RI Senate Finance, BHDDH To Seek More Funding To Protect Services And Rights Of Adults with DD

By Gina Macris

Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed $18.4 million cut to developmental disability services for the next fiscal year would not allow Rhode Island to continue its compliance efforts in connection with a 2014 federal consent decree, Rebecca Boss acknowledged for the first time during a budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on May 3.  

Boss - RI CApitol tv

Boss - RI CApitol tv

Boss is the highest ranking official in the Raimondo administration responsible for adults with developmental disabilities in her position as the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).  

Her admission came in response to the finance committee chairman, Sen. William J. Conley, Jr., who laid out a detailed and persistent line of questioning that revealed an authoritative grasp of the issues of the the consent decree and established him as a leading advocate for expanding the developmental disabilities budget.  

Boss said in initial remarks that based on an “updated data analysis of monthly caseloads and more positive revenue trends, we will be advocating for increased funding for BHDDH so Rhode Islanders’ needs are met.”

Conley - RI CAPITOL TV 

Conley - RI CAPITOL TV 

But Conley asked her to revisit a specific question about funding that had first been posed to her by U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. during a hearing April 10. McConnell asked whether the proposed $18.4 million cut in reimbursements to private providers effective July 1 would affect the state’s ability to move forward with compliance efforts related to the consent decree.

At the time, Boss said BHDDH did not have enough data to give an answer.

Conley said the consent decree “does nothing more, quite frankly, than require the same standards that the U.S. Supreme Court established in 1999.”

The so-called Olmstead decision clarified the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, spelling out the rights of all individuals with disabilities to choose services that are part of their communities.    

Nearly 20 years after the Olmstead decision, Rhode Island is “still struggling to meet a constitutional standard of care,” Conley said.

“Four years after the consent decree was entered and after repeated court monitor reports, we still cannot answer the question as to whether or not we are providing sufficient resources, really, to provide justice and dignity to the people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the state of Rhode Island.”

“While I understand you have to represent the voice of the administration, and everybody expects you to be a loyal soldier and team player, the budget that you are giving us doesn’t do that,” Conley said, addressing Boss.

Otherwise, Boss would have been able to clearly answer the judge that the loss of $18 million would not affect progress on the consent decree and would have been able to spell out how its goals would be achieved with the remaining funds, Conley said.

When Conley asked what the Senate Finance Committee could do to help BHDDH, Boss and the Director of Developmental Disabilities, Kerri Zanchi, both said members could advocate for more flexibility for the department to assign resources.

Boss said she agreed that the department needs more resources but wasn’t sure that the prescriptive nature of the consent decree was the best approach.

But Conley replied said that when the state isn’t meeting the standards, or doesn’t have the data to show its progress – a problem since 2014 – “the default position is prescriptive standards, because they need some kind of measuring stick.”

One measure is whether the “proposed budget would provide the level of services that are constitutionally mandated,” Conley said.

“What’s your answer today?” he asked, bringing the discussion full circle back to the judge’s question.  

Boss said, “With the revised analytics done, we could say today that the budget proposed would not continue the service delivery” in the current fiscal year.  The consent decree requires an increase in commitment during each year of implementation. equired by the consent decree.

While Boss did not offer a figure, Sen. Louis D. DiPalma, D-Middletown, the first vice-chairman of the committee, said developmental disabilities would need about $275 million to $280 million in federal and state funding during the next fiscal year, based on the original budget request the department made to the Governor’s office last fall.

DiPalma presented a chart showing that actual funding for developmental disabilities has lagged behind inflation since July 1, 2011, which marked the introduction of “Project Sustainability,” the current fee-for service reimbursement system that has come under increasing criticism for imposing restrictions on providers – and the state bureaucracy – in implementing the consent decree.

For example, the chart shows that the $239.8 million allocated for developmental disabilities effective July 1, 2010 would be the equivalent of $274.5 million allocated effective July 1, 2018, the start of the next fiscal year, with an adjustment for inflation according to the consumer price index.

Raimondo’s proposal, as it now stands, would allocate only $248.1 million effective July 1, counting only the federal-state Medicaid funding. (Other miscellaneous funds would add slightly more than $2 million to the bottom line.)

