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.

NESCSO Will Not Offer “Magic Number” on RI DD Rate Review, Leaving Decisions To BHDDH

Rick Jacobsen *** All Photos By Anne Peters

Rick Jacobsen *** All Photos By Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

A consultant to a regional consortium reviewing Rhode Island’s developmental disability service system outlined the scope of the group’s work and time line to a July 30 meeting of a special legislative commission.

The consultant also disclosed some preliminary findings about “Project Sustainability,” the fee-for-service reimbursement system also being studied by the General Assembly’s commission. No one appeared surprised by the early findings.

For example, the developmental disabilities caseload has had a compounded annual growth rate of 3 percent in the last five years, from 3,744 to a current total of 4,297.

And the data shows that the private agencies that provide most of the direct services – and bear the brunt of the work necessary to comply with a federal civil rights agreement - operate on precarious financial margins.

The presentation to the Project Sustainability Commission was made by consultant Rick Jacobsen and his boss, Elena Nicolella, executive director of the New England States Consortium Systems Organization (NESCSO), a non-profit group that provides analysis in the fields of health and human services to five states. The meeting was held at the Arnold Conference Center at the Eleanor Slater Hospital.

Nicolella and Jacobsen encountered pushback when they explained the role defined for NESCSO by the state Department Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.(BHDDH).

NESCSO will present options to BHDDH for system improvements toward the project goal of maximizing “opportunities for people to fully participate in their community,” according to a Powerpoint presentation that accompanied the talk. But it won’t deliver an independent recommendation or “magic number” on costs, Jacobsen and Nicolella said.

Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, a private provider, said long experience in system-wide reform has taught him that the approach chosen by BHDDH is doomed to fail unless the effort also states the true cost of evolving to an integrated community-based model.

L. to R.: Andrew McQuaide, Kim Einloth, Tom Kane

L. to R.: Andrew McQuaide, Kim Einloth, Tom Kane

There has been no “tolerance” for even “having a (public) discussion about the cost of investing in the change process,” said Kane. “If you shift funds in an underfunded system, it’s not going to work. It’s just going to make the hole deeper,” he said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when advocates pushed to close the Ladd School, the state’s only institution for people with developmental disabilities, “there was a community behind us, and we put an investment in the system in order to make that change happen, and it was dramatic change,” Kane said.

But there was no investment in changing the system in Project Sustainability, enacted in 2011, Kane said.

While the healthcare consultants Burns & Associates recommended an investment that was millions of dollars more than was being spent, Kane said, that number was never made public or discussed in the General Assembly. “What we ended up with was millions of dollars cut,” he said.

A few years later, when the demand grew for more community-based services, those reimbursement rates increased, but rates for center-based care decreased, despite the fact that providers continued to have the same fixed costs, Kane said.

The history of Project Sustainability has prompted a certain amount of “agida” among service providers regarding NESCSO’s work, said Andrew McQuaide, a Commission member.

“Having gone through a similar process and getting an end product that turned the system around and took us backward,”he said, providers are nervous that “we could go through a very similar process and come up with a poor product.”

He said his remarks did not reflect in any way on the current administration. Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, and Kerri Zanchi, the director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, are both commission members and attended the meeting.

McQuaide and A. Anthony Antosh, another commission member, both urged Boss to make public all the data and reports produced by NESCSO, whose contract runs through June, 2020.

Antosh said there ought to be a direct relationship between the goals of the rate review and the recommendations of the commission. Commission members have submitted individual recommendations, which all advocate for the self-determination of adults with developmental disabilities. Their work will be synthesized into a final report, according to the commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown.

The manner in which NESCSO’s work will be shared with the public is under discussion, Boss said. She and Zanchi said they didn’t think it would be the best use of everyone’s time if the public discussion got bogged down in the minutia of the analytics at each stage in the process.

“We don’t want to be pulled off course but be mindful of the project as a whole,” Zanchi said.

Jacobsen and Nicolella said that NESCSO intends to produce data to enable BHDDH to make both near-term changes and longer-term reforms.

Preliminarily analysis of the audited financial statements of 16 private provider organizations confirms that the system is operating on a very close financial margin, said Jacobsen.

Elena Nicolella

Elena Nicolella

That’s not unusual, he said. Human services agencies across the country are in similar positions. At the same time, the tight finances mean the agencies may tend to be averse to risks like investing in system change or taking on new clients, Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen presented a preliminary analysis of audited financial statements from 16 provider agencies over the last two years, with tables organized according to the number of fiscal reports. The agencies were not identified.

For example, out of a total of 27 audited financial statements, 15 showed deficits and 11 showed surpluses. Of the 11 surpluses, 6 were less than 3 percent of revenues.

In another table summarizing 24 financial statements, 12 of them showed less than a month’s cash on hand at the end of the fiscal year.

And a third table on liquidity said that of a total 24 financial statements, only 4 had working capital to carry their agencies longer than 2 months. At the other extreme, 7 statements said their agencies had no working capital or were lacking up to two months’ worth at the end of the fiscal year.

