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

By Gina Macris

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

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

Howard Cohen * Photo by Anne Peters

Howard Cohen * Photo by Anne Peters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disabled Have Civil Right To Services

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

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

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

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

Providers, Families, Seek $28.5 Million For Wages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agencies Can’t Afford New Clients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Semonelli * image courtesy of capitol tv

Semonelli * image courtesy of capitol tv

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of RI Capitol TV

Image courtesy of RI Capitol TV

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chart Courtesy of CPNRI

Chart Courtesy of CPNRI

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

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

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

chart courtesty of PHI and CPNRI

chart courtesty of PHI and CPNRI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Podrazik * Photo By Anne Peters

Mark Podrazik * Photo By Anne Peters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

· $1.3 million for increased costs of providing services

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

· $500,000 in other priorities.

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

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

  • $2.7 million for increased costs in providing services.

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

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

Moseley said all his figures were rounded off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kim Einloth Testifies

Kim Einloth Testifies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Kane Chats After The Commission Meeting

Tom Kane Chats After The Commission Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Citing According to Burns & Associates, McQuaide said:

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

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

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

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

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

Chart courtesy of RI SENATE FISCAL OFFICE

Chart courtesy of RI SENATE FISCAL OFFICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donna Martin and Andrew McQuaide

Donna Martin and Andrew McQuaide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. Anthony Antosh

A. Anthony Antosh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RI DD Advocates Warn Of 'Massive Retrenchment' From Proposed $21.4 Million Spending Reduction

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           All Photos by Anne Peters

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           All Photos by Anne Peters

Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island,  speaks during the Day Of Action, sponsored by the provider network. Standing, l to r, are Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, (D-Jamestown and Middletown); Rep. Dennis M. Canario, (D-Portsmouth, Little Compton and Tiverton), and Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi, (D-Narragansett and South Kingstown.  Seated on the steps below the State House Rotunda are advocates representing the service provider Spurwink RI. 

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island would see a “massive retrenchment” in services for adults with developmental disabilities if Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget is enacted for the next fiscal year, a spokeswoman for providers told members of the House Finance Committee at a hearing March 29.

Pam Goes 

Pam Goes 

In human terms, Raimondo’s plan to cut $21.4 million from current spending levels would diminish the quality of life for some 4,000 individuals whose care is already undercut by low wages and high turnover among caregivers, said Pam Goes of Warwick, who has two sons with developmental disabilities, including one who cannot express his needs verbally. 

Goes delivered the same message at a “Day of Action” in commemoration of March as Developmental Disability Awareness Month under the State House Rotunda in mid-afternoon as scores of adults with disabilities and their supporters lined the steps leading to the House and Senate.  

State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, told the crowd that “people with developmental disabilities have the ability to lead a full and prosperous life. That’s why I’m here.'

Rep. Teresa Tanzi, D-Narraganset and South Kingstown, said that for the compassionate work they do, the wages of direct care workers are an “injustice.”

Tanzi, who chairs the Human Services Subcommitte of the House Finance Committee, presided over the budget hearing later in the afternoon.

Of the overall $21.4 million reduction from current spending levels in the next fiscal year, $18.4 million would come from private the agencies that provide most of the services and $3 million would be taken from a state-operated system of group homes.

Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), did not mince words when she addressed Tanzi and other members of the House Finance Subcommittee.

She said “there is no way” that service providers will be able continue efforts to comply with new federal Medicaid regulations requiring integrated, community-based services and a 2014 federal consent decree that focuses on competitive employment for adults with developmental disabilities.

Needed Changes Are "Not Going To Happen" 

Compliance with the 2014 consent decree and the new Medicaid regulations, called the Home and Community Based Final Rule, depends on system-wide changes in the manner of care, and “that’s not going to happen” with an $18 million cut to private service providers, Martin said.

Instead, there will be a “tremendous reduction” in services, she said, with agencies forced to prioritize the health and safety individuals in their care. Employment –related services and the services necessary to provide community integration will suffer if the agencies must absorb an $18 million, Martin said. Workers’ hours and wages – which hover slightly above minimum wage – would be cut.

David Reiss, CEO of the Fogarty Center, the largest non-profit service provider in the state, said the agency simply cannot survive if the state imposes the $18.4 million reduction across the board. It represents about a 7 percent cut in spending. 

Reiss said he has closed five group homes in the past year, not because of a lack of demand but because he couldn’t find enough workers to staff them. Staff turnover is about 40 percent, he said. 

The starting wage at the Fogarty Center is $10.50 an hour, he said. Although the General Assembly has raised the pay for direct care workers slightly in the past two years, the minimum wage also has increased. It is now $10.10 and is scheduled to go up again next January to $10.50 an hour. Massachusetts has an $11.00 minimum wage and has agreed to pay direct care workers a minimum of $15 an hour beginning in July.

Raimondo’s budget includes no money for raising the wages of direct care workers this year, although a bill in the legislature would link increases in the minimum wage to raises for front-line staff, according to Martin, the CPNRI director.

High Staff Turnover Worries Parents

Pam Goes, the Warwick mother, discussed the impact of the high staff turnover on her non-verbal son.

“We feel like we are constantly starting over,” she said. Her son Paul needs to trust his caregiver, and that trust comes only with time and continuity of high quality care.

“It’s a difficult job for them to be on top of his moods ,” she said. “You need to get to know him,” she said. Paul will often test new staff to see how much he can get away with, she said, and he can become aggressive.

