RI Consent Decree Judge Wants To Sharpen Focus On DD Services That Encourage Integration

By Gina Macris

For nearly three years, the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island has monitored the state’s progress in implementing a federal civil rights consent decree that seeks to integrate adults facing intellectual or developmental challenges with their communities, detailing the progress made and work yet to be done.

With the 2014 consent decree nearing the middle of its 10-year run, and an earlier, more limited companion agreement designed to expire in July, 2020, Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. has asked participants to come to court next time with a different approach.

In a hearing Oct.30, McConnell asked an independent court monitor, lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice and state officials to come to court next time with a focus on the areas of greatest concern and to be prepared with recommendations for what the Court can do other than monitor developments.

On Oct. 30, he boiled down the core issues into two parts.

  • Each person protected by the consent decree should have a thoughtful long-range plan for a career that reflects his or her unique needs, preferences and goals.

  • Actual services funded by the state should fit with the goals of the individualized career development plan.

To be sure, McConnell praised the “tremendous progress” made by the state, including the closure earlier this year of the last sheltered workshop. He also heard about increases in supported employment, the growth of a quality improvement unit aimed at assuring all services meet high standards, and cooperation among state officials and private providers. Providers have said in recent months that their working relationship with state officials is better than it has been in many years.

At the same time, problems persist in finding jobs for young adults and in providing high quality personalized support services for non-work activities that typically take up the majority of individuals’ time, according to the testimony McConnell heard.

Continuing concerns about inadequate funding surfaced during the Oct. 30 hearing when the independent monitor, Charles Moseley, described a visit he and another consultant had with state officials and 16 providers in early August.

In a report filed with the Court hours before the hearing, Moseley said “significant numbers” of the providers indicated that they continue to run deficits in key areas and that funding allocations for individual services are insufficient to cover the costs of the services that must be provided.

Among major barriers to providing services, 94 percent cited transportation, 88 percent pointed to a lack of funding and complicated billing procedures for reimbursement, and 69 percent highlighted high staff turnover and poor job retention.

All these factors become particularly problematic when the state and the federal government are asking providers to undertake more staff training to gain expertise in the principles and practice of individualization, to enroll more young adults as clients, and to provide individualized support in the community as each of their charges goes to different job sites and engages in non-work activities in various places.

According to the consent decree, all young adults who left high school between 2013 and 2016 – those seeking adult services for the first time - were to be offered employment by July 1, 2016. But the state still hasn’t fulfilled that requirement, even after the deadline was extended to Sept. 30 of this year.

Moseley reported that on Sept. 29, the state had achieved 77 percent of that goal, or 257 job placements out of an “employment census” of 334 young adults.

Victoria Thomas, the DOJ lawyer, said she believes the state is using effective strategies to reach out to the remaining young adults and will monitor the situation.

She said DOJ lawyers visited the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School recently and while they were generally delighted with the transformation, they were surprised to learn “how few high school students exited directly into supported employment.”

Students at the Birch Academy are protected by the predecessor to the 2014 statewide consent decree, called the Interim Settlement Agreement. The agreement, signed in 2013, was limited to addressing the use of the Birch high school program as a feeder to a now-defunct sheltered workshop in North Providence called Training Through Placement.

Thomas said that, according to the Interim Settlement Agreement, students who turn 18 should have the support they need to make the transition to work or actually hold a job while they are still in school.

Thomas said she wants to address the transition issue in the time remaining for the Interim Settlement Agreement, which is to end July 1, 2020.

All parties to the settlement must be in “substantial compliance” with the Interim Settlement Agreement a year before it expires. What substantial compliance looks like might be different for the state than for the Providence School Department, said Thomas, telling the judge that the DOJ will prepare some recommendations on the matter.

The city has met virtually every target set out by the Interim Settlement Agreement and earned McConnell’s praise. “Keep it up,” he said.

The state is responsible to the court for the work done by the private service providers under the terms of both the Interim Settlement Agreement and the statewide consent decree.

The providers’ performance got mixed reviews from Moseley and another consultant, William Ashe, who in early October analyzed a small random sample of plans, looking for the degree to which they were individualized and how they compared to the actual services provided.

The consultants expected the providers to use a guide on “person-centered thinking” developed by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College to formulate plans that put a particular person’s needs, preferences, and goals at the center of the planning process.

In 10 of the 17 plans, participants chose non-work activities from a menu of offerings that rotated on a weekly schedule, according to Ashe. But this kind of choice is not considered “person-centered” because the participants were not able to consider the the full range of opportunities available in the community.

“It is fair to say that the implementation of person-centered planning remains a work in progress where there has been significant but uneven advances in the development of person-centered planning practices. There remains a significant amount of work yet to be done,” Ashe wrote.

He found other instances in which plans indicated individuals had significant problems in communication. But neither the plans nor the actual services addressed ways in which communication could be improved.

“Frequently, there were clear instances of personal preference identified in the planning process that did not appear to be reflected in the services that were actually happening, Ashe said.

For example, one man indicated he wanted to learn to read and use a computer, but none of the goals written in his plan responded to that request.

Some of the plans reviewed were for clients of Easter Seals Rhode Island, formerly Community Work Services, an agency that nearly lost its license to operate in 2017 but has made a dramatic turnaround during the last year.

Ashe said “there are still very substantial steps that need to be taken in order to get this organization to an acceptable level of “person-centeredness” and to some extent, the same applies to other agencies.

Agencies should “diversify” the way that integrated day services are provided, he said.

From what Ashe observed, he said, it felt like community agencies like the YMCA and a bowling alley were becoming “a little bit like a day program” as staff and clients from one or more service providers gathered in the same place at the same time.

At the bowling alley, staff from several agencies sat together with their clipboards and watched the bowlers, Ashe said.

Based on a review of documents and direct observations, Ashe said, “there is a significant ongoing need for continued training on person-centered planning with an emphasis on how to take a plan and put it into action.”

“A good person-centered plan by itself does not produce good person-centered outcomes. How to individualize and implement these plans needs to be a focus for training,” Ashe concluded.

Read the full monitor’s report here.

Court Monitor Says Court Order Not Needed To Ensure RI DD Funding; State Budget To Move Forward Thursday In House Finance Committee

By Gina Macris

An independent court monitor has advised a federal judge that a court order isn’t necessary to ensure adequate funding and staffing for Rhode Island’s developmental disability services.

In a June 1 report to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court, the monitor, Charles Moseley, cited recent assurances from Governor Gina Raimondo that revisions will be made to the state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to enable the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to continue implementing a 2014 consent decree correcting violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA.)  

After a positive report from the semi-annual Revenue Estimating Conference May 10, House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello and Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio took the lead in promising to restore $18.4 million in reimbursements to private service providers that Raimondo had originally eliminated from her budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1.  Raimondo's original proposal had been unacceptable to Moseley, who had told McConnell in April that the cut would leave BHDDH unable to maintain consent decree reforms.  

The May  Revenue Estimating Conference concluded the state would take in a total of $135 million more than had been previously projected to close out the existing budget and to fund the next one, but Mattiello warned that extra cash should not be viewed as a panacea, because of multiple demands on the state’s resources.

Those obligations could include an estimated $24 million in federal and state Medicaid funds the state has not budgeted for retroactive payments to nursing homes. Whether the state must make those payments is wrapped up in a lawsuit brought by nursing home operators in state court over reductions in reimbursements imposed by the Raimondo administration.

The nursing homes prevailed in the litigation and the state failed to file a timely appeal, with the administration blaming a lawyer at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services who simply missed a May 23 filing deadline. The state is now trying to convince the judge in the case to accept an appeal anyway.  

Payments to nursing homes would eat up about $12 million in state revenue, or 8 percent of the $135 million in extra state revenue lawmakers had been planning to use to fill holes in the budget – including reimbursements to private providers of developmental disability services. (The remainder of the retroactive payments would come from the federal government's share of the Medicaid program.) 

The revised budget is scheduled to go before the House Finance Committee the evening of Thursday, June 7.

Besides an enhanced bottom line on funding, the court monitor will be looking for the addition of three BHDDH employees to staff a quality improvement unit which is deemed critical to ensuring that current and future reforms adhere to consent decree standards.

It is not immediately clear how those three added staffers would be used. As late as the first week of May, the monitor and BHDDH officials had been at odds about both the number of officials needed in the quality improvement unit and their respective roles.   

The consent decree gets its authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that Title II of the ADA requires services for disabled individuals to be offered in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate. That environment is presumed to be the community.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice cited Rhode Island’s overreliance on sheltered workshops and adult day care programs as violations of  Title II of the ADA. In the consent decree, the state agreed to ten years of federal oversight while it transforms the segregated system of daytime services to an integrated one based in the community.

This article has been corrected to show that, depending on a judge's final ruling, half of an unbudgeted $24 million in retroactive payments to Rhode Island nursing home operators would come from state revenue.

