RI Consent Decree Coordinator, Tina Spears, To Lead CPNRI, Private Provider Trade Association

Tina Spears * Photo Courtesy CPNRI

Tina Spears * Photo Courtesy CPNRI

By Gina Macris

Tina Spears, who for 16 months has served as Rhode Island’s coordinator for state compliance with a 2014 federal civil rights consent decree affecting adults with developmental disabilities, has resigned to accept a position as executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI).

Spears’ last day at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services will be Friday, April 12, according to EOHHS spokesman David Levesque.

Spears has broad experience with issues involving developmental disabilities as a parent, advocate and policy maker, emphasizing the importance of the “consumer voice” throughout all her work, according to a statement from a CPNRI spokesman.

Before joining EOHHS as the state’s consent decree coordinator – a position required by the 2014 agreement between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice - she worked as a fiscal analyst for the state Senate, specializing in human service issues.

Spears also has provided direct support for families as a former government relations director of the Rhode Island Parent Information Network.

CPNRI Board members “were pleased to choose Tina from a pool of highly qualified applicants due to her significant experience advocating for people with disabilities and having worked effectively inside and outside state government,” the Board president, Gloria Quinn, said in a statement.

“We are excited to work with Tina as she leads CPNRI through a pivotal moment” in the transformation of the state’s privately-run service system for adults facing intellectual and developmental challenges, said Quinn. She is executive director of West Bay Residential Services, one of 22 private service agencies that make up CPNRI.

Quinn said members of CPNRI “are confident she will take our association to its next level of impact,” resulting in an improved quality of life for adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island.

Spears succeeds Donna Martin, who had served as CPNRI’s executive director from 2005 until March 1.

“The state thanks Tina for her commendable service” as consent decree coordinator, “and we look forward to working with Tina in her new position,” Levesque, the EOHHS spokesman, said in a statement.

Brian Gosselin, the chief strategy officer at EOHHS, will serve as the interim consent decree coordinator while the state searches for a permanent successor to Spears, Levesque said. It will be Gosselin’s second stint as interim coordinator.

“The state values the critical role the consent decree coordinator plays in the success of compliance activities of state agencies” in connection to the consent decree, Levesque said.

Counting Gosselin, there have been five consent decree coordinators since the agreement was signed April 8, 2014 and went into effect the following day.

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. 

RI Supported Employment Services Hampered By Lack of Trained Workers, High Caregiver Turnover

By Gina Macris

About 60 percent of all those who start training at Rhode Island College to provide supported employment services to adults with developmental disabilities drop out of the certificate program,  a factor that threatens reform efforts embodied in two federal civil rights agreements.

The drop-out rate in the training program at RIC’s Sherlock Center on Disabilities underlines a shortage of direct care workers in general and in particular a lack of staff qualified to meet the demand from adults with developmental disabilities for employment-related services and to satisfy the requirements of a 2014 federal consent decree and a companion settlement a year earlier.

The specialized training at the Sherlock Center includes classes and field experience in the nuances of supported employment services, from the time an individual starts looking for a job to on-the-job assistance, long-term career planning, and building good relationships with the business community.

The Sherlock Center is under contract with the state to lead the way in educating those who work with adults having developmental disabilities in the best professional practices, consistent with the principles of the consent decree, which puts individuals’ needs and personal preferences at the center of the services they receive.

Workers must successfully complete a course like the Sherlock Center’s before the state will allow private service providers to assign them to help job-seekers find employment that suits them and the businesses that hire them. The Sherlock Center offers its training tuition-free to those who plan to work in one of two pilot supported employment programs;  one funded by the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH),  and another run by the Office of Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Human Services.

The topic of supported employment, primarily the BHDDH program, dominated the discussion at the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force Oct. 10. The Task Force is a creation of the 2014 consent decree, which requires Rhode Island to shift from sheltered workshops and segregated day programs to inclusive day services, in accordance with the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision re-affirmed the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Vicki Ferrarra                   photo by Anne Peters 

Vicki Ferrarra                   photo by Anne Peters 

The task force includes representatives of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and various community organizations with a stake in the developmental disability service system.  

Vicki Ferrara, who represented the Rhode Island Association of People Supporting Employment First (RI APSE), a professional organization, said there was a 40 percent completion rate in the Sherlock Center training program.

She works as the Sherlock Center’s coordinator for integrated employment.  The group she represented at the meeting is part of a national organization involved in setting professional-level standards for various aspects of supported employment services.

Ferrarra said some direct care workers complete the supported employment training and then leave the field of developmental disability services entirely, often because of low wages.  

Others drop out of the course because they find the work too challenging, she said.

Still others cannot complete the classes or field work because the shortage of direct care workers is so acute that their employers call them in to cover vacant shifts on the job for basic health and safety reasons.

Ferrara said the state does not pay for substitutes while the regular caregivers are in class.

She said the direct care workforce must be stabilized before the state gains enough qualified job coaches,  job developers and supported employment specialists.

Many new hires leave when they realize the job of providing direct support to adults with developmental disabilities is complicated and carries many responsibilities. The average wages are estimated at about $11.50 an hour, including a pay bump of 36 cents an hour that is being processed by the workers’ employers this month. 

The average turnover ranges from 60 percent in the first six months to about 30 percent over 12 months, according to figures presented to the General Assembly earlier this year.

Ferrarra said workers should have at least six months’ experience, learning the basics of direct care, before they are sent to train for specialized credentials. In at least some parts of the service system, new workers get acclimated by working under supervision with just a few specific clients, learning their needs and preferences and strategies for cope with any challenges they might present.

But Ferrara said some workers arrive at the Sherlock Center for specialized employment-related training during their first week on the job.

In September, an official of the supported employment program run by BHDDH reported that the enrollment of individuals seeking jobs was 92 short of the available spaces, a maximum of 517. (Click here for related article.) 

On Oct. 10, Howard Cohen, a member of the Task Force who is the father of a man with developmental disabilities, said a lack of qualified staff has come up repeatedly when he has participated in other discussions about supported employment.

Ferrara provided information on the three-part training program at the Sherlock Center as the Employment First Task Force was considering recommendations it planned to make to the state about the future of supported employment services.  

Instead, questions arose on details that needed clarification, like how the clients for supported employment services have been selected, and how families that hire their own workers through a fiscal intermediary to support their loved ones can get broader access to these services. 

Brian Gosselin, Chief Strategy Officer for the state Executive Office Of Human Services, urged the task force to put its questions in writing and submit them to the state. Gosselin was involved in the design of the BHDDH supported employment program.  That pilot will complete its first program year at the end of December and is under evaluation. By year’s end, the ORS program also will be well into the second half of its initial 12-month run.