“I worry that there are so many people in and out of his life,” she said. “I worry that his communication is so limited. I especially worry about what happens when I’m gone,” she said.

“I want to advocate for a sustainable system where people live a good life,” she said. “It’s a lot of stress knowing the situation could become more untenable.”

About four thousand people receive services, she said, and “every family has a story like mine.”

Tom Kane, the CEO of AccessPoint Rhode Island, said Goes reminded him of the best compliment his agency ever received: “The work you did for our son allowed us to be the family we wanted to be."

A Call For More Funding

The budget is “about priorities. It’s about morality, and it’s about people” he said. “It should be about people.”

Kane called on the legislators to approve a proposed $15.3 million budget increase to cover cost overruns in the current fiscal year, as Raimondo has proposed, and then to add another $15 million in the budget cycle beginning July 1 to deal with a structural deficit and allow some growth.

Raimondo’s budget proposal does not acknowledge the structural deficit, he said. Instead her plan only temporarily grants additional funding, only to take it away in the next fiscal year.

The General Assembly approved total spending of $256.9 million for the current fiscal year. Raiimondo’s proposal would increase that figure to to $272.2 million. But in the fiscal year beginning July 1, her bottom line would drop to  $250.8 million. That figure is  $6.1 million less than the enacted budget and $21.4 million less than the temporary budget expansion Raimondo has proposed through June 30.

Kane presented figures which showed Rhode Island spends significantly less on adults with developmental disabilities than neighboring Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The State of the States in Developmental Disabilities, a research project sponsored by the University of Colorado, tracks residential costs for adults with intellectual challenges. In 2015, the latest year for which data is available, the national average for residents of institutions with 16 or more beds was $256, 400 per person.

  • Massachusetts spent $287,434 per person
  • Connecticut spent $403,496
  • Rhode Island spent nothing in that category. All those who would be in institutions in Massachusetts or Connecticut live in group homes in Rhode Island, Kane pointed out.

The average cost for group homes with six or fewer residents nationwide was $129,233 in 2015, according to the State of the States.

  • Massachusetts spent $170,682 per person
  • Connecticut spent $172,067 per person
  • Rhode Island spent $114,973 per person                                       

Kane said the average per-person cost in Rhode Island is skewed upward by the state-operated system of group homes. According to the House Fiscal Office, the average per-capita cost for 139 residents of the state operated system is $207,251.

In the privately-operated group homes, however, the state spends about $60,000 a year per person, Kane said. Roughly 1200 individuals live in houses run by private agencies like Access Point RI  and the Fogarty Center.

Controversy Continues over Assessment

Kane turned to a discussion of the Supports Intensity Scale, a controversial assessment methodology that uses lengthy interviews to determine the level of services needed by persons with developmental disabilities on a case-by-case basis. It was introduced in 2011, ostensibly to correct “special considerations” for individual clients that state officials said posed a problem because they were driving up costs, Kane said. 

Ironically, he said, the assessment has prompted many more appeals of individual funding than the number of “special considerations” that had been granted previously.

Some people see the assessment as a problem since it was revised in November, 2016, because it has it has led to larger awards, Kane said.  A House fiscal analysis says the new assessment has added $17 million to developmental disability costs in the first 12 months it was used. 

Kane said service providers believe that the results of the original assessment were “manipulated to back into a budget that didn’t accurately reflect the needs of people.”  

The revised assessment, the Supports Intensity Scale – A, is being used “far more appropriately now,” he said.

The House Fiscal Advisor, Linda Haley, noted a “moratorium” in the use of the SIS-A. The director of the agency responsible for developmental disabilities, Rebecca Boss, explained that it was temporary, to allow officials to review their implementation of the revised assessment. 

A total of 46 errors in funding were corrected (see related article) and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals continues to use the assessment for new entrants and for regularly-scheduled re-evaluations of clients. Boss said.

If an appeal includes documentation of changes in a person’s medical or behavioral needs that are likely to be long term, perhaps as part of the aging process, a client will receive a re-assessment with the SIS-A ahead of schedule, added Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities.

Kevin Nerney, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, discussed several initiatives that are intended to both improve services in compliance with federal law and cut costs over the long term.

But Rhode Island is not there yet, he said.

“We don’t want to destroy one system (of services) before creating a new one,” Nerney said. “We don’t want to leave people behind based on an arbitrary fiscal goal rather than the needs of people.”

He said he knows that some eligible individuals are unable to find services that fit their needs, alluding to an increase in the number of individuals who are receiving only case management  during the last couple of years. That figure jumped from 451 in 2016 to 643 this year.

“On paper, it may look like savings” for the state, Nerney said, but some of those families “are in crisis.”

 

Budget Testimony: Need For DD Raises Critical, Stable Services Demand Double Current Funding

tom Kane                         RI capitol tv Image

tom Kane                         RI capitol tv Image

By Gina Macris 

This article has been updated. 

As others had done before him, Tom Kane told members of the House Finance Committee that he “could not stress enough” the importance of the General Assembly approving an additional $6.1 million to lift the poverty-level pay of some 4,000 front-line employees of private agencies under contract with the state to care for adults with developmental disabilities.  

At the same time, Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, one of those private agencies, said in a hearing April 11 that the overall funding for developmental disabilities is only about 50 percent of what is needed for service providers to regain the financial stability they once had and help their clients receive the supports they need and deserve. 