Jaccobsen said the state has made advance payments to some struggling agencies, but these advances have been carried as liabilities on the books.

Commission members said that for some organizations with multiple sources of income, the agency-wide audited statements do not give an accurate picture of the fiscal margins in developmental disabilities.

Regina Hayes, CEO of Spurwink RI, and Peter Quattromani, CEO of United Cerebral Palsy, suggested that the financial picture is worse than it looked in Jacobsen’s tables and asked him to go back and look only at the income and expenses related to developmental disabilities.

Jacobsen said NESCSO will spend the entire month of August listening to providers. Engagement with consumers and their families is scheduled for September.

An analysis of earnings figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for May, 2018 indicated that the wages for direct care workers in Rhode Island are close to the median in comparison to other states. That doesn’t mean that agencies can hire and retain employees, Jacobsen said.

Here too, Jacobsen was asked to look more closely at the figures.

Louis DiPalma and Rebecca Boss

Louis DiPalma and Rebecca Boss

The commission chairman, DiPalma, said the figures Jacobsen used didn’t account for a raise the Connecticut legislature gave to all its developmental disability direct care workers to a minimum of $14.75. In Massachusetts, 30,000 people working as personal care attendants, including many working with adults with developmental disabilities, make $15 an hour, DiPalma said. And the figures Rhode Island reports to the Bureau of Labor Statistics put developmental disability workers in the same category as home health aides, who make more, DiPalma said. According to a trade association representing two thirds of private providers in Rhode Island, entry-level direct care workers make an average of $11.44 an hour. (They are soon to get raises.)

When Jacobsen mentioned that NESCSO plans to compare Rhode Island’s developmental disability services to those in other states, Kane, the AccessPoint CEO, said the consultants must make sure to include the amounts the other states spend on institutional care.

A comparison of community-based services among states does not yield a true picture of total state spending on developmental disabilities, since most other states also have institutions, Kane said. But Rhode Islanders who in other states would be institutionalized live in the community in Rhode Island instead, said Kane.

Jacobsen also presented other preliminary statistics:

  • There has been a 15 percent compounded increase in the number of people who direct their own programs in the last five years. NECSCO will look further at whether the increase has occurred by choice or whether it results from individuals and families being unable to find suitable services from agencies. “I suspect it’s a mix of both,” Jacobsen said.

  • Of a total of nearly $216.2 million in reimbursement claims paid by the state in the 2018 fiscal year, 51.4 percent was for residential expenses and 48.6 percent was for daytime services, case management, respite care, and independent living or family supports.

· In the category of daytime services, 4.2 percent, or nearly $4.5 million, was spent for employment-related and pre-vocational activities. Increasing employment is one of the main goals of the consent decree.

RI DD Rate Reviewers Asked To Fix Payment System That Still Promotes Segregated Care

By Gina Macris

This article was updated June 17 with a response from the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

The Rhode Island state agency which funds services for adults with developmental disabilities has acknowledged for the first time that its underlying reimbursement system for private providers is structurally deficient for complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act as required by a 2014 federal civil rights decree.

While the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) has pursued services promoting greater independence for adults with developmental disabilities, “the underlying reimbursement system has lagged,” according to a statement of the scope of work outlined for a consortium tasked with reviewing reimbursement rates.

The rate structure “is grounded in past practices and cost bases associated with the provision of services in the sheltered workshop setting,” BHDDH officials wrote.

“In order to adequately meet consumers’ needs, providers have been paid supplemental funds to address the deficiency in the payment rates,” BHDDH explained in the contract.

BHDDH has a contract with the New England States Consortium Systems Organization (NESCSO) to update a rate structure that has not been reviewed for eight years and to suggest alternates to the current payment methods.

In describing the work ahead for NESCSO, BHDDH says it is:

“seeking to further promote the development of a service system and associated reimbursement arrangements that maximize the opportunity for persons with DD to participate to the fullest possible in community-based activities.”

In 2014 the U.S. Department of Justice found that the reimbursement system incentivized segregated care in sheltered workshops and day centers in violation of the Integration Mandate of the ADA, reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Olmstead decision.

The Obama administration began vigorously enforcing the Olmstead decision in 2009, but the consent decree in Rhode Island was the first settlement that addressed segregation in daytime services rather than housing.

The consent decree provides a decade-long period of federal oversight of the state’s efforts to change the system. Enforcement of the consent decree entered its sixth year April 9. It will take at least another year for changes in rates and payment methods to go into effect, with the approval of the General Assembly. Enforcement of the decree is set to expire in 2024, but the state would have to show substantial compliance before federal oversight ends.

While some improvements in services have been made, the contract with NESCSO indicates that BHDDH officials believe the reimbursement system has held back compliance efforts.