The Senate on May 1 gave final approval to a resolution creating a special commission to study the reimbursement system under Project Sustainability, including the use of a standardized assessment tool keyed to a funding formula that has never been disclosed. The commission has until March 1, 2019 to issue its report.

Sen. Walter S. Felag, Jr., D-Warren, Bristol and Tiverton, said he favors fully funding developmental disabilities.

He said it seems that in the last eight to ten years, there has been “tremendous pressure” to decrease these expenditures,” with particular challenges on residential costs from 2013 to 2017 as BHDDH has tried to move people out of group homes to less expensive shared living arrangements.  He questioned whether it has been all worthwhile.

Boss said there have been investments in developmental disabilities in that time, and Conley remarked that Boss and her staff are doing “tremendous work” with the resources they do have.

Beth Upham put a parent’s perspective on services. Her daughter, Stacy, a resident of a group home with an active calendar, “has a life we never could have given her,” she said.

She said she has met with Governor Raimondo, who has “promised she would support this community.”

But if the governor’s existing budget proposal is enacted, Upham said, “every person in the system will suffer. They will be sicker. There will be more hospitalizations. My daughter, my baby girl, will suffer,” Upham said.

“We have been fighting this system ever since she turned 21,” Upham said.

She asked, “why, for the last 15 years, has this community been targeted for cuts?”

RI Olmstead Judge Says He'll Be Keeping Eye On State And Federal Funding For Disability Services

By Gina Macris

John J. McConnell, Jr., the U.S. District Court judge overseeing changes in Rhode Island’s developmental disability service system, has signaled that that future funding of the social services is very much on his mind.

During a hearing Nov. 30 in Providence, McConnell listened to the state’s summary of the latest progress and the work still to be done to achieve the goals necessary to transform Rhode Island’s segregated services for persons with developmental disabilities into an integrated, community-based model. The transformation would bring Rhode Island into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court Olmstead decision clarifying the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

After Kerri Zanchi, the state Director of Developmental Disabilities, had finished her prepared remarks, McConnell interjected the observation that the necessary services are all “contingent on funding.”

“Funding is a key issue,” both at the state and federal level, he said. 

 Zanchi, too, expressed concerns, saying the developmental disability community needs advocacy to make its case on budget issues.

Most recently in Washington, disability rights advocates have said that the proposed tax cuts now before Congress would result in reductions in spending through Medicaid, the federal-state program that pays for services required by a 2013 interim agreement and a broader 2014 consent decree between the state of Rhode Island and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In addition, the federal government’s re-direction of some vocational rehabilitation funding from Rhode Island to Texas has triggered a waiting list, effective Dec. 1, for future clients of Rhode Island’s Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS), which is involved in implementing both the 2013 and 2014 agreements.

No one currently served by ORS will be affected, but by the time the court is scheduled to reconvene in April, the waiting list could include applicants for services who are covered by the consent decree or the interim agreement.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island’s implementation of the agreements has contributed to a projected cost overrun of almost $26 million in federal and state Medicaid funds for developmental disability services in the current fiscal year, and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) is under pressure to find ways to cut costs.

McConnell said he hoped that state officials will take into consideration the requirements of the 2014 consent decree (and the more limited interim agreement) as they look for cuts in social services in the coming months.

He said he wanted it known that “the third equal branch of government is watching.”

State Details Compliance Efforts  

The Nov. 30 hearing concerned those who are covered by the so-called “Interim Settlement Agreement,” originally 125 former students at the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School in Providence who at one time were funneled into jobs paying sub-minimum wage at the former sheltered workshop, Training Through Placement (TTP) in North Providence. 

The latest update puts the current number in this group at 91 individuals whose cases are still open at the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), said Zanchi, the division director.

She summarized the state’s progress in working with them:

  • 51 have jobs in the community paying at least minimum wage
  • 21 are unemployed but job-hunting, with support 
  • 7 are currently inactive
  • 12 have chosen not to work but are receiving integrated day services from a total of 12 providers.

In a report to the court submitted the eve of the hearing, an independent monitor, Charles Moseley, framed the employment statistics differently.

