Jennifer Wood, Leader of RI DD Consent Decree Compliance, To Leave State Government

Photo by Anne Peters

Photo by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

Jennifer L. Wood, largely responsible for accelerating Rhode Island’s lackluster response to a federal consent decree affecting adults with developmental disabilities, is leaving state government to become director of the Rhode Island Center for Justice.

The non-profit public interest law center works with community groups and the Roger Williams University School of Law to strengthen legal services and advocacy on issues that reflect the most pressing needs of low-income Rhode Islanders, including housing, immigration, and workers’ rights.  

Miriam Weizenbaum, the board chair for the Center for Justice,  announced the appointment Wednesday, May 3, saying that Wood’s legal background in public interest law, combined with her extensive experience in education and health and human servicesin state government, “makes her an ideal leader for the Center for Justice at a time when basic rights are under significant challenge.” 

Wood was deputy secretary and chief legal counsel to Elizabeth Roberts until Roberts resigned in mid-February as head of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services amid fallout from the UHIP fiasco, the botched roll-out of a computerized Medicaid benefits system. Thousands of Rhode Islanders were left without a wide range of benefits, including from food stamps, health coverage, subsidized child care, and even developmental disability services. At the time Roberts left, Wood was demoted to general counsel.

AshleyG. O’Shea, spokeswoman for OHHS, noted in a statement that Wood has devoted two decades of her life to state service and said, “We wish her the best in her new endeavor.” 

In March, the office of the U.S. Attorney in Providence issued a demand for UHIP documents, saying it is investigating the “allegation that false claims and/or payment for services and/or false statements in support of such payments have been submitted to the U.S. government.“

In a statement May 3, Wood indicated that since the November election, she has been considering a change in career to go back to her roots. As a lawyer in the private sector, her work emphasized civil rights and disability rights. She represented inmates at the Rhode Island Training School and special education students, among others who otherwise might have lacked a legal voice.

Wood joined state government in 1998 as chief of staff at the Rhode Island Department of Education, leaving in 2007 to work as Roberts’ second-in-command after the latter was elected Lieutenant Governor. When Governor Gina Raimondo appointed Roberts as Secretary of Health and Human Services in 2015, Wood followed as deputy secretary and chief legal counsel.

At the end of 2015, when U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. signaled that he would personally oversee enforcement of the consent decree affecting daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities, Wood took charge of moving the implementation forward.

At that point, the agreement had brought virtually no change to the lives of adults with developmental disabilities since it was signed in April, 2014. By all accounts, Wood moved the implementation into high gear. 

O’Shea, the OHHS spokeswoman, said Wood is turning over her responsibilities in developmental disabilities to other officials, including Dianne Curran, a lawyer who is consent decree coordinator, and Kerri Zanchi, the new director of developmental disabilities. They are in touch with the federal court monitor and the U.S. Department of Justice weekly, according to O’Shea.

The consent decree requires the state replace sheltered workshops and segregated day programs with community-based supports so that adults with developmental disabilities may seek regular jobs and enjoy non-work activities in a more integrated way. The desegregation of services for everyone with disabilities was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Olmstead decision of 1999, which re-affirmed Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act. 



Judge McConnell: Consent Decree Progress Should Not Distract State From Long Road Ahead

By Gina Macris

U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. says Rhode Island has made considerable progress in laying the groundwork to comply with a three year-old consent decree aimed at improving the lives of adults with developmental disabilities.

But that progress should not distract all concerned from “how far we have to go,” McConnell said.

In a quarterly review of the case on March 10, McConnell called attention to the remarks of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Nicole Kovite Zeitler, who spoke of the state’s progress and the unrealized potential of the consent decree to transform lives for a generation. 

“From where we were a year ago the work the state has done is commendable,” Zeitler said, “but the ultimate goal of the 2014 agreement is the transformation of services” for adults with developmental disabilities.

“These people have goals, just like anyone else,” Zeitler said.

Yet, a recent review of the day services typically offered adults with disabilities conveys a lack of purpose.  “There’s a feeling that attending a day program is just something people do,” she said.

The DOJ is committed to ultimate compliance with the consent decree, Zeitler said, but the decree means more than financing plans for services.  

Rather, the effort must put individuals’ goals and dreams at the center of the process and incorporate ongoing quality assurance practices to ensure continued compliance with the consent decree, she said.

Zeitler referred to a review of the day services of 21 adults by consultant William H. Ashe that was incorporated into a recent report to the court by the independent monitor in the case, Charles Moseley.

In many cases, Ashe found the signposts of individualized or “person-centered’” planning absent.  The service planning process required by the state  ”feels rigid and automatic,” Ashe noted. ”The ISP (individual service plan) for a person this year may often look remarkably similar to the one that was done last year. The funding that agencies receive is based on assessed ‘functioning level’ and not based upon what people may want or actually need,” Ashe said.

”Agencies are often in a situation where their staffing levels prohibit them from individualizing supports to the extent that is necessary to really implement services that are based upon real choice,” he said.

The monitor, Moseley, has given the state notice in a recent report to the court that he wants changes in the funding and planning process that meet the “person-centered” requirements of the consent decree. The state must give him progress reports quarterly, beginning April 1.

McConnell asked why the percentage of young adults finding employment was so low – only 22 percent. Moseley said the percentage dipped as the state complied with a request he made last fall to fully identify all eligible individuals who have left school since 2013.

The count of the so-called “youth exit” group initially stood at 151 young adults with developmental disabilities. By November the figure had jumped to 501, and, now is 516, Mary Madden, the state’s consent decree coordinator, told the court.  

The number of young adults with jobs is 109, according to the latest reports of the state to the monitor.

Referring to a provision of the consent decree decree which requires “all” young people to have jobs the same year they leave school,  McConnell asked why the employmentbenchmark for young adults is so “aggressive”.

Zeitler said the goals were designed that way because the generation going through school now is learning the skills necessary to prepare for adult life.

These young people have the most to gain from the consent decree and the most to lose without it, Zeitler said. They know their own potential, but under the old system they would spend years in isolation from the larger community, she said.

The 2014 consent decree settled findings of the DOJ that the state relied on sheltered workshops and segregated day programs in violation of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which was reaffirmed in the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999. The Olmstead decision said that individuals with disabilities have a right to receive services in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate, which is presumed to be the community.

The Rhode Island decree is not the first Olmstead enforcement action in the country, but the first one that addresses daytime programs that segregate adults with disabilities. Because they ard the DOJ.

A year ago, the state had made virtually no effort to implement the consent decree and lacked the financing, data, and staff to respond to requests made by the monitor. After an evidentiary hearing in April, McConnell issued a multi-faceted order which put the state on short deadlines for responding to discrete tasks – or face contempt proceedings.

So far, the order has brought results:  $11 million more in federal-state Medicaid funding, a larger staff to work on policy changes, and better cooperation and communication among the agencies responsible for implementing the agreement – the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, the Office of Rehabilitation Services, and the Rhode Island Department of Education.

One part of McConnell’s order has led to an incentive program for service providers to find jobs for their clients and help them stay employed. That program has placed 20 new hires since January, although Zeitler said the state needs to have “frank discussions” with service providers about continued gaps in job placement targets in two of three segmentsof the population represented by the consent decree.    

Moseley, the monitor, has followed McConnell’s lead in adopting short-term deadlines for specific tasks he has assigned the state. One such inquiry led to the identification in November of young adults with autism or multiple disabilities who hadn’t previously been counted as part of the consent decree population. That’s what boosted the so-called “youth exit” population to more than 500.

More recently, Moseley has enumerated dozens of tasks relating to the individualization of services, better internal quality improvement efforts, methods of funding, employment, and other consent-decree issues, along with short-term deadlines for responses.

Jennifer Wood, General Counsel to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the head of the state’s response to the consent decree, said Rhode Island now has the bureaucratic “infrastructure” to delve into the actual service delivery system.  “Person-centered planning is at the heart of that,” she said.

The next court review will be scheduled for mid-July, but McConnell said he wants to receive interim progress reports from Moseley.  McConnell also noted that from time to time, he receives letters from parents and makes them part of the case file, which is a public record. 

Related articles: 

"RI Still Lags in DD Consent Decree Compliance, But Shows Progress in Number of Job Placements"

"Monitor Seeks Changes In BHDDH Funding Methods to Satisfy Consent Decree"

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

RI Gov Appoints Wallack HHS Secretary; Wood To Continue to Lead DD Effort; UHIP Woes Continue

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island Department of Human Services has begun re-hiring - months after it laid off about 70 workers in conjunction with the roll-out of a dysfunctional automated benefits system – to help Rhode Islanders who face hardships from delays and denials caused by the broken computer system.

That is but one step going forward that Governor Raimondo announced at a media briefing Wednesday, Feb. 15, when she released a scathing report on the Unified Healthcare Infrastructure Project, or UHIP, compiled by Eric Beane, the acting director of the DHS and her chief operating officer.

Blaming the vendor, Deloitte, for delivering a “defective system,” Raimondo also warned that it will take 60 to 70 days to stop the backlog in applications from growing and about a year to fix the system.  Beane’s report, completed over the last thirty days, showed the problem was much worse than she had previously believed, the Governor said. 