 

 

Dianne Curran, RI Consent Decree Coordinator, To Leave Post Sept. 30, Citing Personal Reasons

By Gina Macris

 

                                                       This article has been updated .

Dianne Curran                        Photo By Anne Peters

Dianne Curran                        Photo By Anne Peters

Dianne Curran will step down Sept. 30 after seven months as Rhode Island’s consent decree coordinator, a post considered critical to success of the state’s 2014 agreement with the U.S Department Of Justice to reform Rhode Island’s programs for persons with developmental disabilities.

 “I am sad to leave such a competent and hard-working team that is committed to improving the lives of individuals with I/DD (intellectual and developmental disabilities),”  Curran said in a statement which cited "personal reasons" for her departure. She did not elaborate.

Curran is the third consent decree coordinator to serve since the agreement was signed in April, 2014. Curran was preceded by Mary Madden, who served from January, 2016, until the end of March of this year, overlapping Curran’s first month on the job. The first consent decree coordinator was Andrew McQuaide.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) said there is an interim plan to cover the duties of the consent decree coordinator. The spokeswoman, Jenna Mackevich, confirmed Curran's upcoming departure on behalf of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), where Curran reports to Health and Human Services Secretary Eric J. Beane.

Until the state finds a qualified successor to Curran, an cross-agency Consent Decree Management Team will shoulder the coordinator's duties, according to an EOHHS spokeswoman, who elaborated on the interim plan. The inter-agency team includes various division leaders and legal staff, who meet regularly, said the spokeswoman, Ashley O'Shea.

The position of the consent decree coordinator is very important in ensuring cooperation among state agencies with responsibilities in implementing the agreement, according to an independent federal court monitor, Charles Moseley. Historically, the various agencies of state government have had the reputation of acting as bureaucratic “silos.”

In addition to BHDDH, the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Office of Rehabilitation Services in the Department of Human Services share responsibility for transforming a system of sheltered workshops and adult day care centers into a network of integrated, community-based services, with an emphasis on regular jobs and personal choice, to comply with the ADA.

With Madden’s arrival early in 2016, Moseley successfully pressed the state to move the position of consent decree coordinator out of BHDDH to the EOHHS, which has authority over both ORS and BHDDH.

Curran has a long and varied career as a disability rights lawyer dating back to 1980, both in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She is a former deputy director at Rhode Island Legal Services and former supervising attorney at what is now the RI Disability Law Center. Working much of the last 20 years in  Massachusetts,  she was deputy general counsel in the Department of Social Services and then held the same position at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

This article has been updated to include details of the interim plan for the state to keep up with the duties of the consent decree coordinator while the state searches for a replacement to Dianne Curran.

Top Aide To RI Gov. Raimondo To Lead EOHHS; Policy Director For Providence Mayor To Run HHS

By Gina Macris

RI Governor Gina Raimondo has named Eric Beane, the top aide tasked with fixing the UHIP computer disaster, as Executive Secretary of Health and Human Services. 

Courtney Hawkins, chief policy officer for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, will become the new Director of the Department of Human Services (DHS). And Zach Sherman, Director of HealthSource RI, will take over the day-to-day management of the UHIP turnaround, according to a statement from Raimondo’s office issued May 12.

“Rhode islanders deserve and demand high-quality public services. I am confident the new leadership for our Health Cabinet will ensure better access to care and better outcomes for Rhode Islanders,” Raimondo said.

There has been a nearly complete turnover in the human services leadership since the start of the year, primarily because of problems with the UHIP computer system and with the management of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Beane has been with Raimondo since she took office in 2015, serving first as deputy chief of staff and then as chief operations officer, before the governor put him in charge of running DHS and turning around the $364-million Unified Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP) in January.

Hawkins, a Rhode Island native, “brings more than 15 years of experience working with social service agencies and in public policy” here and elsewhere, Raimondo said.

Hawkins has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University. Before returning to Rhode Island in 2015, she worked as senior vice president at the now-bankrupt FEGS Health and Human Services, one of the largest social service agencies in New York City. The agency closed its doors in 2015.

UHIP, the largest information technology project ever undertaken by the state, has delayed eligibility decisions and healthcare and social service benefits for tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders – including some with developmental disabilities - since it was launched in September, 2016.

The botched rollout also cost the jobs of former EOHHS Secretary Elizabeth Roberts, the state’s chief digital officer, Thom Guertin, and the former DHS director, Melba Depena Affigne. 

In announcing the new appointments, Raimondo’s office said that Anya Radar Wallack, Acting Secretary of EOHHS since February, will return to the Brown University School of Public Health in June.

Beane is to start his new duties June 1 and Hawkins will take office June 12. Both appointments require confirmation by the state Senate.

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

Photo by Anne Peters

Photo by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read Beane's report

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

By Gina Macris 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Gina Macris

If the state of Rhode Island were building a network of roads to help adults with developmental disabilities get to their jobs, town libraries, or classes at the local Y, then construction could be described as well underway.

But that’s not to say the infrastructure is complete and travelers are rushing to use these new highways on their way to richer lives. 

This image of a work in progress serves, in effect, as a snapshot of what a federal court monitor sees in an ongoing transformation of the state’s developmental disability service system. 

In a recent report to U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., Charles Moseley says Rhode Island has made solid gains in its efforts to comply with a 2014 consent decree enforcing the Olmstead decision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires disability-related services to be offered in the least restrictive setting that is therapeutically appropriate. And that setting is presumed to be the community. 

The state has increased funding by $11 million, filled key leadership posts, offered more training, and put into place policies and programs to help adults with developmental disabilities find jobs and enjoy activities in their communities.

Priorities for Compliance 

 While acknowledging these efforts, Moseley indicated the state is still out of compliance with the consent decree. Among his top recommendations, Moseley said the state must:

• Strengthen supported employment for young adults up to the age of 25. Job placements for young adults are “significantly below consent decree requirements,” he said.

• Increase funding to expand supported employment and community-based, integrated day services during the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, and in future budgets. The state “needs to take steps to ensure additional funding is available to address caseload increases” related to special education students moving to adult services, he said.

• Increase providers’ capacity to provide services. “Provider agencies do not yet have the numbers of trained staff needed to ensure the provision of services and supports required by the consent decree” Moseley said.

• Eliminate service delays.

Moseley says the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Office of Rehabilitative Services (ORS) have said that service providers can meet the need for employment and community –based supports required by the consent decree.

“But families of individuals with IDD (intellectual or developmental disabilities) who are requesting DDD services for the first time have reported to the monitor that access to needed supports has been prevented or delayed by providers who refuse to accept new referrals,” Moseley said.

“Provider refusals appear to be directly linked to DDD payment rates and rate setting practices,” he said.

Twenty-two of the state’s 36 private service providers have agreed to participate in a program of one-time bonuses paid for staff training, job placements, and job retention, according to state officials. 