Staffing Ratios Hinder Needed Flexibility

The underlying problem, said the BHDDH director in an interview, is a rule that requires a ratio of 60 percent funding for community-based activities and 40 percent funding for center-based daytime care in each client’s individual authorization.

The contract language alludes to this situation in describing staffing ratios. It says two areas of “particular focus” are daytime rates paid for employment-related and non-work services. In sheltered settings, for example, there might be one worker for every ten clients. But in the community the number of clients for each worker would have to be much smaller.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, said the department seeks a “predictable rate structure not driven by very precise ratios” but rather by the needs and preferences of individual clients.

The supplemental payments intended to mitigate the deficiencies in the underlying system “are an increasing portion of overall payments, reflecting the inadequacy of the current rates,” the contract language explained.

According to department officials, that language was meant to refer to the historical trend, in which supplemental payments had increased to as much as $7.8 million in a three-month period.

Boss froze new approvals at the end of 2017, except for emergency health and safety considerations and a couple other narrowly defined exceptions, to try to curb a multi-million dollar deficit at a time when Governor Gina Raimondo seemed inclined to cut developmental disability services significantly.

According to records BHDDH turns in to the General Assembly every month, the supplemental payments from January through March of this year have declined to $3.6 million, about half the total for the same period in 2018.

Historically, supplemental payments have been awarded only when consumers, families, or providers have made successful appeals of individual authorizations. The appeals, which often have required considerable time and energy, must be made annually, or the authorization reverts to the original amount. The appeals process is but one facet of what many families and providers describe as an unstable system.

Kerri Zanchi, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said supplemental payments are still a big part of reimbursements to private providers, and BHDDH wants NESCSO and its consultants to scrutinize them as part of the review process.

Study Commission To Hear from NESCSO

The rate review coincides with the work of a special legislative commission studying the current reimbursement system, called Project Sustainability.

On June 18, the commission will meet to hear presentations about employment and transportation issues from Scott Jensen, director of the Department of Labor and Training; and from Scott Avedesian, CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

On June 25, the executive director of NESCSO, Elena Nicolella, is scheduled to appear before the commission to give an update on the rate review now being conducted by four consultants under NESCSO’s supervision.

In the meantime, some commission members have given BHDDH their own statements on how they think consultants should approach the work and their ideas for a new system of services that allow consumers and their families to shape the way state funds are used.

A spokeswoman for providers has urged NESCSO and its consultants to gain a thorough understanding of what it costs for a private agency to provide services under the terms of recently-revised regulations for provider operations and quality certification standards.

These bureaucratic steps are part of the state’s efforts to comply with the consent decree and the federal Medicaid Home And Community Based Final Rule (HCBS). Like the consent decree, HCBS embraces the integration mandate of the ADA, but it is a nationwide rule applying to all community-based services funded by Medicaid.

Paradox In Unspent Funds For Employment

Tina Spears, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, warned that simply looking at the way providers utilize the current reimbursement model, which is based on segregated care, will not give the complete picture of the needs of the system.

She did not mention specifics, but a case in point is the performance-based supported employment program, which was funded by a $6.8 million allocation made by the General Assembly in the fiscal year that began July 1, 2016. That allocation still has not been completely spent.

Excluding a start-up period from January through June of 2017, the program spent $2.5 million the first year, from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. It’s expected to spend $4 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, according to a BHDDH spokesman.

Providers initially complained that they could not meet their costs with the series of one-time incentives offered by the program, which was built on same reimbursement system designed for center-based care.

Incentives and enhancements were made more generous during the second year, and negotiations are underway for a third year of the program.

In the meantime, Rhode Island’s last sheltered workshop closed last year and BHDDH says community-based, competitive employment has increased to about 29 percent of adults with developmental disabilities.

A study released by two nationwide associations of providers in January said Rhode Island’s rate of competitive employment was about 19 percent, but that figure dated from 2015. The “Case for Inclusion” ranked Rhode Island 32nd in the nation on its integration efforts. It was compiled by ANCOR - the American Network of Community Options and Resources, and UCP – United Cerebral Palsy.

Consumers Want More Control Over Money Assigned To Them

Kevin Nerney, executive director of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, and Kelly Donovan, who receives state-funded supports, each called for a system that allows greater consumer control of state funding and greater flexibility in the way it is used.

The state should “ensure that funding is available across all imaginable living arrangements,” particularly in situations where a consumer owns or rents a property and a caregiver or family would like to move in. The caregiver or consumer should be allowed a stipend, as is permitted in many other states, to make this type of arrangement viable, Nerney said.

The state should also ensure that adults with developmental disabilities have the support of familiar staff while they are hospitalized to avoid the trauma of being in an unfamiliar environment where they can neither make themselves understood nor understand what is being said to them, Nerney said.

In addition, the state should adopt a way to assess the support a person receives from family or friends in deciding funding levels. While most of those receiving services from the Division of Developmental Disabilities live in the family home, that home may include a large healthy family, a single aging parent, or a grandparent with Alzheimer’s and a sibling who also has significant needs for support, Nerney said.