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

By Gina Macris

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

Boss - RI CApitol tv

Boss - RI CApitol tv

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

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

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

Conley - RI CAPITOL TV 

Conley - RI CAPITOL TV 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Day Of Action' Planned At RI State House To Raise Disability Awareness - And Alarms About Budget

By Gina Macris

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, celebrated across the nation, will come to the Rhode Island State House in a “Day of Action” Thursday, March 29.

Adults who face intellectual challenges in daily living plan to celebrate their accomplishments. But they and their supporters also want to raise an alarm about the damage they say proposed budget cuts will cause to the services they need to live full lives.

The “Day of Action” is aimed at lobbying legislators over what advocates say is a looming crisis. Late in the afternoon, after the House adjourns, a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee is scheduled to hear Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal.

The budget would eliminate $18.4 million in current costs from the private service system that supports most adults with developmental disabilities in Rhode Island, says Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI), sponsor of the “Day of Action. “

On Thursday evening, Advocates in Action will host a meeting in Warwick that will feature adults with developmental disabilities encouraging their peers to speak up for their right to individualized services that is embedded in the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  (Read related article here.) 

The individualized  approach is inherently costlier than the congregate care Rhode Island has depended on in the past in sheltered workshops and day centers. 

But the right to individual choice is mandated by the state’s 2014 Olmstead consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. And the judge in the case, John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court, has signaled from the bench that he will be watching budget deliberations.

Among service providers, some officials say privately that their agencies are teetering on the brink of insolvency as a result of several years of underfunding in which the state has failed to cover their costs and they’ve exhausted any reserves they might have had.

The budget, if enacted, would be “untenable,” said the CEO of one service agency, who asked not to be identified publicly.

Family members say the issue is not just about the service agencies.

David and Marcia Graves, parents of a woman with cerebral palsy, said in a statement that the spending cuts “will put the emotional and physical well-being of our daughter and others in jeopardy.”

A drastically reduced budget would make the difficult job of recruiting and retaining qualified direct care workers impossible, the Graveses said in a statement released by the CPNRI.

Raimondo’s calculations suggest that the governor’s office and the developmental disabilities agency, BHDDH, are not reading from the same page of figures.

Martin, the executive director of CPNRI, put it another way. She said that Raimondo’s budget, like the proposals of governors before her, does not address a structural deficit in developmental disabilities, instead continuing a cycle of chronic underfunding and deficit spending.

Here are the numbers:   

The developmental disabilities budget the General Assembly enacted last summer for the current fiscal year allows $256.9 million in spending.

 Raimondo would raise current spending to $272.2 million – an increase of $15.3 million to cover a cost overrun. 

For the fiscal year beginning July 1, Raimondo would drop the bottom line to $250.8 million. The difference would be $21.4 million, including $18.4 million that would come from private providers and $3 million that would come from state-operated group homes.

Viewed another way, Raimondo’s bottom line of $250.8 million is $6.1 million less than the currently authorized spending level of $256.9 million.

All the money comes from the federal-state Medicaid program, with the federal government providing a little more than 50 cents on the dollar.

Budget officials who briefed reporters on Governor Raimondo’s overall fiscal proposal in January emphasized her efforts to close a projected $200 million deficit in the next fiscal year while promising that Medicaid recipients, including those with developmental disabilities, will not see a reduction in services. 

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which advises the governor, was asked how it approached BHDDH spending as it set a target for the next fiscal year.

OMB “makes adjustments based on estimated growth rates in the cost of providing services,” said a spokeswoman, but she acknowledged that those estimates did not take into account the current, actual costs.

The spokeswoman said that OMB worked from the $256.8 million budget enacted last year for the existing budget cycle and incorporated “personnel and entitlement adjustments,” like a slight increase in the federal reimbursement rate for state Medicaid expenditures, as well as “certain trend growth rates.”

From there, OMB applied a 10 percent reduction, as it has across the board for all state agencies, to deal with the state’s overall projected $200 million deficit, she said. (Raimondo still found money for new programs.)

One hurdle faced by BHDDH in presenting its case for funding that it is not represented at a twice-yearly meeting at which officials grapple with trends in Medicaid spending, even though the department's services are entirely funded by the federal-state program. 

In November and May, the State Budget Director meets with the fiscal advisers of the House and Senate in the caseload estimating conference to reach consensus on the latest Medicaid expenses and provide updated information for budget projections. 

The law setting up the caseload estimating confernce excludes both BHDDH and the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), another agency funded by Medicaid. Companion bills pending in the House and Senate would require both BHDDH and DCYF to participate. 

The most recent caseload estimating conference was in early November, about three weeks after BHDDH submitted its budget to OMB. 

At the time, BHDDH had about a year’s experience with a revised assessment method that determines the individualized level of service authorized for adults with developmental disabilities. The result was an added $17 million in developmental disability costs, according to a report of the House fiscal staff.

Raimondo’s budget summary suggests that BHDDH has been reviewing the validity of the assessment. But BHDDH director Rebecca Boss said in an interview in January that “it’s probably a misnomer to call it a validation of the SIS-A.” She referred to the acronym for the assessment, called the Supports Intensity Scale –A.

The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, the developer of the instrument, “have a scientifically rigorous study that this is a valid tool,” Boss said.

“For us, it was validation of our implementation of the SIS-A, not necessarily the tool itself. It’s a validation of our implementation, and that’s probably a better way to say it,” she said.

BHDDH found 46 cases in which the assessment resulted in individual authorizations that were higher than warranted. Boss said those authorizations were corrected, and all the social workers who do the assessments were retrained in how and when to ask supplemental questions that might lead to higher funding.

“We’re not planning to discontinue using the SIS-A,” she said. “We are planning to make sure we are using it correctly.”

In other words, the prime driver of higher per-person costs for developmental disability services is not going away.

And it will take several years before all adults with developmental disabilities  - some 3700 receiving services - have all been assessed using the new SIS-A.

From 2011 until November, 2016, BHDDH had been using the predecessor to the SIS-A, which was enmeshed in controversy, with accusations by families and providers that assessors humiliated them and the state manipulated results to artificially depress funding authorizations. 

Successful appeals of individual funding allocations cost the state more and more money until the supplemental payments reached a total of about $23 million in the last fiscal year.

The U.S. Department of Justice has criticized the way the state used the original SIS in findings that led to the 2014 consent decree. Two years later, in May, 2016,  the SIS figured in a multi-faceted compliance order issued by Judge McConnell.

He said state policy must require all assessments to be conducted “in a manner that is consistent with individuals’ support needs, separate and apart from resource allocations.”

Six months later, the state inaugurated the SIS-A. Martin, the CPNRI director, said her membership tells her the SIS-A still poses some challenges to families, but it is far more accurate than the previous version. 

 

 

 

RI ORS Official Queried About 28 In Olmstead Consent Decree Population Waiting For Services

By Gina Macris

The names of 28 adults with developmental disabilities, ostensibly protected by a 2014 federal consent decree mandating they receive job-related services, are nevertheless on a waiting list for assistance from the Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services. That figure is 5 more than ORS reported as of Feb. 1.

Joseph Murphy                   Photo By Anne Peters 

Joseph Murphy                   Photo By Anne Peters 

Joseph Murphy, vocational rehabilitation administrator for ORS, gave an update on the waiting list Feb. 13 when he attended the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force, a group created by the consent decree which is representative of individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and community organizations working with them.

The waiting list had a total of 399 names as of Feb. 7, according to an ORS web page, with most of the affected individuals having a wide variety of significant disabilities.

Of that group, the 28 individuals at the center of the discussion at the task force meeting have developmental disabilities, physical or intellectual challenges that have been present since birth or childhood. These applicants for ORS services are supposed to have legal protection through the Olmstead consent decree against having any waiting period for services – a fact pointed out by Deb Kney, Director of RI Advocates in Action. The consent decree derives its name from the U.S. Supreme Court decision which clarified the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Murphy said the consent decree monitor and the Department of Justice undoubtedly are watching the situation closely, as is the judge in the case. Murphy referred to comments made from the bench Nov. 30 by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. about his concerns that adequate state and federal funding be available to provide the services the consent decree requires. The next court hearing related to the consent decree is April 10.

Murphy said the monitor, Charles Moseley, and DOJ lawyers will visit Rhode Island Feb. 26 through 28th  to assess the latest developments in the implementation of the decree. 

When he notified the monitor of the waiting list, Murphy said, the monitor reacted with dismay. “He said, ‘Oh my,’ “ Murphy told task force members.  Regulations of the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) require the states to set up a waiting list for vocational rehabilitation services when they can’t serve all eligible applicants.