He zeroed in on an order from McConnell in June that the state follow up on 46 unemployed members of the class protected by the interim agreement of 2013, including 34 who had never had a job in the community.

Among the group of 46, Moseley said the state had made 11 job placements as of the end of October. That is most of the goal of 15 placements that must be made by March 23, 2018. An additional 16 placements must be made by June 23, 2018, and target dates for the remaining 15 placements are to be determined, he said. (Some of them have indicated they don't want to work.)

'Underperformance' Of One Provider Hurt State

Much of the testimony, as well as Moseley’s comprehensive report, concerned Community Work Services, the successor to TTP, the sheltered workshop at the center of the U.S. Department of Justice investigation that led to the interim agreement of 2013.

CWS serves 57 of the 91 individuals covered by the interim agreement, according to Zanchi. (CWS’ own report to the monitor earlier in November put that figure at 59, with 5 of the 59 transitioning to other providers.)    

Of the CWS clients covered by the interim agreement, 25 belong to the group of 46 unemployed individuals the judge said needed special attention, according to Moseley’s report. The rest are served by other providers.

Zanchi said the “underperformance” of CWS “has directly contributed” to the state’s non-compliance with the interim agreement’s targets for employment and integrated non-work services. CWS is a subsidiary of Fedcap Rehabilitation Services of New York.

By now, the state was to have found jobs for all members of the former Birch and TTP group who made an informed choice to seek employment. 

Zanchi said the current CWS leadership has shown a “solid grasp of the significant change needed in their organizational structure” as well as the fact that it needs to reach performance goals “expeditiously.”

She emphasized that CWS’ “re-engagement of families” to support integrated services “cannot be understated.”

She shared the story of one young CWS client and the client's parents, who in a two-year span, had gradually shifted from adamant opposition toward warm embrace of the idea of employment. The client ow volunteers at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and a local food pantry and meets with a job developer each week to explore part-time job opportunities, Zanchi said.  

CWS Nearly Lost License

In May, CWS had come under fire – and was close to losing its license to operate in Rhode Island – for substandard programming, according to Moseley.

Since then, there has been a nearly complete turnover of staff and management at CWS, which has drawn up a new blueprint for change in keeping with principles of “person-centered planning,” putting the individual’s needs and preferences at the center of customized plans for immediate services and long-term goals. 

CWS also has begun a pilot program called “Employment Without Walls” with 7 clients who are hunting for jobs. 

The CWS plan was included in a 59-page report to the court from Moseley. Also included in Moseley's report was an evaluation from William Ashe, a Vermont-based consultant, who worked with Moseley in conducting a three-day, on-site review of CWS in early October.

Ashe, who had first evaluated CWS in October, 2015, said that “CWS is very different from the organization that was visited some two years ago.”

At the same time, Ashe said that “It was my hope that more gains would have been made over these 24 months than has been the case, particularly in the degree of sophistication of the person-centered planning process.” He noted that CWS, led by program director Lori Norris, “appears committed to restructuring the services and supports that it provides to comply with the ISA (Interim Settlement Agreement of 2013) and state regulations.“

In an interview, Ashe said, Norris also touched on financial challenges, which plague all service providers in Rhode Island as they struggle to help BHDDH meet the requirements of the federal mandates and still remain solvent.

According to Ashe’s report, Norris said “her superiors at FedCap are committed to success and will assure the proper level of staffing support even if this resource level is greater than what the current billing authorizations will support.”

CWS’ probationary license ends Dec. 31 and BHDDH must decide whether the agency will continue operating in Rhode Island.

The Massachusetts operations of CWS, a Boston-based agency, are now headed by Craig Stenning, Rhode Island’s former BHDDH director, who is also listed as Fedcap’s Senior Vice President for the New England region on the Fedcap website.  

In his report, Ashe said Norris “was candid in her comments” during the October interview, “stating that the CWS program status at the time of her appointment (six months earlier) was very inadequate across most areas of performance.

“She described her efforts over this past six-month period to change the culture of CWS,” a drive that included a large turnover of staff.

CWS Tries Turnaround

After visiting KFI, a model program for integrated services in Maine, Norris told Ashe, she took several steps at CWS.

