meeting in person, elaborated. She said individuals who say they don’t want to work will be asked to first participate in trial vocational and work experiences so they can later make an “informed choice” about employment.

If they ultimately choose not to work, they must apply for a variance to the “employment first” policy, she said, but if they are of retirement age, or have health and safety issues that prevent them from looking for a job, no variance is necessary.

Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Supports Coordinator for the Sherlock Center on Disabilities, said “nobody in the community” knows what the variance process is. The notion that certain individuals would be exempt from seeking a variance “is not being communicated at all,” she said.

Madden said “lots of people have significant health concerns. They may say, ‘my goal is to maintain my health’ and consider employment in the future.”

“If you’re in crisis, you’re not thinking about a job. Without the context of that information,” she said, “just talking about the variances” isn’t useful.

Madden was asked about the criteria for determining that someone has a medical or behavioral issue exempting the individual from pursuing employment. She said she didn’t know. “That work needs to be done very soon,” she said.

It’s complicated, she said. Some people have very complex disabilities who are nevertheless working, she said, “and you don’t want to take that off the table for someone.”  

The consent decree required the court monitor and the parties to the agreement - the state and the U.S. Department of Justice - to “create a process that governs the variance process within 30 days” of the date the agreement was signed.

That signing date was April 8, 2014.  The variance process still hasn’t been hammered out completely, although Madden indicated it would be finished over the summer.

One big unanswered question is the cost of providing services that are required as part of the variance process.

The consent decree says that to be in a position to make an “informed” choice about job-hunting, someone must first participate in a vocational assessment and a sample work experience, as well as receive education and information about employment and counseling about the effect of employment on disability benefits. 

Madden, in a follow-up email, referred a reporter to Andrew McQuaide, Chief Transformation Officer at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. Efforts to reach McQuaide Thursday and Friday May 12 and 13 were unsuccessful.

The dissemination of information about the “employment first” policy, as well as exceptions to it, was to have been part of a communications plan the consent decree required to be in place by Sept. 1, 2014, but like the variance process, the communications plan has not been finalized.

The plan, still in the works, is intended to provide public education and information about the decree and connect various segments of the developmental disability community with each other.

Moseley, the monitor, must approve it, and he has been asking for progress reports, most recently in a filing with the U.S. District Court.

At the task force meeting, Madden said “there is agreement in very general terms” on the plan.

Questions of cost and sources of funding have not been resolved for the communications plan, according Sue Donovan of RIPIN, who is familiar with it.

For readers wishing additional information:

Mary M. Madden, the state’s consent decree coordinator, has offered to answer questions about the consent decree via email, at mary.madden@ohhs.ri.gov or by phone at 527-2295.

·        Here is variance language from the consent decree:

L. Any individual eligible for a Supported Employment Placement, but who makes an informed choice for placement in a facility-based work setting, group enclave, mobile work crew, time-limited work experience (internship), or facility-based day program, or other segregated setting may seek a variance allowing such placement. Variances may only be granted after an individual has:

1. Participated in at least one vocational or situational assessment, as defined in Sections II(11) and (16);

2. Completed one trial work experience, as defined in Section II(15);

3. Received the outreach, education, and support services described in Section X; and

4. Received a benefits counseling consultation, as described in Section IV(6).

M. If a variance is granted, the individual must be reassessed by a qualified professional, and the revised employment goal reevaluated, within 180 days, and annually thereafter, for the individual to have the meaningful opportunity to choose to receive Supported Employment Services in an integrated work setting. The Parties and the Monitor shall create a process that governs the variance process within 30 days of entering this Consent Decree.

N. Individuals who seek a variance from this Consent Decree, but who are unable to participate in a trial work experience, pursuant to Section V(L), due to a documented medical condition that poses an immediate and serious threat to their health or safety, or the health or safety of others, should they participate in a trial work experience, may submit documentation of such a condition to the Monitor to seek exemption from Section V(L)(2). Exemptions from trial work experiences will be subject to the Monitor’s approval.

O. The State will ensure that individuals currently in sheltered workshops who receive a variance pursuant to Section V(M) will continue to receive employment services.

The entire consent decree can be found at this link.

 

Bigger DD Budget Appears "Safe", Families Upset by Lack of Funding and Services

Photo by Anne Peters

Photo by Anne Peters

Donna Martin, Executive Director of the Community Network of Rhode island, left; and Kevin Nerney, Chairman of the Employment First Task Force, right. 

By Gina Macris

Despite positive signals about more state funding for developmental disability services in Rhode Island, members of the Employment First Task Force acknowledged May 10 that in general, families remain angry and upset with officials of the state’s primary service agency, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Task Force members who keep tabs on developmental disability issues on the General Assembly’s legislative agenda said that Governor Gina Raimondo’s plan for increased funding appears to be safe as the legislature approaches the final three or four weeks of its session.

Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), said she heard recently that more legislators  grasp the idea that “the consent decree is something they need to pay attention to,” even if they don’t understand all the details.

“That’s good to hear,“ said Charles Moseley, assigned to monitor the state’s implementation of a 2014 consent decree between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice. In the consent decree, the state agreed to reorganize daytime services for the developmental disabled to focus on community-based jobs and other activities to comply with the integration mandate of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act. (ADA)

U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. has promised “swift and dramatic” action if the General Assembly does not provide sufficient funding to meet the immediate requirements of the decree.

At Tuesday’s task force meeting, informal updates on other disability-related topics suggested that, in general, families apparently are not yet realizing benefits of the consent decree, now at the start of the third year of its ten-year span.

There is widespread dissatisfaction among families about issues that reflect chronic underfunding, complicated by a lack of communication or miscommunication from the state, according to the tenor of comments shared at the meeting.

Kevin Nerney, chairman of the task force, expressed concern about individuals with developmental disabilities who had difficulty finding suitable services and had received letters from BHDDH saying they had been cut from the rolls because they hadn’t used their allocations.

Photo by Anne Peters  

Photo by Anne Peters 

Some of the concerns go back more than two years. Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities, (right) said she understood from informal conversations with BHDDH officials that about 400 individuals had received such letters as of February, 2014.  In the fall of 2015, when the topic was revisited by the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, a BHDDH official said another 50 individuals had been sent similar letters.

Rosenbaum said after Tuesday’s meeting that she understood BHDDH social workers tried to reconnect with individuals who they knew had been looking unsuccessfully for services.  The task force did not have more recent information on how many of those removed from the BHDDH client roster may have been reinstated.

Efforts to get additional information from BHDDH were unsuccessful Wednesday.

About two dozen private agencies providing most of the supports in Rhode Island to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities are operating at a loss and routinely tell prospective clients their programs are full.

Rosenbaum also said young adults eligible for BHDDH services are continuing to leave school and sit at home for months at a time because suitable adult programs are unavailable.

Although a spokeswoman for the state has said eligibility for adult services begins at age 18, Rosenbaum reiterated that, in actuality, BHDDH does not determine eligibility until about four to five months before applicants leave school or turn 21, leaving insufficient time to arrange services.  

In many cases, school departments provide services for intellectually and physically disabled students until they turn 21. Even so, under provisions of Rhode Island law, students with intellectual disabilities are eligible for adult services at the age of 18. Until students leave high school,  the consent decree envisions adult services as supplementary, such as facilitating and supporting vocational assessments and employment experiences, or actual part-time or summer job placements.

In addition, the adult service system would pay for the time of social workers and other professionals to help students and their families formulate individualized adult programs and find service providers.

 (BHDDH is in the process of negotiating a contract with the Rhode Island Parent Information Network to provide support to some young adults and their families who are grappling with transition issues, according to RIPIN’s representative on the Task Force, Sue Donovan.)

Rosenbaum, meanwhile, has filed a statement with U.S. District Court describing the problem, which figured in testimony in an April 8 evidentiary hearing before Judge McConnell. McConnell is poised to consider a request for corrective action to implement the consent decree. The request has not yet been filed.

While BHDDH officials insist there have been improvements in an interview procedure connected with periodic reviews of individual funding levels, Mary Beth Cournoyer, (below), a parent representative on the Task Force, said those assertions are not borne out by an informal survey she did of parents and others familiar with the process.

Photo by Anne Peters

Photo by Anne Peters

Cournoyer said that she knows interviewers have been told “not to badger parents” by challenging the answers they give about their son’s or daughter’s needs.

Nevertheless, the interviewers continue to do so, said Cournoyer,

She said she has heard enough to recognize a pattern of argumentative interviews followed by reduced funding levels.

Others have complained about the so-called Supports Intensity Scale (SIS) interview and the associated funding decisions,  most recently at a “town hall” meeting April 27. There, the mere mention of the “SIS” by a BHDDH official triggered a round of laughter in an audience of about 100 people, mostly family members.

On that day, Charles Williams, director of the BHDDH Division of Disabilities, told parents to file an appeal if they disagree with the SIS results. Almost all, if not all, appeals are granted, he said.  

The SIS interview, based on a set of standard multiple choice questions, was designed by the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to gauge the supports or services needed to help an individual achieve his or her goals.

It does not take into account the risk of removing those supports.

The DOJ has found that that BHDDH has used the SIS to determine funding levels, and the consent decree prohibits the continuation of that practice.

The Employment First Task Force, required by a provision of the consent decree, is a group representing community agencies, individuals with disabilities and their families. Among other things, it was intended to serve as a bridge between state government and the public.

