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 ORS Official Queried About 28 In Olmstead Consent Decree Population Waiting For Services

By Gina Macris

The names of 28 adults with developmental disabilities, ostensibly protected by a 2014 federal consent decree mandating they receive job-related services, are nevertheless on a waiting list for assistance from the Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services. That figure is 5 more than ORS reported as of Feb. 1.

Joseph Murphy                   Photo By Anne Peters 

Joseph Murphy                   Photo By Anne Peters 

Joseph Murphy, vocational rehabilitation administrator for ORS, gave an update on the waiting list Feb. 13 when he attended the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force, a group created by the consent decree which is representative of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and community organizations working with them.

The waiting list had a total of 399 names as of Feb. 7, according to an ORS web page, with most of the affected individuals having a wide variety of significant disabilities.

Of that group, the 28 individuals at the center of the discussion at the task force meeting have developmental disabilities, physical or intellectual challenges that have been present since birth or childhood. These applicants for ORS services are supposed to have legal protection through the Olmstead consent decree against having any waiting period for services – a fact pointed out by Deb Kney, Director of RI Advocates in Action. The consent decree derives its name from the U.S. Supreme Court decision which clarified the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Murphy said the consent decree monitor and the Department of Justice undoubtedly are watching the situation closely, as is the judge in the case. Murphy referred to comments made from the bench Nov. 30 by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. about his concerns that adequate state and federal funding be available to provide the services the consent decree requires. The next court hearing related to the consent decree is April 10.

Murphy said the monitor, Charles Moseley, and DOJ lawyers will visit Rhode Island Feb. 26 through 28th  to assess the latest developments in the implementation of the decree. 

When he notified the monitor of the waiting list, Murphy said, the monitor reacted with dismay. “He said, ‘Oh my,’ “ Murphy told task force members.  Regulations of the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) require the states to set up a waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services when they can’t serve all eligible applicants.

In this case, the waiting list was triggered by the state’s unexpected loss of about $3 million in federal aid, which was re-directed to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

The regulations require states to prioritize the order in which someone is removed from the list according to the degree of a person’s disability. Rhode Island’s so-called “Order of Selection” policy list has three levels of disability, but ORS is planning to amend the criteria for the highest priority category

Currently, applicants for ORS services in the highest priority category are those with mental or physical impairments that limit their ability to function on the job in at least three of seven different ways cataloged in state policy.  A proposed amendment would reserve the highest priority status for individuals those whose disabilities affect them in a minimum of four ways, according to an ORS spokeswoman. A public hearing on the matter will be March 8.

Murphy said that because of the consent decree, ORS is working with the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals to help protected clients find employment-related support elsewhere. 

The waiting list didn’t go into effect until Dec. 19, nearly three weeks after it was supposed to start, because changes in ORS policy needed formal approval from the federal RSA, Murphy said.

On the first day, there were already 324 names on the list, he said. Counselors “are in shock,”  Murphy said.

Murphy said the waiting list is “particularly awful because we were just starting to make headway” serving the consent decree population.

No one is affected who was already receiving services when ORS imposed the waiting list.

ORS receives $10.4 million from Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.But in the last few years it was able to supplement that basic grant with as much as $3.5 million in so-called “reallotment" funds  collected by the federal RSA from states that don’t meet their vocational rehabilitation obligations and re-distributed elsewhere.  For the federal fiscal year that  began Oct. 1, the re-allocation funding came to just $532,000.

While the reallocation money wasn’t set aside for clients with developmental disabilities, a lot of it went to help this group because that’s where the demand was, Murphy said. He characterized the consent decree as an “unfunded mandate.”

 

Two Pilot Programs, Two Approaches to Supported Employment, Aired at RI DD Task Force Meeting

By Gina Macris

(This article (been corrected.)

Between January and mid-August, about one in four Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities who were enrolled in a new supported employment program landed jobs, with help from private service agencies funded through the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

But there are signs of strain on the ability of these agencies to train the workers they need to continue to deliver results over the long haul.

 In the meantime, the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) has started a much smaller pilot project , now in its second quarter of operation.

The two pilots take different approaches to funding employment-related supports for adults with developmental disabilities.

The DDD program adopts a fee-for service reimbursement model – based on the severity of a client’s disability - and a complicated billing mechanism that is similar to the one set up six years ago by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) for funding all developmental disability payments to private providers.

There is no provision for funding up front to support agencies’ costs for training workers to provide employment-related services.

The ORS project offers a flat rate of $7,000 per client, with $1750 up front so provider agencies can train and assemble a team of employment specialists. Providers are eligible for two additional quarterly payments of $1750 as long as they document the progress the clients are making.  A final payment  of  $1750 is awarded at the end of a year’s time only if the client has landed a job.

According to a recent report to a federal court monitor, state officials are evaluating both the ORS and DDD approaches to determine “what aspects of each model work for providers, what challenges exist, and how ongoing efforts of the two agencies can be coordinated.”