All together Governor Gina Raimondo seeks General Assembly approval for raising the currently enacted developmental disability budget of $246.2 million by $10.5 million over the next 14 months, with $4.4 million of the increase applied before June 30. Another $6.1 million would be added for the fiscal year beginning July 1, for a total of $256.7 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018.

Kane explained to members of the Finance Committee’s Human Services Subcommittee, led by Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi, D-South Kingstown and Narragansett), the different kinds of pitfalls he saw in Raimondo’s attempts to offset the cost of the raises by cutting expenses in other areas – or not covering some necessary spending at all.  

For example, Kane said, AccessPoint had a $107,000 increase in health insurance rates this year. ”There is no money” to cover that cost, he said. “We spend almost $1.2 million in health insurance for 158 people,” he said.  Kane said he could not expect his employees, many of whom make less than $11 an hour, to contribute more to health insurance, so other adjustments were made. He did not elaborate. 

“But at some point there’s going to be a collision between all these additional costs” and direct care workers, Kane said. In written remarks, he said the “cost of other insurances, building maintenance, rent, vehicles, fuel and office supplies continue to increase, adding to the financial strain on organizations. These costs should not be seen as extraneous. They directly relate to our ability to focus our full attention on good quality service provision,” Kane said.

He also zeroed in on some line-item savings that Raimondo has budgeted to offset the cost of the second consecutive raise for direct care workers, particularly the plan to reduce group home costs by $2.1 million in state funds. That ongoing effort, driven by economic and policy considerations, aims to move group home residents to less costly shared living arrangements in private homes - a process that requires clients to actively agree to the change. 

During the transition, there must be a consideration for maintaining the living arrangements of the individuals left behind in the group homes, Kane said, recalling a case in which two of four people in one AccessPoint home opted for shared living. Because the agency could not afford to keep the house operating with only two residents, it sought supplemental funds from the Division of Developmental Disabilities for a few months to cover outstanding expenses while it figured out its long-range plan, Kane said. The home finally closed, he said.

The example illustrates how, during a transition, “you are balancing two systems at the same time, “ Kane said.

“If you don’t pay attention to the current system with the same amount of zeal as the new system, people will get lost,” he said.

In fact, the state so far has been unable to realize much savings from the emphasis on shared living, only $100,000 of a target of $2.6 million in state funds in the current fiscal year, according to officials of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Since last July, a total of 48 group home residents have committed to shared living. That figure is 18 shy of a target of 66 individuals for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, said that of the 48, 28 have moved since December, when the division began addressing issues that were barriers to shared living arrangements, like a need for physical modifications to some houses to make them more easily accessible, as well as extra medical and behavioral supports needed in the host homes. She said the division is also considering a range of other alternatives to group home living.

Ultimately, Kane said, a budget is a “representation of the values of our state.”  The care for people with disabilities and the salaries paid to caregivers either will reflect the dignity and respect afforded valuable members of society, or they won’t, Kane said.

 “I understand you have a lot of very difficult decisions to make,” he told the legislators, “and the numbers (revenues) aren’t looking great this year, which are going to make all those decisions even tougher.”

But Kane asked them to look at historical spending for developmental disability services, which he said are now only $9 million more than they were in 2010. In the meantime the demands of a 2014 federal consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as new Medicaid rules for Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), make the job of supporting individuals with disabilities much more complex and expensive, he said. 

Traditionally, he said, support has been provided in “congregate” settings, or facilities “where you have groups of ten people with one staff person. “

“Under the consent decree they have to be either at a job or in the community,” he said. Those settings demand ratios of one staffer for each client, or no more than three clients, depending on the circumstances, Kane said.  In addition, the consent decree requires job coaches to be trained to a specific certification. and trained workers will demand higher pay, Kane said.t

The latest statistics indicate the current average pay for direct care workers is $11.14 an hour, before taxes, a figure that reflects a raise of about 32 cents effective last July 1, according to Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), a trade association which represents 25 of some three dozen private providers of developmental disability services.

The hourly reimbursement rate the state pays the employers for direct care workers is $11.91, which includes both wages and most – but not all – of employers’ actual costs for overhead and fringe benefits. That figure is still lower than the hourly reimbursement rate of $12.03 the General Assembly authorized in July, 2011  at the same time it cut a total of $24 million for private provider services, according to a chart prepared by James Parisi of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals.

In October, 2011, three months after the General Assembly acted, BHDDH reduced the actual reimbursement rate to $10.66 an hour, according to Parisi’s calculations.  Since then, the rate has been climbing incrementally to its current level of $11.91.

Parisi represents workers at the Trudeau Center in Warwick, where the starting salary is now $10.71 an hour.

Tori Flis, a service coordinator at one agency, which she did not name, said that even though there has been a slight increase in wages in the last year, the turnover is “just as high.”

Martin, of CPNRI, put the average turnover at one out of three workers a year, or 33 percent, although it varies from one agency to another.  Employers are unable to fill one out of six vacancies, and it costs an agency an average of $4900 every time it must search for a replacement and train a new hire, Martin said.  

Markella Carnavalle, who works at Trudeau, described the impact that turnover can have on individuals with developmental disabilities.

One client, who had grown attached to a worker who had to leave, was “crying for weeks,” she said.

That person had behavioral issues and didn’t want to work or eat, Carnavalle said. The client believed the worker left because “they didn’t want to be with me,” Carnavalle said, but “you can’t say the person needed more money. They don’t look at it that way.”

“You become a part of their lives and they become a part of yours” over time, Carnavalle said.