And he called for more funding for those hired by self-directed consumers and their families to write support plans necessary to qualify for state funding. The expectations for the plan writers have multiplied over the last 20 years but the fees remains the same at $500 for the initial plan and $350 for an annual renewal, Nerney said. There should be an allowance for self-directed families who need ongoing coordination of services, he said.

Kelly Donovan, who herself receives services from BHDDH gave a concrete example of what greater control and flexibility might look like.

She said people should be able to enjoy an outing without:

A: going home early because a staffer’s shift ends

B: taking everyone in your group home with you, even if one or more of them really didn’t want to come.

“People should be able to have their designated time to themselves and opportunities to be involved in community activities,” she said.

The public may submit comments or questions about the rate review process by email at BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov. Please copy and paste the email address into your email program, or get a link by visiting http://www.bhddh.ri.gov/developmentaldisabilities/community_forums_event.php

In response to this article, Randal Edgar, a spokesman for BHDDH, released the following statement on June 17:

The article published on June 12 on the Olmstead Updates blog presents a misleading picture of Rhode Island’s system of care for adults with developmental disabilities.

The headline claims this system “promotes segregated care.”

This assertion is false.

The article attempts to back up this assertion up by referring to language in a state contract with a consultant that is reviewing the rates paid to DD providers. But in referencing the contract language, the article misreads the intent of that language.

The contract language speaks from a historical perspective. It states that while the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals has pursued the development of “a services system that supports greater independence” for the DD population, “the underlying reimbursement system has lagged.” It goes on to say that the “basis for the development of prevailing rates is grounded in past practices and cost bases associated with the provision of services in the sheltered workshop setting.”

Acknowledging that the existing rates are grounded in past practices and need to be updated is not the same as saying the system as it operates today promotes segregated care, and in saying it does, the article ignores and/or minimizes many steps the department has taken to improve the care provided to adults with developmental disabilities. It should be noted that the reporter met with BHDDH officials for more than an hour but did not press this assertion and obtain their view of the contract language.

The article is wrong again when it states that department froze new approvals for supplemental payments in 2017 to help offset a budget deficit. The department reduced those approvals, applying more stringent standards, not because of a possible budget deficit but because this made sense from a policy standpoint.

Finally, the article gives voice to people outside the department, asking them to describe where the DD care system should go, without giving BHDDH officials a chance to share their vision. In the process, it conveys a false impression that BHDDH officials are not passionate about moving this system forward.

We are disappointed that the article did not present a more complete and accurate picture.

Separately, the public may submit comments or questions about the rate review process by email at BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov. Please copy and paste the email address into your email program, or get a link by visiting http://www.bhddh.ri.gov/developmentaldisabilities/community_forums_event.php

RI “Not Far” From Institutional System Of DD Services, Antosh Tells Legislative Commission

A. Anthony Antosh

A. Anthony Antosh

By Gina Macris

Other than moving people out of institutional living with the closing of the Ladd School in 1994, Rhode Island hasn’t made life appreciably better for adults with developmental disabilities, according to state’s most prominent academic in the field.

A. Anthony Antosh, director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said that every week he gets calls from parents who say how “complicated it has gotten” to deal with state-funded services and “how unstable the system is.”

“Our system is not institutional, but it’s not far from that,” Antosh said. He has been active as an educator and researcher in the field of developmental disabilities since the 1970s and was a plaintiff in a lawsuit that ultimately closed the Ladd School.

If the state transfers control of its services – even partially -- to the people who are served, “you begin to change what the system looks like,” he said. Individuals will become “more responsible for themselves.”

Antosh made the comments May 22 as a member of the Project Sustainability Commission, a special legislative commission studying the current state of developmental disability services. Antosh and other commissioners outlined their reform suggestions at the session.

He zeroed in on a requirement now in place that sets out ratios for staffing according to the degree to which a person is perceived to be disabled – a “naive notion” in his view. The ratios allow one-to-one or small group staffing only for the most challenged individuals and were designed for day care facilities or sheltered workshops.

The funding rule remains in place even though the state in April entered the sixth year of a ten-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice requiring it to change to an integrated, community-based system of care. The last sheltered workshop in Rhode Island closed last year.

Antosh said an alternative structure could be a community support team responsible for a certain number of people. The team would figure out how to arrange its time to meet the individual needs of its clients in the community.

DD Council Weighs In

Kevin Nerney, executive director of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, also said that he wanted a system “driven by the person and the family.”

There is much talk about “person-centered planning,” he said, but “sometimes, the person is at the center and the other people are doing the planning.”

Nerney recommended that the person receiving services and the family take the lead in drawing up a plan for life in the community. They would be guided by an independent facilitator, not by someone who works for the state funding agency or a private service provider.

The individual and the family would have control over the budget assigned to them and would be able to hire whom they choose to provide paid supports.