Tracey Cunningham and Joseph Murphy

Tracey Cunningham and Joseph Murphy

Joseph Murphy, an administrator at ORS in the Department of Human Services, and Tracey Cunningham, Chief Employment Specialist in the developmental disabilities division at BHDDH, gave status reports on their respective programs at the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force Sept. 12.  

Cunningham said that between January and mid-August, the DDD program found jobs for 116 of a total of 425 adults with developmental disabilities who were enrolled. Nine others found jobs that didn’t work out, Cunningham said, and they are looking for better matches.

The program could take on an additional 92 clients, up to a maximum of 517, according to figures provided by Cunningham. However, service providers are having trouble lining up the trained staff to expand their rosters and want to focus instead on doing a good job with the clients they already have, Cunningham said.

Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator for the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said one training course was cancelled recently for lack of enrollment. The Sherlock Center has a contract with the state to provide the needed training tuition-free.

In addition, the “self-directed” families, those who manage services independently for loved ones, are having a difficult time finding properly trained job developers and job coaches, Rosenbaum said. 

Cunningham said about 90 percent of “self-directed” families who seek supported employment services purchase them from private agencies.  But Rosenbaum said families are having difficulty identifying agencies able to help them.

Cunningham said three agencies are accepting clients from “self-directed” families:  Goodwill Industries, Work, Inc., and a new program called Kaleidoscope.

Nicole Kovite Zeitler

Nicole Kovite Zeitler

Nicole Kovite Zeitler, a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice who monitors supported employment in conjunction with a 2014 consent decree enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), asked what was driving the providers’ inability to expand.

 Low salaries are the primary reason, said Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association representing about two thirds of the private agencies providing services in Rhode Island.

She said aging baby boomers also are creating an increased demand for direct care workers. Turnover is high – about 35 percent - and one in six jobs goes vacant in the developmental disability system, she said.

The General Assembly this year enacted the second consecutive raise for direct care workers. (Read related article here.)

But the increase, an estimated 42 cents an hour before taxes, is not expected to make a significant difference in the existing subsistence-level wages. Nor will it be any easier for developmental disability agencies to hire or keep new workers.

Meanwhile, the funding for the DDD supported employment program has been greatly under-utilized, even while the developmental disability service agencies have struggled to hire and train enough workers. (Read related article here.)                                 

The DDD program provides increased allowances for  job-seekers, based on the degree to which they lack independence,  but  most of the expenditures are set-aside for one-time performance bonuses to the agencies when:

  •  A job coach or job developer completes training
  •  A client gets hired
  •  A client remains employed for 90 days
  •  A client remains employed for 180 days.

Agencies receive $810 for each worker who has completed training. The remainder of the bonuses are arranged on a sliding scale, depending on the severity of the client’s disability, with the largest payments resulting from placement and retention milestones for those with the most complex needs.

Excluding any reimbursements for worker training, which were not part of the original design of the DDD program, the average maximum one-time reimbursement was initially projected to be $9,700 for young adults and $15,757 for older adults – those who left high school before 2013. Any updated figures were not immediately available.

The pilot operated by the state Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS)  works with seven developmental disability service agencies to help a total of 49 clients find jobs. Five have had success so far, Joseph Murphy, program administrator, told task force members.

The ORS program, which receives technical assistance from Salve Regina University in Newport,  is now in the second quarter of the program year, while DDD program is in the third quarter. 

The ORS program considers a successful placement to be a minimum of ten hours a week in competitive, integrated employment in the community, although Murphy said Sept. 14 that it accepts clients no matter how many hours' work they seek. The ORS program offers a $1,000 bonus for job placements that exceed 20 hours a week and last at least six months. In the DDD program, a successful placement may involve fewer than 10 hours' work a week.

Victoria Thomas

Victoria Thomas

The employment goal of the consent decree is an average of 20 hours a week of work at minimum wage or higher, although DOJ lawyer Victoria Thomas said there are no hourly employment requirements in the ADA.

“It just says people with developmental disabilities should have the option of integrated services,” she said.

The consent decree resulted from findings of the DOJ in 2014 that the state’s developmental disability services  over-relied on segregated sheltered workshops paying sub-minimum wages and non-work programs resembling day care.  As part of a system-wide overhaul, the state must support increasing numbers of adults with developmental disabilities in competitive employment in the community through Jan. 1, 2024.

The Employment First Task Force was created by the consent decree to serve as a bridge between state government and the community.

All photos by Anne Peters

This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that the up-front payment to providers in the ORS supported employment program is $1,750, one quarter of the total $7,000 allocation per client. In a clarification, Joseph Murphy, the program administrator, said it accepts clients no matter how many hours a week they seek competitive employment, even though a placement must be for at least ten hours a week to be considered successful for the purposes of the 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.