In this case, the waiting list was triggered by the state’s unexpected loss of about $3 million in federal aid, which was re-directed to Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

The regulations require states to prioritize the order in which someone is removed from the list according to the degree of a person’s disability. Rhode Island’s so-called “Order of Selection” policy list has three levels of disability, but ORS is planning to amend the criteria for the highest priority category

Currently, applicants for ORS services in the highest priority category are those with mental or physical impairments that limit their ability to function on the job in at least three of seven different ways cataloged in state policy.  A proposed amendment would reserve the highest priority status for individuals those whose disabilities affect them in a minimum of four ways, according to an ORS spokeswoman. A public hearing on the matter will be March 8.

Murphy said that because of the consent decree, ORS is working with the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals to help protected clients find employment-related support elsewhere. 

The waiting list didn’t go into effect until Dec. 19, nearly three weeks after it was supposed to start, because changes in ORS policy needed formal approval from the federal RSA, Murphy said.

On the first day, there were already 324 names on the list, he said. Counselors “are in shock,”  Murphy said.

Murphy said the waiting list is “particularly awful because we were just starting to make headway” serving the consent decree population.

No one is affected who was already receiving services when ORS imposed the waiting list.

ORS receives $10.4 million from Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.But in the last few years it was able to supplement that basic grant with as much as $3.5 million in so-called “reallotment" funds  collected by the federal RSA from states that don’t meet their vocational rehabilitation obligations and re-distributed elsewhere.  For the federal fiscal year that  began Oct. 1, the re-allocation funding came to just $532,000.

While the reallocation money wasn’t set aside for clients with developmental disabilities, a lot of it went to help this group because that’s where the demand was, Murphy said. He characterized the consent decree as an “unfunded mandate.”

 

RI Revises Supported Employment; Providers And Families Invited To Information Sessions

By Gina Macris

The second year of a program to help Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities find jobs will offer extra bonus money to encourage financially strapped private agencies to seek new clients, particularly young adults.

Zanchi     Photo by Anne Peters  

Zanchi     Photo by Anne Peters  

The state began the “performance-based” program last January to avoid federal court sanctions for failing to implement a 2014 consent decree aimed at giving individuals with disabilities greater access to regular jobs and integrated non-work activities.

“We’ve learned a lot in this first year,” said Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). Zanchi, the first developmental disabilities professional to head DDD in at least a decade, began work in Rhode Island shortly after the supported employment program kicked off a year ago.

Zanchi elaborated on the status of the program, in which private agencies provide supportive job-seeking and job-retention services, during a telephone interview Jan. 5.

She said that in the initial contract year, which ended in December, 22 private agencies offered supported employment services to about 440 adults with developmental disabilities, with about 150 gaining employment at minimum wage or higher.

In the coming year, Zanchi said, she hopes the opportunities for enhanced performance payments and other changes prove “more responsive to the needs of consumers” and that the number of providers will expand. 

DDD will host information sessions Monday, Jan. 8 and Friday, Jan. 19 for private providers seeking to renew their contracts or establish new ones and for so-called “self-directed” families, who take on the design and direct supervision of a loved one’s activities. Few of these families have been able to participate in the performance-based program during its first year, according to anecdotal reports. 

A key addition to the menu of performance payments to providers is a bonus of $600 for each new client who signs on for employment-related services, or $1,000 for young adults who left high school between 2013 and 2016. These bonuses are due once the new client has received 20 hours of employment-related supports.

The consent decree places particular emphasis on young adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, because investigators for the U.S. Department of Justice believed they are at heightened risk for isolation and segregation as they move from high school to adult services.

The consent decree draws its authority from the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which reinforces the mandate for integrated services in the Americans With Disabilities Act

The young adult group also is the only segment of the consent decree population – more than 3,000 individuals altogether –for which the state is significantly out of compliance with court approved targets for job placement.

A reluctance among established agencies to expand their client roster has resulted in limited choices for the families of young adults; prompting them to direct their own services. But that choice also has made it generally more difficult to access the supported employment program, according to various reports about families’ experiences during the first year of the program.

Providers have told state officials that in many cases they can’t take on new clients because of low reimbursement rates and high staff turnover, and because the bonuses of the initial cycle of the supported employment program did not pay for the costs both of training new workers, as well as providing the actual services.

The graduation rate for a tuition-free training program offered by the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College is 40 percent, with students dropping out for a variety of reasons, most of them related to high turnover and short-staffing at the provider agencies.  

In the second year, providers can expect an increase of $460 for training each new job coach, from $350 to $810 per trainee, according to materials from the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), which were released by Zanchi.

The information sessions will be at the Arnold Conference Center in the Reagan Building of the Eleanor Slater Hospital, 111 Howard Ave., Cranston, Monday, Jan. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m. and Friday, Jan. 19, from 9 to 11 a.m.

In 2016, just after a U.S. District Court judge ordered the state to come up with a new “reimbursement model” that would give adults with developmental disabilities access to regular jobs. Shortly after that, the General Assembly allocated $6.8 million in state funds to finance what became the performance-based supported employment program.

Besides the bonuses, the revised program includes increased allocations – a total of $8,000 a year per client, according to the latest BHDDH figures – for provider reimbursements for employment services.

Zanchi said that the original $6.8 million allocation will continue to fund the first six months of the second year of the performance-based program until June 30, when BHDDH expects to return an estimated $2 million to the state.

The return of the estimated $2 million in unused supported employment funds was part of a deficit reduction plan outlined by BHDDH director Rebecca Boss Nov. 30 to close an estimated $15.9 millionf departmental deficit, including $12 million in developmental disabilities.. But it is well-understood within BHDDH that from a fiscal perspective, supported employment must continue because it is a court-ordered service.  

BHDDH has requested new funding, with projected utilization based on the first full year of programmatic experience, for the state’s next fiscal year beginning July 1, Zanchi said.

She did not say how much BHDDH  will seek for supported employment. Governor Gina Raimondo is expected to submit her budget to the General Assembly later this month.

RI Rate Cuts To DD Providers Or Wait Lists For Services Loom Without More Funding For BHDDH

By Gina Macris   

Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities would face “drastic measures” such as waitlists for services or reductions in the amounts the state pays private organizations providing these supports if their funding agency must resolve a sizeable budget deficit by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

Rebecca Boss                       Photo By Anne Peters

Rebecca Boss                       Photo By Anne Peters

Rebecca Boss, director of the agency, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), reached that conclusion in a Nov. 30  letter to the director of the state budget office and the finance committee chairmen of the House and Senate.

She pledged to keep working  “to minimize the anticipated disruptions and destabilization that would result from such measures on our vulnerable populations.”  In the last several years, the General Assembly has covered BHDDH deficits with supplemental funding.

The letter outlined a corrective action plan for reducing the deficit, an estimated $15.9 million in in state spending, including about $12 million from developmental disabilities programs and nearly $4 million from the Eleanor Slater Hospital. Without a state match, roughly the same amount in federal Medicaid dollars also would evaporate.

The corrective action plan described a variety of cost-cutting initiatives that at best, would address less than half the overall shortfall, but Boss’s letter did not add up the total savings. BHDDH officials were not able to respond immediately to several detailed questions about the corrective action plan. 

Corrective action plans are required whenever a state agency runs a deficit. But the BHDDH plan raises questions about its future ability to comply with a 2014 federal consent decree that requires Rhode Island to integrate adults with developmental disabilities in the community to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Integrated services, which require small staff-to-client ratios, are inherently more costly than the segregated, facility-based programming Rhode Island has used in the past, in which one person can keep an eye on larger groups of people gathered in one room.  An over-reliance on sheltered workshops and day centers put Rhode Island in violation of the ADA's integration mandate, which is spelled out in the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to findings of the U.S.Department of Justice.

Rhode Island has never been in complete compliance with the incremental integration goals of the consent decree and in the spring of 2016 came close to being held in contempt of court over lack of funding, among other issues. Since then, as long as the state has put additional money and professional expertise into efforts to improve services, it has avoided sanctions.

Most recently, during a U.S. District Court hearing Nov. 30 – the same day Boss turned over her corrective action plan – the judge in the consent decree case  repeatedly brought up his concerns about money to fund the services required by the consent decree. John J. McConnell, Jr. said he would be keeping an eye on the budget process, both at the state and federal levels.

The BHDDH plan proposes returning to the state a $2 million balance in funds that had been allocated to a performance –based supported employment program that responded to a court order to help more adults with developmental disabilities find jobs. In the plan, Boss said that BHDDH would continue to provide funding for supported employment. Anecdotal information from providers and families has indicated that, even with the performance-based program, employment services have not been available to all who wanted them.  

Boss, meanwhile, outlined other cost savings. She said correcting errors in the needs assessments of 46 adults with developmental disabilities will result in $400,000 in savings, once the individual funding authorizations for those persons are reduced.

Because of widespread complaints that the original assessment shortchanged individual needs, resulting in routine awards of supplemental funds, BHDDH adopted an updated version of the standardized interview about a year ago that was said to be more accurate.