Until recently, Nerney said, individuals and families who direct their own services were allowed to use the money allotted to them only to pay for support workers.

Those who choose to receive services from an agency should at least know how much money goes into each category of support, Nerney said.

Antosh, meanwhile, said that funding should be organized by function so that individuals and families have a clearer idea of its purpose.

The notion that plan-making and case management should be separated from the funding agency and the service provider is already embedded in federal Medicaid rules under the title of “conflict free case management.”

“Health Home” Merits Debated

The state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) wants to set up a Medicaid-funded “Health Home” as an independent planning and case management entity for persons with developmental disabilities.

But some commission members have wondered aloud whether a Health Home would be just another layer of bureaucracy.

And Nerney said most people don’t even like the term “conflict-free case management.”

Antosh agreed that “conflict-free case management” should be made simple. The state should have a list of trained independent facilitators, or “navigators,” as he referred to them, to help individuals and families develop plans and mediate any differences among those contributing to an individual plan.

Individuals and families should have a choice of managing their own services, signing up with an agency, or designing a customized combination of self-directed supports and agency-managed services, he said.

Tom Kane, Left, With Antosh

Tom Kane, Left, With Antosh

Tom Kane, who represented a service provider’s perspective, agreed that the people should be in control, with the services following their needs.

To lay the groundwork for real choice, the system should help adults with developmental disabilities “discover their options,” and providers should follow their lead in delivering services, said Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI.

Kane recommended a concerted statewide marketing campaign aimed at employers that promotes adults with developmental disabilities as an enthusiastic and reliable workforce.

Several other recommendations from Kane echoed recurring issues among members of the commission including:

  • A need for funding that reflects the real costs of services, as well as salaries that will attract and retain talented employees. Recommendations that arise from the review of the funding model and rates that is now underway should be presented to the General Assembly “without edit,” Kane said, and should be used as the basis of funding a new system. He noted that the last review came up with recommendations which the legislature never used.

  • Concerns about a lack of housing options

  • A need for consumers’ access to technology to help them achieve the greatest independence possible.

A Call For A More Stable Funding Cycle

All the commission members, except Antosh, favor annualized budgets for individuals. Antosh said arrangements should be made in two-year increments for funding and services. He also said that there should be a single streamlined application process, no matter the source of the funding, which may come from BHDDH, the Office of Rehabilitative Services, or the Department of Labor and Training.

Families of youngsters deemed eligible for adult services while they are still in high school should also get a budget for exploratory activities, because they don’t know what choices are possible until they experience various options, he said.

The state now determines funding levels annually on paper but reserves the right to change the amount actually released for spending every three months – on a quarterly basis. Families and providers agree that the quarterly allocation - the only one like it in the nation – is a major impediment to the systematic planning necessary for a stable system of supports.

Kane provided some history on the quarterly allocations:

In 2010, he said, payments to private service providers ran over budget and the state told them their reimbursements would be cut for two months – one month retroactively – to make up the difference.

Some providers sued, Kane said, arguing that the state was still obliged to fulfill its contract with them. The providers won, but the next year, in 2011, BHDDH introduced quarterly allocations along with Project Sustainability, the fee-for-service system that significantly reduced reimbursements and is at the center of the commission’s deliberations.

Mental Health Services Lag

The issue of mental health received considerable attention, with Nerney recommending that the system develop and implement a variety of strategies to prevent crises or resolve them once they occur.

Nerney supported the idea of a mobile crisis unit that he said was suggested by Gloria Quinn, Executive Director of West Bay Residential Services, at the previous commission meeting May 6.

Quinn recommended convening a group to explore successful practices in supporting those with complex mental health and behavioral needs in the community, minimizing the need for excessive psychiatric hospitalization.

Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH executive director, and Kerri Zanchi, the Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, both indicated they are aware of a need for greater support and intervention in the area of behavioral health for persons with developmental disabilities.

“We don’t have a good handle on the needs of families in crisis,” Zanchi said.

The assessment tool that BHDDH uses to determine funding levels, the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), garnered a new round of criticism, despite efforts in 2016 to reframe the questions it asks to better identify support needs and the re-training of all the social workers who conduct the highly scripted interviews..

L To R, Kerri ZanCHI, Brian Gosselin, Acting Consent Decree Coordinator; Christopher Semonelli, Peter Quattromani. All Are Commission Members

L To R, Kerri ZanCHI, Brian Gosselin, Acting Consent Decree Coordinator; Christopher Semonelli, Peter Quattromani. All Are Commission Members

Critic Says Assessment Method Is “Demeaning”

Peter Quattromani, executive director of United Cerebral Palsy RI and spokesman for the Providers Council, said the state should return to using the Personal Capacity Inventory to identify funding needs because it reflects a more collaborative approach than the SIS.

Quattromani said he sat in on several SIS interviews and found the SIS to be a “very demeaning experience” with “very intrusive questions.” In some cases the interview varied, depending on who was asking the questions, he said.