Monitor Wants Mountains of Details to Push Compliance With RI Olmstead Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

If the state of Rhode Island were building a network of roads to help adults with developmental disabilities get to their jobs, town libraries, or classes at the local Y, then construction could be described as well underway.

But that’s not to say the infrastructure is complete and travelers are rushing to use these new highways on their way to richer lives. 

This image of a work in progress serves, in effect, as a snapshot of what a federal court monitor sees in an ongoing transformation of the state’s developmental disability service system. 

In a recent report to U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., Charles Moseley says Rhode Island has made solid gains in its efforts to comply with a 2014 consent decree enforcing the Olmstead decision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires disability-related services to be offered in the least restrictive setting that is therapeutically appropriate. And that setting is presumed to be the community. 

The state has increased funding by $11 million, filled key leadership posts, offered more training, and put into place policies and programs to help adults with developmental disabilities find jobs and enjoy activities in their communities.

Priorities for Compliance 

 While acknowledging these efforts, Moseley indicated the state is still out of compliance with the consent decree. Among his top recommendations, Moseley said the state must:

• Strengthen supported employment for young adults up to the age of 25. Job placements for young adults are “significantly below consent decree requirements,” he said.

• Increase funding to expand supported employment and community-based, integrated day services during the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, and in future budgets. The state “needs to take steps to ensure additional funding is available to address caseload increases” related to special education students moving to adult services, he said.

• Increase providers’ capacity to provide services. “Provider agencies do not yet have the numbers of trained staff needed to ensure the provision of services and supports required by the consent decree” Moseley said.

• Eliminate service delays.

Moseley says the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Office of Rehabilitative Services (ORS) have said that service providers can meet the need for employment and community –based supports required by the consent decree.

“But families of individuals with IDD (intellectual or developmental disabilities) who are requesting DDD services for the first time have reported to the monitor that access to needed supports has been prevented or delayed by providers who refuse to accept new referrals,” Moseley said.

“Provider refusals appear to be directly linked to DDD payment rates and rate setting practices,” he said.

Twenty-two of the state’s 36 private service providers have agreed to participate in a program of one-time bonuses paid for staff training, job placements, and job retention, according to state officials. 

That initiative is still accepting applicants and cannot yet be evaluated, Moseley said, although it is expected to ease the service gap over time.

Moseley found it “important to note,” however, that the state has not offered any other kinds of incentives to agencies that chose not to apply to the incentive program, or to providers that did not receive start-up costs to convert sheltered workshops and day programsto community-based operations.

Moseley is asking the state to give him an accounting by Feb. 28 of the number of clients who were refused or faced service delays between July and December of 2016, including the names of the agencies, the reasons given, the length of any delay, and the state’s recommendations for improving access to services.

He also gave notice that he will want a similar report for the three-month period between January and March, as well as another update at the end of June to use as a guide in determining whether recent initiatives put into place by the state are having a positive impact.

State is Playing Catch-up

Moseley submitted a 48-page report to McConnell Jan. 25 in anticipation of a hearing Feb. 14 on the status of the consent decree.

The state’s positive momentum, supported by the $11-million budget increase, is all the more significant because most of it has been accomplished in the year since McConnell became personally involved in the enforcement of the consent decree in January, 2016.

After McConnell signaled he would take the bench on the case, the direct day-to-day supervision of the developmental disabilities division has shifted from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Even though Wood has put efforts to comply with the consent decree into overdrive, the state is still playing catch-up with the progressively stiffer requirements of the highly prescriptive agreement, which was marked by two years of inactivity at the outset.

The consent decree, signed April 8, 2014, has a ten-year term. At the end of 2015, seeing little progress, the U.S. Department of Justice and the court monitor asked McConnell to take the case under his wing.

During the most recent hearing, in September, 2016, the state avoided contempt proceedings for failing to hit two targets. One of them, the disbursement of raises for direct service workers, was accomplished Oct. 1. The other was the lag in employment of young adults – a problem that has only grown bigger.  At the same time, McConnell said he relied on Moseley to hold the defendant’s “feet to the fire.”

Moseley Wants More Information

Even at the September hearing, Moseley was digging deeper. He pressed the state to better identify young adults and high school special education students who should be counted as members of the consent decree population and enjoy protections designed to prevent them from living lives of isolation.

Moseley’s report relies on data available as of Oct. 31, but he says the state subsequently informed him that the count of young adults who left school since the 2013-2014 academic year has increased by 350, from 151 to 501. 

The report says 29 of these young adults have received job placements, a number that is more than six months old. The consent decree required “all” members of this group to have at least part-time jobs by July 1, 2016.

The monitor continues to press DDD, ORS, and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for more detailed information on several areas of implementation where he sees the state lagging.

By Feb. 28, Moseley wants reports on:

 Staff Training

• a plan outlining how DDD and ORS will provide the monitor regular updates on appropriate training for direct service workers at various agencies who provide daytime services. The current number of trained staff statewide, 396, is too low, he says.