She apologized to Rhode Islanders for a situation she said was “unacceptable, inexcusable, and intolerable.”  

She introduced Anya Radar Wallack as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services  (HHS). Wallack formerly served as Medicaid director and the director of the state’s health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

Elizabeth Roberts, who had made a career of health care reform as a state senator, lieutenant governor and HHS secretary, submitted her resignation Wednesday. Raimondo accepted it, she said, because she agreed with Roberts that the problem needed a “fresh set of eyes.”

 Roberts had taken the stance that the system could be fixed quickly, despite the glitches, but Beane’sunvarnished analysis showed that not to be the case, Raimondo said. 

As Roberts’ long-time deputy, Jennifer Wood had been heavily involved in trying to fix the troubled UHIP rollout. Wood, who has served both as Deputy Secretary and General Counsel of HHS, will continue as General Counsel and will remain in charge of the state’s efforts to comply with the 2014 federal consent decree mandating integration of daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities, according to Beane.

Among thousands who have suffered hardships from the UHIP fiasco are individuals with developmental disabilities applying for adult services from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Last September, just as BHDDH solved an eligibility backlog in applications, many of them from young adults leaving high school, the introduction of UHIP caused months-long delays in the release of the money necessary to actually pay for approved services. In December, there were an estimated 100 young adults who had services delayed or expected services to be delayed as a result of the UHIP snafu, according to one informal report from the Rhode Island Parent Information Network.

Timely service is an issue of concern to an independent court monitor in the enforcement of a 2014 federal consent decree requiring community-based developmental disability services.

At the press conference, Beane said the backlog in all types of applications will continue to grow unless there is a “staffing surge to address the timelines.”

Beane’s report said Deloitte assured the state the computer system was ready to go live when it was not.

Raimondo said the state continues to withhold tens of millions of dollars (about $68 million of a $364 million project)  and is re-negotiating its contract with Deloitte. “It’s tense,” she said.  But she emphasized that UHIP can be fixed.

Raimondo said she has come to realize that the state needs to have more high-level officials with the technical expertise to analyze a vendor's claims and call out mistakes. In general, the public sector has been lacking in that regard, she said.

There had been warnings from federal officials that the computer system was not ready for a state-wide roll out, but human services officials decided against a try-out period.

Former DHS director Melba Depena Affigne and her chief digital officer Thom Guertin resigned in January under pressure from Raimondo. 

Click here to read Beane's report

Roberts Resigns as RI Health and Human Services Secretary; Wood's Future Role Unclear

By Gina Macris 

Rhode Island’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Roberts, resigned late Tuesday, Feb. 14, over the quagmire created by UHIP, the state’s computerized human services benefits system.

Governor Gina Raimondo, in a press conference outside her office, said she met with Roberts “and she presented me with her resignation, which I accepted.”

“It was her choice, and I commend her for it. I think she realized, as I realized, that the challenges we’re having with UHIP require a new set of eyes, and a fresh set of eyes. “

Roberts’ top aide for many years, Jennifer Wood, who is Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, has been involved closely with the roll-out of the UHIP computer system and also has directed the state’s compliance effort with a 2014 federal consent decree affecting adults with developmental disabilities.

Asked whether Wood’s position is at all affected by the problems of the UHIP rollout, Raimondo’s spokesman, David Ortiz, said in an email that the Governor would give a “full update” on Wednesday.

The resignation came on the eve of a briefing Raimondo has scheduled for the media on Wednesday, Feb. 15, to discuss an analysis of UHIP conducted during the last month by her chief operating officer, Eric Beane, and steps that will be taken going forward.

“Secretary Roberts has been in public service for decades and has done so many good things for the people of Rhode Island,” Raimondo said.

In a statement, Raimondo said Roberts has “fought her entire career to expand access to affordable healthcare for more people. As my Secretary of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth played a key role in our successful efforts to drive Rhode Island’s uninsured rate to one of the lowest in the nation while reducing costs.”

Roberts was criticized by Nicholas A. Oliver of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care.

In a statement, he said that “Roberts’ rigid view of the state healthcare system blinded her from understanding the realities of operating healthcare practices and agencies in Rhode Island.”

“Because Roberts was a visionary stemming from her healthcare public policy interest as a state senator and a lieutenant governor without practical operational experience as a healthcare provider, her naivete and inexperience led to her ineffectiveness in the role of Secretary,” Oliver said.

Roberts’ is the third resignation connected to the $364 million computer fiasco. Melba Depena Affigne, director of the Department of Human Services, and her chief digital officer, Thom Guertin, resigned in January under pressure from Raimondo. 

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.

Governor's Budget Would Add Total of $10 million For Developmental Disabilities Through June, 2018

By Gina Macris

A new $6.8-million incentive program, intended to encourage service providers to help Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities get and keep jobs, will become a permanent fixture of the annual budget, according to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.

That is one of several areas of Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal that indicates the state is moving to increase services for individuals with developmental disabilities in keeping with a 2014 consent decree, which requires Rhode Island to expand their access to employment and other community activity over a ten-year period.  

Wood and other key officials, who are involved in reinventing the state’s developmental disability service system, elaborated on Raimondo’s proposed budget and the way it reflects evolving trends and programs during an hour-long interview with Developmental Disability News on Jan. 24. 

Between now and the end of the next fiscal year, which concludes June 30, 2018, Raimondo proposes to increase spending for developmental disability services by about $10 million, excluding restricted funds and capital expenses.

Of that total, $6 million in federal and state Medicaid funds would be used for five-percent increases to the average wages of direct support workers, and much of the rest would reflect more expensive levels of services needed by individuals with developmental disabilities than have been recognized in the past.

Overall, Raimondo asked the General Assembly to increase the current allocation for developmental disability services by nearly $4.4 million in this fiscal year, which ends in June, from about $246.2 million to $250.6 million.

Excluding restricted and capital accounts, the added amount available for services before June 30 would be nearly $3.8 million, according to a budget breakdown provided by EOHHS. In the budget cycle which ends in June, 2018, the Governor would add a total of about about $6.1 million, for $256.7 million in all spending on developmental disability services. Excluding the restricted and capital funds, the increase would be about $6.6 million.  

All Funds vs Operating Budget



    GR=state funds     FF= federal funds

The primary reasons that developmental disability services are expected to be more costly include:

  •  The need for a better-paid, more stable workforce, funded with a 5 percent increases in direct care wages, or a total of $6 million 
  • · Additional staff time spent on job hunting and job support for their clients, reflected in the new $6.8 million individualized supported employment program that is already part of approved spending
  • A new version of the process for assessing individual needs appears to indicate that more supports are required than have been recognized in the past.

Supported Employment Program Has Begun Operations

Until now, all individuals with developmental disabilities who sought help in finding jobs in the community had to give up other kinds of services, with the dollar value of their personal funding authorizations remaining the same. But those enrolled in the new “person-centered” supported employment program, now accepting applicants, will get job support in addition to their other services, according to an EOHHS spokeswoman. The program is expected to involve about 200 clients.

The supported employment program was funded by the General Assembly with a $6.8 million allocation for the current fiscal year. But that sum has been untouched while the state has figured out how the program will work.

The program is poised to make its first disbursements to service providers, including incentive payments for the placement of two individuals in jobs in January. said Tracey Cunningham, Chief Employment Specialist in the Division of Disabilities at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The original $6.8 million allocation is expected to fund the incentive program into the second half of the fiscal year ending in June, 2018, according to an EOHHS spokeswoman.

The program staff will evaluate the results of the first operational year to determine how much money it will need to continue, said Brian Gosselin, the Chief Strategy Officer at EOHHS. Wood promised assured continuous funding for the program.

“What we hope to learn in the first 12 months of this brand new program is what impact $6.8 million will have,” Gosselin said. It provides one-time incentive payments when staff complete a specific training program and clients are placed in jobs. The program also pays bonuses for employment retention, in two installments, after 90 and 180 days.  

Gosselin said he and his colleagues will determine whether the $6.8 million allocation was enough and will identify the successful features of the program that can be used in the second year.

He and Wood were asked why the 22 providers participating in the program must continue to use a fee-for-service reimbursement model which requires them to bill for daytime services in 15-minute increments.

Gosselin said that is the funding model that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services has approved for daytime developmental disability services in Rhode Island.

“In order to make any adjustments to that methodology we would have to go through a very long approval process with the federal government,” he said.

But he emphasized that the new performance-based aspect of the incentive program is “what we hope to learn from.”

A discussion of the fee-for-service model and whether it works for Rhode Island is part of a larger conversation – redesigning and renewing the state’s Medicaid waiver, which is expected to occur in 2018, Gosselin said.

Wood emphasized that she didn’t want to conflate two things. “One is Medicaid billing” and the other is “programmatic contracting,” she said.

“What we set forth to do was to create the first instance in Rhode Island of performance-based contracting for outcome-based services provided to individuals with developmental disabilities. We are super-excited about that,” she said. “That’s a whole new direction for this world.”

Wood also elaborated on the design and roll-out of supported employment in the context of a U.S. District Court order reinforcing the 2014 consent decree, which had set an Aug. 1 deadline for implementation of the performance-based supported employment program.