Flis, meanwhile, said the workers she supervises all have two and three jobs to make ends meet. Some work as many as three consecutive 12-hour shifts at different agencies – a total of 48 hours straight.

Those kinds of conditions lead to burnout, abuse and neglect, Flis said. The only reason she can afford to work one job at Trudeau is that she is married to a teacher who has a good salary and fringe benefits, including a pension, Flis said.

In another part of the current budget,  BHDDH officials and the legislators disagreed on whether there is funding for a developmental disabilities ombudsman, a position approved by the General Assembly last year after a woman died in a state-run group home. The state-run residential system is separate from the private system. 

The legislators and a member of the House fiscal advisory staff, Linda Haley,  said a total of $170,000 had been included in the BHDDH budget for the position.

Representing BHDDH, Christopher Feisthamel, the chief financial officer, and Zanchi, the developmental disabilities director, both said they understood it was an “unfunded mandate.”  Haley and BHDDH officials spoke informally after the hearing but reached no agreement on the status of the position.

(This article has been updated to correct the total cost of health insurance for AccessPoint RI, which is $1.2 million, not $12 million, according to CEO Tom Kane.)

 

One In Six DD Jobs in RI Goes Unfilled; Raises Would Ease Crisis and Improve Service Quality

image by capitol tv 

image by capitol tv 

Kevin Nerney of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, left, and Maureen Gaynor, second from right, share pleasantries just before their testimony before the House Finance Committee on Feb. 8. Looking on are Gaynor's support worker, Melanie Monti, and Emmanuel Falck of the Service Employees International Union State Council.  Image by RI Capitol TV. 

By Gina Macris

Raising the pay of Rhode Islanders who serve adults with developmental disabilities is not only about helping these poverty-level workers pay their bills, according to testimony before the House Finance Committee Feb. 8.

The proposed raises also will reduce staff turnover and, in turn, improve the quality of life for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), told the legislators. 

Kerri Zanchi, the new director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, agrees with Martin’s assessment. Zanchi says the pay hike is not only an “investment in the direct service professional, but an investment in our community" and in high quality services.  

She estimates that the wage increase will amount to an average of 42 cents an hour, and says that provider agencies are now experiencing a staff turnover rate of about 33 percent.

Carol Dorros, the mother of a 21-year-old man with behavioral issues and other complex problems, knows firsthand the value of support staff retention. When her son was still in high school and receiving some adult services from a private agency, his support worker changed four times during a single academic year. As a result, he made “no progress” from September to June, Dorros said.

 Maureen Gaynor rolled up to the speakers’ table in a power chair and used a computerized voice to speak the text she had written with a “headstick,” a pointer attached to a band around her head.

These people deserve higher pay, Gaynor said, explaining that support staff sometimes must help with the most intimate care, such as bathing, dressing and using the toilet.

And she reminded the legislators that she would not have been able to attend the hearing without an aide willing to drive her to the State House and get her to the basement hearing room.

After she spoke, Kevin Nerney of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council reinforced her remarks:  “When you help someone eat, drink or bathe, you need to have a really good relationship with that person. We’re not talking about folding shirts at the Gap or flipping burgers at McDonald's,” said Nerney.

At AccessPoint RI, a service provider, the starting salary is $10 an hour, or $22,000 a year, said the agency’s executive director, Tom Kane. The average pay was $10.82 an hour until the current fiscal year, when the General Assembly set aside $5 million for raises for developmental disability workers – the first pay increases since 2006, Kane said.

The added funding resulted in a 36-cent hourly increase, raising the average to $11.18, according to calculations made by service providers and others.

When Kane reviewed the the roster of employees at the time his agency processed the raises last fall, he said he was heartbroken to find a 30-year employee who was to receive a total of $13.10, with the pay bump.

Kane and others indicated they believe that a “15 in 5” campaign to raise the pay of direct care workers to $15 in five years (by July 1, 2021), is simply not enough.

Kane alluded to a drive launched by State Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, last fall when he asked Governor Raimondo to include a raise for direct care workers in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year.. While she has done so, her $6.2 million set-aside for wages is about $$600,000 shy of what DiPalma requested.

Kane said raises should not only be based on a percentage increase.

 “A four or five percent increase on an insufficient wage is an insufficient increase,” he said.

If the minimum wage increases to $10.50 an hour, as Governor Raimondo has proposed, “and we give 5 percent” raises, Kane said, “we’re paying minimum wage again.”

Kane took issue with figures presented by Linda Haley of the House Fiscal Staff that the raises in the current budget also bumped up pay for supervisory personnel.

He said the raises all went to direct care workers, (as stipulated in current state budget.)  Some agencies, including AccessPoint, used other funding sources to provide raises or bonuses to supervisory employees.

At AccessPoint, Kane said, front-line supervisors spend half their time doing direct care anyway.

“It is incredibly important that this bill passes, hopefully with more money in it,” to support not only those providing direct care but people who perform other important tasks, like writing clients’ state-mandated individual support plans, which are akin to road maps for services that are specific to each client. Most of these employees “have not had a raise in 11 years,” he said. “I don’t know why they stay.”

Emmanuel Falck of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) State Council represents 270 workers at the Arc of Blackstone Valley. One of them, a 52- year-old woman with 20 years’ experience in the field, used to be able to make ends meet by working 60 to 65 hours a week, he said.