Norris, according to Ashe’s report, has:

  • Stopped renovations at the former TTP building, instead planning to abandon any reliance on a facility for integrated services as of Jan. 1. (The former TTP building had been ordered closed to clients by the state in March, 2017 because of unsafe conditions. CWS’ license was suspended for a few days until it found a substitute location in quarters owned by the Fogarty Center.)  
  • Discontinued the use of vans to transport clients, instead opting to arrange for staff members to use their own cars on the job.
  • Changed the job title of direct support staff to community advocate, saying she believes “this title better reflects the culture change she wishes to establish and more accurately conforms to the expectation for how she wants staff to approach their work.”
  • Adopted a flexible work schedule for staff, so that they are available evenings and weekends to support clients who work outside normal business hours.

 

Problems Extend Beyond CWS

Moseley, the monitor, noted in his report that the non-work services received by CWS clients do not meet the requirements of the interim agreement or the statewide consent decree for integrated activities. 

These activities are intended to “provide individuals with disabilities with opportunities to fully engage with people without disabilities in the mainstream” of social life as well as work, he said.

Practical and effective strategies for achieving these goals are not clear, not only at CWS but across the developmental disability service system, Moseley said.

To address the problem, the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) has articulated guiding principles and standards for integrated day services. Through the Sherlock Center at Rhode Island College, DDD also offers training in implementing successful strategies for integration, Moseley said, but he recommended the training be expanded.

Another, related problem is a mismatch between existing services for individuals and their long-range plans.

In a court-ordered review of individual records documenting current services and future plans, DDD found that in 58 percent of the cases, individuals’ ongoing activities didn’t necessarily help them achieve their goals, Zanchi told the judge.

As a result, DDD has taken steps to merge short-range and long-range planning into one streamlined and holistic process that encourages providers to think in terms of individualized services that can help develop skills and interests that will help a particular person realize long-term aspirations.  

In addition, Zanchi said, DDD has developed a separate written guide, or rubric, for reviewing the quality of these individualized plans.

Zanchi Praises 'Collective Vision'

Zanchi concluded that she is “confident that there continues to be many areas where progress is clear,” recognizing that “quality is still developing” in services available to adults with developmental disabilities.

Zanchi said the progress is the direct result of a “collective vision that is guiding the work and transforming services.”

“We are building a remarkable partnership with the true experts of the DD system,” she said, referring to consumers, families, providers, business partners, community advocates as well as DD and ORS staffers.

They are all “invested in this progress and are at our table to strengthen our system to achieve these outcomes,” Zanchi said.

Click here to read the monitor's report.

RI DD Officials "Trying To Do The Right Thing," Says Judge In Review of 2014 Olmstead Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s efforts to implement a 2014 consent decree to help adults with developmental disabilities become part of their communities won plaudits from a federal judge July 28, althougth some officials indicated there’s still a long way before the changes permeate the system of state services. 

Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. said he is heartened “when a state entity is trying to do the right thing. It’s not the case where the state is acting in any way in bad faith.”

“Compared to about a year ago we are in a very different place,” he said.

In May, 2016, McConnell issued a 8-page order warning the state he would entertain contempt proceedings unless it moved forward with implementation of the consent decree, which at that time had been stalled for two years.

At the latest hearing, July 28, McConnell said there had been “positive movement” in the state’s efforts to carry out the requirements of the consent decree and urged state officials to “keep it up.” 

The judge acknowledged that sweeping changes in the leadership of state agencies responsible for the disabilities programs in recent months had left him feeling “quite nervous” about the state’s ability to comply with his orders, but he said “now it doesn’t feel that way at all.”

McConnell chose a relatively informal setting for the hearing, convening his review not in his courtroom but in the richly paneled library of the Beaux Arts federal building on Kennedy Plaza in Providence, and inviting participants around a conference table to remove their jackets.

A lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, Nicole Kovite Zeitler, and an independent court monitor, Charles Moseley, cited advances in the handling of bureaucratic issues that are pre-requisites for a turn-around in the system that will take years to accomplish. The areas they covered included:

  • The realignment of social work staff to better oversee changes in the way services are delivered
  • Additional steps intended to lay the foundation for an active, multi-faceted quality improvement effort involving the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS)
  • Improved communication with service providers, and with the publicThe expanded availability of training and information on the principles of individualized planning and personal choice that are at the heart of the consent decree – and the federal law behind it.

There were, however, signs that, for some individuals who depend on developmental disability services, change has not yet arrived.

For example, Zeitler said that of 22 private agencies participating in a pilot program to encourage job-placements, 42 percent –nearly half - say they can’t take new clients.

Moseley said he “regularly” gets reports from families who say that they have been turned down by service providers they sought out.

Although the pilot project in supported employment is billed as an “incentive” program, participating agencies report privately they operate at a loss for each client they place in a job.

The legislature allocated $6.8 million for supported employment in the fiscal year which ended June 30, but the pilot program did not begin operations until January, and in the first six months it paid out a total of about $122,000 to participating agencies, according to BHDDH calculations obtained by Developmental Disability News.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, acknowledged there are “challenges” to delivering those supported employment services but did not elaborate. A report from Moseley to the judge submitted the day before the hearing said there have been multiple meetings between state officials and the providers to discuss various factors affecting the supported employment program, including “operational issues that are reported to be impeding the ability of the organizations to meet their placement goals.”

McConnelland the consent decree officials at the table spent considerable time discussing a relatively low employment rate of young adults – the very group most likely to have had the broadest experiences in high school, including school-to work internships. 

The participants acknowledged that the employment rate for that group, 32 percent, was artificially depressed, because the number of individuals in the young adult category has grown dramatically, from 151 to 497, in the last nine months.  It takes time to find the right job, Zeitler said. 

But the monitor said in his latest report to the judge that progress in finding jobs for young adults “has been slow.”  Even if one analyzes only the original 151 young adults and discounts 60 of them who are not receiving BHDDH services, the employment rate is 51 percent, Moseley said in the report.

He recommended that the state contact each of the 60 not receiving services to make sure they know that supports are available if they need them.

Clients recently interviewed by Zeitler and DOJ colleagues said they were sometimes “bored” with their daytime non-work activities, Zeitler reported. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) says persons who receive public supports must have personal choice in deciding what they do with their time, both for work and leisure.

But the way resources are currently invested does not necessarily promote “inclusivity,” noted Boss, saying the department is hoping to do some “rebalancing” of the way money is spent.

The individual choice mandated in the consent decree implies one-to-one or small group staffing, assuming that a few friends want to do something together in the community. But a fairly rigid regulatory structure currently in place doesn’t allow for such staffing unless clients are deemed to have extensive disabilities.  

The Division of Developmental l Disabilities is in the process of rewriting all its regulations to change from a system that assigns funding based on the severity of a disability to one that stresses individualization and personal choice, or“person-centered planning,” in accordance with the ADA and the consent decree.

As Moseley noted, the state must make these changes anyway to comply with the broader federal Medicaid Home and Community Based Rule (HCBS). The federal-state Medicaid program pays for all developmental disability services in Rhode Island.

Like the consent decree, HCBS derives its authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Olmstead decision re-affirmed Title II of the ADA, which emphasizes its primary purpose to integrate those with disabilities into the mainstream of society and respects their individual choices on the degree to which they wish to participate. 

The last time BHDDH attempted regulatory reform along similar lines, in 2015, an internal BHDDH work group came up with recommendations that would have cost tens of millions of dollars. The proposed changes did not move forward.  

In his most recent report to the judge,  Moseley said that the effort to gain greater flexibility over existing funding “is a positive move, but additional steps need to be taken to map out a process for ensuring that funding supports integrated person-centered day services” that meet the standards of the consent decree.

Zeitler said management officials of direct service agencies seem to understand the principles of individualized, or “person-centered” activity plans, but some direct care workers “don’t speak the language.” 

Zeitler suggested that more training is in order.  Although the training is available, tuition-free, Kerri Zanchi, developmental disabilities chief at BHDDH,  indicated there was no “quick fix” to this problem, given the high turnover in the workforce.