“Implementation is an ongoing activity,” Wood said. “We met the requirements of the Court order by filing with the monitor and the Court and the DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice) the programmatic requirements” for the supported employment services program last summer, Wood said. The “person-centered” program is designed to put the needs and preferences of the client at the center of the job-hunting and support process.

Since the summer, state officials have met with providers, drawn up contracts and finalized them, she said. The next phase of implementation is enrolling clients, Wood said.

“We are actually quite proud of the fact that we can bring this program up in what in government circles is lightning speed,” she said, “and to do it in a really reliable, viable, and responsible way.”  .

“I know it may not appear that way to the public,” Wood said.  She apparently alluded to public criticism of the program, which was not completely fleshed out when it was first presented to providers in November and was not widely understood by families who direct individualized services for a loved one.

Wage Increase Intended to Help Stabilize Workforce

Governor Raimondo’s proposed $6 million for wage increases for direct care workers would provide about 5 percent more in the hourly rate, before taxes, in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

For the current fiscal year, the General Assembly approved about $5 million for a pay raise which boosted the average hourly rate from $10.82 to $11.18.   Another 5 percent would raise the average hourly rate by 56 cents to $11.74.

Governor Raimondo’s latest proposal also would provide an increase for employer-related costs for direct care workers, Wood said. 

Raimondo had been asked to include another pay increase for direct care workers in her budget plan from State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, First Vice Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

DiPalma said in a recent telephone interview that he considers Raimondo’s wage proposal for Fiscal 2018 the first step in a five-year effort to raise direct care salaries to $15 an hour.

In the meantime, the minimum wage may well be on the rise as well. The Governor’s budget proposal would increase it from $9.60 to $10.50, while Rep. Leonidas P. Raptakis, (D- Coventry, West Greenwich, and East Greenwich) has countered with a $10 minimum wage bill.

 DiPalma was asked whether a $15 hourly rate would be enough for the direct care workers in five years.

He said he plans to introduce legislation this year to link the wages of direct care workers to the consumer price index.

“We can’t tie the hands of future legislatures,” by committing them to specific dollar amounts in advance, DiPalma said.

“It’s a case of wanting people to have an appreciation for the intent of what we want to do” in placing value on the work of those who care for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, he said.  

A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said DiPalma and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, who backs the so-called “15 in 5” plan, “have been important partners in advocating for investments in our direct care workforce.”

“We look forward to working with our partners in the General Assembly to implement our second wage increase this year, as well as increases over multiple years as possible,” said the spokeswoman, Sophie O'Connell.

A year ago, a conference hosted by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College concluded that higher wages are a critical component in stabilizing the direct care workforce nationwide. In Rhode Island, the average annual turnover is about one third, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island. That means that an adult with developmental disabilities, who relies on a good relationship with caregivers, can expect that every year, one out of every three staffers will  to the job.

Revised Individual Assessment Suggests Greater Cost

Unexpected  increases in billing from private service providers, as well as higher projections for future costs, would add an additional $5 million to federal and state-funded Medicaid-services for existing clients in the current fiscal year, according to the Governor's budget brief. (Some of that net increase would be offset by other savings.) 

In November, the Division of Developmental Disabilities began using an updated version of an assessment called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS) in determining the needs of individual clients. Those assessments are used to assign individual funding authorizations for support services.

“I personally am really thrilled” over the implementation of the new version, called the SIS-A, Wood said. “I know all my colleagues in government feel the same way about it.”

She acknowledged that “there have been all sorts of questions in the past about the validity and reliability of the state’s approach to implementing the SIS.”

And it’s an emotional topic because it’s not just an evaluation, but one linked to funding supports for a loved one, she said.

Since the SIS was implemented in 2011, time-consuming appeals of the results and the corresponding funding levels have become common, and appeals were often granted.

In 2014, the DOJ criticized the way the SIS was being implemented in the findings that laid the groundwork for the consent decree.

“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 said at the time. 

In the recent interview, Wood said, “We feel much more comfortable and confident about the validity” of the SIS-A.

As it has been explained to her by the experts, she said, the new versions include refined questions that address some of the more complex needs that “people did not feel were being captured in the original version.”

Wood indicated that in general, higher scores on the SIS-A have  prompted developmental disability service officials to project higher individual funding authorizations. 

Apart from three new questions asking whether a client has hypertension, allergies or diabetes, the SIS-A adopts a risk assessment which includes five overarching questions with multiple parts intended to gauge critical health needs, self-injurious behavior or community safety issues. The questions on the risk assessment were released by the Division of Developmental Disabilities in the last week. Professionals say that with proper support, such risks can be overcome.

A lot of effort already has gone into retraining interviewers, Wood said, although “it will take us two to three years to find our way fully in this new assessment.”

Heather Mincey, social services administrator in the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said the training program has addressed the way interviewers ask questions. The Division of Developmental Disabilities is trying to be responsive to families, clients, and service providers who may not feel like they’re being heard or are unsure what kind of information the interviewer is trying to elicit, she said.

At the same, the Division of Developmental Disabilities is continuing an initiative begun a year ago to save about $1.7 million in Medicaid funding, including almost  $846,000 in state funds, from existing individual funding authorizations that exceed levels indicated in past SIS assessments.

There were so many complaints about the SIS in the latter part of 2014 and the first months of 2015 that BHDDH suspended an effort to rein in the exceptions in the fiscal year that ran from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.  But the initiative to  to reduce those exceptions resumed for the current fiscal year, which began last July.

Wood said that budget figures for the current fiscal year and the one ending June 30, 2018, twice listing $845,750 in savings from realignment of individual funding authorizations, don’t represent a new initiative, but a continuation of the one already underway.

The appeal process remains an option for those who disagree with their allocations.

A new policy enacted by the state last July to respond to a judicial order says that all SIS assessments will be based solely on support needs. It also says that only the Director of Developmental Disabilities has the authority to grant authorizations that exceed SIS levels. Until now, appeals have been decided by a team of administrators.

Wood and other state officials have said they hope the SIS-A will result in a reduction in the number of appeals.





Kerri Zanchi, Former Massachusetts Rehabilitation Official, Named DD Director for Rhode Island

Kerri Zanchi

By Gina Macris

Kerri Zanchi, a former high-level developmental disability service official in Massachusetts, has been named Rhode Island’s Director of Developmental Disabilities in the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Zanchi, who has past ties to Rhode Island, begins her job here Jan. 23, according to Rebecca Boss, acting director of BHDDH.

 “We are certain that she’ll be a strong leader and we look forward to introducing her to you at our upcoming community forums” in February, Boss said.

“She has focused on quality services that encourage independence as well as community integration.” 

Boss said Zanchi embodies four characteristics at the top of the list of qualities identified in community forums held before the search: 

  • ·  hands-on experience with individuals living with developmental disabilities
  • ·   experience with government
  • ·  a deep understanding of how Medicaid works
  • ·  good communication skills

Zanchi, meanwhile, issued a statement saying she accepted the job because of the “tremendous opportunity” and “strong commitment” on the part of state leaders “to transform the development disability system to deliver high quality services that individuals and families deserve.”

She praised the “strong vision and clear goals” guiding the work of the developmental disability leadership team and said she found the community “engaged, with much expertise to offer as this work unfolds.”

“I look forward to partnering with individuals, families, the community and my colleagues in government to build on this momentum and move the service system in a direction that results in better services, better outcomes and more opportunities for all Rhode Islanders living with developmental disabilities,” Zanchi concluded.

Her salary will be $102,860, according to a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS).

Zanchi, 43, is a native of Massachusetts who grew up in East Lyme, CT. She began her career working directly with adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island and received her master’s degree in social work from Rhode Island College in 1999.

After completing her studies, she worked at the administrative level in both the public and private sectors in Massachusetts, rising in 2014 to Assistant Commissioner of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, one of several agencies falling under the jurisdiction of that state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The Commission provides an array of services that promote empowerment and independence for individuals with disabilities, according to its mission statement. As Assistant Commissioner, Zanchi provided leadership and advocacy for six departments of state government focused on community living, covering the gamut of concerns from consumer issues to independent living, assistive technology, protection from abuse and specialized services for individuals with brain injuries, according to a resume released by Rhode Island officials.

The resume says she implemented performance management practices and contributed to cross-agency collaboration. These issues are relevant in Rhode Island because of the demands of a 2014 consent decree that requires various state agencies to work together to  desegregate daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities following specific goals set by the U.S. District Court. 

Zanchi left Massachusetts government in the fall of 2015, according to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission’s annual report that year. She became Associate Executive Director of the Center for Living and Working, Inc., based in Worcester, leading the organization through a restructuring that emphasized staff development, quality improvement and performance-based outcomes.

In addition, she served as Coordinator of the Massachusetts Aging and Disabilities Resource Consortium for five partner agencies in central Massachusetts, strengthening community and provider collaborations, according to the resume.

Zanchi will succeed Charles Williams, who retired as Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities last July 22.

The current budget for the Division of Developmental Disabilities is $246.2 million, providing services for a total of about 4,000 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, most of whom receive direct care from 36 private agencies under contract with the state.