The newer assessment contributed to higher per-person costs that are reflected in much of the $12 million projected deficit in developmental disabilities, Boss said. The 46 errors in assessment occurred because interviewers did not correctly utilize a certain group of questions in the new interview process, she said.  

At the start of the current fiscal year in July, with rising costs from the new assessment already apparent, BHDDH imposed stringent health and safety standards for awarding supplemental funds on appeal.

Of the $12 million projected deficit in developmental disabilities, $4 million is related to “various” cost-cutting initiatives in the current fiscal year which BHDDH does not expect to achieve, Boss said.

She did not describe these unachieved savings in any detail, except to attribute $500,000 to the department’s inability to move residents out of three of five state-run group homes that had been scheduled to close. The remaining two homes are special care facilities that are being consolidated and will close, Boss said. She has said such special care facilities do not comply with a new Medicaid Final Rule on Home and Community-Based Services.

In the last quarter of the fiscal year, beginning April 1,  BHDDH plans to cut the daily reimbursement rates for residents of group homes with relatively mild developmental disabilities, those assigned to the lowest two levels ( labeled A and B) of a five-tier funding scale. This measure is expected to save $200,000.

Additionally, BHDDH has a “continuing commitment” to reducing the population of group homes by 110 during the current fiscal year, which would bring an estimated savings of $900,000, Boss said. She did not elaborate.

In Rhode Island, the primary alternative to group homes is shared living, in which a person with a developmental disability lives with a family in a private home.

During the 27 months between July 1, 2015 and Sept. 20, 2017 the number of individuals in shared living increased by 92, according to BHDDH figures, from 268 to 360. The breakdown includes 40 in the fiscal year that ended July 1, 2016 38 in the fiscal year that ended July 1, 2017, and 14 in the first three months of the current budget cycle.

At the Eleanor Slater Hospital, all but $900,000 of the nearly $4 million shortfall can be attributed to salaries and benefits, including $2.1 million in overtime, Boss said.

The hospital has faced numerous problems, most critically a preliminary report from the Joint Commission in September that signaled Eleanor Slater would be denied accreditation because of unsafe facilities. The report prompted an increase in staffing so that patients are checked every five minutes.

BHDDH plans to move patients out of the substandard facilities, but that consolidation is behind schedule.

 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Details Compliance Efforts  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Underperformance' Of One Provider Hurt State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWS Nearly Lost License

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWS Tries Turnaround

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

Norris, according to Ashe’s report, has:

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

 

Problems Extend Beyond CWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zanchi Praises 'Collective Vision'

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the monitor's report.

Future of RI Fedcap Agency Still Unclear; State Continues To Collect Evidence For Final Decision

By Gina Macris

With less than two months remaining before the state of Rhode Island decides whether to shut down a subsidiary of the New York-based Fedcap Rehabilitation Services, licensing officials at the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) are still collecting evidence that will have a bearing on the state’s decision.

The performance of Community Work Services (CWS), which also has come under criticism by federal officials, is expected to figure in a U.S. District Court hearing Nov. 30 about a 2013 settlement of disability rights violations involving CWS and its predecessor, the now-defunct sheltered workshop Training Through Placement (TTP.)

In an interview Nov. 3, the director of licensing for BHDDH, Kevin Savage, said that the probationary status of CWS, in effect for nearly a year, “has not been resolved.”  Licensing regulations place a 12-month limit on probation.

 A federal court monitor said during a court hearing in May that the number of former TTP clients who had found jobs had been “essentially flat” for the previous four years. A lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice also cited a lack of progress that was evident during a site visit earlier in the spring.  About half of individuals protected by the 2013 agreement – 62 individuals at last count – are currently served by CWS.

In an interview Nov. 3, Savage, the BHDDH licensing administrator, said that the most recent "monitor’s report is primarily about the programming, and the programming issue is not resolved.

“We’re reading the monitor’s reports and our own reports,” Savage said, and “we are not satisfied with the program resolution.”

Savage said that BHDDH will continue – “and I want the word 'continue' to be clear” – to look at “every aspect of what CWS does, including payment structures, including respite (care), and including how they work with families and participants – everything.”

Savage also said, “I think it’s okay to say we are accumulating evidence. They (CWS) know that, and I think it’s okay for the public to know that. The evidence speaks to whether they should be shut down, or whether they should not be shut down. Evidence does that.”

“Our goal, and our only goal, is to ensure that participants have the best service available that is possible,”  he said. “We’ve communicated that clearly to the providers we work with and the families we work with. Our job is not to protect businesses. Our job is to protect participants.”

CWS has been on probation since the beginning of 2017. BHDDH licensing officials shut down its operation at the former TTP building at 20 Marblehead Ave., North Providence, in March because of unsafe conditions - a problem separate from programmatic concerns - but the agency re-opened with state permission in different quarters a few days later.

In this and any other probationary case, Savage said, the public has the right to know the “final agency action.”  Adverse decisions may be appealed by the agencies in question, he said.

The performance of CWS is entwined in the state’s accountability to the federal court for satisfying the demands of the 2013 settlement agreement that protect special education students at Mount Pleasant High School, including the former Birth Academy, and former clients of TTP - a total of 126 individuals.

A broader agreement between the state and the DOJ signed in 2014 covers all adults with developmental disabilities who have at one time been segregated in either sheltered workshops or day centers - more than 3,000 people. .

In connection with the so-called  "Interim Settlement Agreement" of 2013, the federal court monitor, Charles Moseley, said in a report to the court in September that the state has missed two deadlines in an order issued by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr: They are

  •  A July 30 deadline for improving the quality of individual career development plans among CWS clients.
  • A June 30 deadline for verifying the accuracy of data reported by CWS on its clients’ progress.

So-called “career development plans” describe how current services and plans for the near future fold into blueprints for life-long work goals that are supposed to take into account both the needs and preferences of individuals with developmental disabilities.

The November 30 hearing is listed on the U.S. District  Court calendar in connection with the statewide 2014 consent decree, but the state's interim Consent Decree Coordinator, Brian Gosselin, said recently at a public forum on developmental disability issues that the session will deal instead with the more narrow Interim Settlement Agreement of 2013, which was last heard in late May. A separate hearing on the status of the statewide consent decree is expected to be scheduled for the end of January, six months after its most recent hearing in late July.

 

RI BHDDH Running Projected $34.6 Million Deficit; DD Services Account for $26 Million Of Shortfall

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island’s efforts to improve services to adults with developmental disabilities - spurred by ongoing federal court oversight – will result in cost overruns of almost $26 million by next June, the end of the current fiscal year, according to projections from the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The projected $26 million shortfall is the largest in recent memory for developmental disability services, which typically have run $4 to 6 million over budget during a fiscal year.

In the first quarter spending report to the State Budget Officer, Thomas Mullaney, Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, said there are two main drivers of the projected deficit:

  • Increased costs attributed to an updated assessment for clients of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, the Supports Intensity Scale–A, or SIS-A, which is generally regarded as more accurate than the previous version in capturing individuals’ support needs, particularly for those with complex medical and behavioral issues.
  • An increase in supplemental authorizations that represent successful appeals of funding levels awarded through fiscal calculations made from the results of the original SIS or the SIS-A.  

BHDDH has asked the state Budget Office to consider a supplemental appropriation for the current budget cycle to cover much of the shortfall, with Boss saying the increased spending is consistent with current caseload projections.

But BHDDH also proposes cutting about $5 million from supplemental appropriations before next June 30. Boss has ordered officials to deny requests from individuals with developmental disabilities for supplemental funding, except in emergencies related to health and safety, including the risk of hospitalization. She also made an exception for any “court-ordered services” which may occur.

The order to hold the line on supplemental funds is likely to have widespread impact on individuals and their families, who must make the same request for extra money annually if they believe they have been shortchanged by the SIS or the SIS-A.  Alternatively, they may request a re-assessment.

In her letter to Mullaney, Boss said BHDDH is working to address the current year’s projected deficit and is determining “potential courses of action which would meet client needs, be accountable to regulatory entities, and meet fiscal constraints.”

The Office of Management and Budget is working with BHDDH to “thoroughly review its options,” a spokeswoman for Mullaney said Nov. 9.

BHDDH requested $22 million for supplemental payments in the current budget, according to testimony before the General Assembly last spring.

But in a recent corrective action plan, the department said it authorized over $28.2 million in supplemental payments – more than 10 percent of all payments to private providers - during the fiscal year that ended last June 30. Actual expenditures exceeded $22.3 million.

“The past volume and approval of supplemental authorizations is unsustainable,” BHDDH said.

The plan sets a limit of $18.6 million for supplemental payments in the current budget cycle and reduces the ceiling to $14.4 million in the fiscal year beginning next July 1, with the assumption that the number of requests for supplemental payments will decline as more clients are assessed through the updated SIS-A. 