Average Hours Worked

• a plan and strategy for increasing the average number of hours per week worked by individuals in supported employment. The current weekly average, 8.6 hours, falls far below the average 20 hours specified in the consent decree.  Implementation of the plan should begin March 1, Moseley says.

Career Development Plans

• an umbrella “operational plan” for 1) expanding critically-needed training for professionals and families on career development,  2) ensuring more than 3,000 individuals protected by the consent decree have high quality career development plans by June 30, and 3) making provisions for regular updates to the monitor on this topic beginning April 1. Currently, 774 individuals have career development plans, according to Moseley’s data.  These plans are intended not only to describe individualized long-term goals, but to include strategies and a sequence of real-life activities for helping individuals work toward those targets. Moseley said there are signs such details are lacking from many existing career development plans.

High School Internships

• data from RIDE and ORS showing the number of high school special education students who participate in at least two trial work experiences, each lasting a minimum of 60 days. RIDE has indicated it is keeping track of these numbers but has yet to provide the monitor with the information, Moseley says.

• data from DDD showing implementation of a so-called “transition timeline”, including notifications to families and other activities involving special education students in high school that prepare them for adult living.

Benefits Counseling

• a report from DDD on how it will ensure individuals deciding on jobs receive counseling about the way their earned income might affect the government assistance they receive, as well as evidence that the counseling is covering the required information. The monitor found that only 65 people had benefits counseling last June 30, the latest date for which statistics were available.

Moseley also noted that the state has developed a process for individuals to seek a variance if they want to opt out of employment, but no one has applied for one. He said he have more to say about the variance process by the end of the month but wants recommendations from the state by March 31 on ways to improve the variance process.

Employment First Task Force

Moseley addressed the future of the Employment First Task Force, saying it “has the potential to provide an independent and meaningful role in supporting the ability of the State to accomplish the reforms identified by the consent decree." 

“But change needs to take place if the task force is to achieve its full potential,” he said.

The consent decree intends the task force as a bridge between the community and the government, or as Moseley put it, “an independent, voluntary group of advocates and stakeholders who are not directly involved in state agency operations.”

While the consent decree says the group should make policy recommendations, it doesn’t say what areas the task force should research, or to whom it should make its recommendations, said Moseley. He also noted that it has no administrative staff or oversight from any state agency.

Moseley said he wants some changes in the task force “without compromising the separate and independent voice of advocates and stakeholders.”

Ultimately, he wants the task force to make annual reports for the monitor, the state, and the public on barriers to implementing the consent decree and ways to overcome them.

Moseley called on EOHHS to give the task force some staff support. And he asked Kevin Nerney, the task force chairman, and Jennifer Wood, the Deputy Secretary of EOHHS, to convene a small work group to map out the respective roles and responsibilities of the state and task force members and to report back to him by Feb. 28. 

Click here to read the entire monitor's report.

Incentive Program for DD Service Providers Closer to Launch, But Lags Months Behind Court Deadline

By Gina Macris

Despite some progress, implementation still lags months behind schedule for a Rhode Island program intended to boost employment of adults with developmental disabilities.

Nor does the design of the program cover the full cost of staff training that is a prerequisite for participation, according to comments made at the monthly Employment First Task Force meeting Jan.10. The new employment supports program does reward private developmental disability service providers that already have trained staff at their own initiative.  

The General Assembly has allocated $6.8 million in the current budget for the incentive program to satisfy requirements of a 2014 federal consent decree requiring the state to boost its efforts to provide employment supports to adults with developmental disabilities.

Einloth                                                             photo by anne peters

Einloth                                                             photo by anne peters

But as the second half of the fiscal year gets underway, it appears that direct service providers have not yet been given the green light to bill for reimbursement under provisions of recently negotiated performance-based contracts, said Kim Einloth, a senior director at Perspectives Corporation.

A total of 19 contracts have been negotiated among 36 service providers operating in Rhode Island, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said last week.

Despite an early morning snow storm Friday, Jan. 6, 18 agencies participated in a fair attended by some 40 special education high school students and another 40 young adults in the process of moving from school to adult life, according to the EOHHS spokeswoman. She anticipated the incentive program will serve about 200 adults with disabilities.

The incentive program was to have been in place Aug. 1, according to an order of the U.S. District Court.

Einloth said during the task force meeting that the director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, Donna Martin, has conveyed her concerns about the program to the independent court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley.

Martin has not responded to requests for comment sent by email from Developmental Disability News.

At the task force meeting, Einloth and Kiernan O’Donnell of the Fogarty Center, another service provider, said that the program would pay a one-time bonus of up to $810 for each staff person trained to offer job-related supports, assuming that person serves ten clients.

O'Donnell          Photo by anne peters 

O'Donnell          Photo by anne peters 

So-called “self-directed” families who design programs for a single individual would get only $81 to cover staff training, O’Donnell said. Neither figure fully supports an investment of 40 hours of class time and extra field work that is necessary for certification, he said, despite EOHHS assertions to the contrary. 

Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said self-directed families were given four days in November to figure out whether they should apply for the program. The written materials explaining the program were so technical that parents didn’t understand them and set them aside, Rosenbaum has said. As part of her job, she has email contact with some of the self-directed families.

When the application process opened, in November, the state was unable to tell providers exactly how many bonuses they would receive under terms of the incentive program, according to Einloth, although that gap has been clarified.

According to the contracts, once staff are trained, agencies receive bonuses for completion of the course, and may bill at enhanced rates for employment-related services to new clients, Einloth and O’Donnell said in an interview after the task force meeting. .

But the billing must be done in 15-minute increments, they said, in the same fee-for-service reimbursement model that has been criticized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the court monitor as being inflexible.

Other features of the program pay one-time bonuses when clients get jobs and remain employed for 90 and 180 days. 

In the meantime, agencies do not receive enhanced rates for providing the same employment-related services to current clients – only new ones approved by the state as participants in the incentive program, O’Donnell and Einloth said. O’Donnell said agencies now routinely file appeals, one by one, to get better reimbursement for employment-related services for individual clients. O’Donnell said he understands most of those appeals are granted.

The new incentive program appears to draw attention away from the fact that reimbursement rates are too low across the board for providers to do their jobs, O’Donnell said.

He and Einloth also are co-presidents of the Rhode Island Association of People Supporting Employment First, a professional organization.

Meanwhile, a task force member with developmental disabilities, Andrew Whalen, told his colleagues that he had received a letter a day earlier, on Jan.9, notifying him he is eligible for services from BHDDH. Whalen applied nearly a year ago, after the death of his mother in January, 2016.

He first mentioned the long wait for a decision at last month's meeting of the task force, when the discussion touched on the state’s efforts to render speedy eligibility decisions and the effect of continuing human services computer problems on services for adults with developmental disabilities.

.In December, Whalen also said the new computer system – called UHIP – deleted a separate application for food stamps that he had filed. At the most recent task force meeting, he said his application was “on hold” because, thanks to his generosity of his sister, the balance in his checking account was too high. 

Kevin Nerney, chairman of the task force, said that Whalen could solve the problem by moving the excess money to an ABLE account. ABLE, which stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience, is a new type of savings account authorized by Congress and the General Assembly that allows individuals with disabilities to set aside money without compromising their Social Security or Medicaid benefits.

Nerney said ABLE began accepting applications from Rhode Islanders only in recent days at https://savewithable.com Paper applications will be available in March, he said.  

RI Officials Correct Figure in Monitor's Report; Say Rate Hike Will Go To DD Service Agencies

By Gina Macris

All the workers who provide direct support services to adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island won’t be getting raises to at least $11.55 an hour, as indicated in the most recent report of a federal court monitor in the so-called “sheltered workshop” consent decree case.

The report from the monitor, Charles Moseley, says that the state Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) “will adjust all rates for Direct Support Professionals to a base rate of $11.55 an hour.”

 In reality, BHDDH will raise the “base rate” the state pays to the private agencies from $11.55 to $11.91 an hour, an increase of 36 cents; the private agencies, in turn, must use that new hourly figure to cover both salary increases and fringe benefits for their employees.

That was the word Sept. 13 from Mary Madden, the state’s consent decree coordinator, and Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Wood also said it is impossible to determine how much of an hourly wage increase each worker will actually receive.  

 Approximately 4,000 workers staff the private agencies serving Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities under contracts with the state. These direct support workers now make an average of about $10.75 an hour, although starting pay is typically minimum wage, or $9.60 an hour.

Different agencies have different pay scales and different arrays of benefits, Wood said. The General Assembly set aside about $5 million in the current budget for raises to direct support workers and for increased employer costs, but did not specify how much was to go into each category, she said.

One part of an order issued in May by U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., required the state to “appropriately increase salaries, benefits, training, and supervision for Direct Support Professionals and Job Coaches” by Aug. 1.

The increases, retroactive to July 1, have not yet gone into effect, but Moseley, the monitor, said the judge’s order had been “provisionally met” because the state had submitted a plan that describes how the increases would be handled.

Before Moseley will sign off completely, he said, he needs more documentation in the plan, as well as confirmation that BHDDH has disbursed the money for the rate increases to developmental disability service agencies.

The issue of pay for workers was one of numerous points covered in Moseley’s report, submitted to McConnell Sept. 9 in anticipation of the judge’s review of the case Sept. 16. The session begins at 2 p.m.

Task Force Commentary on Monitor’s Report

Meanwhile, the monitor’s report also prompted criticism at a meeting of the Employment First Task Force Sept . 13.

Claire Rosenbaum questioned Moseley’s conclusion that the state had met the Judge’s Aug. 1 deadline for making it easier for providers to offer employment-related services to adults with developmental disabilities.