The division director oversees a staff of about 350 that determines eligibility, the level of individual need, conducts case management, oversees the state-run group home system, and provides administrative support, according to the EOHHS spokeswoman.

It is expected Zanchi will play a key role in shaping the state’s implementation of the 2014 consent decree, which has come under close scrutiny by District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr., after the federal Department of Justice challenged the state’s progress.

The EOHHS spokeswoman, Sophie O’Connell, said Zanchi “will work very closely with the leadership teams at BHDDH and EOHHS to move forward the Division’s work to achieve the terms of the consent decree and strengthen services for individuals with developmental disabilities.”

O’Connell noted that both the state’s Consent Decree Coordinator, Mary Madden, and the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Jennifer Wood, served on the search committee for the new director.

In the last year, since McConnell made it clear he would personally weigh in on the progress of the consent decree, Wood has taken the lead in assembling a team of officials to respond to the court’s requirements. She has a legal background in developmental disability law.

Besides Wood and Madden, the search committee for the developmental disability director included Brian Gosselin, Senior Strategy Officer at EOHHS; Jane Gallivan, former interim director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities and a consultant to the state; and Deanne Gagne, CEO/Founder of Bridge Building Services; Coordinator of Advocates in Action; and Assistant Coordinator of the Cross Disability Coalition.

A total of 74 applications were screened. Nine candidates were interviewed initially and four were called back for second interviews. The names of finalists – O’Connell did not say how many – were forwarded to Boss and to Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts, who made the final decision. 

RI EOHHS Clarifies Status of Probationary DD License Involving Maher Center in Newport

By Gina Macris

The James L. Maher Center of Newport is correct in saying that the state has not downgraded the developmental disability service license of the entire agency, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Executive Office of Human Services (EOHHS) said Tuesday, Nov. 15. 

The Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) has put one group home, at 228 Carroll Ave., on conditional, or probationary, status as a result of an internal investigation that found its staff abandoned a resident at Newport Hospital May 3, according to the spokeswoman.

But Jennifer Wood, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, says that "the accountability for the failure to comply with regulations and requirements at the Carroll Avenue group home resides with the management of the agency as a whole." 

The Maher Center has appealed the conditional license, which lasts for six months. During that period the agency is subject to heightened oversight by the state, according to Wood.

On Nov. 16, Wood elaborated: "In the currently pending matter BHDDH will prove that the agency did not operate that home consistent with the regulations, and unless they prove that they are operating consistent with the rules during the conditional license period, they may not be able to retain a license to operate that home in future.  

"If we also learn that other homes for which they are licensed are not operating consistent with the regulations, then we would take additional action regarding the licenses for those other facilities. We are very committed to more closely supervising the agency and in particular the management of the agency regarding the appropriate operation of the Carroll Avenue group home as well as all homes operated by the agency," Wood said Nov. 16.

The Maher Center will have its say before an EOHHS hearing officer, according to the EOHHS spokeswoman, but that session has not yet been scheduled. 

The Maher Center’s executive director, William Maraziti, issued a statement Nov. 10 denying the agency has ever abandoned any client. 

The agency is “extremely disappointed” with a “flawed investigation” that led to “unsubstantiated conclusions” by the BHDDH investigatory unit, according to the statement Nov. 10. 

Wood has said that even though the case involved the experience of just one client, the investigation raises “systemic issues” about the quality of care and respect for human rights.

The Maher Center has 16 licenses, according to the EOHHS spokeswoman. They cover: 

  • 12 residential licenses (1 for each residential home)
  • 1 agency license (the corporate “overall” license/oversight license)
  • 2 center based day program licenses (for non-residential day programs)
  • 1 service license (license that identifies all services that agency can provide)



Maher Center Disputes RI's Adverse Licensing Action In Formal Announcement of Appeal

By Gina Macris

The James L. Maher Center in Newport, RI., is “extremely disappointed” with “unsubstantiated conclusions” that it abandoned a young woman with developmental disabilities in its care at Newport Hospital last May, according to William Maraziti, the agency’s executive director.  

In a statement released Nov. 10, the agency says it has filed a formal appeal of an adverse licensing action taken by the RI Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals. 

After a four-month inquiry, BHDDH investigators recommended in September that the department’s “licensing unit issue a conditional license to the James L. Maher Center,” according to their September report. 

By early October, licensing officials had followed through, according to a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. 

At the time, Jennifer Wood, the Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services said that even though the case involved the experience of just one client, the investigation raises “systemic issues” about the quality of care and respect for human rights.

The findings demonstrated that the Maher Center is “not reliably following the rules and regulations” of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, Wood said. She said a conditional license, good for six months, is the equivalent of a probationary license.

But the Maher Center says that the “flawed investigation resulted in the downgrading to ‘conditional status’ the state license on one of the Maher Center’s 11 group homes.” 

“Recent media reports wrongly implied that the action was taken against the Maher Center’s agency license, which is the Center’s authority to provide services as a developmental disability organization,” the statement said. 

“By availing itself of the appeal process, the Maher Center intends to remove this unjust blemish on its 63-year record,” the statement continued. 

“We have never abandoned any of our participants – and certainly didn’t in this circumstance,” Maraziti said, calling the investigators’ report “inflammatory” and its allegations “without merit.”   

A spokeswoman for Wood confirmed in October that the Maher Center had begun the appeal process. 

The first step in the process is a meeting with investigators to determine if differences can be resolved, and the next step is a request for a hearing before an EOHHS hearing officer, according to the spokeswoman. 

The agency’s statement offered no details about the formal appeal, and through a spokesman, Maher Center officials declined to answer questions.   


RI Clears Backlog in Applications For Adult Developmental Disability Services

By Gina Macris 

(This article has been updated.)

Rhode Island’s Division of Developmental Disabilities has cleared a backlog of more than 200 applications for adult services, and eligibility workers are now adhering to a 30-day timeline for screening applications, in accordance with a schedule submitted to the U.S. District Court. 

In the spring of this year, the U.S. Department of Justice and an independent court monitor in a federal consent decree case expressed concern that extensive delays in reviewing applications for adult developmental disability services has prevented teenagers and young adults from receiving supports to which they are entitled, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The backlog had persisted for years.

Over the summer, in response to an order issued by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., officials of the Executive Office of Human Services(EOHHS) took the lead in streamlining the screening process for applications. 

Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, promised the backlog would be cleared by Sept. 30. 

On that date, all 224 applications that had been pending for at least the previous two months had been cleared by the developmental disabilities eligibility unit, part of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH),  according to a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). 

Of the 224 applicants who had been waiting for a decision on Aug.1, 106 were found eligible, 31 were deemed ineligible, and the remaining individuals were notified they either needed to submit additional information or schedule a face-to-face evaluation, according to the EOHHS spokeswoman, Sophie O’Connell. 

On Oct. 14, there were 35 pending applications, O’Connell said, and eligibility workers are now adhering to the 30-day time limit for screening applications, in keeping with a work plan submitted to the court over the summer. 

Individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities are eligible for adult services funded by BHDDH at the age of 18, according to state law.                                                         

EOHHS released the following details about the timeline for deciding eligibility: 

• When the eligibility unit receives an application, it sends a letter of confirmation to the family/applicant, stating that it will be reviewed within 30 days. The timeline for decision making is shared with the applicant as well as contact information for any questions. 

• All applications are screened and reviewed within 30 days. Either they are decided in that period or held for additional information. 

• All applicants whose applications are held for additional information will be sent a letter identifying what information is needed. The applicants and their families will have 60 days to submit missing information. 

• If the additional information is not submitted within 60 days, the application will be withdrawn and the individual can reapply. 

O’Connell said the withdrawal will prevent incomplete applications from sitting for extended periods of time, in some cases years, waiting for documentation, as had been the case in some instances in the past. 

 (The original version of this article said in error that 137 applications had been approved.) 




RI Puts Maher Center in Newport on Probation; Agency Files Appeal to Regain Full DD License

Steven and Jo-Ann DiBiasio's Daughter Plays the  Piano at Home in Cranston                                                                                                                          Photo by Anne Peters 

Steven and Jo-Ann DiBiasio's Daughter Plays the  Piano at Home in Cranston                                                                                                                          Photo by Anne Peters 

By Gina Macris

She was so excited about the prospect of attending a carnival on Easton’s Beach in Newport that she could not sleep, but hers was no ordinary insomnia.

The young woman, in the care of the James L. Maher Center of Newport, a developmental disability service agency, has a complex array of challenges on the autism spectrum and a rare chromosomal disorder.

Taken together, they give her a propensity for getting “stuck” on a single idea, unable to shift gears unless someone intervenes with a distraction in a light-hearted way. If her fixation goes uninterrupted, she can dissolve into a swirl of frustration, fear and anger.

That’s exactly what happened early on the morning of May 3. Police dispatched a cruiser to the group home where she lived, at 228 Carroll Ave., for a report of an “out of control 24-year-old female.”

She was taken away in the back of the police car to the emergency room of Newport Hospital. The Maher Center abandoned her there, “effectively leaving her homeless,” according to a recently concluded investigation by Rhode Island’s developmental disability agency.