The corrective action plan also notes that requests for supplemental funds that are denied by BHDDH may be appealed to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The projected $26 million shortfall in the Division of Developmental Disabilities represents the lion’s share of an overall $34.6 million departmental deficit, based on first-quarter spending, which Boss outlined in an Oct. 27 letter to Mullaney, the State Budget Officer.

The state is under pressure from the U.S. District Court to improve the quality of its daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities by moving its system from isolated day centers and sheltered workshops to supported employment at regular jobs paying minimum wage or higher. Rhode Island also must increase the availability of integrated non-work activities. These mandates are spelled out in two agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice, in which the state must correct correct an overreliance on segregated facilities that violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The original SIS, accompanied by a $26 million reduction in developmental disability funding, was introduced by BHDDH and the General Assembly in 2011 as an equitable way of distributing available resources, although advocates complained that it was nothing more than a device to control costs, at the expense of some of Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens.

In succeeding years, that dollar amount was restored, but the service system was fundamentally altered, resulting in wage cuts, higher worker turnover, and a dependence on lower–cost services in segregated facilities that can be supervised with fewer staff.  The U.S. Department of Justice began its investigation into these facilities - sheltered workshops and day centers - in 2013.

On an individual basis, persons with developmental disabilities, their families, and service providers routinely appealed the funding awarded through the SIS, and at one point supplemental payments became routine.

In the meantime, there were were so many complaints about the SIS that the department ultimately decided to shift to the SIS-A.

But 13 months ago, when BHDDH submitted projections that ultimately went into the current budget, it had no experience with the SIS-A. The revised assessment was introduced in November, 2016. By springtime of this year, however, Boss had enough data to tell legislators that the SIS-A was resulting in higher per-person funding allocations. And she reported that the overall numbers of individuals using  developmental disability services was on the rise.

For the future, Boss envisioned a shift away from supplemental payments as the revised assessment tool better responds to individuals’ funding needs.

Of the overall $34.6 million projected BHDDH deficit, nearly $8.7 million can be attributed to staffing and overtime increases at the Eleanor Slater Hospital for stepped-up patient monitoring in light of a recent warning that the facility may lose accreditation because aging buildings pose too many risks that patients may harm themselves. A risk assessment for the Eleanor Slater Hospital is currently underway, and the results will inform a request for supplemental funding to remedy concerns of the hospital accrediting agency, the Joint Commission, Boss said.

Click here for the BHDDH first quarter spending report.

RI Has Missed Two Court-Ordered Deadlines For Holding Troubled Fedcap Agency Accountable

By Gina Macris

Continuing difficulties at the former sheltered workshop that stood for everything wrong with Rhode Island’s developmental disability system have caused new noncompliance problems for the state in U.S. District Court. 

The problems revolve around one private agency, Community Work Services (CWS), a program of the New York-based Fedcap Rehabilitation Services. But the state is accountable to the court for the way it manages its service vendors and for ensuring that adults with developmental disabilities receive high quality supports under provisions of 2013 and 2014 agreements with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

 In both settlements, Rhode Island agreed to end segregation of adults with developmental disabilities – a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) – and instead to offer them the choice of supported employment and integrated non-work activities.

Community Work Services (CWS) was hired in 2013 to correct ADA violations at the former sheltered workshop, Training Through Placement (TTP.)  But CWS itself has operated under one form or another of state supervision for 17 months and nearly lost its license earlier this year.

Missed Deadlines

According to the latest report of a federal court monitor, the state has missed two deadlines; one, a July 30 date for improving the quality of individual career plans and another, June 30, for verifying the accuracy of data reported by CWS on its clients’ progress. 

Despite the state’s efforts to resolve inconsistencies in data, “problems continue to exist with the information provided by CWS,” according to a Sept. 7 report  by the monitor, Charles Moseley, to U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell.  

The state, the monitor, and the DOJ use that data to determine whether CWS is following the requirements of the ADA agreements. 

Blueprints For The Future

And so-called “career development plans” are not supposed to be just paperwork, but blueprints that allow officials to see in an instant how the services a client currently receives fit into individualized short-term and long-term goals. 

The plans are intended to reflect a key principle embodied in the ADA; that people with disabilities have choices in how they live their lives.  

The monitor also said 70 percent of the clients’ career plans were “unacceptable” and had not been improved in the month after the judge’s July 30 deadline, despite the state’s efforts.

For most of the 64 Individuals who are active CWS clients, the daily activities and yearly individual service plans didn’t line up with the long-range career development plans, according to Moseley.  

In other cases, the long-range plans were “well done”, but the plans were “not being implemented in a manner which aligns with the participants’ interests,” Moseley said.

Neither the DOJ nor the judge have responded on the record to Moseley’s latest findings, although McConnell has said in the most recent hearing on the so-called “interim settlement agreement” of 2013 that he considers himself personally responsible for defending the rights of about 125 individuals protected by the agreement.

Former State Official Now Heads CWS

Community Work Services, a Boston-based agency, came to Rhode Island in 2013 as a program of Fedcap, hired by Craig Stenning, then director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) to get a jump start on turning around the state’s developmental disability system in the wake of the interim settlement agreement of 2013 and the broader consent decree of 2014.

Between 2013 and 2014, Fedcap was awarded a total of about $1.7 million in state contracts. In 2015, Stenning joined Fedcap’s senior management.

As part of the state’s arrangement with Fedcap, CWS took over Training Through Placement (TTP), which had used the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School as a feeder program for its sheltered workshop. There, adults with developmental disabilities performed repetitive tasks at sub-minimum wages, sometimes for decades, even when they expressed a desire to do something else.

At the hearing in May, Moseley, the monitor, told the judge that the number of former TTP clients who have found regular jobs in the community has remained “essentially flat” for the last four years. Most of the former TTP clients still received services from CWS. 

At that point, CWS itself had operated under one or another form of state supervision since May, 2016, for both programmatic deficiencies and substandard facilities at the former TTP building in North Providence.

CWS Nearly Lost License

In his most recent report Sept. 7, Moseley disclosed that state officials had notified CWS in early May – about two weeks before the federal court hearing - that they intended to revoke the agency’s license. But state officials changed their minds after a conference with CWS representatives, the monitor said.

Instead of revoking the license, the state Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) decided to give CWS one last chance by continuing the agency’s probationary status from July 1 to Sept. 30, with the possibility of only one more extension, until Dec. 31. The current status of the license is not clear. 

Moseley said CWS has brought on new staff, including a deputy director, a job developer and a new position with responsibilities for data and reporting.

According to the CWS website, it also has a new executive director, Craig Stenning, Fedcap’s Senior Vice President for the New England Region and the former BHDDH director.

Less than a year after Stenning’s departure from BHDDH – Governor Gina Raimondo failed to reappoint him – the DOJ and the monitor asked the U.S. District Court for assistance in enforcing the companion agreements of 2013 and 2014, citing a lack of progress by the state.

As a result, McConnell took up the combined cases and held the first hearing in January, 2016. Since then, he has held periodic reviews from the bench.   

Extensive State Oversight

Moseley’s Sept. 7 report described the extensive state supervision dedicated to CWS.  Licensing officials make monthly regulatory reviews of CWS. In addition, there are unannounced monthly visits coordinated with the state’s chief quality improvement officer for developmental disabilities. Supplementary phone calls and emails from state officials to CWS occur at least once a week.

Meanwhile, the state’s chief employment officer for developmental disabilities provides on-site technical assistance to CWS job developers, reviewing day-to-day activities and observing so-called “person-centered” planning meetings that are designed to put the needs and preferences of the clients first.

In earlier reports, Moseley has said the state simply does not have enough personnel to provide a fully functioning quality assurance program across the board to verify that some three dozen service providers are complying with the “person-first” principles and practices of the ADA. He has required DDD to take steps to create one.

DDD has 24 caseworkers and a handful of supervisory personnel and support staff to manage the needs of a total of about 4,350 individuals.  (About 3,700 receive day-to-day services,)

After learning that there had been little change at CWS since 2013, McConnell said he was angered on behalf of those who are “years late in terms of getting the services that the state agreed to,” according to a transcript of the hearing on May 23.

Addressing lawyers and state officials before him, he said, “The truth is that we all, you and you and me and then everybody else, have these hundred-odd people’s rights in our hands. “

McConnell continued. “I don’t take that lightly. I will use whatever powers that I have available to me to ensure that those individuals aren’t forgotten. Dr. Moseley always reminds me that we’re talking about individuals here and not alphabet soups and programs and whatnot. And this time it’s got to stick.”

Praise For Providence and Mount Pleasant

McConnell concluded on what he described as an “optimistic note” for officials of the city of Providence, who during the last few years have made substantial changes at Mount Pleasant High School, enabling special education students who otherwise would have been completely isolated to become part of the broader student body and to have school-to- work experiences in the community.

