RI Faces Uphill Climb Halfway Through DD Consent Decree Implementation

Bar graph on employment targets 60-30-19.JPG

Bar graph from RI’s latest report to federal court monitor indicates RI is on track to meet one of three categories of employment targets in 2019. “Youth Exit” refers to those those who left high school between 2013 and 2016. “Sheltered Workshop” and “Day Program” refer to persons who spent most of their time in those respective settings when the consent decree was signed.

By Gina Macris

Halfway through Rhode Island’s decade-long agreement with the federal government to ensure that adults with developmental disabilities can work and enjoy leisure time in the larger community:

  • Rhode Island has linked 38 percent of its intellectually challenged residents to acceptable jobs, prompting a federal monitor to warn that it needs to step up its game

  • Service providers argue that continued progress will take a larger financial investment than the state is making

  • Success stories abound but some families remain skeptical about whether the changes will ever work for their relatives.

Five years and three months after Rhode Island signed a federal consent decree to help adults with developmental disabilities get regular jobs and lead regular lives in their communities, 857 people have found employment. Yet, 1,398 others are still waiting for the right job match or for the services they need to prepare for work.

The pace of adding individuals to the employed category has slowed dramatically. Only 37 individuals were matched with jobs during the first two quarters of the current year. To meet its overall employment target for 2019, the state will have to find suitable job placements for 199 more adults. That would require a pace in the second half of the year that is five times faster than the first half.

Though the federal consent decree was signed in 2014, meaningful efforts to comply with its terms did not get underway until two years later, when a federal judge threatened to hold Rhode Island in contempt and levy fines if it did not take numerous and precise steps to begin compliance in a systematic way. At that point, state officials were struggling even to come up with an accurate count of the number of individuals protected by the consent decree, so inadequate was its data collection.

The active census of the consent decree population has grown since 2016, when the judge ordered the state to improve its record-keeping and the monitor forced the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to look again at special education students who might be eligible for adult services.

The most recent figures show that there are 3,764 intellectually challenged adults active either with BHDDH or RIDE who covered by the consent decree.

Of that total, 211 were employed in the community prior to the consent decree. Some have signaled they don’t want to work, either because they are of retirement age or for other reasons. Nearly 1,200 others are still in school and not yet seeking jobs.

Of the 2,255 adults who must be offered employment over the life of the consent decree, 38 percent have landed jobs.

The figures are re-calculated every three months.

state's employment chart as of 6-30-19.JPG

Employment data from the state’s report to the consent decree monitor as of June 30, 2019. broken down by categories of persons who must be offered jobs. “Youth exit” refers to those those who left high school between 2013 and 2016. “Sheltered Workshop” and “Day Program” refer to persons who spent most of their time in those respective settings when the consent decree was signed.

Rhode Island agreed to overhaul its services for the developmentally disabled population after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice found the state’s over-reliance on segregated sheltered workshops and day care centers violated the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

People with disabilities have the civil right to the supports and services they need to live as part of their communities to the extent that it is therapeutically appropriate, the U.S. Supreme Court said in the Olmstead decision of 1999, which upheld the integration mandate. In other words, integration should be the norm, not the exception.

Some people couldn’t wait to get out of sheltered workshops when the consent decree was signed and quickly found jobs in the community with a little bit of assistance. But some families with sons and daughters who have more complex needs saw sheltered workshops close without any transition plan. For some of them, the consent decree continues to represent a sense of loss.

At a recent public forum, Kerri Zanchi, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), and Brian Gosselin, the state’s consent decree coordinator, had just finished applauding the successes of those who have found jobs or are on their way to shaping their careers, when Trudy Chartier spoke up on behalf of her daughter.

Trudy Chartier * all photos by Anne Peters

Trudy Chartier * all photos by Anne Peters

Her daughter is 55, deaf, has intellectual and behavioral problems and uses a wheelchair, Chartier said. She wants a job in the community and she’s been looking for five years.

Her daughter was in a sheltered workshop for a while, Chartier said, and “she loved it.”

“She didn’t care about making $2 an hour,” her mother said, and she made friends there. Now, she said her daughter “is not getting anywhere” and is “so dissatisfied.”

At the age of 80, Chartier said, she doesn’t have the energy she once had to help her daughter change things.

Later, Douglas Porch sounded a similar concern. “I can understand that the idea is to get them into the community, but what it’s actually done is destroyed my daughter’s community, because you’ve taken away her friends.”

“She’s in a group home, with nothing for her to do,” Porch said.

Zanchi, the DDD director, said that the consent decree certainly has changed the way people receive services. The intent is “not to isolate, but the opposite, to build communities,” she said.

“If that’s not working and it sounds like it’s not, we need to hear about that,” Zanchi said. “We can help you so that she can engage with her peers more effectively.”

Another parent, Greg Mroczek, also spoke up. “In terms of all the possible models, isn’t a sheltered workshop for a segment of the DD population the best possible model? Isn’t that what people are saying? It worked for my daughter as well,” he said, and nothing has replaced it.

Kerri Zanchi

Kerri Zanchi

He asked whether the sheltered workshop is “off the table” in “any way, shape or form” in Rhode Island.

Zanchi talked about the state’s Employment First policy, which values full integration and“investing in the skills and talent of every person we support.”

“We know that individuals of all abilities have had successful employment outcomes. We also know that employment is not necessarily what everybody wants,” Zanchi said.

“Striking that balance is a challenge,” she said. The state’s developmental disability service system and and its partners are working hard to help meet people’s needs, Zanchi said.

Rebecca Boss

Rebecca Boss

When Zanchi was hired at the start of 2017, she was the first professional in developmental disability services to run the Division of Developmental Disabilities in about a decade.

Zanchi and Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, have improved the bureaucratic infrastructure to foster employment, professional development, quality control, and communications with families and consumers and the private agencies the department relies on to deliver services that will meet the monitor’s standards.

For example, the developmental disabilities staff has been expanded and reorganized. An electronic data management system has been introduced. BHDDH invited providers and representatives of the community to the table to overhaul regulations governing the operations of the service providers and has maintained a quality assurance advisory council, with community representation.

Broadly speaking, the leadership of Boss and Zanchi has set the tone for a philosophical shift in which employment is part of a long-range campaign to open the door to self-determination for adults with developmental disabilities – in keeping with the mandates of the consent decree. The state’s last sheltered workshop closed in 2018.

The consent decree also has fostered a revival of advocacy in the community and the legislature, where there had been a vacuum once an older generation of leaders had passed on.

So why isn’t the glass half full at the halfway point in the decade-long life of the consent decree? In a word, money.

Advocates say a central issue is the lack of an investment in the ability of the system to reach more people with the array of services that will open doors and enable them to find their places in the community.

To satisfy the requirements of the consent decree, the state relies on the efforts of private agencies that provide the actual direct services.

The federal monitor in the consent decree case, Charles Moseley, has asked the state to get to the bottom of what he described as a lack of “capacity” on the part of these private agencies to take on new clients.

BHDDH is circling around the funding issue with an outside review of the fee-for-service rate structure governing developmental disability services. That analysis is designed to expand the analytical capabilities BHDDH, leaving the policy decisions to the department leadership.

Advocates for adults with developmental disabilities, most prominently state Senator Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, say there must be a public discussion about how much money it will take in the long run to complete the transformation from sheltered workshops and day care centers into one that assists people in finding their way in life. DiPalma chairs a special legislative commission studying the current fee-for-service system.

In the meantime, DDD is soliciting a proposal for the third iteration of its performance-based supported employment program, which is designed to focus on people who have never held a job. This group includes young people completing high school and seeking adult services for the first time, as well as adults who face multiple challenges and would find it difficult to fill the standard job descriptions put out by employers.

The new Person-Centered Supported Employment Performance Program (PCSEPP 3.0) is expected to launch Jan.1 with an emphasis on “customized” employment, tailored to match an individual’s strengths and interests with the needs of an employer who is willing to carve up the work at hand in a non-traditional way.

The concept of customization is not new.

In Rhode Island, a few adults with developmental disabilities have had customized employment for many years, most often arranged with the support of their families, who hire staff and direct a unique array of services for them rather than relying on an agency.

In addition, the Rhode Island Council on Developmental Disabilities promotes self-employment, a form of customization, through a business incubator created with the help of the Real Pathways RI Project sponsored by the Governor’s Workforce Board.

The DD Council highlights the products and services of self-employed adults with developmental disabilities as part of its annual holiday shopping event, Small Business Saturday Shop RI, scheduled this year for Nov. 30 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines customized employment as a “flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between a job candidate and an employer in a way that meets the needs of both. It is based on an individualized determination of the strengths, needs, and interests of the person with a disability, and is also designed to meet the specific needs of the employer.”

Since the supported employment program started in 2017, providers have expressed concerns that, because it is tied to the fee-for-service reimbursement system, it does pay for initial investments the agencies might have to make to participate.

Those concerns persisted during a meeting between DDD officials and potential applicants for the customized employment program in mid July. At the providers’ request, DDD has extended the application deadline to October 4.

Womazetta Jones

Womazetta Jones

The state’s new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Womazetta Jones, has promised to be a careful listener to the concerns of the developmental disability community.

Speaking at the recent public forum, after just eight days on the job, Jones acknowledged the state’s efforts to improve services for adults with developmental disabilities but also cautioned against complacency.

Even though the state has substantially increased funding for developmental disabilities in recent years and gained “stable and effective leadership” at BHDDH, “that doesn’t mean anyone in this room or state government is content with recent progress,” she said.

“The moment we think we don’t have more to do, is the moment we have lost our way,” Jones said, signaling that she is available for further discussion of issues affecting people with developmental disabilities.

RI House Gives Extra Bump To Pay Of Front Line DD Workers As Budget Deliberations Near End

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island House has added a total of $9.6 million in federal-state Medicaid funding to boost the pay of direct care workers for adults with developmental disabilities in the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The increase, awaiting approval by the Senate, represents the largest single-year investment in wages since drastic cuts were made in 2011. In 2016, the legislature earmarked $5 million for a rate hike, and the next year it added $6.1 million.

But the rates for Rhode Island’s direct care workers still lag behind those of neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts.

This year’s wage hike is was part of an overall $296.9 million allocation for developmental disabilities, which includes $13 million in federal Medicaid reimbursement to create a third-party case management initiative called a Health Home.

In an unusual Saturday session June 22, the House also addressed a shortfall in the current developmental disabilities budget, adding $2.9 million in supplemental funding.

Developmental disability services encompass both the private system serving about 4,000 clients and a state-operated network of group homes for about 125 individuals, accounting for more than half the spending in the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). The House-authorized spending cap for BHDDH in the next budget is $463.2 million.

A spokesman for House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello explained a floor amendment that raised the total earmarked for a wage increase in Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget from $6.4 million to $9.6 million.

Larry Berman said the governor’s $6.4 million, including $3 million in state funding and $3.4 million in federal reimbursements, will mean a 41-cent raise to the hourly rate for direct support workers on July 1. The hourly rate, which he put at an average of $12.27, would rise to $12.68, Berman said.

The additional $3.2 million in the floor amendment, including $1.5 in state revenue, will be applied Oct. 1, triggering an additional wage hike of 41 cents an hour, for a total hourly rate of $13.09 during the last nine months of the fiscal year, Berman said.

In the past, increases for direct care workers have meant that supervisors and other support personnel have also received raises. But Berman confirmed that this year, the allocation earmarked for pay bumps apply only to front-line caregivers. In all, about 4,000 work in the private sector in the field of developmental disability services.

Berman’s figures refer to the basic hourly wage rate in the BHDDH reimbursement model for private providers, but that doesn’t mean each direct care worker will get the increase he cited.

Many variables exist in the way each of the providers figures out how much to pay workers and how much to set aside for benefits and other employer-related expenses. All that means that the amount of the actual wage hikes will vary.

In the past, the state and the private providers have differed on how far a rate hike will go.

In a statement, Mattiello took credit for redirecting additional funds to direct care workers.

“When about $1 million was identified as available in the budget, I suggested it go to those workers who are providing outstanding care to the developmentally disabled community. They deserve this rate increase.”

The Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, (CPNRI) a trade association of about two dozen providers, posted its thanks on Facebook:

“CPNRI is pleased to see the commitment of the Speaker, Senate President and Governor and all the Representatives and Senators who have supported increased wages for DD workers in Rhode Island in the 2020 budget. This investment not only will raise wages for this invaluable workforce, it supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities to lead meaningful lives in our communities. Thank you to all who have prioritized this workforce.”

The wage increase is assured passage in the Senate, where developmental disability services have the support of the leadership, including Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, William J. Conley, Jr., Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; and Sen. LouisA. DiPalma, first vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The extra push in funding occurred just as Mattiello sought to tamp down a controversy involving a Cranston chiropractor, who was to receive a $1 million authorization to bill the state for services for an unproven neurological treatment for traumatic head injury and other disorders that failed to qualify for federal Medicaid reimbursement..

On June 20, Mattiello announced he would pull the $1 million in funding from Victor Pedro, because the issue had become too controversial and he wanted to avoid a lengthy floor battle, even though he still supported the chiropractor.

Berman said most of the last-minute $1.5 million-increase in worker wages came from the allocation that Mattiello pulled from the chiropractor, along with funds from various other accounts.

Spending for already-established developmental disability programs and services from all revenue sources in the next fiscal year would be capped at $284 million – about $12.3 million more than originally approved for the current fiscal year. Most of that figure comes from the federal-state Medicaid program.