As a result of 16 adverse findings connected with the woman’s care, the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) recently downgraded the Maher Center’s license to “conditional,” putting the agency under heightened oversight for a six-month probationary period, according to Jennifer Wood. The decision was conveyed to the agency in a letter dated Sept. 14. 

Jennifer Wood, Rhode Island’s Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, says BHDDH will conduct another evaluation in six months to determine whether the full license should be restored, continued for another six-month probationary period, or terminated.

William Maraziti, CEO of the Maher Center, said by telephone that the agency disagrees with most of the findings in the BHDDH investigation but declined substantive comment.

The Maher Center, which serves about 300 families in Newport and Bristol Counties, has appealed the decision. The state’s heightened monitoring of the agency will continue during the appeal, according to a spokeswoman for Wood.

May 3 marked the sixth time in the previous nine months that the young woman had been taken to the hospital for behavioral issues.

After the third hospitalization, at the end of October, 2015, the Maher Center gave notice that it wanted to terminate services. However, the agency had an obligation to work with the client indefinitely until a new provider could be found, according to state regulations. 

The woman, now 25, is the daughter of Steven and Jo-Ann DiBiasio of Cranston. She is one of three girls the couple originally took in as foster children and later adopted. The DiBiasios asked that their daughter not be identified by name to protect her privacy. 

 DiBiasio       Photo by Anne Peters  

 DiBiasio       Photo by Anne Peters  

In what Steven DiBiasio describes as the “tsunami” that occurred May 3, he and his wife learned that police had taken their daughter to the emergency room during a surprise call from a hospital official, who had been trying to reach the group home and had dialed their Cranston telephone number by accident.

He said he and his wife dropped everything and drove to Newport. DiBiasio said he learned that no one from the group home had accompanied his daughter to the hospital. Later, he said, he received a call from a Maher Center employee, who said the group home would not take his daughter back.

Nor did she have the favorite things that brought her comfort, including a Minnie Mouse doll she asked for repeatedly while the family waited at the hospital for a 2 p.m. appointment with the young woman’s psychiatrist, DiBiasio said.

Before the family left Newport that day, DiBiasio said he picked up his daughter's Minnie Mouse and a few of her other belongings at the Maher Center’s administrative offices on Hillside Avenue.

He said he saw her bags on the floor in an office and picked them up. but a Maher Center employee also grabbed them. Maraziti, the Maher Center executive director, came out of his office and asked the employee to let go, according to DiBiasio. 

Maraziti also called police to report an assault by the “parent of former client,” but police brought no charges, according to the police report.

The DiBiasios took her home to Cranston, where she has lived ever since. The first night she was home, she slept in her parents’ bed, clinging to her mother, something she had never done.

After she returned to Cranston, her daughter was aggressive, a tendancy that was not apparent before she went to live in the Newport group home in the summer of 2014, Jo-Ann DiBiasio said. 

Chronic sleep deprivation has once again become a way of life for the DiBiasios, both of whom have health problems that make it difficult for them to keep up physically with a young adult who needs constant supervision.

Jo-Ann DiBiasio Photo by Anne Peters

Jo-Ann DiBiasio Photo by Anne Peters

 For the first two months, the young woman received no developmental disability services.  Jo-Ann DiBiasio took an unpaid leave from her job during that time to make up for the lack of support and to put extra effort into behavior management techniques to decrease her daughter’s anxiety and anger.

In July, the young woman started getting daytime support services from a new agency, DiBiasio said, but there are no residential prospects on the horizon. 

 The investigatory arm of BHDDH started looking into the case the day after the woman’s parents took her home from Newport Hospital, when the quality improvement unit received a complaint of a human rights violation.

The investigators’ report was signed by Eileen Marino,  Associate Administrator of the Office of Quality Improvement.

The findings demonstrated that the Maher Center is “not reliably following the rules and regulations” of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, Wood said.

Even though the case involves the experience of just one client, the investigation raises “systemic issues” about the quality of care and respect for human rights, Wood said.

Another woman who lives at the same group home told BHDDH investigators that staff “put her down,” that an employee yelled at her in front of housemates, and that no action was taken when she told the house manager about the incident.

In the case of the DiBiasios’ daughter, the investigators found that the group home staff failed to follow proper de-escalation techniques spelled out in a 14-page behavioral support plan – a script of strategies intended to help the young woman keep herself on an even emotional keel.

The staff also failed to follow proper procedures for administering medication on an "as needed" basis, according to the findings.

If the behavioral and medication procedures had been followed, the investigators concluded, the ensuing incident might have been avoided.

According to the BHDDH findings, the staff of the group home simply told the young woman to go back to bed when she became agitated in the middle of the night.

In the next few hours, she was given an anti-depressant and she also was restrained, according to the BHDDH report. It said the group home staff called 911 at 7:37 a.m. The findings did not say whether or not the restraint was warranted, but investigators did say it was not properly recorded. 

The investigators found numerous violations of state regulations, some of them procedural, such as:

•       The Maher Center failed to provide the reason for its decision to cut off services to the young woman.

•       The agency failed to provide the young woman and family with information about their right to appeal the decision.

•       The Maher Center failed to work with the client and family to keep services going on an ad-hoc basis until a new provider could be found, so that there would be no interruption of services.

 •      The Maher Center failed to respond to an investigator's request for a copy of its policy regarding situations in which clients are taken to the hospital. 

The DiBiasios’ struggle to find 24-hour support for their daughter played out during a long-running fiscal drought in developmental disability services that continues today, despite an $11-million-increase in the current budget for daytime programs.  

 In July, 2012, the young woman marked her 21st birthday and the end of high school special education.  She experienced a “tremendous drop” in the frequency and variety of activities through adult services available from BHDDH and she became severely depressed, Steven DiBiasio said.

Six months later, in December, she dialed 911 herself and ended up at Butler Hospital.

All her caregivers at the time concurred that she needed 24-hour care, according to DiBiasio.

In March, 2013, officials identified the Carroll Avenue home in Newport, located just a few steps from the fabled Ocean Drive. But it was more than a year and a half, on Aug. 1, 2014, before the young woman was able to move in.

In all that time not one other agency operating group homes in Rhode Island offered to take the DiBiasios’ daughter. 

Some providers are known for their expertise in autism, but almost all agencies in Rhode Island have closed their doors to new clients, saying they operate at a loss for each staff member they must hire.

The issue of the providers' capacity to take on new clients surfaced briefly, without reference to any particular family, at a recent statewide meeting of community-based organizations focused on developmental disability services. 

Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island , said “a lot of organizations are saying they don’t have the capacity to provide community-based services.”

“A lot of people are conflicted”  between a desire to serve the needs of the newcomers and “the commitment to people they’ve had for many years,” she said.

CPNRI has 23 member agencies which serve about 3500 individuals, most of the adult population with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island.

Before their daughter went to live in the group home at 228 Carroll Ave., the DiBiasios said, they were told the Maher Center planned to develop an expertise in serving individuals with autism, and that their daughter would be the first client in that new program.

While the young woman had been waiting to move to Newport, her parents took her out frequently to movies, bowling, restaurants, and other activities which she enjoyed.With support, she became a volunteer “play partner” at the children’s play and exploration area of Roger Williams Park Zoo, Steven DiBiasio said.

The DiBiasios said they told the Maher Center that they wanted the visits to the zoo to continue, along with other community-based daytime activities.

When they were told that transportation from Newport to the zoo in Providence might be an issue, Steven DiBiasio donated a 2004 Toyota Corolla to the Maher Center so that the transportation barrier would be removed.  BHDDH has ordered the car to be returned to the DiBiasios.

Both Jo-Ann and Steven DiBiasio said they fervently wanted the placement to work.

228 Carroll Ave., Newport                                                Photo By Brian C. Jones 

228 Carroll Ave., Newport                                                Photo By Brian C. Jones 

Within six months after their daughter moved to Newport, the DiBiasios say, they were informed that the Maher Center had abandoned plans for the autism program.

BHDDH authorized funding for two staff members to devote their full attention to the young woman, beginning in October, 2015, but investigators found the Maher Center did not utilize the money. 

Steven DiBiasio said his daughter spent most of her daytime hours in the Maher Center’s day program and the rest of her time at the group home, largely shut off from the sights that had attracted her to Newport in the first place.

DiBiasio said the visits to the zoo were far and few between and eventually stopped, for reasons he was told ranged from“lack of adequately trained staff to the client’s unsafe behavior,” according to a letter of complaint he sent former BHDDH Director Maria Montanaro in late April, about a week before the incident on May 3.

Investigators faulted the Maher Center for failing to provide adequate staffing, “resulting in her inability to access the community,” including the zoo, as outlined in her individual support plan.These plans form the bedrock of supports tailored to individualized state funding.

BHDDH also said the agency failed to adequately communicate with the parents, who are the woman’s guardians.

Over time, the DiBiasios became concerned about the amount of prescribed medication administered to their daughter, particularly in light of her genetic disorder, a duplication of chromosome 15, which can make it difficult for her liver to tolerate too many drugs.