That initiative is still accepting applicants and cannot yet be evaluated, Moseley said, although it is expected to ease the service gap over time.

Moseley found it “important to note,” however, that the state has not offered any other kinds of incentives to agencies that chose not to apply to the incentive program, or to providers that did not receive start-up costs to convert sheltered workshops and day programsto community-based operations.

Moseley is asking the state to give him an accounting by Feb. 28 of the number of clients who were refused or faced service delays between July and December of 2016, including the names of the agencies, the reasons given, the length of any delay, and the state’s recommendations for improving access to services.

He also gave notice that he will want a similar report for the three-month period between January and March, as well as another update at the end of June to use as a guide in determining whether recent initiatives put into place by the state are having a positive impact.

State is Playing Catch-up

Moseley submitted a 48-page report to McConnell Jan. 25 in anticipation of a hearing Feb. 14 on the status of the consent decree.

The state’s positive momentum, supported by the $11-million budget increase, is all the more significant because most of it has been accomplished in the year since McConnell became personally involved in the enforcement of the consent decree in January, 2016.

After McConnell signaled he would take the bench on the case, the direct day-to-day supervision of the developmental disabilities division has shifted from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Even though Wood has put efforts to comply with the consent decree into overdrive, the state is still playing catch-up with the progressively stiffer requirements of the highly prescriptive agreement, which was marked by two years of inactivity at the outset.

The consent decree, signed April 8, 2014, has a ten-year term. At the end of 2015, seeing little progress, the U.S. Department of Justice and the court monitor asked McConnell to take the case under his wing.

During the most recent hearing, in September, 2016, the state avoided contempt proceedings for failing to hit two targets. One of them, the disbursement of raises for direct service workers, was accomplished Oct. 1. The other was the lag in employment of young adults – a problem that has only grown bigger.  At the same time, McConnell said he relied on Moseley to hold the defendant’s “feet to the fire.”

Moseley Wants More Information

Even at the September hearing, Moseley was digging deeper. He pressed the state to better identify young adults and high school special education students who should be counted as members of the consent decree population and enjoy protections designed to prevent them from living lives of isolation.

Moseley’s report relies on data available as of Oct. 31, but he says the state subsequently informed him that the count of young adults who left school since the 2013-2014 academic year has increased by 350, from 151 to 501. 

The report says 29 of these young adults have received job placements, a number that is more than six months old. The consent decree required “all” members of this group to have at least part-time jobs by July 1, 2016.

The monitor continues to press DDD, ORS, and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) for more detailed information on several areas of implementation where he sees the state lagging.

By Feb. 28, Moseley wants reports on:

 Staff Training

• a plan outlining how DDD and ORS will provide the monitor regular updates on appropriate training for direct service workers at various agencies who provide daytime services. The current number of trained staff statewide, 396, is too low, he says.

Average Hours Worked

• a plan and strategy for increasing the average number of hours per week worked by individuals in supported employment. The current weekly average, 8.6 hours, falls far below the average 20 hours specified in the consent decree.  Implementation of the plan should begin March 1, Moseley says.

Career Development Plans

• an umbrella “operational plan” for 1) expanding critically-needed training for professionals and families on career development,  2) ensuring more than 3,000 individuals protected by the consent decree have high quality career development plans by June 30, and 3) making provisions for regular updates to the monitor on this topic beginning April 1. Currently, 774 individuals have career development plans, according to Moseley’s data.  These plans are intended not only to describe individualized long-term goals, but to include strategies and a sequence of real-life activities for helping individuals work toward those targets. Moseley said there are signs such details are lacking from many existing career development plans.

High School Internships

• data from RIDE and ORS showing the number of high school special education students who participate in at least two trial work experiences, each lasting a minimum of 60 days. RIDE has indicated it is keeping track of these numbers but has yet to provide the monitor with the information, Moseley says.

• data from DDD showing implementation of a so-called “transition timeline”, including notifications to families and other activities involving special education students in high school that prepare them for adult living.

Benefits Counseling

• a report from DDD on how it will ensure individuals deciding on jobs receive counseling about the way their earned income might affect the government assistance they receive, as well as evidence that the counseling is covering the required information. The monitor found that only 65 people had benefits counseling last June 30, the latest date for which statistics were available.

Moseley also noted that the state has developed a process for individuals to seek a variance if they want to opt out of employment, but no one has applied for one. He said he have more to say about the variance process by the end of the month but wants recommendations from the state by March 31 on ways to improve the variance process.

Employment First Task Force

Moseley addressed the future of the Employment First Task Force, saying it “has the potential to provide an independent and meaningful role in supporting the ability of the State to accomplish the reforms identified by the consent decree." 

“But change needs to take place if the task force is to achieve its full potential,” he said.

The consent decree intends the task force as a bridge between the community and the government, or as Moseley put it, “an independent, voluntary group of advocates and stakeholders who are not directly involved in state agency operations.”

While the consent decree says the group should make policy recommendations, it doesn’t say what areas the task force should research, or to whom it should make its recommendations, said Moseley. He also noted that it has no administrative staff or oversight from any state agency.

Moseley said he wants some changes in the task force “without compromising the separate and independent voice of advocates and stakeholders.”

Ultimately, he wants the task force to make annual reports for the monitor, the state, and the public on barriers to implementing the consent decree and ways to overcome them.

Moseley called on EOHHS to give the task force some staff support. And he asked Kevin Nerney, the task force chairman, and Jennifer Wood, the Deputy Secretary of EOHHS, to convene a small work group to map out the respective roles and responsibilities of the state and task force members and to report back to him by Feb. 28. 

Click here to read the entire monitor's report.

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Funds vs Operating Budget

TABLE COURTESY OF EOHHS

TABLE COURTESY OF EOHHS

    GR=state funds     FF= federal funds

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

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

Supported Employment Program Has Begun Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wage Increase Intended to Help Stabilize Workforce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revised Individual Assessment Suggests Greater Cost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The need to keep consumers’ resource allocations within budget may influence staff to administer the SIS in a way that reaches the pre-determined budgetary result,” the DOJ said at the time. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Lack of Resources Underlies Problems with Supports Intensity Scale, Other RI DD Issues

photo by anne peters  

photo by anne peters  

Eileen Vieira and Greg Mroczek both express concerns about the assessment used to determine funding for their adult children with developmental disabilities. 

By Gina Macris

The issue of resources – a scarcity of services and the money to finance them – ran like a thread through a public forum on Rhode Island’s developmental disability system Nov. 9 that brought together families, provider agencies and state officials. 

At the same time, participants applauded the willingness of new roster of state developmental disability officials to listen to their concerns.

Much of the discussion, during the meeting at the Cherry Hill Manor Nursing and Rehab Center in Johnston, concerned an assessment called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS) that is used to assign individual funding packages to those persons receiving services.

