RI DD Rate Reviewers Asked To Fix Payment System That Still Promotes Segregated Care

By Gina Macris

This article was updated June 17 with a response from the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

The Rhode Island state agency which funds services for adults with developmental disabilities has acknowledged for the first time that its underlying reimbursement system for private providers is structurally deficient for complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act as required by a 2014 federal civil rights decree.

While the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) has pursued services promoting greater independence for adults with developmental disabilities, “the underlying reimbursement system has lagged,” according to a statement of the scope of work outlined for a consortium tasked with reviewing reimbursement rates.

The rate structure “is grounded in past practices and cost bases associated with the provision of services in the sheltered workshop setting,” BHDDH officials wrote.

“In order to adequately meet consumers’ needs, providers have been paid supplemental funds to address the deficiency in the payment rates,” BHDDH explained in the contract.

BHDDH has a contract with the New England States Consortium Systems Organization (NESCSO) to update a rate structure that has not been reviewed for eight years and to suggest alternates to the current payment methods.

In describing the work ahead for NESCSO, BHDDH says it is:

“seeking to further promote the development of a service system and associated reimbursement arrangements that maximize the opportunity for persons with DD to participate to the fullest possible in community-based activities.”

In 2014 the U.S. Department of Justice found that the reimbursement system incentivized segregated care in sheltered workshops and day centers in violation of the Integration Mandate of the ADA, reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Olmstead decision.

The Obama administration began vigorously enforcing the Olmstead decision in 2009, but the consent decree in Rhode Island was the first settlement that addressed segregation in daytime services rather than housing.

The consent decree provides a decade-long period of federal oversight of the state’s efforts to change the system. Enforcement of the consent decree entered its sixth year April 9. It will take at least another year for changes in rates and payment methods to go into effect, with the approval of the General Assembly. Enforcement of the decree is set to expire in 2024, but the state would have to show substantial compliance before federal oversight ends.

While some improvements in services have been made, the contract with NESCSO indicates that BHDDH officials believe the reimbursement system has held back compliance efforts.

Staffing Ratios Hinder Needed Flexibility

The underlying problem, said the BHDDH director in an interview, is a rule that requires a ratio of 60 percent funding for community-based activities and 40 percent funding for center-based daytime care in each client’s individual authorization.

The contract language alludes to this situation in describing staffing ratios. It says two areas of “particular focus” are daytime rates paid for employment-related and non-work services. In sheltered settings, for example, there might be one worker for every ten clients. But in the community the number of clients for each worker would have to be much smaller.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, said the department seeks a “predictable rate structure not driven by very precise ratios” but rather by the needs and preferences of individual clients.

The supplemental payments intended to mitigate the deficiencies in the underlying system “are an increasing portion of overall payments, reflecting the inadequacy of the current rates,” the contract language explained.

According to department officials, that language was meant to refer to the historical trend, in which supplemental payments had increased to as much as $7.8 million in a three-month period.

Boss froze new approvals at the end of 2017, except for emergency health and safety considerations and a couple other narrowly defined exceptions, to try to curb a multi-million dollar deficit at a time when Governor Gina Raimondo seemed inclined to cut developmental disability services significantly.

According to records BHDDH turns in to the General Assembly every month, the supplemental payments from January through March of this year have declined to $3.6 million, about half the total for the same period in 2018.

Historically, supplemental payments have been awarded only when consumers, families, or providers have made successful appeals of individual authorizations. The appeals, which often have required considerable time and energy, must be made annually, or the authorization reverts to the original amount. The appeals process is but one facet of what many families and providers describe as an unstable system.

Kerri Zanchi, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said supplemental payments are still a big part of reimbursements to private providers, and BHDDH wants NESCSO and its consultants to scrutinize them as part of the review process.

Study Commission To Hear from NESCSO

The rate review coincides with the work of a special legislative commission studying the current reimbursement system, called Project Sustainability.

On June 18, the commission will meet to hear presentations about employment and transportation issues from Scott Jensen, director of the Department of Labor and Training; and from Scott Avedesian, CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

On June 25, the executive director of NESCSO, Elena Nicolella, is scheduled to appear before the commission to give an update on the rate review now being conducted by four consultants under NESCSO’s supervision.

In the meantime, some commission members have given BHDDH their own statements on how they think consultants should approach the work and their ideas for a new system of services that allow consumers and their families to shape the way state funds are used.

A spokeswoman for providers has urged NESCSO and its consultants to gain a thorough understanding of what it costs for a private agency to provide services under the terms of recently-revised regulations for provider operations and quality certification standards.

These bureaucratic steps are part of the state’s efforts to comply with the consent decree and the federal Medicaid Home And Community Based Final Rule (HCBS). Like the consent decree, HCBS embraces the integration mandate of the ADA, but it is a nationwide rule applying to all community-based services funded by Medicaid.