But after an 18-month bout with cancer, the most she can now work is 20 hours a week. And the last vacation she had was three days in Washington, D.C., in 2000, Falck said.

He said the proposed 42-cent increase to the hourly rate would be much appreciated, but the state needs to move faster to raise workers’ pay to a living wage.

“I urge this committee to bump it up as fast as possible,” he said, proposing a $15 hourly wage by 2019 instead of 2021. As it is, direct support workers living in Rhode Island will be able to cross the state line to neighboring Massachusetts and do the same work for $15 an hour on July 1, 2018, Falck said.

Donna Martin, the CPNRI director, said that developmental disability service providers face a “tremendous crisis” in competing for the same pool of workers who serve elderly clients, thanks to a growing number of aging baby-boomers.

On average, the 27 providers belonging to CPNRI cannot fill one in six job openings, creating a vacancy rate of about 16 percent, she said. During exit interviews, workers say that they love their jobs but can’t feed their families with what they are paid, according to Martin.

As a result of the vacancies, employers are forced to spend money on overtime that they would rather put into worker pay and training, Martin said.

“I appreciate your sensitivity to the struggles of our staff,” Martin told the finance committee members.  “They are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to quality.”

Chris Semonelli of Middletown, the father of a 14-year-old girl with autism, put some historical context around the discussion of the wage proposal.

From 2006 through 2011, the budget for developmental disability services was reduced 20 percent, Semonelli said, quoting a profile of the system written by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College in 2013. And the services are not designed with an eye toward results. In the current design, more money gives more of the same service, he said.

That said, Semonelli said he strongly supports Governor Raimondo’s proposed wage increase in the next budget, as well as the “15 in 5” campaign. The governor’s plan for the next fiscal year “is a start,” said Semonelli, who also is co-director of an advocacy group called Friends of the Disabled on Aquidneck Island.

Although Wednesday’s hearing sounded like a budget discussion, it focused only on Article 23 – one of 24 chapters in the overall fiscal package Raimondo has submitted to the General Assembly.

The provision would require a one-time increase in the base pay of direct care workers, “in an amount to be determined by the appropriations process” and also require the Office of Management and Budget to perform an audit to ensure that the raises go only to those workers. 

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

DD Service Provider Takes 'Wait and See' Attitude on Budget, Citing History of Disappointment

By Gina Macris

Until Rhode Island’s appropriation for developmental disabilities is released to the agency that administers it, the amount of money that is finally approved by the General Assembly will be  “just a number,” according to a member of the Employment First Task Force who follows legislative affairs.

photo by anne peters 

photo by anne peters 

Tom Kane, (left), CEO of AccessPoint RI, a provider of developmental disability services, said that in the past several years, there have been three unsuccessful attempts to raise the pay of support staff for adults with developmental disabilities.

All the extra money, between $4 million and $9 million in a single fiscal year, has gone instead to fill a structural deficit in the budget of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), Kane said.

On Wednesday, June 15, the House is expected to vote on an appropriation that would add $9.1 million for raises for about 4000 workers and create a new reimbursement method for some two dozen agencies providing most of the direct services for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.(

The budget proposal voted out of the House Finance Committee, however, does not include Governor Gina Raimondo’s request for $5.8 million for a caseload increase.

Kane indicated that amount of money could also represent the structural deficit in the next fiscal year's developmental disability budget. BHDDH officials say the deficit averages $4.6 a year.

Based on past experience, the money set aside for raises could once again be reserved to fill the deficit, Kane told the group.

The Employment First Task Force was created by a 2014 federal consent decree to serve as a bridge between the community and state governmental agencies that administer developmental disability services. The decree resulted from a federal investigation that found Rhode Island’s sheltered workshops violated the the integration mandate of the Americans with Disabilities Act., clarified in the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Mary Madden, the state’s consent decree coordinator, said, “People at the General Assembly are not into the consent decree at all.”

They don’t understand why developmental disability services cost so much, she said,  because they don’t understand “what it is to provide support 24 hours a day.”

Whatever figure is adopted – the current proposal has a bottom line of about $246 million dollars – the U.S. Department of Justice and an independent court monitor will review it. If either of them has the opinion it is not enough for the state to comply with the consent decree, they could ask the judge in the case to hold a show-cause hearing as to why the state should not be held in contempt.  

RI House Finance Chairman Asks Whether DD Services Really Need Money; Gets Emphatic Yes in Reply

Maureen Gaynor uses assistive technology to testify before the Rhode Island House Finance Committee May 26. She says people with disabilities want the same thing everyone else does; a job, a role in their communities, and purpose in their lives. To her left is Lisa Rafferty, executive director of Bridges, a disability service provider.

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s developmental disability agency needs more revenue in the next fiscal year because it will not come close to saving a target of $16.2 million in group home expenses, the agency’s director, Maria Montanaro, told the House Finance Committee in a hearing May 26.

Montanaro emphasized that after eight years of cost-cutting in the developmental disability budget, the state now needs to add revenue to ensure that Rhode Island residents who live with intellectual challenges get the Medicaid-funded services to which they are entitled by law.

The Committee chairman, Rep Marvin L. Abney, (D-Newport), wasn’t necessarily convinced by Montanaro’s testimony, asking rhetorically, “Is money really the problem?” 

ABNEY                                          Image by Capitol TV

ABNEY                                          Image by Capitol TV

“We’re going on and on and on and on,” Abney said. “I’ll leave you with this thought. It’s not a question, but we are concerned,  is money really the problem? When we’re talking about efficiencies to the system, is money always the answer to that? You don’t need to respond, but just think of that as a director,” he said.