Meanwhile, the House approved a revised developmental disabilities budget of slightly over $274.6 million for the current fiscal year, which is $2.9 million more than the $271.7 million the General Assembly enacted a year ago.

The revised figure includes about $1.7 million in state revenue that represents an adjustment for an audit finding that the state was incorrectly leveraging federal Medicaid money to pay for fire code upgrades in group homes and other facilities serving adults with developmental disabilities, Berman said. Capital projects are now all assigned to the Department of Administration, he said.

Without supplemental funding and savings in other BHDDH accounts, the cost of services in the privately-run developmental disability system would have exceeded the amount the General Assembly originally allocated by about $3.8 million in General revenue.

A third-quarter spending report prepared by BHDDH said that the total state share of Medicaid-funded direct services in the private system is projected at about $111.4 million by June 30. The enacted budget for the current fiscal year allows $107.6 million in that category, but the supplemental funding recommended by the Governor and approved by the House reduces the projected shortfall in state funds to about $152,000, when combined with savings in other accounts.

In the third-quarter spending report for the current fiscal year, BHDDH officials project about a 1.5 percent increase in overall caseload growth and a $1.5 million increase in supplemental funding to clients who successfully appeal the individual amounts allocated for their services.

Counting all the Governor’s proposed supplemental funding for BHDDH in all three divisions, as well as savings in some budget line items, the department projected a year-end surplus of about $438,000 as of March 31.

RI Budget Controversy Touching House Speaker Yields Extra Money For DD Worker Raises

By Gina Macris

Bowing to intense political pressure, Rhode Island House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello said June 20 that he will pull a $1-million budget line item for an unproven neurological service that doesn’t qualify for Medicaid funding and reallocate most of the money to raises for those who care for adults with developmental disabilities.

The budget, passed by the House Finance Committee June 13, now contains $3 million in state funding and $3.4 million in federal Medicaid funding – a total of $6.4 million – to raise the pay of direct care workers, who earn significantly less than those doing the same job in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

On the Tara Granahan morning show on WPRO radio, Mattiello said he continues to support chiropractor Victor Pedro of Cranston, who practices what he calls Cortical Integrative Therapy (CIT). The Speaker said he is removing the $1 million from the proposed budget “only because it’s politically controversial.”

“Do I think that’s the right thing to do? I’m not convinced of that, but we’re going to pull it because the issue has become very controversial,” Mattiello told Granahan.

Mattiello’s spokesman, Larry Berman, said later in the day that most of the $1 million allocation for CIT will be added to the raises for direct care workers because “Speaker Mattiello believes these are some of the hardest-working and dedicated employees in the state.”

The General Assembly’s leading champion of adults with developmental disabilities, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, tweeted his appreciation for Mattiello’s decision to re-direct the funds to the wage raises. “THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!! It is needed, most welcomed and greatly appreciated!!!!!”

Even if all $1 million were added to a line item set aside in the budget for the raises, the total would still be far below the $28.5 million advocates have sought in state funding to stabilize the workforce, plagued by high turnover and a high job vacancy rate.

Berman could not say exactly how much will go to the raises. The breakdown will be available when the full House convenes June 21 to consider the state’s $9.9 billion- budget for the fiscal year which begins July 1, he said.

Any addition of state funds to worker pay will generate about 52 cents on the dollar in federal Medicaid reimbursement, in effect doubling the amount available.

Without the extra allocation, the proposed budget’s $6.4 million for wage hikes would add an average of 34 to 44 cents an hour to the pay of about 4000 direct care workers. Private providers and state government differ on their estimates of how far the money will go.

Entry-level direct care workers make an average of $11.44 an hour, according to a trade association of service providers, while more experienced colleagues are paid an average of $12.50 an hour. The Connecticut legislature enacted a minimum wage of $14.75 for personal care workers in 2018, and Massachusetts pays about $15 an hour.

On the morning talk show, Mattiello defended the chiropractor, who has donated to several political campaigns, including his own, even while he explained why he is pulling the money.

“I’m going to have a terrible debate on the (House) floor. So politics is what it is, and I’m going to do something that I should not do,” Mattiello said.

“I will continue to support the doctor because I think he brings a unique and special treatment to a lot of kids and folks who have no place else to go.”

While Mattiello said Pedro has had “great success,” the federal Medicaid program has turned down the state’s request for federal reimbursement for the treatments because of a lack of scientific evidence that they are effective.

Mattiello said he met Pedro in connection with his law practice before he was elected to the General Assembly and was impressed by the testimonials of his patients.

One of Pedro’s patients was the late father of former Rep. Frank Montanaro, Jr., Mattiello said in the radio interview. Montanaro now works as executive director of the financial and administrative office of the General Assembly.

The first budget allocation for CIT dates back more than a decade. Since Governor Gina Raimondo took office in 2015, her administration has tried to cut the CIT allocation out of the budget, without success.

Mattiello’s latest attempt to restore funding for Pedro that had been cut by the Raimondo administration caught the eye of blogger Steve Ahlquist of Uprise RI. His investigative article sparked the outrage of the state Republican Party and numerous other critics of the Speaker.

Collaboration Needed to Find Jobs, Solve Transportation Problems, For People With DD

By Gina Macris

For people with developmental disabilities, reliable public transportation – or the lack of it – can mean the difference between accepting a job offer and staying home.

A Coventry, RI man who had a chance to work at a Home Depot near his home faced that dilemma when he learned that the state’s paratransit system for people with disabilities could not go into the shopping center where the store is located.

To solve the transportation problem, the man’s family and his job developer, Rory Carmody, Director of Program Services at AccessPoint RI, pitch in to drive him to and from work, said Carmody’s boss, Tom Kane. But the hours the man can work are limited to the times Carmody and the man’s family are available for drop-off and pick-up, said Kane.

Kane, the CEO of AccessPoint, shared the story in a conversation after a June 18 meeting of a special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability, the state’s fee-for-service reimbursement system for private services for adults with developmental disabilities.

L to R: Scott Jensen and Scott Avedesian

L to R: Scott Jensen and Scott Avedesian

The session focused on the intersection of jobs and transportation, featuring remarks from three speakers:

· Scott Avedesian, CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA)

· Scott Jensen, Director of the Department of Labor and Training (DLT)

· Robert Kalaskowski, Chief of Policy and Planning for the Governor’s Workforce Board.

The example of the Coventry man illustrates the challenges of relying on the paratransit program, which operates only along corridors that mimic RIPTA’s regular bus routes. The shared RIde program for people with disabilities may drop off and pick up at sites no more than three-quarters of a mile outside a regular bus route, according to the RIPTA website.

Because RIPTA doesn’t send regular buses to Little Compton or Foster, the RIde option for residents with disabilities is not available either, said Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. And, he added, there’s only one public transit stop in Tiverton.

Recently, the directors of the agencies responsible for services for the elderly and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities accompanied Avedesian on a paratransit run that picked up four individuals, one of them in a wheelchair, and took them to their various destinations.

Rebecca Boss, the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), said it was a “really good experience for everyone to see the hands-on, labor-intensive type of transit that we perform.”

For the officials, the experience took two and a half hours, from the time the van left the RIPTA garage to get the first client until the time it returned, Avedesian and Boss agreed. It happened to be a day with a lot of traffic, Avedesian added.

Even though the clients weren’t on the van all that time, Kate Sherlock, a commission member, said the run took too long. “I cry when I have to be in the car for two hours,” she said.

Avedesian said that for him, the biggest takeaway from the experience was the need for matching the locations of clients and available jobs to minimize travel time, “so that we’re not taking someone all the way from Woonsocket to Newport.”

Avedesian said he’s impressed by the “intensive amount of time, money and labor involved in moving one person from one end of the state to the other.”

DiPalma said the average cost of a paratransit run is $34, but the program is reimbursed roughly $8 to $14 of that cost, depending on the intensity of the client’s disability. He said the reimbursements are Medicaid-authorized federal and state transportation dollars assigned to BHDDH clients to cover travel. No public transit system in the country is financially self-sufficient, DiPalma noted.

DiPalma has convened an informal group of representatives of public and private agencies who are interested in solving the transportation problems of people with disabilities. The agencies include BHDDH , DLT, RIPTA, the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, the Providence Chamber of Commerce, the office of U.S. Rep. James Langevin, and others, he said.

Moving forward, transportation must become more malleable to the needs of the people, he said. If someone lives in Glocester and has a job in Newport, that person may be able to get work closer to home, but “if that’s the job they have, that’s the job they have,” DiPalma said.

Jensen

Jensen

Jensen of DLT offered a different way of looking at the transportation problem.

If people with developmental disabilities can be viewed as a source of excellent workers, rather than a population needing support, a stronger argument can be made for investing more in transportation, because of the value this group brings to the economy, he said.

“The company will be receiving value, the person will be paying income tax and can buy more things than they otherwise would,” Jensen said.

He said “coalitions of the willing” are “trying to find those positions where companies recognize the value of people with developmental disabilities. That takes time.”

He said a “handful” of companies, like Home Depot and CVS, have made the “moral choice” to employ individuals with developmental disabilities.

“We want to also help make this a practical choice” for many businesses, Jensen said, by starting with employers’ demands and finding the right match in the labor force - “the right person, in the right place, at the right time, and with the right skill set.”

BHDDH officials recently put the employment rate for adults with developmental disabilities at 29 percent.

Kalaskowski

Kalaskowski

Kalaskowski, of the Governor’s Workforce Board, said the state is promoting that strategy in the Real Pathways program, part of the broader Real Jobs initiative.

In Real Pathways, DLT works with private providers of employment-related services for adults with developmental disabilities, promoting collaboration among job developers to find the best match between the employer’s demand and worker skills.

A job developer working alone may not have just the right client and face the choice of either forcing a match that won’t work out in the long run or letting a relationship with an employer die, Kalaskowski said. In a network of job developers, one may pass along a lead to another and they will return the favor down the line, he said.

Andrew McQuaide, a senior director with Perspectives Corporation, said Jensen and his team deserve “a lot of credit” for fostering a culture of collaboration.

McQuaide recalled how one man with developmental disabilities connected with a training opportunity offered by the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association because both he and AccessPoint’s Rory Carmody “spread the word.”

Then, when a job with a landscaping company opened up, someone in the community who knew the man from the RINLA training recommended him for the position. The man got the job “not because DLT put any dollars forward,” McQuaide said, but because of the “culture and the connections” that DLT promoted.

Boss, the BHDDH director, said she is excited about the collaboration with DLT. Tracey Cunningham, the director of employment services, and other dedicated officials at BHDDH do a good job in helping adults with developmental disabilities find work, but the staff at DLT “lives, eats and breathes” jobs, she said.

The next meeting of the Project Sustainability commission, set for June 25, has been cancelled because of likely schedule conflicts as the General Assembly wraps up its 2019 session, DiPalma said. He said the meeting will be re-scheduled sometime in July.

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the needs discussed May 6 are funding for:

  • training and career paths for staffers

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

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

  • Better access to affordable housing

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

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

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

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

RI BHDDH Wants Consultants' Comprehensive ‘Best Strategies’ For Integrated DD System

By Gina Macris

The most recent meeting of Rhode Island’s “Project Sustainability” commission Aoril 25 left members surprised by news that an outside review of Rhode Island’s rates and reimbursement methods for private providers of developmental disability services will not conclude with consultants making dollars-and-cents recommendations for a new scale of payments.

In a follow-up question, Developmental Disability News asked officials of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to elaborate on the reasons for the approach it has taken in commissioning the outside review, which is intended to help the state meet the requirements of a 2014 federal civil rights decree..

In a statement, a spokesman said the department is looking for the “best strategies” for developing and paying for an “integrated and individualized system of services” - characteristics which would comply with the consent decree.

That decree draws on the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, which reinforced the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The existing reimbursement system for private agencies led to over-reliance on facility-based care and sheltered workshop employment, in violation of the integration mandate, according to findings of the U.S. Department of Justice, which laid the groundwork for the consent decree. The fee-for-service reimbursement system, called Project Sustainability, resulted to significant pay cuts for direct care workers, high turnover and a high rate of job vacancy.

“Determining how to stabilize the workforce and what to pay direct care workers is a broad question that touches on many moving parts,” said Randal Edgar, the BHDDH spokesman.

The salary of workers, called “direct support professionals,” is an important part of the rate structure, but there are other costs which are “vital to a provider’s enhanced functioning,” Edgar said. He listed these costs:

  • employee benefits

  • training

  • supervision

  • management capacity

  • information technology

  • connection and liaison with community

“Asking the consultants to determine just one of the vital elements would not meet the overall financial needs of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities system. We are looking for the consultant to identify best strategies for providing an integrated and individualized system of services and help us develop best strategies to pay for that system. But we do not think it is the consultant’s job to say what direct care workers should be paid,” Edgar said.

Anyone who has questions about the rate review may submit them to BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov, Edgar said. (Please copy and paste the email address.)

Meanwhile, the special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability will meet Monday at 2 p.m. in the Senate Lounge of the State House, according to its chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown.

DiPalma said the session will focus on members’ recommendations for changes to better enable adults with developmental disabilities to live the lives they want with the supports they need.

NESCSO Review of RI DD Reimbursement Won’t Generate Specific New Rate Recommendations

By Gina Macris

Elena Nicolella and Rick Jacobson All Photos By Anne Peters

Elena Nicolella and Rick Jacobson All Photos By Anne Peters

The non-profit consortium hired to review the reimbursements Rhode Island pays private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities will not produce a new set of recommended rates, its executive director said April 25.