“Keep up the good work,” the judge told school and city officials. “It doesn’t mean you’re at the finish line, but you’ve showed us that it can be done.” 

A version of this article also appears in ConvergenceRI

 

 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles: Judge Willing To Intervene In RI Budget Impasse

Supported Employment Program Falls Short Of Initial Goals in RI

Federal Judge Willing To Intervene In Rhode Island Budget Impasse To Protect Adults With DD

By Gina Macris 

A federal judge said today he is prepared to issue court orders to ensure that money keeps flowing in Rhode Island’s developmental disability system if the state budget impasse begins affecting services for adults with intellectual challenges.

Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., made that remark at today’s hearing (July 28) that reviewed the state’s progress in implementing a 2014 consent decree requiring an overhaul of daytime services to emphasize jobs paying at least minimum wage and integrated, community-based non-work activities for some 3600 individuals.

Rebecca Boss, the director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, told McConnell that she was “fairly confident” the budget dispute between the House and the Senate is having “no immediate impact” on the private agencies that count on state reimbursement to provide the day-to-day services.  However, she couldn’t say when things might change.

McConnell said he “would not be averse to entertaining court orders” so that the budget problem does not stand in the way of implementing the consent decree. “There are human beings involved,” he said.

He said it would fall to the U.S. Department of Justice to bring the issue before him, if and when it arises, because the state officials do not have the ability, or jurisdiction, to initiate any action.

Mixed Reviews on Employment From RI Consent Decree Monitor; Judge to Hear Compliance Status

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island has made “uneven”  progress in finding jobs for adults with developmental disabilities during the first quarter of 2017, according to an independent court monitor who oversees implementation of a 2014 federal consent decree intended to give adults with intellectual challenges more choice over how they live their lives.

The monitor, Charles Moseley, has filed his latest report in advance of a U.S. District Court hearing July 28 on compliance with the decree, which grew out of findings by the U.S. Department of Justice that Rhode relied excessively on  sheltered workshops paying sub-minimum wage and on segregated non-work programs.

Moseley said 62 individuals got jobs between January and March of this year, increasing the total number of placements to 544. That total is 340 more than the number of persons who had jobs 12 months earlier, according to data submitted by the state. Moseley said the number of placements for January through March of 2017 fell below an average of 85 placements per quarter for each of the three previous quarters. 

The first quarter of 2017 coincided with the launch of the state’s new incentive program for private agencies providing job-related services, but Moseley’s report did not make reference to that program. (Read related article.)  Complete employment statistics for April through June are not yet available.

Moseley’s report broke down the statistics according to three categories of adults with developmental disabilities who are protected by the consent decree: those who  had been in segregated sheltered workshops; those who had been in segregated day care facilities, and young adults who are at risk for long-term segregation after they leave high school. The consent decree also covers a fourth category of individuals; high school special education students who are at risk of segregation as adults. But the consent decree does not require the state to help them find jobs while they are still in school.

According to Moseley’s report, among the so-called “day target population”, a total of 262 had jobs on  March 31, an increase of 28 during the first quarter of the year. The total of 262 is more than twice the number the consent decree requires by Jan. 1, 2018. There are a total of 1,541 individuals in this category protected by the consent decree.

In the “sheltered workshop target population,” 9 individuals got jobs between January and March, bringing the total employed since Jan. 1, 2016 to 122. That number represents 81 percent of the consent decree benchmark of 150 placements for former sheltered workshop employees by Jan.1, 2018, according to Moseley’s report. At last count, there were a total of 658 current or former sheltered workshop employees protected by the consent decree.

Moseley said young adults, or members of the “youth exit target population,” gained 25 new job placements between January and March, for a total of 160 placements in that category. The consent decree requires job placements for all young adults the same year they leave high school.  Moseley said that with the current census of the “youth exit target population” at 497, the state had achieved only 32 percent of the number of jobs required by the consent decree for young adults.

Source: RI Division of Developmental Disabilities

Source: RI Division of Developmental Disabilities

 

For the 12-month period ending March 31, the total number of individuals protected by the consent decree grew from 2,962 to 3,621, an increase of 659, which Moseley attributed to the state’s improved data collection.

Moseley has repeatedly emphasized individualized career development planning as an integral part of the job search. Equally important is individualized benefits counseling, which Moseley has said is necessary to allow individuals to make informed choices about whether potential jobs will adversely affect Medicaid and other types of government supports. 

The latest statistics show that about 63 percent of all persons protected by the consent decree have career development plans and about 67 percent of those who are employed have had benefits counseling, according to Moseley.

Friday’s court hearing will be at 10 a.m. in Room 310, the historic library of the federal court building in Kennedy Plaza in Providence.  U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. will preside.  

Click here to read Moseley's entire report.

Four Years After Settlement, Former Workshop Still Segregates Adults With DD - Monitor

photo by gina macris

photo by gina macris

Former Training Through Placement building at 20 Marblehead Ave., North Providence RI

By Gina Macris

A federal judge has taken the state of Rhode Island to task for failing to keep track of a former sheltered workshop that has continued to segregate adults with developmental disabilities, despite a landmark integration agreement four years ago that seeks to transform daytime services for those with intellectual challenges.

An order by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court sets strict deadlines between the end of June and the end of July for specific steps the state must take to ensure that all clients of the former sheltered workshop lacking jobs or meaningful activities begin to realize the promise of the 2013 agreement.

The so-called Interim Settlement Agreement of 2013 focused primarily on special education students at the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School and adult workers at Training Through Placement (TTP), which has become Community Work Services (CWS.)

The former sheltered workshop used Birch as a feeder program for employees, who often were stuck for decades performing repetitive tasks at sub-minimum wages – even when they asked for other kinds of jobs. Involved are a total of 126 individuals, according to McConnell’s count.

In 2014, after a broader investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, the state signed a more extensive consent decree covering more than 3,000 adults and teenagers with developmental disabilities. The state promised to end an over-reliance on sheltered workshops throughout Rhode Island and instead agreed to transform its system over ten years to offer individualized supports intended to integrate adults facing intellectual challenges in their communities.

Together, the companion agreements made national headlines as the first in the nation that called for integration of daytime supports for individuals with disabilities, in accordance with the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Olmstead decision re-affirmed Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which says services must be provided in the least restrictive setting which is therapeutically appropriate, and that setting is presumed to be the community.

McConnell’s order is the latest and most forceful development in a story that highlights not only the failings of the former sheltered workshop, Training Through Placement (TTP), but the state’s lack of a comprehensive quality assurance program for developmental disability services system-wide.

The former sheltered workshop run by CWS at 20 Marblehead Ave., North Providence, was closed by the state on March 16 on an emergency basis because of an inspection that showed deteriorating physical conditions. Individuals with developmental disabilities were “exposed to wires, walkways obstructed by buckets collecting leaking water, and lighting outages due to water damage,” according to a report to the judge. At that point, CWS had been working under state BHDDH oversight for about a year, because of programmatic deficiencies, according to documents filed with the federal court.

CWS is a program of Fedcap Rehabilitation Services of New York, which had been hired by then-BHDDH director Craig Stenning to lead the way on integrated services for adults with developmental disabilities at TTP in the wake of the 2013 Interim Settlement Agreement. Stenning now works for Fedcap.

With the CWS facility closed by the state, the program resumed operations on March 21 in space provided by the John E. Fogarty Center in North Providence under terms of a  probationary, or conditional, license with state oversight, according to a report of an independent federal court monitor overseeing implementation of  the 2013 and 2014 civil rights agreements in Rhode Island that affect adults with developmental disabilities.

The monitor said the state licensing administrator for private developmental disability agencies also notified the CWS Board of Directors and the Fedcap CEO of the situation, making these points:  

  • the state was concerned about unhealthy conditions of the CWS facility
  • ·the agency failed to notify the state of the problems with the building
  • CWS failed to implement a disaster plan
  • ·The CWS executive director had an “inadequate response” to the state’s findings.

The letter to the Fedcap CEO also said that CWS had been providing “segregated, center-based day services” rather than the community-based programming for which the agency had been licensed.

Summarizing the status of the 2013 Interim Settlement Agreement, the monitor, Charles Moseley, concluded in part that the Providence School Department and the Rhode Island Department of Education have continued to improve compliance through added funding, an emphasis on supported employment, staff training and data gathering and reporting.

Overall, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, (BHDDH) the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, (EOHHS) and the state Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) also have made progress, Moseley said, citing budget increases, new management positions, and programmatic changes he has mentioned in various status reports on the statewide consent decree.

However, progress for clients of the former TTP workshop “appears to have plateaued and possibly regressed,” Moseley wrote, and for that he faulted the successor agency, CWS, and the lack of sustained oversight on the part of BHDDH. 