Zeitler, meanwhile, praised the way Zanchi has moved around staff to make the most of available personnel, calling the reorganization “very creative.”  

Zanchi has added four workers to the case management unit, reducing caseloads from 205 to 152 per person. Two of the workers came from the unit that determines eligibility for services and two came from a separate group that assesses the support needs of clients once they are found eligible for services. 

Another worker has been tapped to serve in the newly created position of transition coordinator, to serve teenagers and young adults moving from high school to adult services. The Division of Developmental Disabilities has hired a new residential coordinator to address housing options for those who do not live with their families.

An outside quality improvement expert enlisted by Moseley has said in a report that "there is a significant commitment to change" at BHDDH and ORS to ensure high program standards are implemented across the board. 

"But the staff available to implement change are stretched very thin," wrote Gail Grossman in a report that is part of Moseley's latest filing with the court. Grossman continued: "Serious consideration needs to be given to the need for additional staff resources if DDD (the Division of Developmental Disabilities) and BHDDH are going to develop, manage and oversee a strong QMIS (Quality Management and Improvement System) structure."

BHDDH has a unit entitled quality improvement, but its scope is limited to investigations of neglect or abuse of vulnerable individuals.

Click here for the monitor's latest report to the judge.

Related articles: Judge Willing To Intervene In RI Budget Impasse

Supported Employment Program Falls Short Of Initial Goals in RI

RI Senate Finance Hearing Highlights Cost Overruns, Challenges, in DD Budgets

By Gina Macris 

Cost overruns are a recurring theme for Rhode Island’s Division of Developmental Disabilities, with expenses for mandated services running  about $4.4 million over budget in the current fiscal year, while $6 million in projected savings group home-related costs  are proving elusive. 

Overall, Governor Gina Raimondo seeks to close out the current fiscal year with a total of $250.6 million in developmental disabilities funding and requests $256.7 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Taken together, the $4.4 million increase she has requested in current spending and the proposed increase of nearly $6.1 million for the next fiscal year run almost $10.5 million more than the existing budget authorized by the General Assembly - $246.2 million.   

At a budget hearing April 4, members of the Senate Finance Committee seemed to understand the challenges faced by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), but Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, still asked officials for more realistic budget figures in the future.

One case in point was $100,000 in actual savings in costs related to group homes, rather than the $2.6 million cut in state revenue that originally had been projected during the current fiscal year. 

The savings are associated with a shift in residential care from group homes to less costly shared living arrangements in private homes scattered throughout the state, a change that is driven both by budgetary constraints and federal Medicaid rules.

In April of 2016, BHDDH said it would move a total of 100 individuals with developmental disabilities from group homes to shared living by the end of the fiscal year June 30, but it achieved only 27 transfers, DiPalma said. 

For the current fiscal year, the goal is 66 moves. Noting the $2.5 million gap between projected and actual savings, DiPalma said he would have recommended a target of 45 transfers. 

But “the budget is what it is,” he said.

“If you want to move someone, they have to say yes,” DiPalma said. “If they say no, they stay where they are.”

Rebecca Boss, the acting BHDDH director, said, “you are right about the challenges.”

But she added that BHDDH already has 45 commitments from group home residents who have agreed to go into shared living.  

A year ago, the Division of Developmental Disabilities had not yet done a “deep dive” into the shared living program to understand what needed to be done to make it more attractive to consumers, Boss said.  She suggested that since then, officials have identified some issues that have prevented more rapid expansion of the program, but Boss was not specific.

Pressed for more details, she said they would be forthcoming in a month – May 5.  At last count in December, there were 333 residents in shared living arrangements and 1,283 in state or privately-run group homes, according to a Senate fiscal analysis. 

In the next budget, beginning July 1, BHDDH has proposed saving $3.9 million in state revenue related to movement out of group homes, but Boss said she could not guarantee that the department would meet its future budget targets. 

DiPalma also warned Boss that a similar transition away from group home care for children in state custody has shown that, for a time, residential costs actually increase because the state must maintain group housing while it builds its community-based network of home care.

A big part of the savings plan in the next fiscal year is to close a total of five group homes run directly by the state through Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS), a division of BHDDH, including two in July, one in October, and two in January, 2018. 