Antosh said when parents experience the SIS for the first time, “they are absolutely horrified by it.”

He suggested that when the SIS was first piloted, it was not intrusive. It was “a conversation”, albeit a lengthy one, lasting for or five hours, Antosh said. Afterward the responses were correlated with funding needs.

Antosh said the SIS was designed to help professionals develop support plans, not as a funding tool, even though Rhode Island and other states use it that way.

Antosh said he would recommend that Rhode Island design its own assessment tool, not necessarily eliminating the SIS but using multiple factors to determine funding, including an exploration of behavioral health issues and other areas not covered in the SIS.

Heather Mincey, assistant director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said not all the comments abut the SIS process she has received from families have been negative, with some parents saying it “wasn’t all that bad.”

The May 22 meeting concluded individual members’ presentations on recommendations for change, which will be reviewed and consolidated along common themes and incorporated into a plan for moving forward, said the Commission chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown.

He said he anticipated a five-year process for implementation, with the aim of making Rhode Island achieve top national ranking among state systems of developmental disability services.

In the meantime, DiPalma said that he next commission meeting, on June 18, will feature remarks by the state Director of Labor and Training, Scott R. Jensen; and the CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, Scott Avedesian Employment and transportation are two topics that have sparked a lot of complaints, DiPalma said. He said he expects the commission to continue meeting into 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.

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 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.

Union Raises Strike Possibility At Northern RI DD Provider Over Submarket Wages; No Deadline Set

By Gina Macris

Unionized workers supporting about 250 adults with developmental disabilities have indicated they may strike at Seven Hills Rhode Island over wages that lag significantly below those in neighboring states. No deadline has been set for a walkout.

The possibility of a strike by about 180 members of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP) was disclosed in a letter that the management of Seven Hills sent to families Jan. 15. Talks between labor and management continue, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

An official of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) indicated that the union must give a 10-day notice of any walkout.

Kevin Savage, Associate Director for Quality Management, said Jan.18 that “BHDDH is in close contact with Seven Hills administration, who have put together a plan to ensure coverage of necessary services in the event that the union gives them a 10-day notice that a walk out will occur.”

He said BHDDH contracts with Seven Hills to support about 250 persons with developmental disabilities in a variety of residential settings, as well as supported employment services and non-work daytime activities.

The Jan. 15 letter to families, signed by Seven Hills’ vice president, Cliff R. Cabral, said that a work stoppage could force the agency to suspend or reduce “several program offerings.”

“Our day services program will be limited to 24 residential participants,” Cabral said. Seven Hills has 76 residential clients, according to the latest data compiled by the state.

Efforts to reach Cabral or a UNAP spokesperson were not immediately successful.

Average entry-level wages for direct care workers in Rhode Island are $11.36 an hour, according to the most recent figure released by the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, a trade association representing two thirds of the private providers of developmental disability services in the state.

Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed an incremental raise – estimated by BHDDH at an average of about 44 cents an hour – effective July 1.

In Connecticut, entry-level direct care workers must be paid a minimum of $14.75 houirly. The Connecticut legislature approved the raises last May, even though it had not yet acted on the state budget, to avert a strike that had been planned at that time by the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU). The wage hikes became effective three weeks ago, on Jan. 1.

SEIU also has negotiated a $15 hourly minimum wage with Massachusetts for direct care workers in that state that went into effect July 1, 2018.

In the letter to families, Cabral said that “Seven Hills Rhode Island stands with our employees and will continue to advocate on their behalf for the living wage they deserve.”

He said Rhode Island’s system of care for adults with developmental disabilities still has not recovered from the General Assembly’s $24 million reduction in services in 2011. (Final figures on actual spending put the total over $26 million.)

Despite repeated and concerted advocacy, “our state representatives continue to place funding for individuals with developmental disabilities low on their priority list,”he said. The General Assembly’s inaction has significantly “compromised the sustainability of the current system,” which, Cabral said, has been weakened by below-market compensation and high staff turnover.

“Organizations such as ours have taken several painful measures throughout the past decade in an effort to ensure our fiscal sustainability, including liquidating assets and significantly reducing our administrative resources,” Cabral wrote.

While it has adhered to the “highest delivery standards possible,” Seven Hills cannot sustain its efforts indefinitely, Cabral said. He called on UNAP to join with management “to more productively direct our collective efforts toward lobbying for a substantial investment in this year’s state budget in order to adequately address the needs of those with developmental disabilities while ensuring a living wage for the remarkable individuals who support them.”

Seven Hills Rhode Island offers a variety of services for children, families and adults, with offices in Cranston and Woonsocket. Services for adults with developmental disabilities are based in Woonsocket, covering northern Rhode Island.

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,

RI General Assembly Candidates In Newport County Say They Support DD Worker Raises

By Gina Macris

A call for higher pay for direct service workers who assist persons with developmental disabilities ran like a thread through a General Assembly candidates’ forum in Newport Oct. 3, with several speakers saying better wages will help stabilize the system and improve quality.