While some former sheltered workshop employees at TTP did find work after the Interim Settlement Agreement was signed in 2013, “the number and percentage of integrated supported employment placements has remained essentially flat for the last four years,” he said.

Efforts to reach CWS and Fedcap officials were unsuccessful.

In mid-March, CWS  reported that 30 of 71 clients on its roster had jobs. Of the 30 who were employed, 13 with part-time jobs also attended non-work activities sponsored by the agency. In addition, 41 clients attended only the non-work activities.

In early April, Moseley and lawyers from the DOJ interviewed the leadership and staff of CWS and some of the agency’s clients in their temporary base of operations at the Fogarty Center. Serena Powell, the CWS executive director, was among those who attended, Moseley said.

The leadership “revealed a lack of understanding of the basic goals and provisions of the state’s Employment First policy and related practices,” Moseley said in his report.

Rhode Island has adopted a policy of the U.S. Department of Labor which presumes that everyone, even those with significant disabilities, is capable of working along non-disabled peers and enjoying life in the community, as long as each person has the proper supports.

“This lack of knowledge and understanding appeared to extend to the basic concepts of person-centered planning (individualization) and program operation,” Moseley said, citing the names of specific protocols used by state developmental disability systems and provider agencies “across the country.”

Moseley said some CWS staff do not have the required training to do their jobs.

Some job exploration activities have consisted of “little more than walking through various business establishments at a local mall,” Moseley said, explaining that they were not purposeful activities tailored to individual interests and needs.

Moseley said he interviewed three clients of CWS and they were “unanimous in their desire to have a ‘real job’ in the community and to be engaged in productive community activities that didn’t involve hanging out with staff at the mall.

“All three persons reported that they were pleased to be out of the CWS/TTP facility and to have opportunities to go into the community more often. Two of the three expressed an interest in receiving services from a different service provider,” Moseley said.

The state has had four years to work on compliance with the Interim Settlement Agreement and the Consent Decree. During that time, BHDDH has seen three directors and its Division of Developmental Disabilites (DDD) has had four directors, including an outside consultant who served on an interim basis part of the time officials conducted a search that led to the appointment of Kerri Zanchi in January.

Between mid-February and early May, there was a separate upheaval in the leadership of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, which had taken charge of the state’s compliance efforts in connection with the 2013 and 2014 civil rights agreements.

In a statement to the court, Zanchi alluded to all the turnover, saying that “progress has been challenged due to changes in internal and external leadership impacting stability, communication, resources, accountability, and vision.” 

Zanchi suggested that budget increases and considerable effort among BHDDH and ORS staff during the last year to improve compliance nevertheless have not been enough to make up for the previous three years of inaction.

Among other things, there is no consensus across the network of private service providers – some three dozen in all – “regarding the definition and expectation of integration,” Zanchi said.

DDD is responding by establishing “clear standards, training and monitoring,” she said. McConnell’s order required DDD to complete “guidance and standards for integrated day service” by June 30 and allowed another month for the document to be reviewed and disseminated to providers.

Zanchi said the state now has an “extensive quality management oversight plan” with CWS that involves DDD social workers, who are actively supporting CWS clients and their families. These same social workers also have average caseloads of 205 clients per person, according to the most recent DDD statistics.

Zanchi agreed with Moseley, the court monitor, that “current review and monitoring does not constitute a fully functioning quality improvement program.”

Moseley said that DDD’s quality improvement efforts “are seriously hampered by the lack of sufficient staff.” He called for “additional staffing resources” to ensure quality, provide system oversight and improve and ensure that providers get the required training.

Zanchi said an outside expert in interagency quality improvement is working with the state to develop and implement such a fully functioning plan. McConnell gave the state until July 30 to have a “fully-developed interim and long-term quality improvement plan” ready to go.

Of the 126 teenagers and adults McConnell said are protected by the 2013 Interim Settlement Agreement, 46 need individualized follow-up. Of the 46, 34 have never been employed, including 24 former TTP workers and 10 current Birch students or graduates.

The judge reinforced the monitor’s repeated emphasis over the last two years on proper planning as the foundation for producing a schedule of short-term activities and long-term goals that are purposeful for each person, whether they pertain to jobs, non-work activities, or both.  

These planning exercises, led by specially trained facilitators, can take on a festive air, with friends and family invited to share their reminiscences and thoughts for the future as they support the individual at the center of the event.

McConnell’s order said the state must ensure that “quality” planning for careers and non-work activities is in place by July 30 for active members of the protected class who want to continue receiving services.

Among CWS clients, the agency reported that 10 have indicated a reluctance to go into the community, perhaps because they feel challenged by the circumstances.

Moseley cited a variance to the Employment First policy developed by the state to cover those who can’t or don’t want to work, for medical or other reasons. Moseley’s report said he approved the variance in 2015, but it hasn’t been implemented. He acknowledged that it was difficult to understand.

McConnell’s highly technical and detailed order requires the state to implement a “variance and retirement policy” by June 30 “to discern specifically those who do not identify with either current or long-term employment goals.” 

McConnell also ordered the state to fund an additional $50,000 worth of training from the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College so that those who work with adults with developmental disabilities can give them individualized counseling about how work would affect their government benefits.

The monitor has repeatedly cited a dearth of individualized benefits counseling. In his latest report, he wrote that in interviews May 11 and May 12, high school students at Birch, their parents, staff, and others expressed the false conviction that students could work no more than 20 to 25 hours a week without compromising their benefits.

"This finding underscores the importance of individualized benefits planning for this population to ensure that students are able to take full advantage of Social Security Act work incentives that may enable them to work more than 25 hours per week while maintaining their public and employer benefits," Moseley said.

The monitor is expected to evaluate compliance with the deadlines in McConnell's latest order in a future status report.

 

RI Consent Decree Task Force Wants Feds To Look At Accuracy Of Assessments Used In DD Funding

By Gina Macris

This article has been updated.*

Seven months after Rhode Island state social workers were retrained to better administer a questionnaire used to determine Medicaid funding for adults with developmental disabilities, signs have emerged that not all the interviewers may be conforming to the highly scripted assessment process.

On June 13, the chairman of the Employment First Task Force said the group needs more comprehensive information about any continuing problems with the assessment, the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS). He said he will make a request in writing to the U.S. Department of Justice and a federal court monitor, asking them to look into the situation.

Rhode Island is in the fourth year of implementation of a 2014 federal consent decree asserting the rights of adults with developmental disabilities under provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act to obtain the services they need to secure jobs and enjoy non-work opportunities in the community.

The consent decree is “very clear” on those rights, said the federal court monitor, Charles Moseley, who listened into the meeting in a conference call.

Moseley said he was “disturbed” to hear an account of a SIS interviewer who said that because a young man was employed, even part time, he could not have the extensive behavioral and medical supports that family members and the service providers said the man needed. In fact, without those supports, the young man could not keep his job.  The task force member who addressed Moseley by telephone in the meeting later asked not to be identified.

Another task force member, Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Supports Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, recalled two SIS interviews she has attended since the social workers administering them were re-trained. One was done very well. In the other, the SIS supervisor corrected the interviewer twice.

For example, an interviewer may ask whether certain behavioral problems occur, or whether they have occurred in the last year. But Rosenbaum indicated that the proper phrasing for the SIS is to ask what supports are necessary to prevent those behavioral problems.

The latter approach acknowledges the impact of existing supports in helping adults with developmental disabilities enjoy a better quality of life, something parents and providers had routinely complained was missing from the SIS before the interviewers were retrained.

*(On June 15, Claire Rosenbaum said her comments were not intended as criticism of the SIS interviewers but to make the point that the retraining of interviewers was followed up with supervisory coaching as reinforcement. The two SIS interviews she attended were appropriately administered, she said.  She said her comments, while intended to be positive, did not preclude the possibility that an interviewer or two may not be immediately absorbing the training and coaching provided).

SIS Has History of Controversy in RI

The way Rhode Island uses the SIS to establish funding has been criticized both by the monitor and the DOJ since 2014, when Justice Department lawyers found that there was at least the appearance of a conflict of interest because the agency which administers the questionnaire also allocates individual funding.

Since then, the fiscal arm of the agency which administers the SIS, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, (BHDDH) has been transferred to the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS).

But Kevin Nerney, the Task Force chairman, said that to the average Rhode Islander, “the state is the state.”  Task Force members floated the idea of having a non-state entity administer the SIS assessment.  

The American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, (AAIDD), which developed the SIS, has urged states to avoid even the appearance of a conflict by making a clear separation, or firewall, between the actual interview and the allocation process.  

A U.S. District Court order issued in May, 2016, required the state to change its policy to specify that the  scores on the SIS will be “consistent with individuals’ support needs, separate and apart from resource allocation considerations.” 