In March, 2016, Jo-Ann DiBiasio wrote the Maher Center nurse, saying that her daughter “is no longer able to talk to me on the phone

the way she had in the past. She is constantly yawning and obsessing” about the things she used to do with her family, the mother wrote.

When she asked her daughter about her day, the young woman replied that she didn’t like the prescription medication she was given on an “as-needed” basis.

The mother asked the nurse for complete information on the times and doses of the medications since December, 2015, when a psychiatrist authorized their use on an as-needed basis.

The agency responded to the email but did not answer the questions, according to investigators.  As a guardian, Jo-Ann DiBiasio has a legal right to her daughter’s medical records.

Today, the young woman takes less medication on a daily basis than she did when she was living at the Maher Center group home, Steven DiBiasio said. In the four months since she moved back into her parents' home, she has had no emergency visits to the hospital, he said.  

For ninety minutes twice each week, accompanied by support staff, she volunteers at a child care center. There have been no incidents, he said.   

On a recent Saturday in Cranston, the DiBiasios’ daughter took a visitor by the hand into her house and offered a seat, as if she were leading a a guided tour. She asked her guest a number of questions about herself and her car, and inspected the newcomer’s car keys.                         

The questions allow her to process information in a way that decreases anxiety, Steven DiBiasio explained.

At the kitchen table, the young woman played with a laminated word-and-picture puzzle that had her distinguish the difference between a question and a statement. 

The laminated poster board was fixed with velcro to receive one punctuation mark or another to complete a particular sentence. It is just one of the materials Jo-Ann DiBiasio has created to help her daughter with communication.

When she needed to move on to something else, her parents and two sisters helped her find a new activity, while one of the family dogs followed and the cat lounged on a high perch, taking it all in.

After a while, the young woman, who has perfect pitch, gave a brief demonstration of her skills on the piano and guitar.

When the talk turned to Newport, she said she still misses the excitement of the City-By-The-Sea.

(An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that DiBiasio retrieved none of his daughter's belongings from the administrative offices of the Maher Center on May 3.) 

Judge, DOJ Praise RI's Compliance Efforts In DD Case; Contempt Hearing Avoided, For Now

By Gina Macris

The state of Rhode Island has done more in the last six months to comply with a federal consent decree aimed at ending the isolation of adults with developmental disabilities than the previous state administration did in the first two years of the agreement. 

That assessment came from the U.S. Department of Justice Sept. 16 in a conference on the status of the 2014 agreement before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr.   

Because of those efforts, McConnell deferred, for now, a request by DOJ lawyer Nicole Kovite Zeitler that he hold contempt proceedings in early October over the state’s failure to hit specific targets in the order McConnell issued last spring to force compliance with the consent decree.

By signing the consent decree in 2014, the state promised, over a ten-year period, to establish a system of community-based, integrated work and leisure activities for individuals with developmental disabilities that would replace sheltered workshops and segregated day programs. The transition is mandated by the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.  

While acknowledging the state’s intensive efforts, led by Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Zeitler cited two non-compliance issues: the scarcity of young adults with developmental disabilities holding jobs, and the state’s failure to distribute increased reimbursement rates to private service providers by Aug. 1 as the judge had required.  

Wood said rate increases would be implemented Oct. 1. That is the date the computer system will be adjusted to reflect a 36-cent hourly increase, from $11.55 to $11.91, in the average reimbursement rate paid to private service providers.  

Approximately 4000 workers at private agencies will get raises, retroactive to July 1, after their employers start receiving the higher reimbursements. 

Mary Madden, the state’s consent decree coordinator, elaborated on the lack of job placements for young adults. 

Of a total of 151 individuals with intellectual disabilities who left school in the 2013-2014 or 2014-2015 academic years, 99 are receiving adult services, including 79 who are receiving employment-related services and 29 who are actually employed, Madden said. 

She did not have data for the 2015-2016 academic year. 

The employment number is “not where anyone wants it to be,” Madden said.   

Of the 151 identified, 52 individuals are not enrolled for any services. 

Later, Zeitler said the notion that 52 young adults have not been connected with adult services is a serious concern. 

Charles Moseley, the independent monitor in the case, said he wanted to echo both Zeitler’s concerns and her praise of the state’s efforts so far. 

He said he “wrestled with the idea of a show-cause hearing,” a proceeding that might lead to a contempt order, but decided against recommending it, because he believes the state can work with him to plan and provide employment services. 

While McConnell noted that a missed deadline in a judicial order is a serious issue, he deferred to Moseley’s confidence that he can work things out with the state. 

“I tend to be a ‘half-full’ kinda guy,” McConnell said, explaining his decision. 

“Some may call me Pollyanna-ish,” he said, but the compliance effort put forth by the state in the last six months “deserves a compliment and a thanks.”  

McConnell said state government doesn’t move quickly, even with court sanctions hanging over its head, as they were after McConnell issued a 22-point compliance order May 18. 

The fact that the Governor and the General Assembly acted late in the legislative season to add $11 million to the developmental disabilities budget should be acknowledged, McConnell said. He also thanked Health and Human Services Secretary Elizabeth Roberts, Deputy Secretary Wood, and her administrative team. About half a dozen of them attended the hearing.  

“We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Department of Justice,” McConnell continued, praising its “tenacity and advocacy in taking on an incredibly complex task for those who wouldn’t otherwise have a voice.” 

But McConnell said he wasn’t about to unfurl a “Mission Accomplished banner” just yet.  

A report that the monitor filed with the court on the eve of the hearing outlines a plan to put the state on short-term deadlines for developing employment strategies for young adults and making sure all those eligible for services are identified. The employment-related strategies are due Oct. 1. 

 Moseley gave the state until Nov. 15 to identify all young adults who have left school in the last three academic years who are eligible for developmental disability services, but he wants to hear how it will approach that problem by Sept. 30. 

The effort will require cooperation by the state Department of Education, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, and the state Office of Rehabilitation Services. 

Moseley has expressed concern that the state is missing those who do not have an intellectual disability but are eligible because of a developmental delay.   Depending on the individual, a young adult on the autism spectrum may fall into the latter category. 

With the average cost of services at about $59,000 a year per person, Moseley’s directive for better identification of eligible young adults has the potential to add significantly to the developmental disabilities budget. 

For example, it would cost an estimated $3 million a year to serve the 52 young adults who have been identified but who are not enrolled in developmental disability services. 

Moseley, meanwhile, reflected on concerns expressed by the DOJ about the need for quality career development planning, a newly-implemented exercise that is intended to drive thoughtful, individualized job searches. 

“Person-centered planning, person-centered thinking, is a challenge that is facing all states. It needs to be done on an ongoing basis,” he said. 

Earlier in the hearing, Deputy Secretary Wood said the new chief employment specialist, Tracey Cunningham, had personally trained more than 200 people in how to write career development plans. 

But Moseley said it’s not a matter of one training. “You have to learn it and live it,” 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.





Federal Court Hearing Sept. 16 Could Test RI's Compliance With DD Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

The status of Rhode Island’s compliance with a federal consent decree mandating integration of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities is scheduled to go before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., on Sept. 16.

In response to McConnell’s active involvement in the case, which began in January, high-ranking state officials have begun an intense effort to lay the groundwork for compliance with the consent decree, which was signed in April, 2014.

On May 18 of this year, McConnell issued an order that held the state to numerous deadlines in July and August.

Whether the state has made sufficient progress over the summer may become clear during the upcoming review of the case in open court.

Prior to the Sept. 16 court session, the U.S. Department of Justice  and the independent court monitor can be expected to file written reports with the judge on their view of compliance issues, which they’ve done in the past.

They also may ask the judge to impose sanctions on the state if they believe it has not met the requirements of McConnell’s very prescriptive order of May 18.

The DOJ and Charles Moseley, the monitor, have been checking compliance with the consent decree on the basis of files they have selected from a list the state has provided of all individuals who fall under the purview of the agreement, about 3,000 people in all. The individuals are identified by a code that protects their privacy.

The case is extremely complex, with many related steps needed to achieve the long-term goal of the consent decree – to allow persons with disabilities the choice to participate as much as possible in regular employment and community activities. The agreement remains in effect until Jan. 1, 2024.

A July 1 Deadline for Supported Employment

One of those steps, spelled out in the consent decree itself, is a requirement that the state would find supported employment by July 1, 2016,  for all eligible individuals who left high school during the 2015-2016 school year. 

That population is estimated at a minimum of 74 individuals by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). 

In an interview Aug. 18, a state official could not say whether the employment requirement has been met because it does not have employment data as recent as July 1.

For now, the state is getting employment statistics from an “Employment and Day Activity Outcomes Survey” for adults with developmental disabilities that is done on a quarterly basis by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

The latest survey is a snapshot of what adults with disabilities were doing during their daytime hours in March, according to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Wood said statistics for July won’t be available until September.

Supports necessary for individuals to access regular employment vary with the needs of the person. They may include transportation, extra training that breaks down the job into small steps, or even a job coach who stays with the employee for the entire work shift. Typically, individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities employed in the community work part time.

A Pay Raise For Direct Service Workers

During July, the state has submitted numerous documents that could have a bearing on the September court session, which is officially termed a “status conference.” 