Rather, consultants supervised by the consortium will review the impact of the existing system and present facts and data that will enable the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to make more informed policy decisions, based on available funding and other factors, said Elena Nicolella. She is executive director of NESCSO, the New England States Consortium Systems Organization.

Nicolella addressed a special legislative commission studying the current fee-for-service rate structure, called Project Sustainability.

DiPalma and Kelly Donovan, A Consumer Advocate

DiPalma and Kelly Donovan, A Consumer Advocate

For more than an hour, the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, and other members of the panel peppered Nicolella and consultant Rick Jacobson with questions as they struggled to come up with a clearer idea of what NESCSO’s recommendations might look like.

The pair, aided by BHDDH officials, did flesh out the picture somewhat. But DiPalma, said Nicolella will be invited back in June to give an update on the work, which is underway.

“We will not be issuing recommendations on specific rates,” Nicolella said, explaining that is not within the scope of the work outlined in the contract between NESCSO and BHDDH.

The work will assess current rates quantitatively and qualitatively and analyze “the impact of the rate structure and payment methodology on people receiving services and the provider agencies and make recommendations for the future,” Nicolella said.

NESCSO will develop scenarios or “roadmaps” of what it would take for the state to achieve certain goals, putting the priority on the state’s obligation to meet the requirements of a 2014 civil rights consent decree with the federal government. That means the work will focus on day services and employment supports, at least initially, Nicolella said.

Some of the recommendations, however, will have implications for the entire system of services, she said.

Boss at 4-25 meeting edited.jpg

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, gave an example of one system-wide priority – creating a stable workforce.

She was asked after the meeting why BHDDH structured the work the way it did.

Boss reiterated that NESCSO would present “facts and data” in an analysis based on certain assumptions. She and Nicolella said the policy decisions would be up to BHDDH.

“If the decisions we make (at BHDDH) don’t meet expectations, it will be out there,” Boss said, emphasizing that the work will be transparent.

The assumption at the heart of Project Sustainability was that providers could do the same work with less money. A former BHDDH administration relayed that assumption to the General Assembly in an unsigned memo that contained a slew of reimbursement rate reductions that formed the basis for cuts enacted in 2011 to inaugurate Project Sustainability. The reductions averaged 17 percent.

Boss said “that’s not the kind of assumption we’re talking about.” Instead, the assumption for one analysis might be that industry-wide, providers should have health insurance for their employees, Boss said. Another assumption might be the amount it costs providers to cover employee-related overhead, she said.

In a separate conversation outside the meeting, Nicolella said the recommendations would be “driven by the data” and “not limited by the by the state budget.”

At the same time, NESCSO will “stop short of what was recommended last time,” she said, alluding to the specificity of rates proposed by Burns & Associates, healthcare consultants who worked on Project Sustainability.

In 2011, Burns & Associates recommended rates that would have paid entry-level workers nearly $14 an hour, but after the General Assembly cut $26 million from developmental disability funding, many workers ended up at minimum wage.

Since then, wages have increased only incrementally, resulting in high turnover and job vacancy. Providers say the reimbursement rates do not cover their actual employee-related costs, like payroll taxes, health insurance, and the like.

During the meeting, Nicolella assured a spokeswoman for providers that the rate review will look at the agencies’ figures. At least one agency, Spurwink RI, has laid out its gap in dollars and cents several times before the House Finance Committee.

At the commission meeting, Spurwink’s executive director, Regina Hayes, asked Nicolella and Jacobson whether the review would pay attention to compatibility with current law.

For example, she said, the Affordable Care Act requires employers to pay health insurance for workers who put in at least 30 hours a week. But Project Sustainability assumes that only those working 40 hours a week are entitled to health insurance, Hayes said.

Nicolella responded, “That’s exactly the kind of information we should be hearing right now, because it’s extremely helpful.”

She and Jacobson both said the assessment of the impact of the current system will include engagement with consumers and families,as well as providers. But neither of them could lay out a schedule or format for that type of engagement.

NESCSO is required to produce a series of reports for BHDDH between June and December, she said. It is the consortium’s intent to complete the work in time for BHDDH to make its budget request for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020, Nicolella said.

Nicolella explained that NESCSO’s only mission is to serve the New England states as they seek to research issues and solve problems in the fields of health and human services.

“We are not a consulting company. We don’t sell our services,” she said.

In this case, NESCSO is overseeing four outside consultants, including Jacobson, who are doing the actual work.

NESCSO’s board of directors includes health and human services officials from five of the six New England states, according to its website. Only Maine is not listed as a member.

Nicolella said Rhode Island’s designated board member is Patrick Tigue, the Medicaid director. (Nicolella herself is a former Rhode Island Medicaid director.)

The consortium’s two sources of revenue are state dues and proceeds from a national conference. The BHDDH review is a member benefit, Nicolella said. The contract encompasses not only the work on developmental disabilities but a review of rates for behavioral healthcare services and a model for outpatient services for patients of Eleanor Slater Hospital. But the state still must pay for the consultants’ work - $1.3 million over an 18-month period.

Ongoing RI DD Rate Review To Be Aired Thursday At Project Sustainability Commission Meeting

By Gina Macris

Elena Nicolella, executive director of a non-profit consortium overseeing a review of the rates Rhode Island pays private providers for services to adults wlth developmental disabilities, will address the Project Sustainability Commission Thursday, April 25.

Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the commission chairman, said Nicolella will explain the scope of the work, the timetable, and the documentation that is required under the terms of the consortium’s contract with the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Nicolella is executive director of the New England States Consortium Systems Organization (NESCSO), a non-profit collaboration involving five of the six New England states that aims to promote policies and programs that will serve the needs of the region in a cost-effective manner, according to its website. Only Maine does not belong to the regional group.

DiPalma said he expects that “everything will be on the table” about Project Sustainability, the fee-for-service payment system which providers say hamstrings their ability to offer integrated services in the community as required by a 2014 federal consent decree.

Project Sustainability, enacted by the General Assembly in 2011, forced providers to cut workers’ pay to minimum wage levels, wiping out established career ladders that helped bring continuity to the care of adults with developmental disabilities.

In November, Mark Podrazik, the consultant who advised the state in planning Project Sustainability, told DiPalma’s commission that reimbursement rates should be reviewed every five years.

Thursday’s Project Sustainability Commission meeting featuring Nicolella will begin at 2 p.m. in the Senate Lounge at the State House, according to DiPalma.

NESCSO has a $1.3 million contract with BHDDH over an 18-month period to review private provider rates for developmental disabilities and behavioral healthcare service. The contract also calls on NESCSO to provide technical assistance in connection with creating out-patient services for patients of Eleanor Slater Hospital.

The work in developmental disabilities represents about $700,000 of that total, according to a BHDDH spokeswoman.

RI DD Funding System Harms Quality Of Life, Advocates Tell House Finance Subcommittee

By Gina Macris

Anxiety, frustration, and fear permeate the lives of adults facing the daily challenges of developmental disabilities, and by extension, the lives of families and caregivers who support them, say numerous Rhode Islanders who wrote to members of the House Finance Committee recently to explain the human effects of chronically underfunded services.

“The person receiving support grieves and is forced to live in a state of perpetual frustration” because of missed opportunities resulting from staff shortages, wrote Diane Scott, who has worked 29 years at West Bay Residential Services. Likewise, “the impact on employee morale is a palpable anxiety and frustration,” Scott said.

Howard Cohen * Photo by Anne Peters

Howard Cohen * Photo by Anne Peters

Jacob Cohen has had to begin taking a “significant regimen of medication to control his anxiety so he could deal with his daily life,” wrote his parents, Howard and Patricia Cohen of North Kingstown. They said it has been “heartbreaking” to watch him lose control of his daily activities as funding has shrunk over the last decade.

The letters from Scott, the Cohens, and others served as written testimony in a March 28 budget hearing on the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) before the House Finance Subcommittee on Human Services, chaired by Rep. Alex Marszalkowski, D-Cumberland.

And some of concerns expressed before the finance subcommittee about the quality of care overlapped with remarks made a few hours earlier the same day before a special legislative commission studying the state’s fee-for-service reimbursement system for private developmental disability services, Project Sustainability.

Another letter writer, Holly Walker said she knows a client of AccessPointRI who spends every Monday morning telling everyone how upset she is that she missed Sunday church services – again – because there was no one available to take her.G

A Warwick mother, Pam Goes, wrote that frequent change of staff has increased her own fears about the safety of her non-verbal son.

“Staff who don’t know him struggle to know what he needs, at home and in the community. He is unable to tell them when he is sick, when something hurts, when he is afraid. And my fears are increased as well,” Goes wrote.

Two other mothers, Lisa Rego and Claudia Swiader, asked members of the Finance Committee “to put themselves in the shoes of the parents and families of individuals with a developmental disability.”

“Wouldn’t you want to know that your loved one was being cared for by someone who wanted to be there? Wouldn’t you want to know that your loved one was receiving the support they needed to keep them safe, healthy and happy?” wrote Rego and Swiader, president and vice president, respectively, of the Autism Society of Rhode Island.

Scott, the veteran caregiver at West Bay Residential Services, reminded legislators that “any Rhode Island citizen may be one injury or disease away from needing support for a disability.”

The children and families of workers also suffer the consequences of inadequate funding, others said.

Brandi Ekwegh of Cumberland, a former manager of an AccessPoint group home and a single parent, described missing her tween-aged daughter’s concerts and award ceremonies and even leaving her home alone at 2 a.m. because there was no one else to de-escalate a client’s behavioral outburst at work.

When her daughter said she spent more time with her clients than with her, Ekwegh said, “I was crushed but she was absolutely correct.”

Disabled Have Civil Right To Services

By any measure, caring for adults with developmental disabilities is costly, but the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act also entitles them to services that allow them to access their communities for competitive employment and leisure activities of their own choosing.

The currently enacted budget for the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) totals $271.7 million in federal and state Medicaid money and miscellaneous other funds. Governor Gina Raimondo would add another $9.2 million to that bottom line, for an overall $280.9 million, to erase an existing deficit and pay for services during the fiscal year beginning July 1.

About $1.6 million in savings taken from the state-operated group home system, Rhode Island Community Living and Supports, would boost funding for privately-run services by $11 million over the next 15 months, according to information presented by the House Fiscal Office.

Within the $11 million total increase, Raimondo would set aside $6.4 million in Medicaid funds, including $3 million in state revenue, to raise the wages of front-line developmental disability staff by an estimated 34 to 41 cents an hour, depending on who’s drafting the projection.

Providers, Families, Seek $28.5 Million For Wages

Many of the letter-writers urged the Finance Committee to hike the state’s commitment for wages to $28.5 million, so that employers can meet unfunded overhead expenses in addition to passing along a wage increase to all their employees. Every Medicaid dollar the state spends generates a little more than a dollar in the federal Medicaid match.

As it now stands, the governor’s proposed increase would apply only to front-line workers, who typically make roughly $1 to $2 above minimum wage, if that.

In a letter to Marszalkowski , the subcommittee chairman, Kevin McHale, an administrator at AccessPoint, wrote that the average direct care worker at his agency makes $10.77 an hour, only slightly above minimum wage.

McHale, once a direct care worker himself, recalled that in 1987, the General Assembly voted to make a “substantial investment” in the private provider system by raising the pay of direct care workers to $7 an hour, about 90 percent above minimum wage, which was then $3.65 an hour.

At a time when the state was preparing to close the Ladd School, its only institution for persons with developmental disabilities, “this investment was seen as an intentional statement on the importance and value of the vital and challenging (yet rewarding) work that direct support professionals perform,” McHale wrote.

Today, private service providers operate at a loss for each person they employ, they say.

Regina C. Hayes, executive director of Spurwink RI, provided the committee with tables showing that the state funds a fulltime direct care position at $34,454, including an allowance of 35 percent of wages for employee-related expenses. But that figure is almost $9,900 per-person less than what it costs Spurwink for mandatory taxes, vacation, sick and holiday pay and health insurance, Hayes said.

The percentage the state pays for employee-related overhead is set through “Project Sustainability,” the controversial fee-for-service system enacted by the General Assembly in 2011.

Howard and Patricia Cohen, Jacob’s parents, say that Project Sustainability has harmed their son. The change in reimbursement methods “masqueraded as an improvement but in effect was merely a way to reduce costs,” they wrote.

Those already receiving services are not the only ones affected by the budget constraints.

Agencies Can’t Afford New Clients

Linda Ward, executive director of Opportunities Unlimited, a service provider, said that current funding and staffing situation makes it difficult for her agency to take on new clients or launch new initiatives.

Opportunities Unlimited recently had to “step back” from plans to develop a home designed to meet the significant psychiatric and behavioral needs of four women, Ward said.

Her testimony echoed comments made earlier in the day by Gloria Quinn, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, who addressed the special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability.

Families of young people aging out of the special education system often struggle to find agencies that are able to provide services for their sons or daughters, she said.

“We can’t find the staff”, said Quinn, a commission member. An agency’s ability to respond to the demands of the community is at its heart “a wage issue,” she said.

Andrew McQuaide, a senior director at the Perspectives Corporation, called the situation “self-directed by default,” meaning that parents who may not otherwise chose to do so are left to manage their loved ones’ individual programs because they can’t find an agency to provide appropriate services.

McQuaide, another member of the Project Sustainability commission, said that so-called self-directed families are having the same problems as the agencies in hiring direct care workers, but the families are doing it “without support.”

At the commission meeting, Barbara Burns said she recently decided to do a self-directed program of day services for her sister, not because she wants to do it but because it was the only way she could get respite care. Burns’ sister has Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease and lives with her on Aquidneck Island.