“If there was adequate funding to pay for the needs” identified by the assessment, ”we would have much fewer problems with the SIS,” said Tom Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, a service agency.

“There’s not enough money there,” he said.

 Kane and others expressed skepticism about the accuracy of the assessment.

For example, Greg Mroczek said his son and daughter are very similar in their disabilities and needs, and yet they were assigned different funding levels.

“It flies in the face of the accuracy of the tool,” he said.

Eileen Vieira, who has a son with developmental disabilities, said some people who do the assessments “have no clue.”

They are not familiar with the person’s medical conditions or mental health issues or what is happening in the client’s life, she said. She said she did not believe the SIS captured her son’s need for behavioral support.

Heather Mincey, administrator in the Division of Developmental Disabilities, acknowledged that “a lot of times the SIS administrators did not get all of the information” necessary to make an accurate assessment of a person’s needs.

Heather Mincey

Heather Mincey

On Nov. 6, the Division switched over to a new form of the SIS which Mincey said she believes “will help a lot.” Called the SIS-A, the assessment is designed to capture behavioral and medical needs that were sometimes not apparent in results of the original SIS, according to Mincey. 

Kane said he has “never been a cheerleader for the SIS.”

The developer of the SIS, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), maintains it differs from other assessments because it focuses not on shortcomings but on the supports an individual needs to be successful at a particular task.

Kane, however, said most family members and professionals in the field of developmental disabilities find it difficult to talk about the issues raised in the questions because “you have to examine what’s wrong” to arrive at the necessary supports.

“It’s a deficit-based tool,” he said.

A representative of AAIDD will visit Rhode Island to explain the SIS-A at an information and training session Nov. 17. (See related article.)

Mincey, meanwhile, encouraged parents to file appeals if they believe the SIS results for their sons or daughters are inaccurate – or if they have problems with a shortage of funds for transportation or other issues.

But Vieira indicated that the appeals are continuous and time-consuming, especially for parents who have full time jobs. “You have to appeal and you have to appeal,” she said. 

Brian Gosselin, Chief Strategy Officer for the Executive Office of Human Services, said developmental disabilities officials will use feedback from appeals of decisions on the SIS, along with experiences trying to solve other problems, to improve the system.

In whittling down a backlog of 224 applications for adult developmental disability services, for example, workers learned that nearly half the submissions did not contain all the required documentation, Gosselin said.  That experience will result in a redesign of the application process, he said.

Carla Russo

Carla Russo

An independent court monitor in a federal consent decree mandating expansion of community-based services for adults with developmental disabilities has pressed the state to work through the backlog and identify all individuals aged 14 to 21 who might qualify for services after high school. 

One mother, Carla Russo, said her son left school in the 20013-2014 school year and still does not have adult services. 

Iraida Williams, an employee of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, asked whether the application materials would be available in Spanish. Williams has appeared at several public forums on developmental disability services since April 2015, to ask the state to hire a Spanish-speaking social worker or interpreter who could field questions from non English-speaking families.

“That’s the type of feedback that we need,” Gosselin said.

tracey cunningham

tracey cunningham

Tracey Cunningham, Chief Employment Specialist at the Division of Disabilities, said 23 service providers have applied for a supported employment incentive program that is gearing up as a result of the consent decree.

Nearly every one of the 23 providers has talked about taking on new clients in the process, Cunningham said, although she didn't expect the program to begin operations until January.

If that many agencies do expand, it would be a significant shift from a system that has been in a holding pattern because of a shortage of funding. 

Cunningham said the Division of Disabilities also wants to hear from families who organize their own supports and might want to purchase supported employment services.

One mother, Mary Beth Cournoyer, said parents, who themselves have jobs, need to cover a certain number of hours of care for their sons and daughters and can’t afford to divert much, if any, funding to job development. 

Cunningham said that “we are looking” at the possibility of providing additional funding for supported employment services rather than requiring individuals to stretch their budgets.

Gosselin, meanwhile, said that state officials will be working with consultants from the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services for the next six months to try to come up with better ways to serve individuals and families and at the same time comply with new Medicaid regulations affecting individuals with developmental disabilities.

All photos by Anne Peters

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Toward a Smoother Transition: RI Will Decide Early, By Age 17, Who Will Qualify for Adult DD Services

By Gina Macris

(This article has been updated.) 

For some Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities, the shift between high school and the adult world has been likened to falling off a cliff.

Now, changes are underway to lay the groundwork for a smoother transition from high school to adult living, the latest being a new policy that the state will accept applications from individuals aged 16 and will determine their eligibility by the time they turn 17.

But it remains to be seen how far the state gets in delivering on its promise to a federal court to find jobs for every eligible young adult who can and wants to work by next June 30.  

One potential problem is that, despite small raises recently granted to direct care workers, their employers still may not be able to hire the staff necessary to add new clients. 

New, slightly higher reimbursement rates to private service providers reflect the raises but do not address continuing shortfalls in overhead costs borne by employers, according to a spokeswoman for some two dozen agencies.

For years, private providers have had trouble recruiting and retaining competent staff. A new employment incentive program, with a few exceptions, requires agencies to use existing funding to train workers, if necessary, and make job placements before collecting one-time bonuses. 

According to evidence presented in U.S. District Court last April, young adults with developmental disabilities have been dismissed abruptly from high school on their 21st birthdays and have tended to sit at home for weeks or months because adult services were not in place.

Rhode Island law says individuals with developmental disabilities are eligible for adult services at age 18, although decisions on eligibility often have been made a few months before the young people turned 21.

With many agencies declining to accept new clients, families found it difficult and time-consuming to arrange services.

When services finally were pulled together, they often fell short of participants’ and families’ expectations, according to what U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell heard in April.

Since the April hearing, the General Assembly has enacted a law sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Daniel DaPonte, that requires school districts to keep those 21-year-olds in class until the end of the academic year.

More recently, the Executive Office of Human Services (EOHHS) has updated plans to better identify, enroll, and serve young adults eligible for developmental disability services provided by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS). Those plans include the new “eligibility determination by 17” policy.

In a dramatic departure from past practice, parents of youngsters who are likely to be eligible will be encouraged to apply for adult services when their sons and daughters turn 16.

Consent Decree Drives Change

The changes respond to requirements of a 2014 federal consent decree which aims to move adults with developmental disabilities out of sheltered workshops and segregated day programs that violate the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1999, the high court found that services for individuals with disabilities must be provided in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate, with that environment presumed to be the community.

During the latest judicial review of the consent decree in September, an independent court monitor, Charles Moseley, noted that since the consent decree went into effect in April, 2014, the state has failed to meet targets for placing young adults in regular jobs in the community, with the necessary supports. 