Among the state’s filings is a progress report on what Wood has described as the “huge mathematical exercise” of delivering $5 million in pay raises- an average of $600 a year per person before taxes  – to direct service workers and job coaches.

Pay raises have been described as essential to stabilize a workforce of direct service workers who are asked to do demanding jobs for less than they would make at a fast food restaurant. Turnover ranges from about 35 percent to 80 percent annually, according to testimony before the General Assembly earlier this year.

At a recent community forum, Jane Gallivan, the interim Director of Developmental Disabilities, said workers should have checks by Oct. 1 that incorporate retroactive pay going back to the start of the current fiscal year, July 1.

The judge’s order gave the state until Aug. 1 to “appropriately increase salaries, benefits, training and supervision for Direct Support Professionals and Job Coaches.”

Performance-Based Bonus Plan Outlined

Another money issue involves government reimbursement paid to the  agencies themselves.

The state has filed a progress report with the court on plans to use $6.8 million in performance-based bonuses approved by the General Assembly in a two-phase program during the current fiscal year.

The program is initially planned to reward service providers when they place clients in jobs, after the workers have been employed for three months, and again at the six-month mark.  

These incremental bonuses would total an average of $15,750 per person, although the number of incentives and the dollar amounts may be adjusted, Wood has said. 

The state has not yet begun taking applications from providers to participate in the program, according to a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The incentive program is to be piloted until December with a limited number of private service providers.

The judge’s order required the state to implement the initial phase of the program by Aug. 1, and to turn in evidence that all providers have signed performance-based contracts by Dec. 31.

A Call For A New Reimbursement Model

McConnell also called on the state to implement a new reimbursement model by August 1 that is “sufficiently flexible to allow providers to be reimbursed for services rendered, including, but not limited to career exploration discovery services, vocational situational assessments, work trials, development of job seeker profiles, job search and placement, job training and support, support coordination, and transportation services.”

There is similar language in the consent decree, which specified that providers should be paid for job-related and job counseling work that is “not face-to-face with the client.”

Although performance bonuses will be an added “layer” of payment to service providers in the incentive program,  according to Wood, she has said that the current reimbursement model will remain in place.

“The unit service model is the unit service model,” she said in a recent interview.

For daytime services, this model requires providers to document the time workers spend with clients, face to face, in 15-minute increments. Providers are not paid for time clients are absent for any reason, even though they must staff their programs at the same level, regardless of varying attendance.

The judge’s order says the state must now have a “new service package design” that includes up-front individual financial authorizations for supported employment services.

Wood has said specific authorizations for supported employment services will be awarded to individual clients of providers enrolled in the performance bonus program – an estimated 200 people in all.

Except for that group, clients will continue to have to trade in other types of authorizations, like generic day services, to get employment-related supports, she said.

The State's Other Progress Reports

To comply with other requirements of the court order, the state has submitted:

  • ·An overall project management plan involving the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), RIDE, and the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) in the state Department of Human Services
  • ·A transition timeline covering services to young people with developmental disabilities aged 14 to 21, including details on which agency and the type of worker who will provide the respective supports. 
  • A comprehensive communications plan, including details on relaying the status of pending applications for adult developmental disability services to applicants and their families.

There are now 224 pending applications for adult services, a slight reduction from a backlog of about 237 reported in mid-May.

As of last Friday, however, eligibility workers had screened all but four of the 224 applications and assigned them to one of three categories; “likely eligible, likely ineligible” or “need further documentation,” Wood said.

This screening process sets the stage for decisions on applications in the first two categories to be made within 30 days, she said, enabling the state to retire the backlog by the end of September.

The screening also enables eligibility workers to promptly notify those who need to submit more information. 

In the past, those who needed to gather additional documentation might not have known it until their cases got to the top of the pile and were reviewed by the eligibility workers – an indefinite time period. 

The initial assessment makes the decision-making process much more efficient, Sophie O’Connell, a spokeswoman for EOHHS, said in a follow-up email.

EOHHS, which has taken over management of the Division of Disabilities at BHDDH since the beginning of the year, has heightened its oversight of the application screening process during the summer and used “data and performance management to keep our efforts on track,” O’Connell continued.

“The team met every day in the morning and the afternoon to set goals, review progress and problem solve as needed” during the screening process, she said.

At a hearing in April, the DOJ presented evidence that some individuals turning 21 were waiting extensive periods of time to receive notice of eligibility for adult services and then had trouble finding programs suited to their needs.

The consent decree requires that community-based services, including supported employment, be in place for individuals with developmental disabilities when they reach the age of 18. 

State law also says that individuals with developmental disabilities are eligible for adult services at age 18, although as a practical matter, it is not uncommon for them to remain in high school until age 21.

Nevertheless, the consent decree anticipates a seamless and individualized transition between school and the adult world.

McConnell will hear the status of consent decree compliance at 2 p.m. Sept. 16 in Courtroom 3 on the second floor of the federal courthouse on Kennedy Plaza in Providence, according to a notice in the case file. 


Parental Concerns Over RI Consent Decree Persist; State Says No One With DD Will be Forced Into Job

 All Photos by Anne Peters

 All Photos by Anne Peters

Jeanne Connery, mother of a young adult on autism spectrum, talks about a job trial that did not go well for her daughter during Wednesday's public forum at the Buttonwoods Community Center in Warwick.

By Gina Macris

“You threw the baby out with the bathwater when you eliminated sheltered workshops,” Brian Newton, the father of a woman with developmental disabilities, told Rhode Island officials at a public forum in Warwick Aug. 17.

In reality, most, but not all, sheltered workshops in Rhode Island closed abruptly in the wake of U.S. Department of Justice findings in 2014 that segregated employment – at sub-minimum wage – violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

“What happened to my daughter’s right to work in a sheltered workshop?” he asked. She and her friends “were happy making 5, 7, 12 dollars a week,” Newton said.

“You have to admit there’s a certain population that will never work” at a regular job, he said.

Newton looked straight at Jane Gallivan, Rhode Island’s interim Director of Developmental Disabilities, who happens to have three decades’ professional experience in Maine and Delaware and a national reputation among her peers as an innovator.

Gallivan smiled as she looked back at Newton and slowly shook her head from side to side, kindly but firmly.

“Not to go there,” said Gallivan, who has extensive experience promoting job opportunities for individuals facing intellectual challenges.

Newton persisted, saying there’s a “certain percentage” that won’t be  “bagging groceries or doing piece work.” 

“I hope not,” Gallivan replied. “I hope it’s customized to what they can do.”

Newton:  “They have to have somebody with them.”



Gallivan: “People have job coaches now. You can have a job coach for a very long time.”

 Jeanne Connery, the mother of a 20-year-old woman on the autism spectrum, said her daughter has a high aptitude for math and science but does not connect with people.

She was placed in a job trial in a retail store, where she tagged and stocked shoes and boots, an experience which was not a good match for her, Connery said.

What her daughter needed was the Job Club at the Groden Center, a group that talked about the social and behavioral pointers that do not come intuitively to people on the autism spectrum, Connery said.

That job club did not have the capacity to take on another group member, according to Joseph F. Murphy, administrator in the state Office of Rehabilitation Services.

Mary Madden, Rhode Island’s Consent Decree Coordinator, said, “The bottom line is that this is a free country. Nobody is going to make your son or daughter go to work at a job that isn’t appropriate to them. I just want to say that there are a lot of misconceptions out there.”

There are now “400 people working in the community,” Madden said.

Most of them “are not bagging groceries or working at Home Depot,” Madden said. “We haven’t done a good job getting stories out” about individuals with unique skills matched to the needs of a company.

In fact, one person with a unique job was in the audience. Mark Susa of Warwick, with the help of his father, John Susa, and paid support staff, trains peers with disabilities – readers and non-readers alike -  to use public transportation independently.

Mark Susa also serves on the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. 

Madden, meanwhile, said that regardless of the 2014 consent decree which mandated integration of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,“people should be doing meaningful things every day.

Jennifer wood

Jennifer wood

“Not everyone is in the community all of the time. People only tend to work 10, 15, or 20 hours a week. They should be able the rest of the time to do something meaningful,” she said.

Gallivan, Madden and others, including Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, gave an audience of about 75 people progress reports on budgetary and programmatic fronts since the last community forum in late April.

Among other things, front line support staff will see wage increases in their paychecks by October 1, along with a lump sum retroactive to July 1.

The General Assembly earmarked $5 million for wage increases to some 4,000 direct support staff in the current budget. The increase will average about 30 cents an hour, or about $600 a year, before taxes, based on a 40-hour work week.  

Another $6.8 million in the budget will be set aside for performance bonuses as private service providers meet certain benchmarks in moving clients into jobs in the community and helping keep those jobs.

During the last two months, there has been nearly a complete turnover in the leadership of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, with two key positions yet to be filled.

The state is looking for a new departmental director to succeed Maria Montanaro, who left at the end of June, as well as a permanent Director of Developmental Disabilities to replace Charles Williams, who retired at the end of July.

In the meantime, the deputy BHDDH director, Rebecca Boss, serves as acting director. She attended the community forum.

Gallivan said she can remain as Interim Director of Developmental Disabilities only until the end of September.