A proposal in the governor’s budget would create an “independent provider” model of care through the Executive Office of Human Services with a single fiscal intermediary to give those needing services at home broader choice in selecting caregivers.

The independent provider model also would give BHDDH the option selecting one fiscal agent to manage the accounts of self-directed families of adults with developmental disabilities, Linda Haley, a House fiscal advisor, told the finance subcommittee.

The prospect of unwanted change has worried some families, but a BHDDH spokesman said April 1 that DDD will continue with five fiscal intermediaries in accordance with its regulations, as well as a desire to give consumers choice.

Burns, meanwhile, said there should be a single state bureaucracy to address the needs of people with developmental disabilities, whether they are children in school, healthy adults, or people facing chronic illness or the end of life. Families face enough challenges caring for a special child, she said.

Semonelli * image courtesy of capitol tv

Semonelli * image courtesy of capitol tv

Christopher Semonelli, vice president of Rhode Island Families Organized for Change and Empowerment (RIFORCE) , made the same point to the finance committee’s human services subcommittee a few hours later.

Parents of special education students describe the transition to adult services as “falling off a cliff,” said A. Anthony Antosh, Director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, told commission members that there are other ways to increase wages for direct care workers besides adding to the bottom line.

Even if the state increased wages, Boss said, the milennials millennials making up the current entry-level workforce are “a little different.” Direct care workers need adequate training and supports. “It’s about making sure people love their jobs,” Boss said.

L to R: Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss, Heather Mincey OF DDD. * Photo By Anne Peters

L to R: Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss, Heather Mincey OF DDD. * Photo By Anne Peters

Wages are “part of it,” she said, but “I’m hesitant to say it’s the solution. It’s part of the solution.”

She recalled testimony presented to the commission in January about Vermont’s system, which included higher rates for direct care workers but much less reliance than Rhode Island on costly group homes.

Later, Boss told the House Finance subcommittee that she wants to reduce the number of adults with developmental disabilities living in group homes from the current 32 percent to the national average, 26 percent.

BHDDH also has launched a review of the reimbursement rates the state pays to private providers under the terms of Project Sustainability, with an eye toward creating an alternate payment model to the current fee-for service system.

Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint, reminded the finance committee members that the same healthcare consultant who helped develop Project Sustainability has just recommended that California increase developmental disability budget by 40 percent, or $1.8 billion. Rhode Island should be prepared for a a report that recommends a similar percentage increase, ane said, given that the state underfunded Project Sustainability from its inception.

Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the chairman of the Project Sustainability commission, made the same point earlier in the day.

The consultant hired for the rate review and study of alternate payment model, Elena Nicolella, executive director of the New England States Consortium Systems Organization, will speak at the next meeting of the Project Sustainability commission, according to DiPalma, the commission chairman. Nicolella is also a former Medicaid director in Rhode Island. The date of that meeting has not yet been set.

Advocates: RI Must Put Higher Value On DD Workforce To Ensure Stability In Client Services

Image courtesy of RI Capitol TV

Image courtesy of RI Capitol TV

By Gina Macris

The incremental pay increase that Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo proposes for those who care for adults with developmental disabilities- about 34 to 41 cents an hour - is “much appreciated,” Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, told the House Finance Committee recently.

But “it’s not enough,” Kane added quickly.

Entry-level workers making an average of $11.44 an hour, or more experienced colleagues paid an average of $12.50 an hour, are “often helping a person eat, shower, use the bathroom, or they could be helping someone learn how to drive their car,” Kane said.

“It is a completely and utterly important job, but based on the funding available, it is not really valued by our state,” Kane continued.

“ I’ve said this in this room a number of times. A budget is a statement of values, and what we’re saying is that this work isn’t worth enough money to make a living.”

To illustrate his point, Kane told Finance Committee members that he searched for jobs on the website Indeed.com to prepare for his testimony March 13 and found a posting from a kennel seeking someone to clean cages for $14 an hour.

“Not that I would disparage any job that anyone would have,” Kane said. “I think there should be dignity in all work. I think as a society we have to say, for those who care and support the people to live in the community, to try to have the best life possible, we need to fund the agencies to pay a reasonable rate.”

Kane spoke from the perspective of some three dozen private service providers in Rhode Island, the core of the state’s developmental disability service system. These agencies are trying to make ends meet while dealing with high job turnover and high vacancy rates, as well as the costly overtime it requires to ensure the safety of the vulnerable people in their care.

In the context of the state’s fee-for-service Medicaid reimbursement system, now in its eighth year, the concerns of the providers converge with those of a 2014 federal consent decree which spells out the civil rights of people who, through an accident of birth, spend a lifetime trying each day to rise to the challenge of diverse disabilities.

And in the past year, there has been growing pressure for change, both from those overseeing the implementation of the consent decree and from an expanding chorus of advocates.

In a “Week of Action” planned by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI) March 26 through 28, providers and their supporters, including consumers and their families, will fan out under the State House rotunda to buttonhole individual legislators in the hours before the bell sounds shrilly at 4 p.m. calling the House and Senate to order.

In the fiscal year beginning July 1, Raimondo has proposed a $6.4 million budget increase targeted for pay raises, including $3 million in state revenue and $3.4 million in federal Medicaid funds. This sum would raise the wages of direct support workers by what state officials estimate as 43 cents an hour.

But the leaders of CPNRI and the Provider Council, another trade association, say that to stabilize the private system of developmental disability services, providers need about $28.5 million in state revenue, which would generate a roughly equal amount in federal Medicaid payments.

“We recognize that this is a substantial amount of money, but it is a result of chronic underfunding,” said Donna Martin and Peter Quattromani in a letter to Raimondo dated Jan. 9. Until March, Martin was executive director of CPNRI. Quattromani, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy of Rhode Island, represented the Provider Council.

Their reference to “chronic underfunding” alludes to “Project Sustainability,” the fee-for service funding model enacted by the General Assembly in 2011 with a $26-million budget cut. Project Sustainability was cited by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 as contributing to a segregated system of services that violated the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

With the closing of the Ladd School in 1994, Rhode Island was once first in the nation in de-institutionalizing adults with developmental disabilities and its efforts to include former residents in everyday life in the community. Today, 25 years after the Ladd School was shuttered, Rhode Island is ranked 32nd among the states in its inclusion efforts by CPNRI’s national affiliate, the American Network of Community Options and Resources.

Project Sustainability is currently the subject of two separate reviews, one by a special legislative commission and another by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), which has hired a consultant to scrutinize both the reimbursement rates and the fee-for-service model itself.

Between 2011 and 2012, Project Sustainability exacerbated a downward trend in funding for developmental disabilities that eventually leveled off but has not caught up with the pace of inflation, despite budget increases in recent years, according to a ten-year analysis done by CPNRI. The study used state budget figures and consumer price index information kept by the state Department of Labor and Training.

Chart Courtesy of CPNRI

Chart Courtesy of CPNRI

Low wages have put Rhode Island service providers at a disadvantage in trying to recruit a variety of personal care workers like those who work with adults with developmental disabilities, experts say.

CPNRI reports that about one in three workers leave a developmental disability job every year, mostly, they say, because they can’t pay their bills. One in five positions remain vacant, driving up the cost of overtime necessary to ensure the safety of the vulnerable people in care, according to the trade association.

PHI National, long-term care consultants, have produced a chart comparing the earnings of personal care workers in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts that shows Rhode Island with the lowest wages and the least buying power relative to the minimum wage.

chart courtesty of PHI and CPNRI

chart courtesty of PHI and CPNRI

Policy experts say that basic demographic data for the nation indicates a shortage of personal care workers in the next few decades. That was one of the key messages delivered by Mary Lee Faye, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, to the Project Sustainability study commission in January.

Meanwhile, the House Fiscal Office estimates that the governor’s proposed raise for front-line developmental disability workers would add add 41 cents to their average hourly wage, lifting it from $12.27 an hour to $12.68 an hour. The overall $6.4 million pay hike doesn’t include raises for supervisors or job development and support coordinators, the House Fiscal Advisor, Sharon Reynolds Ferland, has told the House Finance Committee.

Providers say the state’s estimates don’t match up with actual costs. The state funds 35 percent of overhead related to employment, including mandatory costs like health and dental insurance, workers compensation insurance, payroll taxes, paid time off and other items, according to a CPNRI policy paper.

In reality, providers say, these employee-related expenses cost 64 percent[1] of wages – a point CPNRI’s Martin and the Provider Council’s Quattromani made in their Jan. 9 letter to Raimondo.

Providers fill the gap between the available state and federal Medicaid funding and the actual costs of employee-related overhead by reducing the amount of the wage increase passed along to workers. Kane, in his testimony, said that for the lowest-paid direct care workers, Raimondo’s planned pay increase will not even cover the cost of a separate proposal she has made to increase the state’s minimum wage for all workers from $10.50 to $11.10.

In the last few years, individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and providers have gained legislative advocates, most prominently Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, who is the first vice-president of the Senate Finance Committee.

DiPalma, as chairman of the special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability, convinced a consultant involved in developing that fee-for-service model to return to Rhode Island and testify about his work last November.

Mark Podrazik, a principal in the Arizona-based Burns & Associates, made it clear that Project Sustainability was shaped in a frantic effort to control costs.

Mark Podrazik * Photo By Anne Peters

Mark Podrazik * Photo By Anne Peters

The firm ultimately was paid a total of $1.4 million to develop Project Sustainability and monitor how it affected spending for developmental disabilities services. (The funding model contains no provisions for measuring the impact of services on individuals.)

Podrazik testified that some of Burn’s key recommendations were ignored, including a proposed base pay of $13.97 an hour for direct care workers that would increase within a year or two to $15 an hour. That was in 2011.

Today, eight years later, advocates are still chasing that $15-hour wage. About a month ago, DiPalma and Rep. Evan Shanley, D-Warwick, introduced companion bills to raise direct care workers’ pay to $15 an hour by July 1, 2020. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, William D. Conley, was among the co-sponsors of DiPalma’s bill.

More recently, DiPalma introduced a second bill that would require all private human service agencies under contract with the state to pay their employees at least 44 percent above the minimum wage at any given time. Both Conley and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio have signed on to this bill as co-sponsors.

A year ago at this time, Raimondo had proposed an $18.4 million cut in developmental disability services for reasons that were never spelled out in public. Raimondo rejected warnings of(BHDDH) that the move would result in waiting lists for services or cuts in programming.

The proposed cut appeared to be unacceptable to an independent court monitor who continues to oversee implementation of the 2014 consent decree. The agreement calls for integrated, community-based services that are inherently more costly than the facility-based system embedded in Project Sustainability.

In May, 2018, the monitor, Charles Moseley, obtained written assurances from Raimondo that she would continue to support the work of the consent decree, which in the moment meant restoring the almost all the $18-million cut.

In the courtroom, the judge who periodically oversees the status of the consent decree, John j. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court, has indicated his willingness to issue orders to ensure that specific goals of the consent decree are met. At the same time, he said he couldn’t order the state to spend a certain amount to achieve them.

Meanwhile, Moseley has continued to keep abreast of budget developments. In February he wrote McConnell, saying Raimondo’s proposed budget “appears adequate” to cover a deficit in the current fiscal year and fund the consent decree in the budget beginning July 1.

Without mentioning how the Governor may have calculated developmental disability budgets in the past, Moseley made a point of saying he has received assurances that the latest figures are based on real-time data about the projected use of developmental disability services.

The state’s lawyer, Marc DeSisto, has assured him that “the Governor’s recommended budget accepts the most up-to-date projections for financing the current costs of the system to ensure no changes for individuals with DD and continued commitment to achieving Consent Decree outcomes,” Moseley wrote the judge.

Moseley put the current working budget for the private system of developmental disability services at about $229.4 million. Raimondo’s proposal adds about $4 million to finish the current fiscal year, for a total of $233.4 million. Moseley said the increase includes:

· $1 million for the estimated growth in the number of people receiving services

· $1.3 million for increased costs of providing services

· $645,000 to compensate for unrealized savings in moving group home residents into less costly residential options

· $500,000 in other priorities.

In the fiscal year beginning July 1, Moseley said, Raimondo would add about $7.3 million to the private developmental disability system, for a total of $240.2 million. That figure includes:

  • $516,000 for continued growth in the number of people receiving services

  • $2.7 million for increased costs in providing services.

  • $6.4 million for the wage increase to direct care staff.

Those totals are offset by about $1.3 million in increased expectations for savings in residential costs and another million in savings from a reform initiative that didn’t start on time.

Moseley said all his figures were rounded off.

Deep in the background, BHDDH is quietly gearing up for a top-to-bottom analysis of Project Sustainability itself – a move applauded by DiPalma, providers, families and consumers. The lack of flexibility in services provided by Project Sustainability also has drawn the criticism of the court monitor.

Providers have said the funding formula does not allow them to plan on services for longer than three months at a time and makes it difficult for them to base their services in the community.

For example, Project Sustainability assigns staffing ratios according to the degree to which a person may be unable to do basic things independently, but doesn’t take into account the resources that person might need to get to a job – or hockey game – in the community.

Project Sustainability originally made it difficult for individuals to hold jobs in the community by providing work-related services only at the expense of other kinds of daytime supports.

In 2017, to comply with the work goals of the consent decree, BHDDH launched an add-on program of performance payments for providers for placing clients in community-based employment and for meeting job-retention goals.

DiPalma has said it is imperative that BHDDH finish a new rate model for private developmental disability services in time for Raimondo to introduce her budget to the General Assembly next January.