By July 1, 2016, the state was required to have placed all young adults who have left high school during the 2013-2014 academic year or later. At the time, 151 people were reported to be eligible, but the state’s total number of placements was 29.

Rather than hold a contempt hearing against the state, Judge McConnell has deferred to Moseley, who said was confident he could work with state officials to meet the employment goals.

Complicating the issue, the number of young adults in question has risen since July from 151 to 259. The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) has updated its count of individuals with developmental disabilities who left school during the 2015-2016 school year and will continue to do so through June 30, 2017.

RIDE also has promised to expand the categories of individuals whose names it reports to BHDDH to more accurately reflect the total population of young people likely protected by the consent decree, according to Moseley’s most recent report to Judge McConnell Nov. 1.

Since the consent decree went into effect in 2014, RIDE has reported to BHDDH only the names of those with developmental disabilities who turn 21 and leave school.

Going forward, its count will include all those between the ages of 14 and 21 who have developmental disabilities, autism, or multiple disabilities that can be expected to restrict their ability to function independently as adults. The monitor wants RIDE to identify all those students by Nov. 15.

In the meantime, BHDDH, ORS, and RIDE will work together to notify all affected families of their protected status under terms of the consent decree and give them information about applying for services. (Click here for eligibility criteria in state law.) 

General Assembly Increased DD Budget

To shore up the state’s ability to provide services once adults are found eligible, the General Assembly has approved an hourly wage increase of 36 cents for direct care workers – a total of $5 million – and allocated another $6.8 million to foster supported employment.

In addition RI Senate leaders have said they want to raise the current average wage of front line workers from $11.18 to $15 an hour over five years.

But the state still faces continuing consent decree deadlines for placing adults with developmental disabilities in jobs, including about 50 former sheltered workshop employees by Jan. 1, as well as a yet-to-be–determined number of eligible young adults by June 30.  

The new $6.8 million supported employment program expects to begin disbursing funds in mid-November, according to an EOHHS document attached to Moseley’s latest filing with the court.

The program requires providers to have specially-trained employment teams in place to quality for the program and begin receiving a series of one-time bonuses. The bonuses reward the certification of employment specialists, job placements, and job retention for six months with totals that vary from about $3,500 to $15,750 per person, depending on the client’s age and the complexity of the disability.

The recent wage increases

The recent wage increases cover payroll–related taxes but do not add to the state’s reimbursement to private agencies for other aspects of employee overhead costs-taxes. Nor do the raises increase the pay of front-line supervisors or mid-level managers, according to Donna Martin., executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, an association of 26 agencies.

Martin says the state allows agencies  35 percent of direct care workers’ salaries for such overhead costs, but CPNRI data “shows actual employee-related expense is in excess of 60 percent.”

Last spring, she told the General Assembly that her membership operates at an average loss of $5,500 a year for each employee.

do not change state’s reimbursement to private agencies for employer-related taxes and other costs, according to Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, an association of 26 agencies.

Last spring, she told the General Assembly that her membership operates at an average loss of $5,500 for each employee.

Because many agencies are not expanding their staff or accepting new clients, the parents of newly-eligible young adults increasingly are turning to so-called “self-directed” services, which allow them to design customized programs for their sons and daughters, a time-consuming process. The parents are responsible for organizing a program within their budget and choosing and supervising workers. A fiscal intermediary pays the bills.

BHDDH is encouraging these “self-directed” providers, as well as the established agencies, to apply for the one-time supported employment bonuses.  

The next opportunity for consumers and families to speak to state officials about the consent decree and developmental disability services in general is Wednesday, Nov.9 from 4 to 6 p.m at the Cherry Hill Manor Nursing and Rehab Center, 2 Cherry Hill Rd., Johnston.  

Judge McConnell has scheduled his next review of the consent decree for January 27 in U.S. District Court, Providence.

(The original version of this article inaccurately stated that recent raises to direct care workers did not include an increase for any aspect of employer-related costs.)  

 

RI Falls Short on Supports for Young Adults With DD; Court to Hear Consent Decree Status

By Gina Macris

While Rhode Island has made progress in complying with a 2014 federal consent decree, the U.S. Department of Justice and a court monitor say some requirements have not been met, including target numbers for finding jobs for young adults with developmental disabilities.

Of 151 individuals who have left special education programs at age 21 since the 2013-2014 academic year, the state has found supported employment for only 29, according to the monitor, Charles Moseley.

This issue, among others, will get an airing before U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., Friday, Sept 16 at 2 p.m.

The state exceeded modest job placement goals for adults with developmental disabilities who had been in segregated day programs and sheltered workshops in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, Moseley said in remarks to McConnell submitted Sept. 15.

A total of 57 adults who formerly worked in sheltered workshops have found regular jobs in the community – with support – since the consent decree was signed April 8, 2014. That figure is 7 more than required by the consent decree at this point in the 10-year span of the agreement. 

Among those who had spent their time in segregated day programs, 118 have been placed in jobs in the community, Moseley said. So far, the consent decree requires only 25 supported employment placements from the day program population.

The monitor said state officials have had trouble identifying the total number of young people coming out of high school who are eligible for adult developmental disability services.

Moseley said the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) provides adult services to 101 of 151 young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who have been identified by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) since the consent decree was signed.  

RIDE’s figures on eligibility don’t tell the whole story, the monitor said.

RIDE’s statistics cover individuals with intellectual and developmental disability as a primary diagnosis, but Moseley said RIDE has not counted others who may also qualify.

Young adults with autism, for example, may be eligible if they have no intellectual disabilities but have developmental problems that prevent them from connecting with other people and communicating what they know and can learn.

Moseley recommended that RIDE have until Nov. 15 to work with BHDDH, the state Office of Rehabilitation Services, and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to identify all individuals leaving high school who are eligible for adult developmental disability services, saying the total is likely to increase.

He also said he wants RIDE, BHDDH, and ORS to work together to develop a strategy and timeline by Oct. 1 for ensuring employment supports for all young adults who are identified.

Besides dealing with issues particular to young adults, Friday’s hearing is expected to cover various initiatives related to supported employment for all those who come under the purview of the consent decree, according to joint remarks filed by lawyers for the state and the DOJ.

 

Rhode Island Considers Reorganizing BHDDH; Finding "Strong" DD Director Is Top Priority

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals  may undergo restructuring, if it is determined that a different organization of services would better serve the  needs of it clients, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) confirmed on Friday, Sept. 9  

Asked whether a departmental reorganization is on the table, Sophie O’Connell replied in an email: “No decisions have been made, but we are considering the option to make sure that we are delivering the best quality care and services to some of the most vulnerable people in our state.” 

Before she left in June, former BHDDH Director Maria Montanaro recommended that BHDDH be split up. The Eleanor Slater Hospital should be run by a dedicated board of directors, she said, while mental health and developmental disability services each should have a commissioner under the direct supervision of EOHHS. 