“I haven’t seen anything that offers supported employment services for my daughter, and we’re a month and a half past the implementation date,” Rosenbaum said. She serves on the task force as Adult Supports Coordinator for the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

Nor did her daughter’s counselor at the state Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) know anything about career development planning, Rosenbaum said, even though the monitor said ORS, as well as BHDDH, and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) had all implemented training in the process of career development planning by the end of July as required by the judge’s order.

The judge’s order included several mandates related to supported employment, all with an Aug. 1 deadline.

 The requirements included a change in the model for reimbursing provider agencies, and a change in the financial authorizations made to individuals to pay for what Moseley called the “Person Centered Supported Employment Services Program.” 

The current authorization method requires individuals seeking job-related services to trade in time allocated to another category of support.

Madden acknowledged that the model for changing reimbursement to service providers had not yet been put into practice.

“What irks me,” Rosenbaum said, “is this status report says ‘provision met’, when it clearly has not been met.”

The state has said the reimbursement model would change for clients of agencies chosen to participate in a pilot program of performance-based contracts intended to provide the supports necessary to enable individuals with developmental disabilities to find and keep regular jobs.

BHDDH is not yet accepting applicatios for that pilot program, although Moseley said he is satisfied with the state's plan for the program . The state's lawyer will file the detailed plan with the court some time this week, according to Wood. 

In any event, the judge is requiring performance-based contracts for all service providers in the state by Dec. 31. 

Kevin Nerney, the task force chairman, took issue with the term “Person Centered Supported Employment Services Program” to describe what supported employment services are supposed to provide.

Such individualized, employment-related services have not been rolled out to direct support staff at provider agencies, he said. Until employment-related services have been put in place, he said, they should not be elevated with an important-sounding title.

The task force was created by the 2014 federal consent decree, in which the state agreed to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act by moving from segregated sheltered workshops and day programs to supports for community-based employment and activities for adults with developmental disabilities.

The consent decree envisioned the task force as a bridge between state government and the community, although the group is still exploring how its role will play out.  Its next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11.

 

 

 

 

RI Official Describes How Nearly $12 Million in DD Budget Responds to Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island is poised to offer financial rewards to agencies that meet certain performance goals in delivering supported employment services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.

At a meeting of the Employment First Task Force on Aug. 9, Jennifer Wood explained how the state will use a total of nearly $12 million in funding authorized by the General Assembly in the current budget to implement the two year-old federal consent decree which mandates that adults with developmental disabilities have access to regular jobs in their communities.

A total of $6.8 million will be set aside for the supported employment bonuses –an estimated average of $15,750 after a client has been employed for six months. An additional $5.1 million has been earmarked for modest wage increases to about 4,000 agency staff who work directly with clients.

Ultimately, it is up to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court to say whether these measures conform with a detailed order he issued in May requiring Rhode Island to lay the groundwork for long-term compliance with the consent decree, which remains in effect until Jan. 1, 2024.

At some point, the independent court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, is expected to report to the court on whether he believes that state’s latest compliance efforts meet the requirements of the court order.

The May 18 order said that by Aug. 1, the state had to:

  • implement performance-based contracts for supported employment services
  • implement a flexible reimbursement model that pays service providers for the actual cost of providing services
  • implement individual financial authorizations for clients receiving services that include specific allocations for supported employment services 
  • increase salaries, benefits, training, and supervision for direct service workers and job coaches.s

The Task Force, made up of representatives of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and community organizations, was created by the consent decree as a bridge between government and the community. It met in the offices of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick, 

Wood told Task Force members that the private agencies employing the workers will get lump sums for raises retroactive to July 1, but she could not say exactly when that will happen. Figuring out the payments has been a huge mathematical exercise, she said, and still requires changing the programming on state computers.

Based on current average pay of $11.55 an hour, the raises would be an average of $.30 an hour, Wood said, although actual salaries vary from one agency to another.

In a report to the court on July 29, the state said that it will require service providers to show that the money went to workers who have direct contact with clients, as the General Assembly intended.

Wood told Task Force members that state officials have been working with private service providers on the incentive program.

The July 29 report to the court said the incentive program will be implemented from August through next June, although the state has not yet begun taking applications from service providers. The program will serve a minimum of 200 clients with developmental disabilities. according to the filing with the court.

These clients will receive specific allocations for supported employment services as part of their individual financial authorizations from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), Wood said in a brief interview after Tuesday’s meeting.

Others served by BHDDH who are not part of the supported employment incentive program will not be affected. That means that if they want supported employment services, they must continue to trade in hours from another category of daytime support.

The bonuses will be paid in stages; when a client gets a job and after three months and six months on the job respectively, according to the report to the court. It also said the dollar amounts and numbers of incentives may be adjusted.

Wood told the Task Force that the experience of the first six months of the program would be used to make improvements for the second half of the fiscal year.