Paradox In Unspent Funds For Employment

Tina Spears, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, warned that simply looking at the way providers utilize the current reimbursement model, which is based on segregated care, will not give the complete picture of the needs of the system.

She did not mention specifics, but a case in point is the performance-based supported employment program, which was funded by a $6.8 million allocation made by the General Assembly in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2016. That allocation still has not been completely spent.

Excluding a start-up period from January through June of 2017, the program spent $2.5 million the first year, from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. It’s expected to spend $4 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, according to a BHDDH spokesman.

Providers initially complained that they could not meet their costs with the series of one-time incentives offered by the program, which was built on same reimbursement system designed for center-based care.

Incentives and enhancements were made more generous during the second year, and negotiations are underway for a third year of the program.

In the meantime, Rhode Island’s last sheltered workshop closed last year and BHDDH says community-based, competitive employment has increased to about 29 percent of adults with developmental disabilities.

A study released by two nationwide associations of providers in January said Rhode Island’s rate of competitive employment was about 19 percent, but that figure dated from 2015. The “Case for Inclusion” ranked Rhode Island 32nd in the nation on its integration efforts. It was compiled by ANCOR - the American Network of Community Options and Resources, and UCP – United Cerebral Palsy.

Consumers Want More Control Over Money Assigned To Them

Kevin Nerney, executive director of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, and Kelly Donovan, who receives state-funded supports, each called for a system that allows greater consumer control of state funding and greater flexibility in the way it is used.

The state should “ensure that funding is available across all imaginable living arrangements,” particularly in situations where a consumer owns or rents a property and a caregiver or family would like to move in. The caregiver or consumer should be allowed a stipend, as is permitted in many other states, to make this type of arrangement viable, Nerney said.

The state should also ensure that adults with developmental disabilities have the support of familiar staff while they are hospitalized to avoid the trauma of being in an unfamiliar environment where they can neither make themselves understood nor understand what is being said to them, Nerney said.

In addition, the state should adopt a way to assess the support a person receives from family or friends in deciding funding levels. While most of those receiving services from the Division of Developmental Disabilities live in the family home, that home may include a large healthy family, a single aging parent, or a grandparent with Alzheimer’s and a sibling who also has significant needs for support, Nerney said.

And he called for more funding for those hired by self-directed consumers and their families to write support plans necessary to qualify for state funding. The expectations for the plan writers have multiplied over the last 20 years but the fees remains the same at $500 for the initial plan and $350 for an annual renewal, Nerney said. There should be an allowance for self-directed families who need ongoing coordination of services, he said.

Kelly Donovan, who herself receives services from BHDDH gave a concrete example of what greater control and flexibility might look like.

She said people should be able to enjoy an outing without:

A: going home early because a staffer’s shift ends

B: taking everyone in your group home with you, even if one or more of them really didn’t want to come.

“People should be able to have their designated time to themselves and opportunities to be involved in community activities,” she said.

The public may submit comments or questions about the rate review process by email at BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov. Please copy and paste the email address into your email program, or get a link by visiting http://www.bhddh.ri.gov/developmentaldisabilities/community_forums_event.php

In response to this article, Randal Edgar, a spokesman for BHDDH, released the following statement on June 17:

The article published on June 12 on the Olmstead Updates blog presents a misleading picture of Rhode Island’s system of care for adults with developmental disabilities.

The headline claims this system “promotes segregated care.”

This assertion is false.

The article attempts to back up this assertion up by referring to language in a state contract with a consultant that is reviewing the rates paid to DD providers. But in referencing the contract language, the article misreads the intent of that language.

The contract language speaks from a historical perspective. It states that while the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals has pursued the development of “a services system that supports greater independence” for the DD population, “the underlying reimbursement system has lagged.” It goes on to say that the “basis for the development of prevailing rates is grounded in past practices and cost bases associated with the provision of services in the sheltered workshop setting.”

Acknowledging that the existing rates are grounded in past practices and need to be updated is not the same as saying the system as it operates today promotes segregated care, and in saying it does, the article ignores and/or minimizes many steps the department has taken to improve the care provided to adults with developmental disabilities. It should be noted that the reporter met with BHDDH officials for more than an hour but did not press this assertion and obtain their view of the contract language.

The article is wrong again when it states that department froze new approvals for supplemental payments in 2017 to help offset a budget deficit. The department reduced those approvals, applying more stringent standards, not because of a possible budget deficit but because this made sense from a policy standpoint.

Finally, the article gives voice to people outside the department, asking them to describe where the DD care system should go, without giving BHDDH officials a chance to share their vision. In the process, it conveys a false impression that BHDDH officials are not passionate about moving this system forward.

We are disappointed that the article did not present a more complete and accurate picture.