Such sweeping changes would require gubernatorial and legislative approval. On an ad-hoc basis, however, EOHHS has established direct oversight of the Division of Disabilities in recent months, primarily in response to the demands of a federal consent decree. 

O’Connell said there is no timeline for recruiting a permanent BHDDH director while EOHHS and BHDDH work on a plan that would take into account “how we can most effectively blend fragmented program, policy and funding streams to ensure Rhode Islanders are receiving the best possible care and services.”  Rebecca Boss serves as interim director of BHDDH. 

“Secretary (Elizabeth) Roberts as well as the BHDDH and EOHHS management teams are personally committed to ensuring continued progress on the important reforms taking place at BHDDH. This includes the ongoing work to improve services for individuals living with developmental disabilities and to recruit talented DD leadership into the agency,” O’Connell said. 

“Our most pressing concern at the present moment is recruiting a strong leader for the Division of Developmental Disabilities,” she said. 

The developmental disability director’s post is particularly critical as the state tries to comply with the federal consent decree by shifting away from sheltered workshops and segregated day programs toward integrated employment and community-based non-work activities. 

The division has been without a permanent director since July 22 when Charles Williams retired.

Jane Gallivan, who was coaxed out of retirement to serve as interim director of developmental disabilities, will step down at the end of the month because of family responsibilities, according to O’Connell. 

Although Gallivan will remain a consultant – primarily a long-distance one – the state has not announced who will administer developmental disability services in the short term or when a new director might be named. 

 As of Friday, September 9, the post had not been advertised on the state’s employment website. Nor has a search committee been seated.  

In response to repeated inquiries, over the past week, O’Connell said that Gallivan would providemore information Sept. 14 about the search for a director for the division. 

Gallivan, former developmental disabilities director in Maine and Delaware, plans to spend the winter in Florida with her 101-year-old mother, who has been staying on Cape Cod for the summer. 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A July 1 Deadline for Supported Employment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pay Raise For Direct Service Workers

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

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

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

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

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

Performance-Based Bonus Plan Outlined

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Call For A New Reimbursement Model

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The State's Other Progress Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RI Official Describes How Nearly $12 Million in DD Budget Responds to Consent Decree

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island is poised to offer financial rewards to agencies that meet certain performance goals in delivering supported employment services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services.

At a meeting of the Employment First Task Force on Aug. 9, Jennifer Wood explained how the state will use a total of nearly $12 million in funding authorized by the General Assembly in the current budget to implement the two year-old federal consent decree which mandates that adults with developmental disabilities have access to regular jobs in their communities.

A total of $6.8 million will be set aside for the supported employment bonuses –an estimated average of $15,750 after a client has been employed for six months. An additional $5.1 million has been earmarked for modest wage increases to about 4,000 agency staff who work directly with clients.

Ultimately, it is up to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court to say whether these measures conform with a detailed order he issued in May requiring Rhode Island to lay the groundwork for long-term compliance with the consent decree, which remains in effect until Jan. 1, 2024.

At some point, the independent court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, is expected to report to the court on whether he believes that state’s latest compliance efforts meet the requirements of the court order.

The May 18 order said that by Aug. 1, the state had to:

  • implement performance-based contracts for supported employment services
  • implement a flexible reimbursement model that pays service providers for the actual cost of providing services
  • implement individual financial authorizations for clients receiving services that include specific allocations for supported employment services 
  • increase salaries, benefits, training, and supervision for direct service workers and job coaches.s

The Task Force, made up of representatives of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and community organizations, was created by the consent decree as a bridge between government and the community. It met in the offices of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick, 

Wood told Task Force members that the private agencies employing the workers will get lump sums for raises retroactive to July 1, but she could not say exactly when that will happen. Figuring out the payments has been a huge mathematical exercise, she said, and still requires changing the programming on state computers.

Based on current average pay of $11.55 an hour, the raises would be an average of $.30 an hour, Wood said, although actual salaries vary from one agency to another.

In a report to the court on July 29, the state said that it will require service providers to show that the money went to workers who have direct contact with clients, as the General Assembly intended.

Wood told Task Force members that state officials have been working with private service providers on the incentive program.

The July 29 report to the court said the incentive program will be implemented from August through next June, although the state has not yet begun taking applications from service providers. The program will serve a minimum of 200 clients with developmental disabilities. according to the filing with the court.

These clients will receive specific allocations for supported employment services as part of their individual financial authorizations from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), Wood said in a brief interview after Tuesday’s meeting.

Others served by BHDDH who are not part of the supported employment incentive program will not be affected. That means that if they want supported employment services, they must continue to trade in hours from another category of daytime support.

The bonuses will be paid in stages; when a client gets a job and after three months and six months on the job respectively, according to the report to the court. It also said the dollar amounts and numbers of incentives may be adjusted.

Wood told the Task Force that the experience of the first six months of the program would be used to make improvements for the second half of the fiscal year.

After the meeting, she said the incentive program would be an added “layer” over the current reimbursement model, which requires agencies to document clients’ face-to-face interaction with direct service workers in 15-minute increments during the day. 

That “unit service model” will remain in place, she said.

Because the reimbursement system does not pay an agency when a client is absent, for whatever reason, the provider cannot collect the full amount of the client’s authorization for daytime activities.

The consent decree found fault with this method of payment. It required the following change:

“The State will ensure that its reimbursement model for day activity services is sufficiently flexible to allow providers to be reimbursed for costs (e.g. transportation to the job site, employer negotiation, counseling clients by telephone) that are: (1) directly related to providing Supported Employment Services to individuals in the Target Populations, and (2) provided when service provider staff is not face-to-face with a client. “

RI Leadership in Developmental Disabilities Starts With Office of Health and Human Services

Jennifer Wood    Photo by Anne pETERS

Jennifer Wood    Photo by Anne pETERS

Gina Macris

Jennifer Wood, a longtime state policy wonk with an exacting work ethic and a broad reach, is orchestrating an effort to usher in a new era for Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

And she’s creating a brand new management team to help her do it,  including Brian Gosselin, a veteran of former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, to serve as Chief Strategy Officer.  

Wood is the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, the top aide and top lawyer to Secretary Elizabeth Roberts, and a former chief of staff at the state Department of Education. 

Since January, when a federal judge agreed to oversee Rhode Island’s compliance with a consent decree, Wood has emerged at the forefront of the state’s response to the court case.

Wood says she is working “all day and every day” to fulfill the state’s pledge to integrate Rhode Island adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities into the larger community of work, living and leisure. 

That pledge was made two years ago when then-Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the consent decree, promising the federal government that Rhode Island would end the segregation of more than 3,400 adults, most of them working in sheltered workshops or spending their days in isolated programs.