To satisfy the consent decree, the new design would have to focus on helping individuals lead regular lives in the community. Such a model would inevitably demand a greater financial commitment from the state and pose a new test of lawmakers’ values.

RI DD Study Commission To Meet March 28 To Begin Airing Recommendations For Change

By Gina Macris

The special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability, Rhode Island’s fee-for-service funding model for adult developmental disability services, will resume deliberations March 28, according to its chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown.

The commission last met in January, hearing testimony on best practices from one national expert and another from Vermont, where the system appears to be closely aligned with the needs and preferences of individuals.

DiPalma said he has spent the intervening weeks meeting one-on-one with commission members who represent the state and various segments of the developmental disability community to jump-start their analysis of expert testimony the commission has received since last fall. By the time of the March 28 meeting, DiPalma said, he expects commission members to be ready to make well-developed recommendations that identify concrete goals and the strategies for achieving them.

DiPalma said the vision of the commission is to have a more individualized, or “person-centered” system within the next five years.

He said he expects it will take two meetings to fully air the members’ recommendations on how to get there.

A review of Project Sustainability’s rates and the fee-for-service model itself would have been the commission’s first recommendation, if the state had not already launched that project, DiPalma said.

“The reimbursement model is the foundation and is pivotal to everything that is done,” he said. Project Sustainability, enacted by the General Assembly in 2011, did not reduce services or create waiting lists but was implemented on the backs of private providers and their employees, DiPalma said.

Project Sustainability also has been criticized by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that it incentivized segregated services for adults with developmental disabilities, in violation of the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That finding and others resulted in a 2014 consent decree, which authorizes broad federal oversight of the state’s efforts to transform its system to a network of community-based, individualized services that put the consumer first.

The state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) recently hired the non-profit New England States Consortium Systems Organization as a consultant in reviewing the fee-for-service model and its rates.

DiPalma has said it is imperative that the review be completed in time for Governor Gina Raimondo to submit her budget proposal to the General Assembly in January, 2020. He said he believes the commission can have an oversight role on the implementation of any changes in the rate model that BHDDH recommends.

DiPalma said the commission meeting on Thursday, March 28, will run from 2-4 p.m. in the Senate Lounge at the State House.

RI To Review "Project Sustainability" Funding Model For DD Services With Help From NESCSO

By Gina Macris

The state of Rhode Island has hired NESCSO, the non-profit New England States Consortium Systems Organization, to review the fee-for-service Medicaid funding structure used to reimburse private providers of services for adults with developmental disabilities since 2011.

The project, launched by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), represents a key step toward meeting the overall objectives of a 2014 consent decree which requires the state to create a community-based system of services to correct violations of the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities (ADA.)

The current fee-for-service reimbursement model, called Project Sustainability, incentivizes facility-based, segregated services, according to findings of the U.S. Department of Justice which led to the consent decree.

Project Sustainability, accompanied by $26 million in budget cuts effective July 1, 2011, resulted in drastic wage reductions among private service providers, but raising worker pay alone will not fix the problem.

Project Sustainability also was set up to fund staffing for groups of people engaged in activities in one place but didn’t provide for the degree of supervision or transportation needed to individualize services in the community on a broad scale, as required by the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision re-affirmed the integration mandate of the ADA.

In sheltered settings, for example, the ratio of direct care workers to clients might have been set in the funding formula at 1 to 10, but additional staffing would be needed to support that many people in the community, according to language in the contract between NESCSO and BHDDH.

The contract says supplemental payments have been used to “address the deficiency in the payment rates.” These supplemental payments “are an increasing portion of overall payments, reflecting the inadequacy of the current rates,” the contract said.

It says BHDDDH is seeking technical assistance from NESCSO in reviewing the best strategies for achieving an integrated, individualized system of services that complies with both the consent decree and the Medicaid Home and Community-Based Services Final Rule.

The consent decree affects daytime services, with an emphasis on competitive employment for adults with developmental disabilities.

The Home and Community-Based Final Rule (HCBS) is Medicaid’s interpretation of what the ADA’s integration mandate should look like in practice. Unlike the consent decree, it addresses residential services, calling for options that enable clients to live in less restrictive settings than group homes.

BHDDH also asks NESCSO to help it develop an “optimal and balanced system of services and payments” that will promote individually-designed programs according to the preferences and direction of the consumers themselves.

As part of the overall picture, the design and oversight of individual service plans would be separated from funding and actual delivery of supports to protect the interests of consumers and comply with the HCBS Final Rule in so-called “conflict-free case management.”

The consent decree also calls for a separation between funding, case management, and delivery of services. Currently, BHDDH is responsible for both funding and case management.

The total contract, designed for an 18-month period, will cost nearly $1,366,000 in federal and state Medicaid funds. That sum includes the entire developmental disabilities project, a rate review for behavioral healthcare services, and technical assistance at Eleanor Slater Hospital in connection with developing outpatient services for patients.

A BHDDH spokeswoman said Feb. 28 that the amount to be spent in the current fiscal year on the developmental disabilities portion of the project, originally set at about $400,000, will be scaled back to $200,000, because the work did not begin as anticipated in January. The fiscal year ends June 30.

There is $500,000 budgeted for the developmental disabilities work in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

BHDDH director Rebecca Boss said the department “Is pleased to partner” with NESCSO.

“NESCSO offers BHDDH the expertise of the other New England states and brings a team with background in specialized population-based needs and solutions, financial expertise, analytical depth and knowledge of federal regulation, resources and compliance requirements,” she said.

NESCSO is a non-profit collaboration among the health and human services agencies of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Through shared information and expertise, it works to promote policies and programs that will serve the needs of New England states in a cost-effective manner, according to its website.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the chairman of special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability, said the review of the funding model will be “pivotal” in shaping the future of the private system of developmental disability services.

“I give the department (BHDDH) credit” for moving forward with the project, DiPalma said. NESCSO, led by a former Rhode Island Medicaid director, Elena Nicolella, is held in high regard, he said.

At the same time, DiPalma said it is imperative that the review of the funding structure begin immediately and be completed in time for Governor Gina Raimondo to submit her budget proposal to the General Assembly for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020.

Expert testimony already given to the Project Sustainability commission made it clear that a review of the funding structure was long overdue, DiPalma said. With BHDDH already taking that step, the commission might still say that a rate review should be conducted every five years, as recommended by healthcare consultant Mark Podrazik.

Podrazik is a principal in Burns & Associates, which was hired to help BHDDH develop Project Sustainability. Testifying in November, he made it clear that the state ignored some of the firm’s key recommendations, instead shaping the funding structure through a frenzy to control costs.

RI "Demanding Dignity" Campaign Backs $15 Minimum Wage For DD Caregivers In Two Years

RI State Rep. Evan Shanley, D-WARWICK, Left, and George Nee, President of the RI AFL-CIO At the State House Library *** photos by anne Peters

RI State Rep. Evan Shanley, D-WARWICK, Left, and George Nee, President of the RI AFL-CIO At the State House Library *** photos by anne Peters

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island State Senator Louis DiPalma and Rep. Evan Shanley say they are introducing companion bills that would set a minimum wage of $15 an hour in two years for those who provide services to adults with developmental disabilities.

The bills were announced at a Feb. 27 State House press conference, hosted by George Nee, president of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, to kick off a union-backed campaign called “Demanding Dignity” to prioritize a living wage for caregivers in highly demanding jobs who are paid less than fast food workers or retail clerks.

Both Nee and DiPalma said there’s not a single legislator who doesn’t believe that direct care workers are underpaid and have been underpaid for years.

The bills would be costly – an estimated $25 million in state revenue over two years, according to DiPalma.

Nee said the “Demanding Dignity” campaign aims to make the $15 rate a priority for legislators.

The best way to accomplish that aim, Nee said, is to tell and retell the personal stories that convey the impact of the current wage structure on people’s lives.

For him, Nee said, the biggest take-away from the event was the story of Nancy Tumidajski, who works at the ARC of Blackstone Valley in Pawtucket. She said she was hired in 1991 at $10.25 an hour, then double the minimum wage. Today, 28 years later, she makes about two dollars more than that, she said.

By comparison, the minimum wage is currently $10.50 an hour. The average entry-level wage for direct care workers is $11.36 an hour, according to a trade association representing service providers.

Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed raises that would add about 44 cents an hour to workers’ paychecks at a total cost of $3 million in state revenue, that would be roughly doubled by the federal match in the Medicaid program.

L To R: Noelle Siravo, Nancy Tumidajski, Louis DiPalma

L To R: Noelle Siravo, Nancy Tumidajski, Louis DiPalma

Tumidajski said her duties have included resuscitating a client who stopped breathing, performing the Heimlich maneuver – multiple times – on a client prone to choking, and last year, providing hospice care in clients’ own homes when a flu epidemic caused a widespread shortage of beds in the healthcare system. Everyone on her team volunteered for hospice duty, she said.

Noelle Siravo of Pawtucket, the mother of a 47 year-old man with significant disabilities, said he is able to live in an in-law apartment in her home only because of the “wonderful” people who provide him with skillful support and care.

“It’s a tremendous burden off my shoulders,” she said, but “the wages are insulting for what they do.”

In addition to everything else, Siravo said, direct care workers often spend some of their own money on the people they support, because many adults with developmental disabilities don’t have any families and still want an occasional treat.

Tumidajski said one in three workers at the ARC of Blackstone Valley leave their jobs in a year, and the agency has trouble recruiting replacements at pay that runs between $11 and $12 an hour. The ARC currently has 25 vacancies, she said.

The high turnover and vacancy rate threatens the quality of services and safety of clients, Tumidajski said. For the same work, Massachusetts already pays $15 an hour for direct care, and Connecticut has adopted a caregiver minimum wage of $14.75 an hour.

Jeff Perinetti, business representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the direct care workers his union represents took a 10 percent pay cut when Project Sustainability was enacted and have regained only six percent of it.

DiPalma said the meager wages paid to someone like Tumidajski are unconscionable.

The current rate model, introduced in 2011 with a $26 million budget cut, is built on the backs of workers, DiPalma said.

Established under the title “Project Sustainability, the fee-for-service model brought wholesale wage reductions without scaling back the state’s expectation for developmental disability services from private agencies or establishing a waiting list for services, he said. DiPalma, D-Middletown, is first of the Senate Finance Committee and chairs a special legislative commission that is studying the impact of Project Sustainability.

Shanley, D-Warwick, represents the Cowessett section of the city, which includes the Trudeau Center, one of about three dozen private providers of developmental disability services in Rhode Island and the place where his parents met as they cared for clients who had been stranded during the Blizzard of 1978,

The experience of helping others inspired his father, Paul Shanley, than 19, to become a police officer in Warwick, where he served 26 years, Shanley said. His mother, Mary Madden eventually became President of the Trudeau Center. She has recently been named interim director the Commuity Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association of private provider agencies. Both Shanley and DiPalma have previously filed legislation to increase wages for direct care workers.

Jeff Perinetti, business representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the direct care workers his union represents took a 10 percent pay cut when Project Sustainability was enacted and have regained only six percent of it.

in addition to the machinists’ union, the Demand Dignity campaign is backed by the Service Employees International Union, District 1199; the American Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, and the United Nurses and Allied Professionals.

Nee set the tone for the event by invoking an enduring quotation from former Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Nee said that Humprey defined the “moral test of a government.” as the “way it treats those in the dawn of life, the children; those in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those in the shadows of life; the poor, the sick, and the disabled.”

“We have an opportunity, with this legislation and this campaign, to determine whether or not Rhode Island , our government, is going to be moving up to meeting that moral test of what government should be,” Nee said.

For too long, people working in the field of developmental disabilities have “too often been relegated to the shadows of our community and our government, and we’re here to say that that should not be happening any longer,” he said.



Experts: Sustainable, Effective DD Systems Support Individuals; Don't Pigeonhole People In Groups

Mary Lee Fay and William Ashe * All Photos By Anne Peters

Mary Lee Fay and William Ashe * All Photos By Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

When it comes to reforming service systems for those with developmental disabilities, policy makers often succumb to a fundamentally flawed approach, one expert told a Rhode Island Senate study commission Jan. 8.

Policy makers tend to “think about people in groups, but not think about people as people,” said William Ashe at a meeting of the commission, looking into how Rhode Island supports private service providers.

Ashe has helped the state of Vermont evolve toward a system that puts the needs of the individual first.

He also has become familiar with Rhode Island as a consultant to the federal court monitor overseeing implementation of a 2014 consent decree requiring the state to transform its segregated service model to a system that is integrated with the community.

Asked his opinion of Rhode Island system, Ashe said that what he’s seen leads him to believe it is a “barrier” to people’s ability to live more “independent and connected lives.” Ashe said his opinion is his own, not that of the monitor.

His comment,, however, happened to coincide with findings of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014, which said Rhode Island’s funding rules incentivized segregation.

Ashe is executive director of Upper Valley Services, which serves a single county in Vermont that is about half the size of Rhode Island. He addressed the commission along with Mary Lee Fay, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS).

Fay presented a broad swath of statistics on nationwide trends, but she nevertheless arrived at basically the same place as Ashe, talking about building services around relationships between persons with disabilities, their families and other important people in their lives.

How To Apply Best Practices To Rhode Island?

The session raised questions about how members of the commission will process the information in coming weeks and apply it to Rhode Island.

For private providers, Rhode Island has a fee-for-service system authorizing payments to providers only three months at a time, for a fixed menu of supports, requiring documentation of each worker’s daytime interaction with each client in 15-minute increments.

There is also a parallel state-run system of group homes that is exempt from the rules applied to private providers, even though they are all paid through the federal-state Medicaid program.

