By Gina Macris
The most recent meeting of Rhode Island’s “Project Sustainability” commission Aoril 25 left members surprised by news that an outside review of Rhode Island’s rates and reimbursement methods for private providers of developmental disability services will not conclude with consultants making dollars-and-cents recommendations for a new scale of payments.
In a follow-up question, Developmental Disability News asked officials of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to elaborate on the reasons for the approach it has taken in commissioning the outside review, which is intended to help the state meet the requirements of a 2014 federal civil rights decree..
In a statement, a spokesman said the department is looking for the “best strategies” for developing and paying for an “integrated and individualized system of services” - characteristics which would comply with the consent decree.
That decree draws on the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, which reinforced the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The existing reimbursement system for private agencies led to over-reliance on facility-based care and sheltered workshop employment, in violation of the integration mandate, according to findings of the U.S. Department of Justice, which laid the groundwork for the consent decree. The fee-for-service reimbursement system, called Project Sustainability, resulted to significant pay cuts for direct care workers, high turnover and a high rate of job vacancy.
“Determining how to stabilize the workforce and what to pay direct care workers is a broad question that touches on many moving parts,” said Randal Edgar, the BHDDH spokesman.
The salary of workers, called “direct support professionals,” is an important part of the rate structure, but there are other costs which are “vital to a provider’s enhanced functioning,” Edgar said. He listed these costs:
connection and liaison with community
“Asking the consultants to determine just one of the vital elements would not meet the overall financial needs of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities system. We are looking for the consultant to identify best strategies for providing an integrated and individualized system of services and help us develop best strategies to pay for that system. But we do not think it is the consultant’s job to say what direct care workers should be paid,” Edgar said.
Anyone who has questions about the rate review may submit them to BHDDH.AskDD@bhddh.ri.gov, Edgar said. (Please copy and paste the email address.)
Meanwhile, the special legislative commission studying Project Sustainability will meet Monday at 2 p.m. in the Senate Lounge of the State House, according to its chairman, Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown.
DiPalma said the session will focus on members’ recommendations for changes to better enable adults with developmental disabilities to live the lives they want with the supports they need.