The consent decree gets its authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which says individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities must receive supports in the least restrictive setting that is therapeutically appropriate.

 In a recent interview, Wood emphasized that the goals of the consent decree “are the changes we should and would be making anyway, and it’s just beneficial in certain ways that we’re doing it within that structure.”

Wood presented most of the state’s testimony during a day-long evidentiary hearing on compliance before Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. in U.S. District Court in April.

Other evidence before McConnell included statements from families and advocates recounting failures in service and the opinion of a court monitor that Rhode Island must immediately lay groundwork to implement the consent decree if it is to achieve its ultimate goals by the time the agreement expires in 2024.

McConnell subsequently ordered the state to complete nearly two dozen tasks - each with a short-term deadline - or face contempt of court proceedings. (Read the order here.)

Several deadlines occurred July 1, and a new wave will hit at the end of the month or the beginning of August.

In the meantime, two top developmental disabilities officials announced their departure. Maria Montanaro, the director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) left June 24. Charles Williams, Director of the Division of Disabilities, will retire July 22. 

A third official, Andrew McQuaide, the Chief Transformation Officer at the Division of Disabilities, recently announced that he, too, will leave July 22. (Read related article here. ) 

“There’s a lot of change going on, especially in the leadership area,” Wood said.

“We’re the stability factor,” she said of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Wood said she is building a very skilled management team, with leadership and authority coming from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, to work on the consent decree and begin transforming a system mired in myth or what she calls “urban legend.”

“I use the metaphor that we’ve got a lot of plates spinning, and we need to move on all of these fronts at one time,” she said.

“We’ve got to prioritize the specific deadlines and commitments made in Court, but none of those things happen without a lot of other pieces being in place,” like getting “basic payment systems in place; getting basic communication systems in place with our own staff.”

 According to the consent decree itself, the appropriate staff were to have been trained in how to carry out its provisions by Sept. 1, 2014.

 “Our own staff, I think, need substantial orientation and awareness of what the consent decree actually requires, as opposed to what everyone says and thinks it requires, which are two different things,” Wood said.

“In the absence of clear and transparent communication, and authoritative communication, then, always, rumor, innuendo, and urban legend will rule the day,” she said.

Wood says the state needs to do better with its external communications because, “Families are out there wondering: What are you doing? When are you doing it?”

A communications plan - one of the tasks McConnell wanted done by July 1 - has been submitted to the federal court. Like the staff training, the communication plan should have been in place nearly two years ago, according to the consent decree. 

Wood emphasized that the communications plan is not a “static” document but a blueprint for action.                                                        

Much of what she and her staff have had to confront in trying to implement the consent decree is “gaps in basic management systems at BHDDH,” Wood said.

“I find it wholly unacceptable that sometimes what we’re talking about in court is: ‘Did an invoice get paid?’ ” Wood said.

 “One embarrassing example, which I shouldn’t even bring up, is ‘Can you get the consent decree monitor paid?’ ” Wood said.

 “I don’t trivialize the bureaucratic and administrative processes, because when those don’t work, nothing works,” Wood said.

 “Before I get out of bed in the morning, that should just be done,” she said, “but you know what? It’s bureaucracy, so you don’t always have that in place.”

McConnell’s detailed order, issued May 18, gave the state 12 calendar days to get itself up to date with payments due the court monitor, Charles Moseley, and the Consent Decree Coordinator, Mary Madden. The judge also said the state must never again miss a payday for either of them as long as their respective contracts run.

The order touched the tip of an iceberg, for the state pays its bills so slowly that many direct service providers must borrow to meet payroll while they wait for the reimbursement to which they are entitled.

“I hate to hear those stories, but, of course, I’ve heard those stories,” Wood responded.

The focus should not be on paying the bills, but on “transforming basic services that are fundamental to the success of our clients,” Wood said.

Initially, “we had struggles in getting people working together, to have everyone pointed in the same direction as to what the consent decree meant and how it should be implemented,” Wood said.

 Besides BHDDH, two other state agencies are directly involved in implementing the consent decree:  the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Office of Rehabilitation Services at the Department of Human Services.

(According to testimony during budget deliberations, there is a growing opinion that the Department of Labor at Training also should be at the table.)

Each agency is a like a silo with its own way of doing things, and the purpose of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services is to get them to function as an “integrated whole,” Wood said.

Wood explained the role of each member of the management team:

  • Brian Gosselin, new Senior Strategy Officer at EOHHS, will focus exclusively on developmental disabilities for the foreseeable future. He is an expert on performance-based contracting, which must be in place by August 1, according to McConnell’s order. Raises in staff wages and several other changes related to the financial arrangements the state has with private service providers also must be in place by Aug. 1. Gosselin is a fellow in the Government Performance Lab at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The Performance Lab, along with the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services, has consulted with the state in developing the new payment methods McConnell implemented. An accounting professional, Gosselin worked his way up in the Massachusetts budget office to the position of Chief of Staff in the Executive Office of Administration and Finance.
  • Dacia Read, until now the director of the Children’s Cabinet, has taken on an expanded role as Interagency Policy and Implementation Director at EOHHS. In that capacity, she is providing analysis and support for key initiatives at BHDDH and other agencies, according to a spokeswoman for Wood. 
  • Kim Paull, Director of Analytics at EOHHS, is working with Consent Decree Coordinator Madden and others to create an interim data solution to a requirement in McConnell’s order that the state make available client-specific information on employment and other services by the end of July.
  • Mary Madden was hired in January as EOHHS Consent Decree Coordinator in response to pressure from the court monitor and the U.S. Department of Justice that the implementation of the consent decree lacked leadership. Wood said she works closely with Madden on a daily basis.
  • Jane Gallivan, who will serve as acting Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, is newly retired from the same post in Delaware and has extensive experience in the equivalent position in Maine, where she led the implementation of a long-running federal consent decree in a de-institutionalization case..
  • BHDDH recently hired Tracey Cunningham as an Employment Specialist to lead a shift toward the supported employment services required by the consent decree. McConnell’s order gives the state until August 1 to hire a Program Developer or Quality Improvement Officer who will lead improvements in services and supports for clients. An existing quality improvement unit at BHDDH investigates neglect and abuse.
  • The Division of Disabilities at BHDDH will also have a new Transformation Officer and a yet-to-be named Chief Operations Officer.
  • Fiscal support will come from Christopher Feisthamel, the chief financial officer at BHDDH, and Adam Brousseau, the department’s fiscal analyst.  

Montanaro Says Rhode Island DD Services Have a Long Way to Go; She Won't Miss the Politics

Photo by Anne Peters 

Photo by Anne Peters 

By Gina Macris

When she became director of Rhode Island’s developmental disability agency in February,  2015,  Maria Montanaro inherited a budget with no relation to actual costs that was destined to run a deficit.