With all its emphasis on making private providers accountable for each minute of service, Rhode Island’s funding model has no definition or measure of what the services are supposed to accomplish in terms of stabilizing or improving people’s lives.

Successful outcomes were a recurring theme among the best practices described by Ashe and Fay.

L to R: Commission Members Deb Kney, Kevin McHale, Tina SPears, and Chairman Louis DiPalma

L to R: Commission Members Deb Kney, Kevin McHale, Tina SPears, and Chairman Louis DiPalma

After the meeting, the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, said the speakers offered a lot of “food for thought”. At the same time, he said, he wants to know more about the context of the successes in Vermont.

There, the predominant housing option is shared living in private homes – even for individuals who have challenging behavior - and services are tailored, or “bundled,” for a year’s time into individualized funding authorizations based on a person’s needs and goals.

Vermont’s system has been decades in the making, and DiPalma said he wants to know more about how the state got to where it is today. He said he expects commission members to begin airing their thoughts about the future of Rhode Island’s developmental disability system at the next meeting, yet to be scheduled, in late January.

Demographics, Economics Converge To Squeeze Human Services

Fay said that all the states are facing the same pressures, driven in part by the aging of the large population born after World War II.

Baby boomers have:

  • Increased the demand for the same type of direct care workers for the elderly as those who are employed in the field of developmental disabilities

  • Driven up the federal Medicaid and Medicare expenses, both entitlement programs with no cap.

Illustrating her point, Fay said that the fastest segment of the population is the elderly aged 85 and older. About 70 percent of that group needs some kind of assistance, she said.

Meanwhile, the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid, combined with last year’s tax cut, will lead to continuing debate in Congress about the future of these safety-net programs, Fay said.

At the same time, demographic projections point to a shortage of direct care workers. The group most likely to go into direct care work – women aged 18 to 55 – remains flat in demographic projections 20 years into the future.

Low wages are an issue with the current workforce, but Fay said the demographics indicate there just will not be enough workers to go around in the future. States “won’t be able to buy” their way out of the labor shortage, which will get much worse in the years to come, she said.

Instead, she said, states will have to “think” their way out of the crisis with a new approach; less reliance on 24-hour care and more supports built around families – and employment.

In Vermont, that approach seems to have paid off more often than not, according to Ashe.

Ashe’s agency is one of ten organizations in Vermont which have broad responsibilities within a designated area for serving adults with developmental disabilities, although there are several other specialized providers without geographic boundaries.

To receive immediate funding, individuals must meet high-priority standards as defined by law. They involve such factors as health and safety considerations or the need for care while both parents work outside the home.

In 2017, there were 238 people statewide on a waiting list for non-priority services, Ashe said.

Ashe’s agency, Upper Valley Services, covers Orange County, an area half the size of Rhode Island with a total population of 28,000, mostly spread out in towns and villages with populations of fewer than 1,500. There is one traffic light in the entire county, Ashe said.

Ashe said all service plans are individually designed and reviewed by a board which includes representatives of providers and consumers as well as state officials. The board’s recommendation is submitted to the state, which makes the final decision on services and funding.

Vermont and RI Differ on Funding Approaches, Wages

Vermont, like most other states, allocates funding on an annual basis. Rhode Island is the only state which funds services quarterly, Fay said.

And unlike Vermont, Rhode Island allocates funding first and expects providers to come up with an individual service plan that doesn’t exceed the budget.

Ashe credits the Vermont legislature for making a practice of anticipating an increasing caseload and funding to meet its needs, rather than forcing providers to dilute the supports for people they already serve to cover the new arrivals.

In 2017, Ashe said, 390 people benefited from the legislature’s new-caseload funding practice, he said.

Vermont’s designation of responsible agencies means they cannot reject anyone in their geographic area who meets the eligibility criteria for priority funding. As a one-stop shop for everyone, Ashe’s agency provides a broad range of services to about 200 individuals in its jurisdiction.

The starting wage at Upper Valley Services is $14 an hour and the annual turnover is 13 percent, significantly lower than the statewide turnover rate of about 23 to 25 percent. If Ashe must serve a particularly challenging client, he said, he has the authority to increase a worker’s hourly rate. Instead of $14, he said, he might pay $18.

Rhode Island providers pay an average entry wage of $11.36 an hour, according to a trade association, although some workers new on the job make minimum wage, which is $10.50 an hour. Job turnover in Rhode Island averages about 33 percent each year, although the rate varies among individual providers.

Nationwide, the average state-level rate of turnover is 46 percent, according to Fay.

In Vermont, the average cost of services per person is $60,037, Ashe said, slightly higher than in Rhode Island.

In a statewide population of just over 600,000, Vermont supports about 4,500 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, about the same number as in Rhode Island, with a population of slightly more than one million.

Individuals have control over their service plans and may move money from one category to another, manage part or all of their services themselves, or let the agency be the service manager.

Employment And Housing

Among the clients of Upper Valley Services, 48 percent have jobs, averaging 8 hours a week, Ashe said.

Nationwide, the employment rate for adults with developmental disabilities is 19 percent, according to Ashe and Fay. Rhode Island’s rate is above the national average, but an exact figure was not immediately available.

Fay emphasized that employment is important not only for income, but also because a job provides autonomy and leads to connections with other people.

Shared living is one of five housing options in Vermont that, taken together, offer a broad range of supervision, up to and including intermediate care with a maximum of six residents in one facility.

The annual stipend for shared living is about $32,500. Ashe said he expects one responsible adult in the family to stay at home and not take an outside job.

Shared living should be viewed as part of a relationship, Fay said, not “foster care” or a “placement” that has nothing to do with the participants’ connections to each other.

24-Hour Case Management Key To Success

Ashe said the core of his operations is a network of case managers, each one with a caseload of about 14 people, who are on call 24 hours a day.

Case managers may arrange respite care for shared living providers or provide additional in-home supports, among a broad range of activities that include diffusing a crisis experienced by someone on their caseload.

In most instances, Ashe said, “the problem is not the person but the services around that person.”

His agency focuses on “re-building the support system to help that person stay in the community,” Ashe said.

In Vermont in 2017, there were five psychiatric admissions among adults with developmental disabilities, according to figures provided by Ashe.

Responding to a question from Rebecca Boss, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health Care, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, Ashe described the history of a crisis team begun in 1991 and crisis training for direct care staff in the field that has helped keep the number of psychiatric hospitalizations low.

Lending a national perspective, Fay said states are learning not to bring families to the table and expect them to speak a bureaucratic language to ask for a specific program, but instead to discuss ‘what is happening in your life and how can we support you?’’

Sometimes, families accept more services than they need, because they fear they will not be able to get them in the future, Fay said.

“I have visited states where people say, ‘I’ve taken a service not because I need it, but because if I say no, I’m afraid I won’t get access to anything in the future,’ “ Fay said.

States have to build trust in families, she said. Systems have to be designed to create an underlying confidence among families that the support will be there as the family’s needs change, she said.

Fay said “there isn’t a system out there that has it down perfectly,” but “states that do it well succeed because they have partnerships” with their communities.

To see an outline of Fay’s full presentation, click here.

To view a video of the commission meeting, click here. Look for an icon labeled with the date 1-8-19 and a title that reads “Special Legislative Study Commission To Evaluate Project Sustainability.” Note that some browsers may need Flash to play the video.

RI Senate DD Commission To Hear Options For Changing Funding Model From Two Experts

By Gina Macris

Two experts with broad experience in developmental disabilities will provide their perspectives on best practices Tuesday, Jan. 8 at the next meeting of the Rhode Island Senate commission studying “Project Sustainability,” the state’s much-criticized fee-for-service reimbursement system for private service providers.

Mary Lee Fay is executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS), based in Alexandria, VA.

William Ashe helped develop Vermont’s current “bundled” payment system. So-called “bundled” payments cover a defined set of services for a specific period of time. The system allows for individualized funding around each person’s unique needs, according to a description of the program Ashe wrote for the Vermont legislature in 2016. He is also involved in current efforts to update the Vermont payment system.

Ashe has experience in state government in Massachusetts and as a longtime private provider of developmental disability services in Vermont.

He has collaborated with the independent federal court monitor who is overseeing Rhode Island’s compliance with a 2014 federal consent decree intended to desegregate the state’s developmental disability service. Ashe has accompanied the monitor, Charles Moseley, on site visits and has written reports that have been incorporated into Moseley’s recommendations to the U.S. District Court.

Fay worked for much of her career for the state of Oregon, becoming director of developmental disabilities, a post she held for 11 years before she moved to NASDDDS in 2012. She is credited with leading the way for Oregon to become a leader in high quality services that allow adults with developmental disabilities more control over their lives.

For her first three years at NASDDDS, Fay focused on working with states to engage adults with developmental disabilities with their communities. She was named executive director in 2015.

Both Ashe and Fay were recommended to the commission by Moseley, the monitor in the consent decree case.

According to a spokeswoman for the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, Moseley said both speakers:

  • are familiar with the way different states manage services

  • are familiar with DD funding policies, practices, and requirements under Medicaid;

  • understand rates, rate setting, and provider billing processes;

  • understand the impact that funding has on the ability of individuals to live and experience full, productive, and integrated lives; and

  • understand approaches other states are using and lessons learned by their successes and challenges.

The Jan. 8 Commission meeting will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Senate Lounge at the State House.

'Our Lives Turned Upside Down' When Daughter Entered RI Adult DD System, Mother Says

Sustainability+commission+Dec.+meeting+main+pic+cropped+.jpg

Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss, and Kerri Zanchi watch A. Anthony Antosh of Rhode Island College present consumer and family perspectives on the state’s services for adults with developmental disabilities Photo by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

A Rhode Island Senate study commission spent nearly two hours Dec. 12 laying out a catalog of strengths and weaknesses in Rhode Island’s system for helping people with developmental disabilities.

But in the end, the personal stories of two mothers, Amy Kelly of Smithfield and Martha Costa of Portsmouth, focused the commission’s attention on the crises now unfolding for at least several families who are at their wits end.

In the catalogue, their experiences come under “residential services-need for specialized medical/behavioral residential models.”

For Amy Kelly, that means that every single service provider in Rhode Island – about three dozen - has turned away her 21 year-old daughter, who is autistic, has behavioral problems, and functions in many ways as a kindergartener.

“So now what do I do?” Kelly asked in a letter to the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. Kelly is a widow, and works fulltime. Her daughter, Kayla, was asked to leave the Trudeau Center in Warwick because of injuries to staff.

For a month now, Kayla has been at home all the time and her problematic behaviors have intensified, Kelly wrote. “She is out of her routine, asking for “friends,” “yellow bus,” “trip,” and other favorite things and experiences that she misses..

Kelly has been forced to choose “self-directed” services, meaning that she must find her own workers,“which is pretty much impossible,” she wrote to DiPalma.

And the Home Based Therapeutic Services that helped Kayla outside of school hours while she was still in special education are no longer available.

“I cannot believe there are no programs in RI for families in this situation!” Kelly wrote. “When my daughter turned 21 in May everything in our lives turned upside down.”

Martha Costa * courtesy of Capitol TV

Martha Costa * courtesy of Capitol TV

Martha Costa agreed. She attended the Commission hearing at the State House on behalf of her own family and five others in Portsmouth who have become friends as their children have faced behavioral challenges growing up and have aged out of the school system into purview of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

As the mother of a 22 year-old man on the autism spectrum, she said her experience has been that once young people with complex needs turn 21, “there is really no place for them to go.”

The family might be told to go to a hospital, but with the exception of Butler Hospital in Providence, a mental health facility, “the hospital is horrible, because it’s just more trauma going there.”

The 21 year-old daughter of a friend of Costa’s had meltowns after her mother – her primary caregiver and the one who organized her services - died in September. The woman’s daughter, who has multiple disabilities, was hospitalized because there was “nowhere for her to go,” Costa said. The young woman was “restrained, medically and physically. It’s heartbreaking,” Costa said.

“It’s lucky you have good parents who are helping these kids, but you know, we’re all getting older and we’re not going to be able to,” she said. The aging of parents, who are often primary care givers, is a broad concern among families, according to survey results.

“There are some kids who don’t have that parent support and they’re on the street,” Costa said. “That’s sad, when they can be a very productive part of our community.”

Kerri Zanchi, the state’s Director of Developmental Disabilities, thanked Costa for coming forward.

One of the biggest challenges in residential services, Zanchi said, is a dearth of specialized homes for individuals with behavioral and other complex needs, as well as a lack of therapists and other clinicians to give them the proper attention.

“There’s a huge need coming” as teenagers with complex disabilities leave schools, she said. “We need to know what that need is and we need to start working on it lot earlier than when they turn 21 and come into our system.”

Zanchi referred to the division’s Eligibility by 17 policy, which aims to give families, schools, and the adult system plenty of time to plan a smooth transition.

In the catalogue, one of the “challenges” the state officials listed in implementing the Eligibility by 17 policy is “resource and service difference for transitioning youth vs adult services.” In the summary that family and consumer representatives submitted, they commented that “transition from high school is a ‘nightmare.“

Zanchi continued her response to Costa. “We certainly recognize every day the crises we have to manage” in order to support the individuals involved and to try to grow the system’s capacity, she said.

And there are committed providers who are willing to help the state, but who also want to do that with the right staffing that will keep all individuals safe, Zanchi said. “We are all hands on deck. I know it probably doesn’t feel like enough,” she said.

Costa agreed. “ I understand what you’ve been doing and I know that everyone has been working hard . Still, it’s not enough,” she said.