Montanaro did not reply, but other witnesses did say a lack of money is a key factor in ongoing federal court oversight of the state’s compliance with a two-year-old consent degree in which Rhode Island agreed to bring its disabilities services in line with the Americans With Disabilities At (ADA).

The agreement, with the U.S. Department of Justice, requires the state to enable more persons with disabilities to work in regular jobs, rather than in “sheltered workshops.” The decree also requires the state to help persons with disabilities participate in other community-based activities.

In an order issued May 18, Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. laid out 22 short-term deadlines the state must meet. Missing even one of them could trigger a contempt of court hearing. If the state is found in contempt, the judge would require the state to pay a minimum of $1,000 a day for violations of the consent decree, or as much as $1 million a year.  

The first requirement in McConnell’s order is that “the State will appropriate the additional money contained in the Governor’s budget for fiscal 2017 in order to fund compliance with the Consent Decree.”

The subject of the House Finance Committee’s hearing was Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget amendments for the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH),  for 2016-2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

In all, Raimondo has requested $18.7 million in added revenue for developmental disabilities, offset by an accounting shift of $1.8 million in home health aide services from BHDDH to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Also on the table is a proposal for about $6.8 million in additional appropriations in the current fiscal year to address a current budget deficit in developmental disabilities. 

If the General Assembly approves the supplemental appropriation, the bottom line in BHDDH’s Division of Developmental Disabilities would increase from $230.9 million to $237.7 million before June 30. Raimondo’s request for an additional $16.9 million in the coming fiscal year would push the overall disabilities budget up to $254.6 million, with about half that amount coming from state coffers. 

In fiscal 2016-2017, Raimondo seeks to make up $10.2 million of the $16.2 million she originally envisioned saving in reduced group home costs.

The governor also wants an additional $9.2 million in funding to raise salaries for staff who work with adults with intellectual challenges, or $4.1 million more than she asked for in February. 

In addition:

  • $180,000 would be set aside for an ombudsperson to protect the rights of persons with developmental disabilities
  • ·4.4 million would be restored to the BHDDH budget to prevent the inadvertent loss of professional services like occupational and physical therapy for some persons with developmental disabilities.

All the money comes from Medicaid, with a roughly dollar-for-dollar match in federal and state spending.

Montanaro, the BHDDH director, said adequate funding of developmental disabilities in the next budget would prevent BHDDH from running a deficit every year.

The developmental disability caseload, 4,000 to 4200 annually, also should be included in calculations of the state’s semi-annual Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference to prevent unexpected surprises in the budget, she said. 

Montanaro                                                               Image by Capitol TV

Montanaro                                                               Image by Capitol TV

The twice-yearly conference is a forum for top fiscal advisors to the Governor, the House and the Senate to reach consensus on the state’s revenues and Medicaid caseload expenses for the coming budget year.  

Montanaro said the $9.1 million in raises for direct care workers are necessary to satisfy the consent decree.

Without being able to offer higher pay, the private agencies that provide most of the direct services won’t be able to re-direct their efforts toward supporting their clients in jobs as the consent decree requires, Montanaro explained.

Workers make an average of about $11.50 an hour, often less than the clients they support in jobs in fast food restaurants, according to testimony at the hearing.

BHDDH originally counted on achieving $16.2 million in savings in the next fiscal year by convincing hundreds of group home residents to move into less expensive shared living arrangements with individual families, Montanaro said.

However, that effort has encountered resistance by individuals and families who find safety and security in group home living, she said.

Since BHDDH began what Montanaro described as a “full court press” on shared living at the beginning of this year, 10 group home residents have moved into private homes with host families, according to BHDDH statistics.

There are now 288 adults with developmental disabilities in shared living – an option that has been available for a decade in Rhode Island – and about 1300 persons living in group homes in Rhode Island.

Tobon                                                           Image by Capitol TV 

Tobon                                                           Image by Capitol TV 

When Montanaro originally testified in January about the plan to shift to shared living, it was in the context of closing a projected $6 million deficit in the current fiscal year.

Recalling that testimony, Rep. Carlos E. Tobon, (D-Pawtucket), a Finance Committee member, said he had been “really concerned” about the timetable.

“You had to sit over there and pretty much, not  convince us, but tell us that this is what you were going to do,” Tobon said. “What was your confidence in actually achieving that?”

“I think I was very clear with the committee that it was a very aggressive approach,” Montanaro replied.

“But the problem, Representative, that I want you to understand, is that we are mandated by (state) law to come up with a corrective action plan” to close a budget deficit, she said.

The choice was either to continue the eight-year pattern of cutting benefits or eligibility, while the federal court watched “the crumbling of that system,” Montanaro said, or to try to get savings by encouraging persons with disabilities to move into more integrated living arrangements.

Montanaro described it as a “Sophie’s Choice,” a dramatic allusion to a forced decision being forced to decide between two terrible options.

 “We knew we might have to come back and tell you our actual experience with that,” she said alluding to the fact that the short-term shared living effort has fallen far short of the goal.

 A gradual shift toward shared living is in keeping with a broad, long-range federal mandate to desegregate services for individuals with a variety of disabilities, but it does not address the Rhode Island consent decree, Montanaro said.

 
In the past several months, as the federal court watched BHDDH spending nearly all its efforts to try to save more money instead of working on the employment requirements of the consent decree, Montanaro said, the judge and the court monitor in the case became “very worried.”