 She had to work with a state­-run system of group homes resistant to change, which she said exists to preserve jobs and not to serve clients.

And she had virtually no high-­level staff to form the leadership team necessary to move forward on compliance with the 2014 federal consent decree that requires Rhode Island to transform its services for adults with disabilities from segregated programs to integrated, community­-based supports.

A little more than a year into the job, as she was trying to reduce costs to hit a budget target that seemed plucked out of thin air, Montanaro realized that working in state government was not for her.

She said Governor Gina Raimondo and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Roberts, have been very supportive. After favorable state revenue estimates in May, Raimondo added to her budget request for developmental disabilities, and the General Assembly gave her most of what she wanted.

Nevertheless, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) needed everything the governor asked for - a total of $16.9 million in new Medicaid funding, Montanaro said.

In March, Raimondo had asked her to stay on until the budget process was complete, Montanaro said, and she agreed.

In the end, the political aspect of running  BHDDH proved to be ‘very draining,” said Montanaro. Her last day at BHDDH is June 24.

“It takes an enormous amount of effort to move the levers” of state government, she said in a recent interview. Formerly CEO of Magellan Behavioral Healthcare in Iowa and the Thundermist Health Center in Rhode Island, Montanaro had never worked in state government before she came to BHDDH.

In public statements in recent weeks, Montanaro has helped start a new conversation about splitting up BHDDH – a change that could not come without legislation enacted by the General Assembly.

Accustomed to dealing with budgets as professional challenges, Montanaro said she found that trying to get funding in the right places is also a political issue in state government. That was “very difficult for me,” she said.

It was “enormously frustrating,” she said, to inherit a system of fragmented services and balance sheets always running millions of dollars in the red. (The deficit has averaged about $4.6 or $4.7 million for the past eight years.)

 She offered a frank analysis of what’s wrong at BHDDH, and the reasons the Division of Developmental Disabilities should be a separate entity, with its own commissioner, working hand in hand with the state’s Medicaid administrator.

 “Politics aside, there is a responsibility to adequately fund the system,” Montanaro said.

Actually, there are two systems of care in Rhode Island for adults with developmental disabilities, and Montanaro indicated that is one of the problems.

One division of BHDDH operates a network of 25 group homes serving roughly 150 adults with a staff of less than 400 employees. The division is known as Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS).

BHDDH also contracts with about two dozen private agencies which, in turn, hire some 4000 workers to serve roughly  3,600 clients day and night, including some 1,120 adults with intellectual challenges who live in about 250 group homes.

Montanaro said the one good thing about the state­-run homes is that employees are paid adequately. Their pay ranges from $15 to $25 an hour. Direct support workers in the private sector make minimum wage or a little higher -  an average of about $11.50 an hour. Burnout is high, and turnover runs an average of about 35 percent, according to testimony presented to the House Finance Committee last month.

 “RICLAS as a provider system needs to make changes, and it’s very hard to enact change with a unionized workforce with very rigid views on change,” she said. “We have a lot of limitations in negotiating those changes. Do we need a state-­run residential system?” Montanaro says she thinks not.

“Why not do that in the private sector; use contracts and incentives in the private sector to make sure we get people what they need,” Montanaro said.

“We should not be running a system to employ people. We should be running a system to serve clients,” Montanaro said.

Services for adults with developmental disabilities are all funded by Medicaid, Montanaro said, and the future costs can be projected fairly accurately by looking at the state’s costs for the past three years.

Montanaro contends that the social support services funded by Medicaid through the Division of Disabilities probably avoid medical costs in the long run. The social supports, like job coaching and other services, “allow them to live their best life, doing meaningful work and having a meaningful personal life,” Montanaro said. People who are more active and engaged in their communities are not as sick, using fewer medical services, Montanaro said.

“That is why I am arguing to change the structure,” she said, She envisioned a separate unit run by a commissioner of developmental disabilities – someone like Charles Moseley, a developmental disability career professional who formerly served as commissioner in Vermont.

Moseley is now the federal court monitor for compliance with the 2014 consent decree which requires Rhode Island to transform its segregated system into an integrated one over a 10-year period in accordance with the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision clarified the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Together, Rhode Island’s developmental disabilities commissioner and the state Medicaid administrator “should have a sight line over the whole experience,” so they are able to see how day supports affects utilization of medical services, Montanaro said.

“It’s pretty easy to look at caseload and utilization and set your budget,” she said. This exercise should be carried out as part of the state’s twice yearly caseload estimating conference, she said. Prior to Governor Raimondo, every administration has set an arbitrary budget target that did not reflective of projected costs, and BHDDH has responded by either lowering rates paid to private providers or running a deficit without worrying about the consequences, Montanaro said.

There’s an assumption in state government that the Division of Developmental Disabilities can lower costs by better managing the utilization of services, she said, but that’s not true.

 “The population is “fairly static,” and the needs of clients are stable, she said. Individuals who meet certain criteria are entitled by law to residential services and employment and other social supports.

The only way to reduce costs is to cut reimbursement rates to providers, which has been done in the past, she said. 

Montanaro said it appears that prior to her arrival, BHDDH may have created bureaucratic delays to save money by delaying the adjudication of appeals.

“We tried to terminate unfair practices,” she said. “We have a responsibility to plan for the service to clients.” In nearly 18 months at BHDDH, Montanaro said, her team “removed those operational barriers that we found in place here."

"Were they in place deliberately, or were they here because the department was wildly inefficient, with eligibility delays and claims lagging as a result? I won’t speculate on that,” she said.

The amount of time and effort necessary to bring about change in the state bureaucracy leads to “a lot of crisis management,” Montanaro said. “It’s designed to protect institutions from constant, fast change that could come with changes in administration every four to eight years,” she said.

In addition to having a realistic budget, Montanaro said the ideal developmental disability agency would be staffed by experts needed to move reforms forward.

As it is, she said, “the Division of Disabilities has lacked critical leaders in critical roles for all the years far back that I can see.”

For about 16 months, Charles Williams, the outgoing director of developmental disabilities, has split his time between that job and running RICLAS. His professional expertise is in mental health services rather than developmental disabilities, Montanaro said.

As a result of the consent decree - and Montanaro's efforts - BHDDH now has a chief transformation officer, Andrew McQuaide, and has just hired Tracey Cunningham of the James L. Maher Center in Newport as an Employment Specialist.

Funding has been authorized for a quality improvement officer to focus on programmatic improvements for BHDDH staff and private service providers. In addition, a high-level chief operations officer will be hired to round out the leadership team.

As for her own future, Montanaro, 58, said she will take the summer off to recharge. She plans to visit her son and daughter-in-law in France, where the couple are expecting their first child.