By Gina Macris
Access. Quality. Safety.
Those are the three words chosen by officials of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to sum up their overarching goals in serving adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges.
But at a public forum in Warwick Feb. 5, Jane Sroka, the mother of a man with intensive special needs, said the reality falls far short of those three goals when adults with special communications and behavioral needs are hospitalized.
The Medicaid dollars to which Sroka’s son is entitled through Home and Community-Based Services funded through BHDDH stop at the hospital’s door.
“My son needs 24/7 eyes-on supervision at all times. It’s huge. It’s life and death. That’s what it is,” she said.
In the hospital, Sroka said, “I was with him 24/7. He was awake 24/7. I was awake, 24/7. That was tough. It’s grueling on everybody.”
You’re talking about putting safety first? This is safety first,” Sroka said.
Not providing that round-the-clock supervision, in her son’s case, would have been dangerous, she said.
It’s not that the nurses don’t care, she said, but “if I wasn’t there, they wouldn’t have a clue about what to do or how to do it or when to do it, or whatever. It’s dangerous. And it has to change,” she said. She said she knows she is not alone.
Gail Peet had a similar story. She said her daughter, 47, who is non-verbal, became extremely agitated when a feeding tube was inserted.
After her daughter was transferred to a nursing home, Peet said, she asked the staff to put a binding around the feeding tube to prevent her daughter from ripping it out.
The nursing home refused, on the grounds that the binding would constitute a “restraint,” Peet explained after the forum. The next morning, the staff discovered that Peet’s daughter had indeed ripped out the tube, which had to be re-inserted, causing her the additional pain of a second procedure.
In neither Peet’s nor Sroka’s case did there appear to be a plan for in-hospital or discharge care that addressed complications that could arise from individuals’ particular challenges as persons with developmental disabilities.
And Rebecca Beaton, who uses a wheelchair and must make a great effort to shape each word, said she, too, needs 24-hour care if she goes to the hospital because she has a speech problem and not everyone understands her. A support person seated next to her at the forum repeated her words for clarity.
John Susa, former chairman of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council and the father of a man with extensive needs, said there used to be a pool of state funds — outside the federal-state Medicaid structure — that was once used only in emergencies involving adults with developmental disabilities. He suggested that officials re-visit that idea.
Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD),, stood at the podium of a meeting room in the Warwick Public Library, taking notes.
Medicaid separates Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) from hospital services to avoid duplication, Zanchi explained.
“But I hear you,” she told Sroka and Peet, that the situations they described were not about duplicate services.
Zanchi raised the possibility that an upcoming initiative, the creation of a “Health Home,” might open an opportunity to provide the kinds of supports that Sroka and Peet needed in the hospital and nursing home. A Health Home is a Medicaid-spawned concept for the management of services, not a bricks and mortar facility.
“It is so important for the individuals we love and support to have that consistency and continuity of care,” she said.
Earlier in the forum, Zanchi had explained the Health Home as an entity that would manage a program of individualized services around the unique needs and preferences of a particular person served by DDD.
FROM OLMSTEAD TO HEALTH HOMES
Medicaid created the Health Home option to separate the design and management of services from the funding and delivery of services. The goal is to avoid any conflict of interest that might compromise the quality of care.
The states must provide so-called “conflict-free case management” by 2022 to comply with the Medicaid Home and Community Based Services Final Rule, issued in 2014 to align Medicaid with the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
According to the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, the integration mandate says individuals with disabilities must have access to the supports they need to live regular lives in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate – and that environment is presumed to be the community.
In line with Olmstead, as well as a 2014 consent decree in which Rhode Island has agreed to desegregate its daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities, state officials and the developmental disability community have embraced the idea of “person-centered planning,” which puts the needs and preferences of individuals at the core of any service plan.
But at the forum, Mary Beth Cournoyer, the mother of an adult son with developmental disabilities and a member of the Employment First Task Force, suggested “whole life” planning as a more encompassing term.
“How do we build lives? It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. The Employment First Task Force to which she belongs was created by the consent decree to serve as a bridge between the community and state government.
Zanchi said state officials will meet with their community partners, including families and providers, to ask them to help draft the design for a Health Home for adults with developmental disabilities before the application is submitted to the federal Medicaid program.
She said DDD hopes to have a Health Home up and running in about 12 months.
NEW WORKPLACE LAW AFFECTING SOME DD SERVICES
The forum also brought to light apparently unintended consequences of the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act, which went into effect last July 1, guaranteeing all workers get time off to go to doctors’ appointments and attend to other important personal and family needs. Companies with 17 or more employees are required to give paid leave.
Sue Babin of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council said that those who direct services for themselves or a loved one are receiving conflicting advice from fiscal intermediaries about whether the law applies to support staff for adults with developmental disabilities.
And some individuals who are advised the law does apply and are granting time off to their support staff are having problems finding substitute workers, Babin said.
Zanchi suggested a separate meeting with families that organize and direct their own services to discuss the impact of the new workplace law and any other inconsistent advisories they may be receiving from fiscal intermediaries, who control the individualized budgets the state authorizes to be spent on services for particular individuals.
RATE REVIEW GEARING UP
In an overview of changes at DDD, Zanchi announced that the division is about to embark on a review of its fee-for-service rate model for reimbursing private agencies that provide most of the developmental disability supports in state.
To that end, BHDDH has selected an outside consultant for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the new budget cycle beginning July 1.
Zanchi declined to name the contractor until a purchase order for services has been signed by the state purchasing office. She did say, however, that the consultant was not Burns & Associates, the Arizona-based company that helped a previous administration devise Project Sustainability That is the name for the existing fee-for-service model that doles out payments for daytime services in 15-minute increments that must be documented by each worker for each client served.
Zanchi said $500,000 for the consultant was budgeted in the current fiscal year, and an equal amount is in the governor’s proposal for the next budget.
To expedite the rate review, the contractor was selected as a “sole source” provider, without the months-long process or issuing a request for proposals and reviewing bids, Zanchi said.
NEW YOUTH AND TRANSITION ADMINISTRATOR
Zanchi announced that Susan Hayward, a veteran social casework supervisor, has been named to the new position of Youth and Transition Administrator, to coordinate a smooth shift for high school special education students moving into adult services.
Employment opportunities and other transitional servicesfor teenagers and young adults are a prime concern of the independent court monitor overseeing implementation of the 2014 consent decree, as well as an earlier interim settlement agreement affecting only youth and adults in Providence.
The 2013 interim settlement agreement addressed violations of the integration mandate of the ADA that involved a special education program at the Birch Academy of Mount Pleasant High School being used as a feeder program for a former sheltered workshop in North Providence called Training Through Placement. The agreement is set to expire July 1, 2020, at the discretion of the U.S. District Court.
BHDDH officials presented a PowerPoint of information covered at the public forum. To view it, click here.
The advocacy group RI FORCE (Rhode Island Families Organized for Reform, Change, and Empowerment) recorded the public forum and has posted the video, in three parts, on its Facebook page. To connect to the video, click here.