The monitor, Charles Moseley, has said that timing is critical.

Unless the state meets certain benchmarks now, Moseley has said in reports to the court, it will not be able to fulfill the long-range requirements of the consent decree, which calls for a ten-year, system-wide shift from segregated to integrated day time supports for adults with developmental disabilities to comply with the ADA. The decree, signed April 8, 2014, expires Jan. 1, 2024. 

Montanaro said that concerns of the monitor and the judge over the state’s emphasis on cost-cutting instead of the consent decree requirements prompted a recent court order that spells out conditions under which Rhode Island could be fined as much as $1 million this year for contempt. 

In her testimony before the House Finance Committee, Montanaro drove home her point.

“The last thing I’ll say about it is that we really can’t afford to direct all of our departmental activity toward an effort that isn’t actually the effort that the consent decree is obligating us to pay the most close attention to, which is the employment issue,” Montanaro said.

“Judge McConnell and the court monitor want to see the state of Rhode Island make the necessary financial investments in transforming the system, and you can’t transform everything at once,” she said, alluding to Moseley’s concerns about timing.

Montanaro continued to explain, but that’s when Abney, the committee chairman, interrupted, asking his rhetorical question: “Is money really the problem?” 

Later in a hearing that lasted nearly two hours, Tom Kane, CEO of a private service agency, and Kevin Nerney, associate director of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council, each told Abney that “it is about the money.”

Nerney said, “Whether I think it’s about money, or whether anyone else thinks it’s about money, there’s a federal court judge that thinks it’s about money, and the Department of Justice does, as well.”

Kane, CEO of AccessPoint RI, said “The reason the DOJ is here is a money problem,” he said. “We have jobs available for people (with disabilities) waiting to work,” he said, but providers of developmental disability services can’t hire the support staff “to make that happen,” he said.

Of 77 job applicants at AccessPoint RI during the month of April, 35 refused a job offer because of the low pay, Kane said. “They tell me they can make more sitting home collecting” unemployment benefits, he said.

Serpa                                                  Image by RI Capitol TV 

Serpa                                                  Image by RI Capitol TV 

As he has testified at previous State House hearings on the developmental disabilities budget, Kane said private service providers operate at an average loss of about $5,000 a year for each person they employ. 

Rep. Patricia A. Serpa, (D-West Warwick, Coventry and Warwick), asked whether executives of developmental disability agencies have received raises while their workers have been paid low wages in recent years.

Kane said he gave all AccessPoint RI employees a 3 percent raise in January, the first time since 2006. At the start of the 2011-2012 fiscal year, after the General Assembly voted to cut $24 million from the developmental disabilities budget, everyone took a 7.5 percent pay cut, he said.

Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, CPNRI, said all the member agencies that cut pay that year started at the top.

A review of IRS reports from organizations exempt from taxes shows that executives of developmental disability agencies with budgets less than $5 million make 25 percent less than those of other non-profit agencies in Rhode Island, Martin said.

In developmental disability agencies with budgets greater than $5 million, the executives make 30 percent less than those of other non-profit organizations in the state, she said.

Kane, meanwhile, asked the committee to think of the governor’s budget proposal as a “jobs request.”

KanE                                                    ImAge by Capitol TV 

KanE                                                    ImAge by Capitol TV 

Kane submitted a copy of research done by the University of Massachusetts Amherst which indicates that every million dollars invested in disability services in Rhode Island creates a total of 25 jobs. Based on that research, Kane said later, the $9 million Raimondo has requested to raise pay for direct care workers would translate into a total of 225 jobs.

Kane also said the state should “braid” funding from BHDDH with the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the state Department of Human Services (ORS) to fund “employment teams” that would be more effective than the two agencies working separately to try to do the same thing.

That idea came out of recent discussions between state officials and private agencies about a system-wide redesign of services, Kane said.

Bob Cooper, executive secretary of the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities, said he would add the state Department of Labor and Training (DLT) as another “braid” in Kane’s analogy.

Federal rehabilitation dollars channeled through DLT reimburse the state 78 cents for every dollar the state spends; a better deal than the 50-50 match from the Medicaid program, he said.

The federally-funded Disability Employment Initiative, a workforce development demonstration grant run by DLT, “was making a difference” before the grant ended and the program shut down March 30, Cooper said.

If the state is to comply with the consent decree, disability-related job supports involving BHDDH and ORS must be merged with DLT, the state’s primary economic development agency, Cooper said.

 

 

DD Budget Plan Scales Back Shared Living Expansion in Rhode Island

Hearing Highlights Two Systems of Care

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s developmental disabilities agency has sharply scaled back plans to move residents of group homes to less-expensive shared living arrangements, a strategy to free state money for measures required in a 2014 consent decree to remedy violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

That information emerged at a RI House Finance subcommittee hearing Tuesday, April 12 on the budget of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

 The hearing by the Human Services subcommittee lasted more than three hours, covering public comments on behavioral healthcare, mental health, and state hospitals as well as developmental disabilities. Even at that length, some who came to testify did not have a chance to speak before the schedule was overtaken by another budget hearing that started late in the afternoon. 

As a consequence, legislators did not hear about the 2014 consent decree under review in U.S. District Court. JudgeJohn J. McConnell, Jr. said on April 8 that he will hold the General Assembly responsible, if necessary, for funding  reforms to integrate persons with disabilities in their communities as required by the ADA.  