Moseley, the monitor, in reporting to Judge John J. McConnell, Jr., earlier this year, the monitor, Moseley, took that idea a step further. In conjunction with bringing greater individualization to supports for adults with developmental disabilities, he has ordered the state to give him quarterly progress reports as it works toward changing its approach to determining needs and funding.  Instead of translating SIS scores into one of five funding levels, as it does now, the state should use the interview results to first draw up individual programs of support. Only then should it apply funding, according to the model envisioned by the monitor.

Meanwhile, Nerney, the Task Force chairman, said outside the Tuesday meeting that the group has repeatedly asked BHDDH over the past two years – without success - for the number of appeals filed by providers or family members contesting funding levels resulting from the SIS.

While that number has not been made public, state Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, disclosed in a Senate Finance Committee hearing in April that the appeals generate a total of $21.5 million to $22 million a year in supplemental payments above and beyond the levels determined by the SIS. That amounts to about 10 percent of all payments made to the private agencies that provide most of the services.

Ten percent is too high, DiPalma said, urging BHDDH officials to rework the way they use the SIS.

Consent Decree Allows Exceptions to 'Employment First'

The Task Force also discussed various approaches to developing a variance process under provisions of the consent decree for individuals with developmental disabilities who can’t work or don’t want to work because they fear the challenges of the regular employment.  Language for one or more kinds of variances or exceptions is being drafted, task members reported.

In conjunction with an interim settlement between the City of Providence and the DOJ in 2013 and the subsequent statewide agreement in 2014, the state has adopted an “Employment First” policy which assumes that adults with developmental disabilities can work at regular jobs, with support.

This policy generally has been welcomed by young people, particularly those who have had internships as part of their special education programs in high school and looked forward to working as adults. 

But that reaction has not been universal.  After the policy was adopted in 2013, BHDDH abruptly closed most sheltered workshops without having any plan in place to gradually acclimate those clients to community-based services. The move generated a wave of anger from families whose loved ones had enjoyed the social aspect of the workshops and took pride in their paychecks, even if they were a fraction of the minimum wage. 

Since Governor Gina Raimondo beefed up the state’s response to the consent decree in 2016, various high-ranking state officials have made public assurances that no one will be forced to work if they don’t want to or are unable, contrary to what some families say they have heard from rank-and-file employees in the developmental disability system. 

In a task force discussion on Tuesday of what a variance to the “Employment First” policy might look like. Claire Rosenbaum, Adult Services Coordinator at the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College, said she understands that some families are turning to segregated adult day care programs for their loved ones that are outside the system licensed by BHDDH. 

These adult programs, licensed by the Department of Health, may take private payments or federal Medicaid funding, according to anecdotal remarks by various task force members.

Moseley, the monitor, said that if Medicaid funding is involved, federal regulations emphasizing community-based services, similar to those of the consent decree, would apply. Both the consent decree and Medicaid regulations governing Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) derive their authority from the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. The High Court said that individuals with disabilities must be offered services in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate, and that environment is presumed to be the community.

Kiernan O’Donnell, co-president of the Rhode Island Association of People Supporting Employment First, said that if families had more information, they wouldn’t be going to segregated programs.

The Task Force, meanwhile, discussed the importance of planning around the individual needs of a particular person. While the principal goal may be employment for one person, it may be health for another, said Deb Kney, director of Advocates in Action.

Planning is a “process. It’s not a form” for checking boxes, she said. Others agreed.

The Employment First Task Force was created by the 2014 Consent Decree to serve as a bridge between the community and state government, with membership drawn from community agencies serving adults and teenagers with developmental disabilities, those who receive services and advocate for themselves, and families. Nerney, the chairman, represents the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council.

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

Photo by Anne Peters

Photo by Anne Peters

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related articles: 

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

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

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

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

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island appears to be meeting almost 60 percent of court-mandated goals in placing adults with developmental disabilities in jobs paying at least minimum wage, according to newly-released figures which track the state’s progress through Sept. 30 of 2016.

The state had found jobs for 363 individuals, or 58.8 percent of the 651 placements required at that time, according to compliance figures the state submitted to an independent court monitor in accordance with a 2014 federal consent decree that requires community-based day services to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For one group of individuals protected by the consent decree- those in segregated day programs – the state has made triple the number of required placements. But for other groups, the going has been slower. Only about 22 percent of special education students "exiting" high school got jobs, far short of the 100 percent employment goal. The figures for a third group - adults who had been in so-called sheltered workshops – show 87 percent compliance with the benchmark for job placement at the end of September.

Source: State of Rhode Island 

Source: State of Rhode Island 

Figures at the bottom of the table, set against a pale blue background, allow comparisons among the latest available job placement numbers Sept. 30 and those at the end of the first and second quarters of 2016.

It’s not surprising that the state does not meet overall compliance with the consent decree, Rhode Island began focusing on compliance only in the last 12 months – two years after the agreement went into effect,

In May, 2016, Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court reinforced the consent decree with an order addressing numerous shortcomings, including an inability to even get an accurate count of the number of individuals protected by the agreement.

McConnell required the state to create a “live” database, always up-to-date, on the population protected by the consent decree – at latest count 3,456 teenagers and adults – that the monitor and the U.S. Department of Justice could use to gauge compliance.

Such an up-to-the-minute database is in the works but has not yet been completed. In the interim, the  Executive Office of Health and Human Services has coordinated a cooperative effort involving three state agencies and the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College to connect different sources of data so that the state can make detailed reports to the court, albeit with a time lag. The three state state agencies participating in the combined data effort are the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals; the Department of Education, and the Office of Rehabilitation Services.

The ten-year consent decree has progressively stiffer requirements, with the latest deadlines occurring Jan. 1. It is not yet known how well the state has done against these most recent benchmarks.

 Charles Moseley, the monitor,  has concluded that the state has “significantly improved its ability and capacity to gather, aggregate and analyze” data required by the consent decree.

Moseley submitted the state’s figures to McConnell March 3, supplementing two earlier reports. One made recommendations on stepping up job placements and other aspects of compliance. .The other made sweeping recommendations that would put emphasis on the needs of of individuals in the funding process for developmental disability services and would reorganize operations of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities to incorporate a seamless and continual quality improvement effort. Both reports have implications for greater costs.

All of Moseley’s recent reports are likely to come up during the next open-court hearing on the consent decree, now scheduled for 10 a.m. March 10 before McConnell. (Two hearings in January and February had been cancelled.)

The progress the state reported as of Sept. 30 reflect the efforts of privately-run service providers who for years have been working under significant financial and bureaucratic constraints that make it difficult for them to hunt for jobs for clients and support them once they find employment. 

Front-line workers make poverty-level wages, despite a pay increase approved by the General Assembly in 2016. The legislature also set aside $6.8 million to pay bonuses for new job placements and job retention and for specialized training completed by direct care workers. But that program was still on the drawing boards when the latest data was collected.

In his report on data, Moseley noted that the state did not reach goals for career development plans and benefits counseling. Benefits counseling is necessary to ensure individuals make informed choices about the way particular jobs would affect their government benefits, like supplemental security income (SSI.) Career development plans consider long-range goals, and the intermediate steps necessary to achieve them, in a way that aligns activities with individuals’ needs and interests.

Overall, about 43 percent of the entire consent decree population had career development plans. In one of the earlier reports to McConnell, Moseley was critical of the quality of those career development plans. 

Source: Charles Moseley, U.S. District Court Monitor

Source: Charles Moseley, U.S. District Court Monitor

In the table above, "youth transition" refers to high school special education students likely to qualify for adult services, and "youth exit"refers to adults who have left school since 2013. Other categories refer to older adults who historically have been in segregated day programs or sheltered workshops. The letters CDP are an acronym for career development plan. 

Another table, below, shows that the state had complied with a requirement to provide benefits counseling to young adults with jobs but had failed to similarly advise more than half of older adults who had obtained jobs after 2012. The letters BP are an acronym for benefit plan.

Source: Charles Moseley, U.S. District Court Monitor

Source: Charles Moseley, U.S. District Court Monitor

The state reported that those who had jobs worked an average of nearly 12 hours a week and made an average of about $10.00 an hour. The consent decree says the average work week should be 20 hours.  

The consent decree requires the state to integrate adults with developmental disabilities in their communities to comply with the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which reaffirmed the rights of citizens with disabilities to receive services in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate under provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. In Rhode Island in 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice found an over-reliance on sheltered workshops paying sub-minimum wages and on isolated day programs that did not offer their clients purposeful activities.

Click here for the monitor's data report.

Click here for the data the state submitted to the monitor.

 

 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

Priorities for Compliance 

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

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

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

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

• Eliminate service delays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State is Playing Catch-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moseley Wants More Information

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

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

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

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

By Feb. 28, Moseley wants reports on:

 Staff Training

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

Average Hours Worked

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

Career Development Plans

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

High School Internships

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

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

Benefits Counseling

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

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

Employment First Task Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to read the entire monitor's report.