But public reaction to the consent decree, most prominently the backlash at the recent “town hall” meeting, has led Nerney, its chairman, to question the role of the task force as a filter for communications from the state.  

He said there hasn’t been an open line of communication with the state in the past, and he told the DOJ that “I don’t think this group should be a funnel.” Expanding on this point, Nerney said the real need is for “actual participation” in the plans that emerge from the state to comply with the consent decree.

“When BHDDH develops a plan, they should have stakeholders at the table,” he said. The more participants at the table, the more stakeholders there will be in the outcome, he said.

Others agreed. “Everybody wins when we strategize and work together,” said Kim Einloth, senior director at Perspectives Corporation, a private service provider.

Tom Kane, CEO of Access Point RI, another service provider, said he would like to have a plan “shared with everybody and shaped by everybody.”

 “We would like to have the ability to anticipate so we can pass information along as well. I, for one, am tired of being reactive,” he said. 

Allegations of Service Gaps, Lack of Job Supports, Challenge RI Compliance With Consent Decree

By Gina Macris 

this article has been updated

Rhode Island has not expanded job development services to people with developmental disabilities as required by a 2014 federal consent decree, according to a key professional at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College. 

Claire Rosenbaum, the adult services coordinator at the Sherlock Center, filed a statement in U.S. District Court April 6 that says the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) does not include job development as part of its standard package of services. Instead, the department expects them to shift money from other funding categories to do that.
 
Rosenbaum’s statement helps lay the groundwork for a challenge to a claim by the state that it is in “substantial compliance” with the decree.  Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. is to hear evidence in the case Friday, April 8 at 10 a.m. 
 
Separate statements about delays and inadequacies in services, particularly for young people eligible for transitional supports, were filed earlier this week by the Rhode Island Disability Law Center and by Tammy Russo, the mother of a 23-year-old man who receives BHDDH-funded services. 
 
Rosenbaum’s statement concurred that “one of the greatest problems is the gap in services experienced by many individuals with disabilities as they transition from youth services to adult services.”  
 
“I know individuals who have experienced a gap in disability services, spanning anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to a year or more,” she said.
 
Often, because many providers are refusing new cases, the only option is so-called “self-directed supports”, in which individuals or their families manage specific BHDDH allocations, organizing services and hiring their own direct service workers, Rosenbaum said.
 
Rosenbaum, who is widely respected in the developmental disability community, has an adult daughter who receives BHDDH-funded services, and her job puts her in touch with about 250 adults with disabilities and their families.
 
She said the lack of openings for new clients in the direct service system makes it difficult for individuals to get job development services. 
 
Unlike BHDDH, the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the state Department of Human Services provides funding to direct service agencies for job development services.  However, it pays a flat rate for each job placement, no matter how extensive the needs of the client. Consequently, the developers tend to work with less challenging candidates for employment,  Rosenbaum said.

Direct ORS employment services tend to be limited to job assessments which many clients find to be “excessive and not beneficial to finding employment,” she said.

In another statement filed with the court, Anne M. Mulready, supervising attorney of the Disability Law Center, said Rhode Island law makes youth with disabilities eligible for adult services once they reach 18, but clients say BHDDH does not process their applications until they approach the age of 21.

Mulready currently represents two 19 year-old clients with complex needs whose families each have been waiting about a year for word on eligibility from BHDDH.

“It will take a significant amount of time to plan for and locate appropriate services for these clients,” she said. “Although they are currently in school, BHDDH participation in planning and coordination needs to be occurring now, so that these individuals will not experience gaps in services when they exit high school,” she said in the statement.

In her statement, Russo said she waited two years for BHDDH to find her son, Joey, eligible for services. She searched for five months to find a service provider, because seven of the ten she contacted were not accepting new clients.

Then, BHDDH delayed the start of services until a month after her son’s 21st birthday, which was Jan. 20, 2014, Russo said.  

Because her son’s agency was unable to organize a program of community-based supports for Joey, Russo did it herself, putting together a schedule that included exercise at the YMCA, education at the library with workbooks and supplies she provided, as well as bowling and volunteer experiences she arranged through people who knew Joey at school or in the community.

In effect, Russo served as the architect of the “person-centered planning” now required under terms of the consent decree. She said support staff have told her that their employer used the plan she organized for Joey as a model for helping other clients.

Rosenbaum, meanwhile, said that another “persistent problem” is inaccurate assessments of individuals’ needs and correspondingly inadequate allocations of funding.
 
“I know individuals who have had their (funding) lowered following a reassessment,” she said, despite the fact that the answers were very similar to the original assessment.
 
“Furthermore, I have heard complaints that some interviewers are not recording the respondents’ answers as given and/or are challenging those responses” during the assessment interviews, Rosenbaum said.