The hearing did draw comments highlighting differences between Rhode Island’s two systems of care for people with developmental disabilities: Care provided through private agencies and care provided through state-run group homes. 

Representatives of private agencies that would provide most of the services required by the consent decree pressed for a provision in Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget plan that would providea wage increase of 45 cents an hour for workers who are so underpaid they must hold down two or three jobs to survive. 

Union representatives for employees at state-run group homes, on the other hand, said that the plan to shift residents of group homes into shared living arrangements to provide more funding for the private agencies would come at the expense of their union jobs. 

Shared Living Target Number Cut

In February, when Raimondo submitted a combined budget proposal for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next one, ending June 30, 2017, she proposed transferring a total of 500 people, about 38 percent of all group home residents, into shared living. 

On Tuesday, when a member of the House fiscal staff presented the BHDDH budget, the target number of 500 had been rolled back to 300 for the same 15-month period.

The original number had been widely described as very aggressive, especially in light of the fact that shared living is a mutual decision between the developmentally disabled individual and the private family that takes time to evolve, according to experts. 

In the month of March, 10 people with disabilities moved from group homes to shared living, bringing the total number of individuals living in private homes to 288 statewide, according to Linda M. Haley, a member of the House fiscal staff. 

BHDDH has budgeted a proposed 46 percent cut, or $15.5 million, to a system of 27 state-run group homes, with the current budget of about $33.2 million reduced to about $17.8 million in the next fiscal year, beginning July 1. 

The group home population at the state-run homes, currently 180, would be cut in half, with 90 remaining at the end of the next fiscal year, according to budget detail presented by Haley of the fiscal staff. 

Her presentation projected a total of $13 million in savings from group home residents in both the public and private system moving to shared living arrangements in the next fiscal year. 

Rep. Eileen Naughton, D-Warwick, chair of the human services subcommittee, asked the mother of a man with autism living in a group home what she thought of shared living. 

“I’m not a fan of it for my son,” said Robin Archambault. Besides autism, her son, Ryan, has a developmental disability and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she said. 

Tory Flis, the manager of the home where Ryan Archambault lives, said “shared living is a wonderful level of support for some people, but it won’t work for everyone. “It has viability, but what is really needed is more person-centered services.” 

Personal choice through an individualized plan of support is at the heart of the consent decree, which derives its authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court affirmed the right of individuals with disabilities to live, work, and play in the least restrictive environment that is appropriate. 

Crisis in Staffing Direct Services

The direct support staff at the private agencies who would carry out the requirements of the consent decree are paid an average of about $11.55 an hour, according to the state’s figures.  

Tom Kane, a spokesman for 23 private agencies providing most of the direct care in Rhode Island, told the legislators that employees now average $10.77 an hour.  At those wages, the workers must hold down two and three jobs to make ends meet, according to Kane, group home manager Flis, and others in the field. 

Archambault, the mother of the man with autism, said the high turnover “saddens me.” The workers “are getting burned out” and leaving, she said. “As a parent, this scares me.” 

Kane, who is executive director of Access Point RI, said a living wage for a parent with one child at home is nearly $22 an hour. Among the developmental disability agencies, 48 percent of employees qualify for public assistance, and there’s a 33 percent turnover rate, he said. With each replacement, agencies put in about $5,000 in training, he said. 

Kane said the state reimbursement rate is so low that the private agencies operate at a loss of $5,700 a year for each person on the payroll because the state does not cover the full amount of employer-related taxes and benefits. 

Governor Raimondo’s proposed 45- cent hourly wage increase for direct service staff is “very generous,” Kane said, “I still believe it is insufficient.” With the raise, agencies would still operate at a loss for each person they employ, although it would be reduced to about $4,500 a year, he said. 

“In Rhode Island, like the rest of the country, there is a real crisis” in providing direct service for people with developmental disabilities, he said. 

“As was stated earlier,” Kane said, “you can go to a fast food restaurant and make more money. Why would you not want to do that?” 

“We are basically flat-funded where we were in 2006,” Kane said. 

“We have had positive work experiences with this administration,” he said, referring to BHDDH director Maria Montanaro and her deputies. 

“We ask that you support the Governor’s budget” and add “any other money you can find” to alleviate the crisis in the developmental disability service system, Kane said.                                                                           

State Employees Fear for Their Jobs

Jim Cenerini, legislative affairs coordinator for Rhode Island Council 94 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, spoke for nearly 300 state employees  who staff the state-run group homes.  

He said the proposed cut of nearly 50 percent of the state group home budget has created a great deal of unease among workers fearful they may lose their jobs. “I’m not sure how this is happening without closure of a group home or layoffs,” he said. 

“We support the private providers, but this looks like it would destroy our capacity to provide care,” Cenerini said. 

He said higher costs in the state-run homes reflect the needs of patients who are generally older and tend to be more medically compromised than in the private system, but costs also reflect “former Ladd employees who have strong union representation.” 

He said BHDDH has not explained to the union how the proposed budget cut would play out. 

In response to a reporter’s question shortly after Raimondo announced her budget proposal, BHDDH officials said that RICLAS employees displaced by group home residents moving to shared living would be able to transfer to vacant jobs. 

Cenerini said BHDDH wanted to move all residents of state-run facilities into the private system last year, but the union negotiated two cost-cutting agreements instead. The state never acted fully on those agreements, he said. 

“We are willing to make efficiencies, but we have to have an honest partner,” he said.