Legislators urged an audience of about 25 to make their names and faces known at the State House to press this and other concerns when the General Assembly convenes again in January.

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Newport, Middletown, Little Compton and Tiverton, said that Rhode Island cannot transform services for adults with developmental disabilities on a budget that has the same buying power as it did in 2011.

In Fiscal Year 2011, Rhode Island spent about $242 million on developmental disabilities, DiPalma said. Adjusted for inflation, using the consumer price index, that’s equivalent to the $272 million currently budgeted for the state Division of Developmental Disabilities.

DiPalma offered a glimpse of the work ahead for a Senate-sponsored commission that will convene Tuesday, Oct. 9 to begin discussing the current fee-for-service reimbursement system for private providers of supports to adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges.

The reimbursement system, called “Project Sustainability,” was inaugurated in Fiscal Year 2012, along with cuts that slashed spending on developmental disabilities from $242.6 million to $216.5 million, according to state figures.

Since 2014, the state has been under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice to end an overreliance on sheltered workshops and other segregated care for adults with developmental disabilities, and instead emphasize competitive employment and integrated non-work activities to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

At the Oct. 3 forum, DiPalma said the current practice of awarding individual funding authorizations according to the “level” of a person’s lack of independence is “just wrong” when successful appeals of individual awards have resulted in supplemental expenditures of up to $25 million a year for legitimate additional services on a case-by-case basis.

DiPalma, the chairman of the commission, said the panel will review every aspect of “Project Sustainability - what it is, how did we get there, and where do we want to go? What are the gaps?” The commission will meet at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 9 in Room 313 of the State House.

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown and Middletown, who has six years’ experience on the House Finance Committee, said people with disabilities want the exact same thing that people without disabilities seek – meaningful lives.

“But I’m not sure it’s a one-size-fits-all model, “ she said. “The whole system needs a good 20,000-foot overview.”

“It’s not right that people can make more money at McDonald’s than they can supervising people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “ Ruggiero said.

One consequence of “Project Sustainability” has been double-digit cuts in wages, which also have derailed benefits such as health insurance, and opportunities for career advancement offered workers by private service-provider agencies. The wage cuts destabilized an entire workforce, which now averages a turnover rate of at least 33 percent a year.

Rep. Dennis Canario, D-Portsmouth, Tiverton and Little Compton, himself the father of someone with developmental disabilities, said that people generally “don’t understand the detrimental effect” of staff turnover on the individuals they assist.

Workers must have “expertise” to keep their clients on an even keel, particularly in some cases where clients are “very involved,” He said that It takes “expertise to turn situations around” or to keep individuals focused on the job at hand.

“When they get up in the morning, they need something to look forward to,” he said of people with disabilities. “We need to provide that type of day to our friends with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Together we can come up with the answers and solutions.”

“Pay inequity is a serious problem,” Canario said. “You’re not going to attract someone highly qualified” for $11 an hour,” he said. (The average pay for direct support workers is slightly less than $11.50 an hour.)

Connecticut and Massachusetts “are way ahead of us,” he said.

DiPalma noted that Massachusetts has already negotiated a minimum $15 hourly wage for direct care workers who are members of the Service Employees International Union. Many of the workers in nearby Massachusetts towns have trained in Rhode Island and still live in Rhode Island, he said.

DiPalma has sponsored a campaign to get a $15 hourly wage in five years, but it stalled in the last session of the General Assembly, when the developmental disability system was threatened with an $18 million cut in services. In the end, the legislature restored the status quo, but no gains were made.

Nevertheless, advocates deserve a “great round of applause for restoring that funding,” said Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Jamestown and Newport. She and others, including Rep. Kenneth Mendonca, R-Portsmouth and Middletown, urged them to keep it up.

Sen. James Seveney, D-Portsmouth, Bristol and Tiverton, signaled that he and his colleagues will again be pushing for a wage increase for direct care workers in the 2019 General Assembly session.

With the 2014 federal consent decree driving more integrated employment and community –based activities, the state must invest in additional transportation to make those opportunities a reality, said Euer. Others echoed her concern about transportation.

Terri Cortvriend, the Democratic candidate for Mendonca’s seat in the House, said she wanted to learn more about developmental disability services, particularly whether individuals and families are satisfied with the greater emphasis on competitive employment. Cortvriend currently chairs the Portsmouth School Committee.

Susan Vandal, a member of the audience, said families who have a child with a developmental disability want a system that allows them a “single point of entry” that begins early intervention for infants and toddlers and takes them seamlessly through the school years into adult services.

Parents must now jump through too many hoops, particularly in the transition from school to adult services, she said. Transition from high school to the adult system is also one of the prime concerns of an independent court monitor overseeing implementation of the consent decree.

Addressing the audience, Canario said legislators “need your help so we can make recommendations on how to fix a broken system.”