Gloria Quinn, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, said her agency works very well with the state as a partner in exceptional situations, but it is extremely difficult as long as there there is a paucity of established expertise in the community that is accessible to the developmental disabilities providers.

“Very often we are creating something new, which takes an enormous amount of time,” Quinn said, and the funding is not enough. Most importantly, when the agency helps someone with increased needs it runs the risk of jeopardizing supports for other people, particularly in a residential setting, she said.

Peter Quattromani, President and CEO of United Cerebral Palsy Rhode Island, pointed to the low wages for direct care staff that frustrate all involved; those who love the work but can’t pay the bills, employers who can’t fill jobs, and consumers and families who can’t find suitable services.

“It’s an incredibly difficult job” , he said, and attracting staff is likewise very difficult, given the low wages.

Commission member Kelly Donovan, who herself receives services from DDD, had sparked the conversation by wondering aloud why those with serious behavioral problems have difficulty finding appropriate support.

She said she agreed with Quattromani and Costa, and she added another factor that she believes contributes to the problem: a societal stigma against those with a broad range of mental illnesses who exhibit aggressive behavior.

During the last month, commission members, representing the executive branch of government, private providers, and consumers and their families, were asked to complete a survey cataloging the strengths and weaknesses of the existing Medicaid fee-for-service system, called Project Sustainability.

The commission plans to use the results of the survey, named the “Current State Assessment,” to seek advice from outside experts and further the group’s deliberations in the future, according to a statement issued at DiPalma’s behest.

Directly or indirectly, a lack of adequate funding in various contexts permeated three summaries of the survey results, each one presented by a representative of each of the three segments of the commission. Transportation, for example, has become a bigger problem now that there is a greater emphasis on community-based services, which require more than the two daily trips usually allowed by individual funding authorizations. Families also cited difficulties of non-English speakers in getting information and services.

But Rebecca Boss, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, also said the developmental disabilities budget has increased significantly since 2015, and listed advances made in the last two years, including:

  • $6.8 million for supported employment

  • two annual wage increases for direct care workers (The average hourly pay for front-line workers is $11.36 an hour)

  • the acquisition of a modern data management system

  • an increase in staff for quality management, implementation of a federal civil rights consent decree and for Medicaid-mandated Home and Community Based Services, as well as assistance in maximizing the existing budget.

She described the funding needs of the system as “dynamic.”

“We are engaging in discussions with our partners about what those needs are,” Boss said. “Governor (Gina) Raimondo has demonstrated a willingness to look at the system and make adjustments in the budget as we go along. So this is the process that we’re currently working on and engaging in those conversations on a regular basis.”

Raimondo is to present adjustments for the current budget, as well as her proposal for the next fiscal cycle, during the third week of January.

Christopher Semonelli, a commission member and the father of a teenager with complex needs, commented on the origins of Project Sustainability, which seemed to him like system “in a death spiral, and there was basically a feeding frenzy as to how to continue the system; how to go after the available funds.”

“I don’t think the legislative base should be blamed” for cutbacks that launched Project Sustainability in 2011, “because there was a lack of advocacy, “he said. “Strong advocacy could have prevented that from happening. That is huge and needs to be built going forward.”

DiPalma had the last word. Semonelli “made a great point about advocacy, but he shouldn’t let the General Assembly off the hook,” DiPalma said. “This is where the buck stops.”

Read the summaries presented at the meeting. For the state’s assessment, click here. For consumer and advocates’ comments, click here. For service providers’ comments, click here.

RI House Speaker And Senate President Both Support Higher Pay For DD Workers

By Gina Macris

The top two leaders in the Rhode Island General Assembly say they support the idea of increasing the pay of workers who provide services for adults with developmental disabilities.

“I am very supportive of the developmentally disabled community,” said House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello, “and I believe those people who care for them should receive a rate increase. The House of Representatives will certainly strongly consider such a request in next year’s budget deliberations.”

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio is likewise supportive, a spokesman said.

“The Senate President supports increasing wages for providers of services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Ruggerio’s spokesman said, adding that “Senator Louis DiPalma (D-Middletown) has provided extraordinary leadership on this issue, including a proposal to gradually increase wages for providers, and the Senate President supports his initiative.”

Whether Governor Raimondo will consider increasing funding for the private system of care for adults with developmental disabilities in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year remains to be seen. Her office has not responded to a Nov. 20 email seeking comment on possible pay increases.

Developmental Disability News asked the state’s leaders whether they would consider re-visiting reimbursement rates after Mark Podrazik, the president of the healthcare consulting firm Burns & Associates, told a Senate commission chaired by Senator DiPalma that a review of pay hikes is warranted.

DiPalma’s commission is studying the current fee-for- service system, called Project Sustainability, which Burns and Associates was instrumental in developing seven years ago. While the consultants took the lead in the project design, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) disregarded the actual reimbursement rates the firm proposed, instead reducing most of them by 17 to 19 percent before forwarding the final version of the plan to the General Assembly in the spring of 2011.

Burns & Associates recommends a rate overhaul once every five years, Podrazik told the commission Nov. 13. After nearly seven and a half years, “it’s past time,” he said.

Podrazik testified that Project Sustainability was shaped by the state’s drive to control costs, but by that measure, the system has failed.

The developmental disability budget repeatedly has run over the limits set by the General Assembly, and the gaps have only increased during the last few years as the U.S. District Court has enforced a federal civil rights agreement with the state that requires Rhode Island to integrate adults with developmental disabilities in their communities.

That approach, necessary to correct violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, costs more than the reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day centers codified in Project Sustainability.

DiPalma, the chairman of the Project Sustainability commission, takes exception to a view that the developmental disability services program has been overspending.

“If the budget was unrealistic from the get-go, you’re going to exceed that budget,” he said at the commission meeting Nov. 13. He has studied developmental disability service budgets for ten years, he said, and none of them have been realistic.

Increasing wages for direct care workers “needs to become a priority” for a number of reasons, DiPalma said in a telephone interview. “If it’s a priority, we’ll find the money.”

In 2016, DiPalma called for a $15 hourly wage for direct care workers by July 1, 2021, but now he says “we need to get there faster.”

And he indicated he no longer believes $15 is enough. For example, Massachusetts, an easy commute from many places in Rhode Island, is already paying that amount to members of the Service Employees Union International who work with persons with disabilities. A bill signed by Governor Charles Baker in June put Massachusetts on a path to a $15 minimum wage in five years.

At one time, those who worked with adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges had full time jobs with benefits. But Project Sustainability resulted in drastic cuts to wages and benefits that destabilized the workforce, forcing many to leave the field or to take two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Turnover averages about one in three workers a year, and employers are unable to fill one in six jobs, according to the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association. At the same time, the demands of the consent decree require more highly skilled staff.

Since July 1, 2016, the General Assembly has enacted two relatively small pay increases for direct care staff and their supervisors at private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities, but the average pay, $11.36 an hour, is still two dollars less than the hourly rate of $13.97 which Burns & Associates recommended in 2011.

Healthcare Consultant Says "It's Past Time" For RI To Revisit Rates It Pays For Private DD Services

Boss DiPalma Quattromani Kelly Donovan Deb Kney Kevin McHale.jpg

From foreground, on the right, Rebecca Boss, Louis DiPalma, Peter Quattromani, Kelly Donovan, Deb Kney, and Kevin McHale, all members of the Project Sustainability Commission. DiPalma is chairman. All photos by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island is overdue in undertaking a comprehensive review of rates it pays private providers of services for adults with developmental disabilities, according to a top official of a healthcare consulting firm who helped develop the existing payment structure seven years ago.

Mark Podrazik

Mark Podrazik

“It’s past time,” said Mark Podrazik, president and co-founder of Burns & Associates. He said the firm recommends an overhaul of rates once every five years. Podrazik appeared Nov. 13 before a Senate-sponsored commission which is evaluating the way the state organizes and funds its services for those facing intellectual and developmental challenges.

The commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, had invited Podrazik to help the 19-member panel gain a deeper understanding of the controversial billing and payment system now in place before it recommends changes intended to ultimately improve the quality of life of some 4,000 adults with developmental disabilities.

Burns & Associates was hired by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) in 2010 to develop and implement Project Sustainability, a fee-for-service system of payments to hold private providers accountable for the services they deliver and give consumers more flexibility in choosing what they wanted, Podrazik said.

In answering questions posed by commission members, Podrazik made it clear that the final version of Project Sustainability was shaped by a frenzy to control costs. The state ignored key recommendations of Burns & Associates intended to more equitably fund the private service providers and to protect the interests of those in the state’s care.

Podrazik said that overall, Burns & Associates believed the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) had neither the capacity or the competence implement Project Sustainability at the outset or to carry out the mandates to companion civil rights agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice reached in 2013 and 2014.

“I think people were a little shocked” by the new federal requirements to integrate day services in the community and by the question of “who was going to do it,” Podrazik said of the DDD staff at the time.

DDD also had an antiquated data system that ill served Project Sustainability and the separate demands for statistics imposed by a federal court monitor overseeing the consent decrees.

Podrazik said the aged IT system was the biggest problem faced by Burns & Associates.

Asked whether funding changed to implement the civil rights agreements, Podrazik said he didn’t recall that there were any significant changes, if any at all. Burns & Associates ended its day-to-day involvement with BHDDH in Feb. 2015, when Maria Montanaro became the department director. (She has since been succeeded by Rebecca Boss, and there has been a complete reorganization and expansion of management in DDD. A modern IT system recently went online.)

Between the fall of 2015 and early 2016, Burns & Associates had a separate contract with the Executive Office of Human Services, which asked for advice on cutting supplemental payments to adults with developmental disabilities.

While Project Sustainability was supposed to give consumers more choice, the U.S. Department of Justice found just the opposite in a 2013 investigation.

DOJ lawyers wrote in their findings that “systemic State actions and policies” directed resources for employment and non-work activities to sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs, making it difficult for individuals to get services outside those settings.

“Flexibility” Functioned As Tool For Controlling Costs

At the meeting Nov. 13, Andrew McQuaide, a commission member and senior director at Perspectives Corporation, a service provider, suggested that features of Project Sustainability ostensibly designed to encourage flexibility and autonomy for those using the services functioned in reality as mechanisms to control costs.

Podrazik said, “In my heart of hearts, I think everybody wanted more flexibility,” but “then the financial constraints were imposed in such a way that the objectives could not necessarily be met.”

“We were not hired to cut budgets,” Podrazik said. Going into the project, “we did not know what the budget was” for Project Sustainability.

He said Burns & Associates recommended fair market rates for a menu of services under the new plan. For example, it proposed an hourly rate for direct care workers was $13.97. But BHDD refused the consultants’ advice to fight “aggressively” for this level of funding, Podrazik said. With the budget year that began July 1, 2011, BHDDH recommended, and the General Assembly adopted, a rate of $12.03 an hour, nearly two dollars less.

The state had the option to change the rate effective Oct. 1, 2011, and it did, dropping the hourly reimbursement for direct care workers to $10.66 to absorb last-minute cuts made by the General Assembly in the developmental disabilities budget for the fiscal year that had begun July 1. (Rates have increased slightly since then. The average direct care worker made about $11.36 an hour in early 2018.)

“I understood why the department (BHDDH) was doing what they were doing, because they were getting an incredible amount of pressure on the budget – so much so that they were getting their hand slapped when they were over,” Podrazik said.

“From the outside coming in, there was a lack of confidence that BHDDH could actually administer a budget that came in on target, so that there was an intense scrutiny to keep the budget intact. It did not help that that they were cut and that there were no caseload increases (in the budget) for multiple years,” Podrazik said.

“They were behind the eight-ball before anything was contemplated,” he said.

Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss

Louis DiPalma, Rebecca Boss

DiPalma, the commission chairman, saw the situation from a different perspective: “Someone will say the agency exceeded the budget, but if it was unrealistic from the get-go, you’re going to exceed that budget.”

As a legislator, DiPalma said, he has looked at developmental disability service budgets for ten years, and there hasn’t been one that was realistic.

“Right,” Podrazik replied, adding that funding for developmental disabilities had been declining from year to year in Rhode Island, even before Burns & Associates was hired for Project Sustainability.

Podrazik said he hasn’t been following developmental disabilities in Rhode Island during the last few years, but “somebody should look at the rates, if for no other reason” than “we’re in an economy that’s very different than it was in 2010.” He cited health care costs and a move toward “$15 an hour wages.”

“It’s a whole different landscape,” he said.

Consultants Recommended Eliminating Separate State-Run DD System

In 2011, with Project Sustainability facing a funding shortage even before it got off the ground, Burns & Associates recommended that BHDDH get more money to support the services of private agencies by eliminating – gradually – the state-run developmental disabilities system, called Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS.)

At the time, average per-person cost for a RICLAS client ran about three times more than the average in the privately-run system. All the RICLAS clients could eventually be transferred to private providers, Burns & Associates advised the state.

“This recommendation was shut down immediately, with the reason being a protracted fight with the unions,” Podrazik said in prepared remarks.

Burns & Associates then recommended lowering the reimbursements to RICLAS. “This was also shut down,” Podrazik wrote.


“It was apparent early on that there were funds to be redistributed between RICLAS and the Private DD system, but there was no appetite to do so. It is unclear exactly where this directive was coming from within state government, but that was the directive given” to Burns & Associates, Podrazik wrote.

Providers Expected To Maintain Same Service For Reduced Pay

Commission members asked Podrazik whether anyone at Burns & Associates or state government believed that it was possible for private service providers to absorb the rate reductions written into Project Sustainability, given the fact that about half the agencies were already running deficits before the program was enacted.