After the meeting, she said the incentive program would be an added “layer” over the current reimbursement model, which requires agencies to document clients’ face-to-face interaction with direct service workers in 15-minute increments during the day. 

That “unit service model” will remain in place, she said.

Because the reimbursement system does not pay an agency when a client is absent, for whatever reason, the provider cannot collect the full amount of the client’s authorization for daytime activities.

The consent decree found fault with this method of payment. It required the following change:

“The State will ensure that its reimbursement model for day activity services is sufficiently flexible to allow providers to be reimbursed for costs (e.g. transportation to the job site, employer negotiation, counseling clients by telephone) that are: (1) directly related to providing Supported Employment Services to individuals in the Target Populations, and (2) provided when service provider staff is not face-to-face with a client. “

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.

 

Jane Gallivan Settling In as Interim Director of Developmental Disability Services in RI

Jane Gallivan  Photo by Anne pETERS

Jane Gallivan  Photo by Anne pETERS

By Gina Macris

Six days into her new role as an acting director of developmental disabilities in Rhode Island, Jane Gallivan said she has met an “extremely welcoming staff” who are “ready to improve what they’re doing.” 

“It’s a staff that has had a rough time. Underneath all the workload issues, trying to get the work done, they have some good values,” she said. 

“They are kind of desperate for leadership,” she said, from “someone with depth of experience with developmental disabilities.”

“I am very impressed with the staff, but they need a vision,” she said. 

Gallivan, who has great breadth and depth of experience in developmental disability issues elsewhere, said she’s “not sure that the focus has been what it needs to be” in Rhode Island. Some people are “nervous” about change, she said. 

Gallivan spoke July 12 at the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force, a committee representative of community agencies and parents that is intended to serve as a bridge between state government and individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities and their families. 

The Employment First Task Force was created by a 2014 federal consent decree in which Rhode Island agreed to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act by moving away from sheltered workshops toward integrated, community-based employment and other activities. 

 In its 2014 findings in the sheltered workshop investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said, among other things, that developmental disability social workers at the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) were small in number and lacked the training and specialization needed to work with their clients, particularly in the area of job supports and community integration. 

Charles Williams, the soon-to-retire director of developmental disabilities, says the average caseload for each of the 20 social workers in case management is about 190 clients. 

Gallivan, who has more than three decades’ experience as a state-level developmental disabilities director in Maine and Delaware, will help  select someone to fill that role in Rhode Island, according to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services. 

“We are very grateful to have her,” said Wood. 

Kevin Nerney, chairman of the Employment First Task Force, asked if the group could be represented on the search committee for the new developmental disabilities director. 

Wood, who is leading an interdepartmental team charged with turning around developmental disability services and complying with the consent decree, said, “I can’t make any firm commitments today.” (Click here for article on Wood and her team.)

“I think it is appropriate, and I will keep it firmly in mind as that search committee is selected,” she added. 

Gallivan, who said she values the stakeholder group, suggested that task force members make a list of the characteristics they believe the next developmental disabilities director should have and send them to her. Change cannot occur without a strong community advocacy group, Gallivan said.  

Gallivan worked for 28 years as developmental disabilities director in Maine, where she oversaw implementation of a federal consent decree focused on de-institutionalization. Besides her consent decree experience, she also has dealt with issues like those Rhode Island faces, including the need for supported employment, shared living arrangements, and the introduction of electronic records. 

She said she worked for 7 or 8 governors in Maine, before “the current governor and I parted ways.”  Gallivan moved into the same position in Delaware, intending to stay two years, and remained for four. 

Gallivan, who is spending two to three days a week in Rhode Island, said, “I love the work,” but “my family is not happy” with her decision to accept a temporary stint here. Her responsibilities include her 101-year-old mother, Gaillivan said, so she’ll “not be coming out of retirement,”

 

 

 

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. 

Consent Decree's Community Task Force Airs Worries

By Gina Macris

Nicole Zeitler

Nicole Zeitler

While a federal judge is poised to compel the state of Rhode Island to comply with a federal consent decree intended to benefit people with developmental disabilities, the General Assembly, which holds the purse strings, does not appear to have a full understanding of the matter.

Donna Martin, executive director of a network of private disability service providers, expressed that concern March 15 at a meeting of the Employment First Task Force (EFTF), created by the 2014 consent decree to reach out to the community and to make recommendations as the state tries to implement the federal court order.

More than two dozen people, including Nicole Zeitler and Peter Stephan, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice, attended the task force meeting at Martin’s office at the CommunityProvider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI) on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick. The task force is chaired by Kevin Nerney, assistant director of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council.

The two DOJ lawyers had appeared at a hearing in Providence the previous day before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, who displayed a growing impatience with the state’s piecemeal compliance and affirmed a schedule for considering remedial action in April. 