“A lot of parents are in the dark and don’t know what to do,” he said. Sometimes they are misled, with plans for services that are on paper but don’t become reality.”

The forum held at the Newport campus of the Community College of Rhode Island, was sponsored by the Newport County Parents Advocacy Group and Rhode Island FORCE (Families Organized for Reform, Change, and Empowerment.) RI FORCE streamed the event live and has posted the recording on its Facebook page, here.

RI Project Sustainability Study Commission To Meet October 9 For First Session

By Gina Macris

A special Commission of the Rhode Island Senate will hold its first meeting Tuesday, Oct. 9 to begin studying the impact of “Project Sustainability” on services for adults with developmental disabilities, its chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, has announced. The meeting is open to the public.

Project Sustainability is the name of the fee-for-service reimbursement system for Medicaid-funded supports for adults with intellectual challenges that was enacted by the General Assembly in 2011. 

The system features a standardized assessment of each client’s needs which is then translated by an algorithm into one of five levels of individual funding.  It was introduced as a more equitable way of allocating funds than the previous method, in which providers negotiated flat rates for each client in their care. 

But Project Sustainability, which was accompanied by significant budget cuts, has been controversial from the start. The state first calculated a myriad of distinct reimbursement rates based on existing median wages for direct care workers. From there it slashed the rates an average of 17 percent in the budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, citing a poor economy.   

Providers were forced to cut wages drastically, leading to an instability in the workforce that persists today. Advocates say the high turnover prevents the state from achieving the goals of a 2014 federal civil rights decree that followed in the wake of Project Sustainability.

The U.S. Department of Justice criticized the state for incentivizing segregated care in day centers or sheltered workshops that can be managed with a minimum of staff. An over-reliance on this type of care violates the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the DOJ found.  

DiPalma, the commission chairman, said the 19-member commission includes two consumers, other advocates, providers and representatives of the executive branch of state government. The commission will accept public comment at every meeting, he said.

The first meeting will cover the history of Project Sustainability and spell out the goals of the commission, according to a statement issued in DiPalma’s behalf. The meeting will begin at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at the State House, but the room has not yet been selected, DiPalma said.

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 Senate Poised To Launch Study of The Way State Reimburses Private Providers of DD Services

By Gina Macris

A proposal for a special commission to study Rhode Island’s fee-for-service reimbursement system for private providers of developmental disability services appears headed for approval on the Rhode Island Senate floor May 1.

The 19-member Senate commission, including representatives of state government, service providers, advocates and the public, would report its findings by March 1, 2019, in time for any recommended legislation to be enacted during next year’s session of the General Assembly.

The  Senate’s Committee on Health and Human Services recommended passage of a resolution creating the commission on a unanimous vote April 24.

The current reimbursement system, called “Project Sustainability,” has been in effect for nearly seven years, which means that there is plenty of data available for analysis, according to Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, the principal sponsor of the resolution.

“The goal of 'Project Sustainability' was to bring predictability, efficiency and transparency to the way in which the state pays for the developmentally disabled,” according to the resolution.

But DiPalma said that “we’ve seen some challenges” in Project Sustainability, like a requirement that providers document daytime services in 15-minute increments. That feature has been assailed by service agencies as overly burdensome and costly.

“We have to take a look back and see what worked, what hasn’t worked, and what changes are needed going forward,” DiPalma said.

DiPalma, the Senate’s most vocal advocate for adults with developmental disabilities, is expected to be among three legislators on the 19-member commission to be appointed by the Senate President. 

He said its recommendations would not sit on the shelf. “I don’t do anything for the sake of doing it. I’m about doing the analysis and getting the job done,”  said DiPalma.

In addition, “the members of the commission won’t let it happen,” he said. There will be “joint accountability” for what happens, inside and outside the General Assembly, DiPalma said. 

The membership of the commission would include representation from the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council and a parent group, Rhode Island Families Organized For Reform Change And Empowerment (RI FORCE), as well as the Rhode Island Disability Law Center. Human services officials from the executive branch of government would include the director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and several other representatives of BHDDH and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.  

The commission would convene at a time of renewed parent advocacy and heightened scrutiny of developmental disability funding by the U.S. District Court in the wake of Governor Gina Raimondo's plans to cut $18.4 million from reimbursements to private providers beginning July 1.

In a 2014 consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, the state pledged to move from segregated sheltered workshops and non-work day services to an integrated, community-based system to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

In the most recent court hearing April 10, providers warned Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. that they would not be able to continue consent decree compliance efforts if the state enacts Raimondo's proposed budget cuts. d

McConnell is expected to consider taking action on the basis of recommendations from an independent monitor in the case sometime before the General Assembly finalizes the next budget. The monitor, Charles Moseley, was to seek consensus from state officials and service providers before submitting his report to McConnell.

If no agreement can be reached, McConnell has said, he is prepared to hear evidence and arguments before deciding on a course of action.