McQuaide quoted from the memo that BHDDH sent the General Assembly in May, 2011, explaining its approach to implementing Project Sustainability.

“We did not reduce our assumptions for the level of staffing hours required to serve individuals,” the memo said. “In other words, we are forcing the providers to stretch their dollars without compromising the level of services to individuals,” the memo said.

McQuaide asked, "Did anyone actually think that was possible?”

“I don’t know,” Podrazik replied, but he remembered meetings in which participants expressed sentiments similar to the quotation highlighted by McQuaide.

Given the budgetary restrictions, Podrazik said, he favored reducing rates rather than cutting back on services or creating a waiting list for services.

Podrazik said Burns & Associates was hired to deal with certain problems; not to review services for adults with developmental disabilities top to bottom.

Assessment Used For Funding Became Controversial

Asked to change the assessment used to determine each person’s need for support, Burns and Associates recommended the Supports Intensity Scale, or SIS, and advised it should be administered by an entity “other than the provider or the state to avoid the perception of gaming the system,” he said.

The state went forward with the SIS, linked it to funding individual authorizations, or personal budgets for clients, and assigned the administration of the assessment to the state’s own social caseworkers.

The fact that the SIS is administered within BHDDH has been criticized by the DOJ and an independent federal court monitor. With federal scrutiny on BHDDH, and numerous complaints from families and providers that the SIS scores were manipulated to cut costs, the department switched to a revised SIS assessment and retrained all its assessors in November, 2016.

Funding Authorized Three Months At A Time To Control Costs

According to Podrazik, Burns & Associates recommended each client’s funding authorization – or personal budget – be awarded on an annual basis, to allow individuals to plan their lives and providers to look ahead in figuring out expenses.

But the state insisted on the option to change reimbursement rates on a quarterly basis as a means of managing costs more closely within a fiscal year. That was the feature of Project Sustainability which enabled BHDDH to impose two consecutive cuts on providers, once on July 1, 2011, and a second time on Oct. 1, 2011. Since then, rates have increased incrementally.

At the hearing, Podrazik illustrated the difference between a yearly authorization and a quarterly one in the life of a consumer.

“Maybe someone goes away for the month of August,” he said. If that person has a quarterly authorization, the money for services in August reverts to the state. But with an annual authorization, the funding can be used for the person’s benefit during another month of the year.

Podrazik agreed with a commission member, Peter Quattromani, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, that quarterly authorizations compromise the flexibility intended to be part of the design of Project Sustainability.

Podrazik said he knows of no other state that makes quarterly authorizations for developmental disability services.

DiPalma, the commission chairman, asked if there was any thought given to the impact of a requirement that providers document how each staff person working during the day spends his or her time with clients, in 15-minute blocks.

Podrazik said, “I don’t think people thought the impact would be negligible, but the desire for accountability outweighed that, and I fully endorsed them.”

Project Sustainability decreased overhead costs to private providers but did not offset those cuts with allowances for hiring the personnel necessary to process the documentation.

When DiPalma thanked Podrazik for his time, Podrazik quipped that Rhode Island was “the last place I thought I’d ever be.”

“The Rhode Island project wore me down, so I’m working with hospitals these days,” Podrazik said.

He said he came back to Rhode Island because DiPalma was very persuasive and because he wanted to “set the record straight” on the involvement of Burns & Associates with Project Sustainability.







Burns & Associates President To Speak To RI Senate Commission Studying DD Reimbursement

A special commission of the Rhode Island Senate on “Project Sustainability” will meet Tuesday, Nov. 13 to hear a presentation from the president of a healthcare consulting firm which helped the state develop its current fee-for-service Medicaid reimbursement system for private providers who serve adults with developmental disabilities.

The speaker, Mark Podrazik , is the president and co-founder of Burns & Associates, an Arizona-based company which advised the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) on recommendations BHDDH made to the General Assembly. The legislature made the final decisions about the reimbursement model, which was enacted in 2011.

Burns & Associates was paid nearly $1.4 million for their work developing “Project Sustainability” and analyzing its fiscal impact between 2010 and 2016, according to state records.

Tuesday’s public meeting will begin at 3 p.m. in the Senate Lounge of the State House. Public comment is invited at the end of the session, according to the commission chairman, State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown. The commission includes 19 members from state government and a cross-section of the developmental disability community. Among them are two consumers and representatives of advocacy groups and service providers.

RI Project Sustainability's Plan For Enhanced DD Services Was "Cover" For Budget Cuts - Testimony

By Gina Macris

Louis DiPalma, Chairman of Project Sustainability Commission Photo By Anne PETERS

Louis DiPalma, Chairman of Project Sustainability Commission Photo By Anne PETERS

Project Sustainability, introduced in Rhode Island in 2011 as a method for enhancing individualized services for adults with developmental disabilities, instead has diminished the quality of their lives.

That assessment set the stage Oct. 9 for deliberations of a Senate-sponsored commission charged with studying Rhode Island’s past and present system of developmental disability services, with the aim of designing a better future.

At the same time, the chairman of the 19-member panel, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, emphasized that the purpose of the commission is not to assign blame but to learn from the past and present to figure out how to best move forward. The commission must report to the Senate by March 1.

Project Sustainability was “a well-manicured statement to cover up” cuts in funding and services, said Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, one of three dozen private agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island.

Kim Einloth Testifies

Kim Einloth Testifies

Project Sustainability had a “major impact on the quality of service we were able to deliver,” said Kim Einloth, a senior director at Perspectives Corporation, one of Rhode Island’s largest service providers. She said the community-based program of day services was forced to put people in large groups, lay off specialists like occupational and speech therapists and discontinue consulting services with physical therapists.

Gloria Quinn, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, said she noticed immediately that the disabilities system was “demoralized, decreased and degraded” when she returned to Rhode Island after a nine-year absence in 2013. When Quinn moved out of state in 2004, she said, Rhode Island was one of the top-ranked states nationwide for its programs for adults with developmental disabilities. Quinn sits on the commission.

In a meeting that lasted about 90 minutes, the commission covered a broad range of topics related to Project Sustainability and the controversies linked to it: inadequate overall funding, depressed worker wages, and an assessment used – or misused - to determine individual allocations for services.

The planning and execution of Project Sustainability has been well documented, primarily by Burns & Associates, healthcare consultants hired by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) in 2010.

DiPalma said that from what he’s seen, Burns & Associates was “charged with providing a plan, and the state chose to do something different.”

Rebecca Boss, the current director of BHDDH, reviewed the history of Project Sustainability, designed to bring uniformity to funding for specific services and enable families to make informed choices about services. Project Sustainability aimed to use data gathered through new funding methods to create incentives for services to be delivered in the most integrated setting possible, she said.

“Change is hard, and even with perfect planning, it would not result in everyone’s needs being met,” Boss said.

“I think everyone knows” that the current administration – including Governor Gina Raimondo, Kerri Zanchi, the Director of Developmental Disabilities, herself, “is committed to working with our stakeholders” to figure out “where do we go from here,” said Boss.

“Many may have different views of history, as is often the case,” said Boss, a commission member.

Kane, of AccessPoint, said he didn’t want his anger about Project Sustainability to reflect the way he regards the current administration. The working relationship service providers now have with the BHDDH administration, he said, is “better than we’ve had in a very, very long time.”

Tom Kane Chats After The Commission Meeting

Tom Kane Chats After The Commission Meeting

The plans for Project Sustainability “talked about individualizing services and moving toward person-centeredness and all of the lovely buzz words,” said Kane, but the rhetoric really described “a system we already had that got dismantled.”

While Project Sustainability talked about individualization, inclusion and community support, the regulations governing developmental disability services “were always about center-based group activity.”

“Finally, under this administration, the regulations have been put forward that will put back the flexibility we need,” Kane said. The new regulations have passed a public comment period and are to be finalized by the end of the year.

Funding, however, has a long way to go to support the kinds of changes providers, families, and consumers want, by all accounts.

Commission member Andrew McQuaide zeroed in on historical funding of developmental disability services.

McQuaide said that developmental disability spending had been on a downward trend in Rhode Island since 1993.That was the year before the last residents left the Ladd School, the state’s only institution for those with intellectual challenges.

Citing According to Burns & Associates, McQuaide said:

  • Between 1993 and 2008, Rhode Island’s expenditures for developmental disabilities decreased by 29.5 percent at the same time the national rate increased by 17.8 percent.

  • Rhode Island is only one of 14 states to report a reduction between 2007 and 2009 in per-person expenditure, a decrease of 4 percent at the same time the national trend registered a 5.6 percent increase.

McQuaide also said that anecdotal information indicates about half the state’s private providers were reporting operating deficits in 2009, ill-preparing them to absorb the additional funding cuts that came along with Project Sustainability.

An overview prepared by the Senate Fiscal Office showed that actual spending on developmental disabilities, including both state and federal Medicaid funds, dropped $26.2 million in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2011 when compared to spending during the previous 12 months.

The overview shows that, adjusted for inflation, the current budget still has not caught up to the spending reach of the developmental disability system in the year before Project Sustainability was enacted.

Chart courtesy of RI SENATE FISCAL OFFICE

Chart courtesy of RI SENATE FISCAL OFFICE

Prior to Project Sustainability, private agencies negotiated an annual sum for each individual in their care.

The new system generated standard reimbursement rates for each of 18 different services that agencies were authorized to provide.

Kane noted that from the outset, the funding for Project Sustainability was not designed to cover all of the actual costs of private providers, almost all of whom had submitted extensive financial data to the state.

A BHDDH memo for rate-setting that the department sent to the General Assembly noted that the reimbursement rates eventually adopted for Project Sustainability were 17 to 19 percent below “benchmark rates” which Burns & Associates calculated from the median wage for direct care jobs - $13.97 an hour.

The state could not afford more, the memo said, citing the poor economy at the time.

The memo said the lower reimbursement rates were calculated by reducing the allowances for fringe benefits for workers and in some cases, cutting transportation and program expenses.

Kane, who is familiar with the rates in the memo and other Burns & Associates documents, said providers were “actually told in a meeting, ’We’ll see what this (the benchmark wage) costs but we won’t actually bring this to the legislature because they’ll laugh at us.’

“I don’t understand why the expenditure of well over a million dollars on Burns & Associates wasn’t taken seriously enough” to put forward actual expenditures “and let the legislature decide whether it was appropriate,” Kane said.

McQuaide, meanwhile, quoted from the memo. “We did not reduce our assumptions for the level of staffing hours required to serve individuals. In other words, we are forcing the providers to stretch their dollars without compromising the level of services to individuals,” the memo said. See related article

McQuaide said the experience of the last seven years has shown that it was a “fiction” to think the system of private providers would be forced to implement Project Sustainability without compromising services.

The state has a separate system of group homes for adults with developmental disabilities which has not been subject to rules or the pay cuts that came with Project Sustainability. Instead, the workers are unionized state employees with full benefits.

Donna Martin and Andrew McQuaide

Donna Martin and Andrew McQuaide

In the privately-run system, McQuaide said, the wages paid direct care workers still don’t reach the original $13.97 per hour “benchmark”, or median-pay rate, calculated by Burns & Associates.

The most recent data available indicates that the average entry wage for direct care workers is $11.37 an hour. It comes from a survey of member agencies of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI) conducted last February, according to Donna Martin, executive director of the trade association, which represents about two thirds of service providers in Rhode Island. Martin said she is in the process of updating the figure.

Martin, a commission member, told the panel that CPNRI has met with the BHDDH leadership and representatives of Governor Raimondo’s office and the Office of Management and Budget to review current provider reimbursements in comparison to an extensive menu of rates envisioned by Burns & Associates in planning Project Sustainability. BHDDH, OMB, and the Governor have already planning a budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

DiPalma said Burns & Associates originally wanted to advance a “competitive” average wage of $15.46 an hour.

Addressing wage inequities will be a critical focus of the commission’s work, he said. Two years ago, DiPalma started a campaign to raise direct care wages to $15 an hour over five budget cycles. Massachusetts already pays its direct care workers a $15 hourly rate, and many Rhode Islanders find they don’t have to move to take advantage of these higher-paying positions at agencies that are an easy commute from their homes, DiPalma said.

Another source of rancor over the last several years has been the assessment used to determine individual funding levels under the terms of Project Sustainability – the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), which was updated in November, 2016.

Kane has said data compiled by Burns & Associates indicate the original version of the SIS was used to cut individual funding. See related article

A. Anthony Antosh

A. Anthony Antosh

Even though the SIS has been revised, the state’s top academic researcher in developmental disabilities, A. Anthony Antosh, told the commission that using the SIS as a funding tool violates the original intent of the instrument as an aid for professionals designing individual programs of support for persons with disabilities.

Antosh, a commission member, is the retiring Director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.

His comments apparently prompted Kane to recall another moment in a Project Sustainability planning meeting in which Burns & Associates’ human services partner praised the multi-faceted assessment providers were using at the time to figure out how much funding a particular person needed. In each case, the assessment took into account intellectual capacity, responses in various situations and potential risks.

That Burns & Associates partner, the Human Services Research Institute of Oregon, wrote a memo to the General Assembly saying that “ ‘resource allocation’ should never be thought of as mostly an exercise involving the assessment and simple service delivery.”

Policy makers should also take into account the goals of the programs, such as increasing community integration or increasing employment, before determining the array of services and rate schedules, HSRI said.

“Data collected by a measure such as the SIS is necessary,” the memo said, “but certainly not sufficient.”

The memo was condensed before it reached the General Assembly, and the recommendation against using the SIS alone to determine individual funding was eliminated,