Jim Cenerini, legislative affairs and political action coordinator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 94, (AFSCME) expressed concern about the closures, which would move 30 residents, or 20 percent of the 150 people in the state-run system, into private care.

He said BHDDH officials have not talked about the closings with the union, which represents several hundred workers staffing the homes. 

Boss said BHDDH officials would be “more than happy” to sit down with the union.

Cenerini said, “We believe RICLAS provides a very vital service as a provider of last resort.”  He maintained that RICLAS residents are not ready to go to shared living arrangements. 

Two years ago, the union negotiated many cost-saving concessions with BHDDH that gave the department much more flexibility in staffing, but BHDDH hasn’t implemented any of the reforms except to hire seasonal workers who are ineligible for benefits, Cenerini said.

RICLAS workers are state employees, many of whom make at least double the poverty-level wages of workers in a parallel system of private agencies under contract with the state to provide most of the developmental disability services.

DiPalma told Cenerini that the “train has left the station” on the shift from congregate care to settings that are more like home. 

The change in Medicaid rules have been influenced by the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires services for all people with disabilities to be available in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate. That environment is presumed to be the community for both daytime and residential services.

“It’s up to us to figure out how to move those people into the community,” DiPalma said, and “how to facilitate the  workers at RICLAS to do other things.”  The conversation should not be about residents remaining in RICLAS homes “because this is what we have,” DiPalma said.

Cenerini emphasized that RICLAS offers continuity of care, something the private system lacks because of low wages and high turnover. “I don’t want to see the destruction of my union,” he said.

About 20 RICLAS workers also host adults with developmental disabilities in their homes as shared living providers, Cenerini said.

One reason BHDDH has a hard time meeting budget targets, Cenerini said, is that “they are asked to do so much with so little.”

Testimony at the hearing reiterated support for a $6 million wage increase in the fiscal year beginning July 1 for private-sector direct care workers, who now earn an average of about $11.14 an hour, according to the latest figures provided by Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island. 

The current hourly average of $11.14 is only slightly higher than the federal poverty level of $9.82 an hour for a single parent household with two children, a profile that represents the typical direct care worker in developmental disability services, she said.

About one in three workers a year leave private agencies, many of them for slightly higher pay in a local market or to work at RICLAS, where they are paid an additional $5 an hour to do the same work, Martin said in written testimony she submitted to the committee.

The budget now in effect gave private-sector workers their first increase in a decade, putting an additional 36 cents an hour in their pockets, before taxes.  

DiPalma has sponsored a resolution that would increase the pay of these workers to $15 an hour in five years – the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2021. (In the House, State Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi has sponsored a similar resolution, which would achieve a $15 hourly rate in three years – by July 1, 2019.)

DiPalma’s and Tanzi’s resolutions also urge the legislature to link future annual raises to the consumer price index so that pay stays ahead of the minimum wage, currently $9.60 an hour. Governor Raimondo has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $10.50 on July 1.   The Senate Finance Committee held a separate hearing on wage increases May 21. (Click here to read related article.)

DiPalma highlighted another feature of the budget that seeks to add a total of $500,000, or $250,000 in state funds, to a supplemental allocation for developmental disability services that he said runs about $20 million to $22 million annually.

These supplemental funds are used when those receiving developmental disability services believe their individual budgets are inadequate and make a successful argument for more money, or when they need a short term boost in care triggered by events like a discharge from a hospital, according to Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities.

DiPalma said he concurred with the use of funds to cover short-term extra needs, but he believed $22 million a year, or 10 percent of all service appropriations -  was too high for supplemental appropriations. 

 He called on BHDDH to change the equation that assigns individual funding.

Zanchi said the individual budgets are assigned on the basis of a standardized assessment of an individual’s need called the Supports Intensity Scale. In November, Rhode Island moved to an updated version of the assessment believed to be more accurate and began tracking the results to see if the number of appeals decline in the long run.

DiPalma noted that the current arrangement favors those who have the strongest advocates on their behalf.

Another hearing on budget is scheduled before a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, April 11, in Room 35 of the State House at the conclusion of that day’s full House session. 

 

 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles: 

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

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

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