Recently retired from the top developmental disabilities post in Delaware, Gallivan had promised her mother, now 101 years old, that she could spend winters with her in her home in Florida. That was before Rhode Island came calling. Gallivan's mother is spending the summer on Cape Cod. 
“How many more winters are we going to have together?” Gallivan said. “That’s why I’m not going to continue much longer” than September, she said.

Wood, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, quipped that Gallivan’s mother has, in effect, set the timeline for filling the developmental disabilities director’s job.

Gallivan said the challenges Rhode Island faces are “not very different than in many of the other states.”

“We need to have a strong vision of what it is we want to have in Rhode Island,” Gallivan said. “That’s my task when I’m here.”

She indicated there are conflicting internal and external pressures on state government with regard to developmental disabilites.

“Internally, there’s a lot of pressure to deal with rising costs. Externally, the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services,  “who give us 50 percent of the money, wants us to look at services differently.”

By 2019, all states must provide Medicaid and Medicare services in all categories in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate, according to the latest rules of the CMS. The rule change is in keeping with the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which clarified a mandate for integrated community-based services in Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Olmstead decision also forms the legal basis for the 2014 consent decree in Rhode Island, which affects only daytime supports for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Gallivan was asked about the Supports Intensity Scale, (SIS) a controversial needs assessment questionnaire that is used to develop individual funding allocations.

She said the Division of Disabilities “has begun to take a close look” at variability in the scores of the SIS at it has been administered in Rhode Island.

For an individual with developmental disabilities, the results of periodic reassessments are supposed to be relatively stable, because the need for support generally does not change dramatically over a lifetime.

However, analyses of SIS scores performed by a healthcare consulting company under contract to the state show that 46 percent of individuals who were re-assessed showed changed levels of need – and funding.

The review of the use of the SIS is “high on the agenda,” Gallivan said.

Sue Joinson  asked whether there will be an “opening of restrictions on residential placements,” which appear to be available only to families who are in crisis.

“Why is it that I can’t get a concrete plan” for the transition of the younger of her two daughters with developmental disabilities? she asked. She is 60 and her husband is 70, Joinson said.

Gallivan said residential services have been identified “as a need.”

“We need to evaluate all residential options” including shared living, “and move slowly,” she said.

Wood, meanwhile, said that the legal framework of the “least restrictive environment” in the ADA means that state policy does not assume that a group home is the most appropriate residential setting for an individual with developmental disabilities.

The state must offer a “continuum” of options suited to individual needs, she said.


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. “

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget provisions specifically related to the consent decree include:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the monitor's full report

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

ri executive office of health and human services

ri executive office of health and human services

Task Force Members Say Interviews to Assess DD Needs in RI Apparently Used to Cut Funds

By Gina Macris

Four Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities who all need nearly constant attention have had their residential funding cut by a total of about $125,000 a year.

The most recent scoring on an extensive questionnaire that is supposed to assess their support needs says they have become much more self-sufficient. Instead of having extensive needs, they now require only moderate supports, according to the results of the questionnaire, the Supports Intensity Scale, or SIS. 

But Tom Kane, the CEO of the agency that runs the men’s group home, says that if he withdraws $125,000 worth of residential staff hours for these men, “someone will get hurt.” 

“It’s not a position these four men should be in, nor should the agency be in this position,” Kane told state officials at a meeting of the Employment First Task Force July 12. 

Professionals acknowledge that, barring a traumatic event, the needs of a person with intellectual or developmental disabilities remain relatively stable over the course of a lifetime. 

Yet one chart prepared in 2015 by a healthcare consulting company under contract with the state shows the level of need changed for 47 percent of clients who had been re-assessed since the Supports Intensity Scale was introduced in 2011. 

For AccessPoint RI, a private service provider, those changes have resulted in a cumulative loss of $970.000 in developmental disability funding, roughly 12 percent of the budget, Kane said. 

If the tool is reliable, the score shouldn’t change dramatically,” Kane said. “Either the tool is not reliable, or you know it was all manipulated” to reduce pressure on state spending, he said.

Jane Gallivan, the interim Director of Developmental Disabilities in the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, said, “We definitely will take a hard look.”

Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator for the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said she has received numerous reports that social workers conducting the SIS interviews challenge the accuracy of answers family members give to specific questions. 

Or, said Mary Beth Cournoyer, a parent member of the Employment First Task Force, the interviewer does not argue with family members’ answers but merely substitutes other ones.  This becomes apparent, she said, when parents review the completed assessment and see that the ratings on needs differ from the ones they had given. 

Cournoyer said parents need training on what to expect from a SIS questionnaire because the answers they give could have unexpected ramifications.  

For example, parents may say that their sons or daughters can dress themselves, when the reality is much more nuanced. Without someone to put away the out-of-season clothes so they are out of reach, individuals with disabilities may dress inappropriately for the weather, she said. They may be capable of dressing themselves, but may sometimes refuse to do so.

Cournoyer indicated that parents don’t realize they need to completely remove from the picture the supports they and other family members provide naturally before they say whether their sons or daughters can perform a particular task. 

Jennifer Wood, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, said “no topic has come up with more regularity than the SIS. We should have some focus groups.”  

Under order of the U.S. District Court, and to avoid a possible contempt hearing, BHDDH changed its SIS policy July1 –nearly two years after it first agreed to do so -to divorce the assessment of need from funding considerations. 

That new language is intended to resolve a conflict of interest noted by the U.S. Department of Justice in its 2014 findings that the state’s sheltered workshops and segregated day programs violatedthe integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, The 1999 as spelled out by the  1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.  

In a subsequent consent decree designed to remedy the ADA violations, the state agreed to change its SIS policy by Sept. 1, 2014. 

The policy then in place said, in part: “Starting January 1, 2013 BHDDH will assign service tiers (funding allocations) based on the results of an individual SIS assessment. 

A year later, the DOJ said in its findings: 

“Our investigation revealed that BHDDH staff maintains primary responsibility for administering the Supports Intensity Scale, and they are also part of the agency that administers the statewide budget for developmental disability services.This is a seeming conflict of interest because the need to keep consumers’ resource allocations within budget may influence staff to administer the SIS in a way that reaches the pre-determined budgetary result.” 

The DOJ  referred to similar warnings from the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which created the SIS.   

The consent decree prohibits the SIS from being used as a funding mechanism.  

The new state policy, adopted July 1, reads, in part: “All decisions involving SIS tier assignments (levels of need) and any changes to SIS tier assignments are made solely on the basis of individual support needs as indicated by the SIS assessment in a manner that is consistent with individual’s support needs, separate and apart from resource allocation considerations.” 

How the change in policy will play out in practice is not yet clear.

According to a monitor’s report to the court in August, 2015, the state reported making the necessary changes in the administration of the questionnaire, including the re-training of interviewers, but complaints from parents have persisted. 

The disagreements over the SIS have resulted in families filing appeals. Most appeals are granted, according to Charles Williams, who retires as Director of Developmental Disabilities July 22. Data on the number of appeals, successful or otherwise, is not readily available. 

Wood and Gallivan promised members of the Employment First Task Force they would get to the bottom of the issue.                               

The Employment First Task Force, created by the consent decree, consists of members representing community organizations, adults who themselves have disabilities, and parents.   The task force, which holds public meetings, is intended to serve as a bridge between state government and consumers and families. 

The next meeting is August 12 at 2 p.m. at the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, 110 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick.


RI's Wood Confident that DD Agency Can Clear Backlog of Applications by September's End

By Gina Macris  

A backlog of about 230 Rhode Islanders waiting to hear whether they are eligible for adult developmental disability services should be eliminated by the end of September, according to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Director of Health and Human Services. 

She commented in a telephone interview July 13, elaborating on information previously released about the eligibility waiting list. 

“If at the end of the summer, the needle isn’t moving, we will recalibrate,” she said. If additional staff are needed, they will be added, Wood said. 

There are three social workers, a supervisor, and support staff in the eligibility unit of the Division of Disabilities in the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). 

“We’re taking a lot of extraneous requirements out of the (application) review process,” Wood said, expanding on previous statements made by the state to the U.S. District Court as part of the requirements of a judge’s order. 

Instead of the eligibility workers tracking down medical records and the like from their original sources, they will first ask families to provide them. Families are often the best record keepers, Wood said. 

Rather than taking valuable time to write “referral narratives” on applicants to give to prospective service providers, the providers will get the applicants’ actual records, as long as the applicants or their parents sign the required release forms, Wood said. 

The providers will need to see those records anyway to put together services for new clients, she said. 

The eligibility staff will be able to dedicate their time to the pending applications during the summer because their other duties are at a minimum at this time of year, Wood said. 

For example, they don’t have to attend annual meetings for individual teenagers who are special education students planning a transition to adult life, she said. Those meetings usually are held during the academic year. 

Elements of an efficiency exercise undertaken in the eligibility unit during the month of June were included in a 16-page communication plan submitted to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. on July 1. 

McConnell has set deadlines during July and August for numerous tasks intended to move the state toward compliance with a 2014 consent decree intended to correct violations of the Americans With  Disabilities Act. (Click here for related articles

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,”