Separately, the public may submit comments or questions about the rate review process by email at BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov. Please copy and paste the email address into your email program, or get a link by visiting http://www.bhddh.ri.gov/developmentaldisabilities/community_forums_event.php

RI DD System Needs Stable Funding For Quality Services and Productive Lives - Commission

By Gina Macris

A successful model for funding Rhode Island’s developmental disability services would be more complex than simply increasing workers’ wages, members of a special legislative commission agreed at a meeting May 6.

Kelly Donovan, a commission member who herself receives services, said the work of the support person is “not a job; it’s a commitment.“

In a high-quality system of services, Donovan said, direct support professionals and the people they serve have a relationship. They develop strong bonds.

The discussion nevertheless returned repeatedly to the lack of funding that permeates the system, with rules that commission members say make it rigid and unresponsive to those needing services.

Peter Quattromani, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy of Rhode Island, said agencies that ask their employees to “ commit” to the persons they serve also require them to commit themselves to “a life of poverty” because employers, dependent on state funding, can’t pay salaries commensurate with professional work.

As a result, Quattromani said, the agencies are hiring “very temporary employees.”

“We don’t appreciate what it takes on the part of the individual to turn their life over to a staff person,” Quattromani said. Every time there’s turnover, there’s a new intrusion in that person’s life, he said.

The CEO of West Bay Residential Services, Gloria Quinn, said “I can think of examples when people go along with people and don’t know them. It gets complicated to do the right thing at the right time.”

But West Bay Residential has an annual staff turnover rate of 34 percent and a job vacancy rate of 15 percent, said Quinn, who recommended a system that is adequately funding, “including appropriate compensation for a well-trained workforce.”

At the same time, she said, there are employees who are doing an “incredibly important and skillful job” even without the compensation they deserve.

Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the commission chairman, said there is a great disparity in pay in two parallel systems of services.

“We do value the profession” of supporting adults with developmental disabilities, he said, as long as it is the state-operated network of group homes and facilities called RICLAS, short for Rhode Island Community Living and Supports. But private providers, who perform the same direct support work, are not valued, DiPalma said, referring to the state’s chronic underfunding of these agencies.

He said he never saw the situation quite that way until Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, framed it in those terms during a recent budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.

RICLAS workers start at about $18 an hour, while entry-level workers in the private system average about $11.40 an hour. On an annual basis, the starting salary at RICLAS is $37,291, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). As state employees, RICLAS workers also get a full package of benefits.

DiPalma said that when the current fee-for-service reimbursement model was enacted by the General Assembly in 2011, the “right questions weren’t asked. We can’t let that happen again.”

He said he firmly believes that today, all legislators would say they value the work done in supporting adults with developmental disabilities, but “the critical thing is ‘how do we get there’? “ He alluded to a reimbursement model in which wages reflect the value of the work.

In Kelly Donovan’s vision of the future, adults with developmental disabilities will receive training and support in making their own decisions in an informed manner. And support persons will respect those decisions, she said.

Kate Sherlock, a commission member and lawyer with the Rhode Island Disability Law Center, concurred.

For a long time, the role of the staff person has been to “speak up for people,” she said. Instead, staff should facilitate decisions made by clients.

But clients “do not have the real opportunity to decide what they want, because there are not enough options,” Sherlock said. Decisions should not be “either-or,” she said. “It shouldn’t be ‘do you want chocolate or vanilla ice cream.’ “

“People want to live with people they choose. They want a job they like and they want to make a decent amount of money,” Sherlock said.

Enabling clients to make meaningful decisions about belonging to their communities and engaging in activities they want, as well as giving them the opportunity to eat healthy foods and be active and fit will at the same time elevate the staff role into a position that can have greater impact and be more desirable – even fun, Sherlock said.

The Disability Law Center supports a bill that would give legal standing to adults who support those who need assistance in decision-making, Sherlock said, but the measure is encountering difficulties in the Senate. DiPalma said he would look into it.

Commission members agree that Rhode Island needs to abandon its fee-for-service reimbursement system in favor of one that gives clients an annual budget with flexibility to spend it on what they want and need to enable them to live regular lives in their communities, in accordance with a 2014 consent decree and federal Medicaid rules reinforcing the Integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Not only is the current system under-funded but it is saddled by rules that make it too restrictive, they say.

Among the needs discussed May 6 are funding for:

  • training and career paths for staffers

  • Technology, such as smart phones and other devices and software, that can help clients become more independent from staff.

  • ·Easier access to transportation, which might include Uber and Lyft options to lessen clients’ dependence on staff time, which can be better used providing other types of supports

  • Better access to affordable housing

  • More intensive community-based mental health services that can prevent psychiatric hospitalizations.

In addition, the developmental disabilities caseload must be counted in a way that better informs budget makers, according to Quinn, the CEO of West Bay Residential Services.

All the recommendations which members have presented through May 6 can be found here .

The next meeting will be May 22, when commission members are expected to continue presenting their recommendations.

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.