Martin said, “I’m concerned about what’s going to happen after the evidentiary hearing and how the executive branch moves from the fallout of that without the full understanding of the legislature.“

McConnell is to hear evidence on compliance April 8 to help him shape a new court order for a remedial action plan.

“It concerns me that the consent decree is silent” on funding, Martin said. “That puts the onus on the advocacy community. The burden the developmental disability community is facing far predates the consent decree,” she said. “When the dollars are not appropriated, our hands are essentially tied.”

Martin was alluding to a 13 percent cut in the developmental disabilities budget the General Assembly made in the early hours of the morning on the last day of the 2011 session. The budget has not recovered the lost funding, while the caseload has grown in the last five years.

“While I understand that there are separate branches of government, I’m concerned that there is not a stronger coordinated voice with the legislature,” Martin said. 

Ray Bandusky, executive director of the Rhode Island Disability Law Center, said, “I think it’s important to emphasize that the overwhelming majority of legislators abhor consent decrees. I don’t see it being a big motivator.” 

The DOJ’s Zeitler said that “the consent decree doesn’t specify how it is to be funded,” but it does say that it will be “fully funded.”  The agreement was signed in 2014 by former Governor Lincoln Chafee and DOJ officials. 

In January, state officials acknowledged that the budget does not now contain enough money to implement the court order.

Zeitler said that the state promised McConnell it would show him budget numbers that are linked to compliance results for specific individuals affected by the consent decree. “We didn’t come up with that out of nowhere; It came from the consent decree,” Zeitler said.

 “We are waiting for a usable summary” of Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed new budget; something that goes beyond the executive summary she included in her budget message to the General Assembly in early February, she said. 

The consent decree says funding is supposed to be built around the needs of the individual. In that context, Zeitler said it is “helpful to hear” from consumers who might say, “I ended up getting my tier (funding level) changed and it didn’t have anything to do with my needs.”

In between their appearances in court and at the public EFTF meeting, Zeitler and Stephan have met privately with people receiving services and with family members.

 

Funding hinders individualized services

The current funding structure hinders the community integration and personal choice that is at the center of the consent decree, because it is driven by ratios and has no flexibility to accommodate people’s needs,  Martin said.

To illustrate her point, Martin gave a hypothetical example of a day facility with a staff-to-client ratio of 1 to 8. If one staff member accompanies a person with a disability somewhere, that leaves another staff member with a double ratio of clients, Martin said. .

In other words, one person’s integration comes at the expense of another’s need for staff attention.

One parent said pressure from the consent decree to close segregated day facilities like the one in Martin’s example is resulting in groups of people with disabilities riding around in a van or car when one of them has to go somewhere.

“The day center has become mobile,” said Mary Beth Cournoyer.

“It looks like we’re following a path (toward community integration) on paper, but we don’t get there,” Cournoyer said.

She also indicated that the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) continues to determine an individual’s funding level through an assessment that was never designed for that purpose.

The consent decree specifically prohibits the state from using the assessment, called the Supports Intensity Scale, as a funding tool. 

Cournoyer said it would be “enormously helpful  to identify the roles and responsibilities of the task force.” 

The group, hampered by fragmented communication from state agencies and a lack of data needed to formulate policy recommendations, has struggled to define its role over the last two years.

Cournoyer said individuals with disabilities either are not being informed or are misinformed about changes that affect them. “Parents are screaming that they are going to take the money away,” she said.

Zeitler said, “There are amazing people in this room. I have heard all of you talk. I have every belief you can use the power you have.”

The consent decree says the Employment First Task Force “should include certain people, and more than half of you are advocates and parents,” Zeitler said, scanning the room. “Our position is that the state should be taking information from the task force and using it to change systems,” she said. 

 

Coordinator Introduced

The group welcomed Mary Madden, the interim consent decree coordinator, who spoke about her approach to the newly created secretary-level position.  

Madden, with 30 years’ professional experience in developmental disabilities in Rhode Island, has become widely respected in that field.

She said that while she will work toward the compliance goals spelled out in the consent decree, “the greater goal we should care about is inclusive lives for people in the community.”

She said she hopes to bring people from various departments of state government together“to work seamlessly as a team.”

The DOJ and the court monitor have argued that the consent decree calls for a coordinator with the clout to require cooperation from department heads.

Martin of CPNRI said her organization is pleased that the coordinator’s position has been moved outside any department of state government. “It’s difficult to effect change in departments that continue to be very siloed” when the coordinator’s position remains within one department, she said.

Before Madden’s appointment, the coordinator’s position was assigned to BHDDH. The former coordinator, Andrew McQuaide, now serves as Chief Transformation officer at BHDDH.

Madden said, “I want to do a job that matters and has impact. I’m an action-oriented person. I’ve never worked for state government; just the private sector. When something needs to get done, you just do it,” she said.

Even so, Madden said, she is sure she will encounter bureaucratic situations.  She also said “there are a lot of things about this position that are unknown and haven’t been hammered out.”