RI Governor's DD Budget Would Add $8.7 Million in Medicaid Funding For Wages, Higher Costs

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s recently released budget proposal would add nearly $8.7 million in new funding to the system of privately-run services for adults with developmental disabilities in the next 17 months, through June 30, 2020.

Most of that overall $8.7-million-increase, $6.4 million in federal and state Medicaid money, would fund raises for workers of some three dozen private agencies that provide developmental disability services under contract with the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The raises would take effect July 1. Funding for the added wages - an estimated 44 cents an hour – is carved out in the budget bill for Fiscal Year 2020 that Raimondo has submitted to the General Assembly.

The budget bill also requires that almost $1.6 million in federal-state Medicaid funds be earmarked for technical assistance to private providers changing from segregated care to community-based, integrated service to comply with a 2014 federal consent decree.

The current overall spending level for developmental disabilities, $271.7 million, would increase to $273.1 million for the budget ending June 30. In the next fiscal cycle beginning July 1, the spending ceiling would rise to nearly $280.9 million, including federal, state and miscellaneous sources of revenue.

The Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) draws more than half the resources assigned to BHDDH – which is currently budgeted for a grand total of almost $422.5 million. Under Raimondo’s plan, the bottom line for the entire department would grow to about $448.5 million in Fiscal 2020 – an increase of $26 million, including about $19.7 million in supplemental funding for the existing budget.

Developmental disability services are financed through the federal-state Medicaid program, with the federal government paying nearly 53 cents on the dollar.

The governor’s executive summary, however, tends to focus on the state outlay alone. It says $3.1 million in state funds would be earmarked to cover an existing deficit and an additional $3.3 million would be set aside in the fiscal year beginning July 1 for increased caseload costs.

Those budget items, combined with the state’s share of the $6.4 million proposed wage increase - $3 million – add up to $9.4 million, nearly twice the overall $5 million in new state tax dollars that Raimondo would apply to developmental disabilities for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next one.

The state would have to use savings in other areas to fully fund Raimondo’s plan for developmental disabilities, but neither the budget language nor the governor’s narrative spells out which cost-cutting measures would fill the gap.

The first-quarter spending report for BHDDH put the projected deficit in developmental disabilities at a total of $7.6 million for the current fiscal year, including federal and state funding.

The updated report for the second quarter will not be ready until Jan. 31, according to BHDDH officials.

But at a recent press briefing on the budget, Rebeca Boss, the BHDDH director, said she is satisfied that the governor’s proposal will enable the department to balance its current budget.

Among other things, the plan would restore money in the current budget that the DDD otherwise would have saved if it had won federal approval for a “Health Home,” a Medicaid option featuring a managed-care approach that also provides for a third-party to coordinate services for individuals.

The Health Home would help DDD comply with a Medicaid rule for Home and Community Based Services which requires case management to be separate from funding or service delivery. Currently DDD is responsible both for funding and for case management, which Medicaid perceives as a conflict of interest.

Boss said BHDDH has not yet submitted an application for a Health Home option for developmental disabilities. The budget assumes that a health home plan for developmental disabilities will be approved and go into operation during Fiscal 2020, which begins July 1.

Medicaid will reimburse 90 percent of the state outlay for health homes for a maximum of two years. After that period, the reimbursement rate for health homes will drop back to the regular rate for Rhode Island, whatever it may be at that time..

To help close the current deficit, the governor recommended an additional $273,412 in state revenue for BHDDH to pay homemaker licensed practical nurses who work with adults with developmental disabilities. The Executive Office of Human Services granted them a slightly higher pay increase than BHDDH had budgeted and the General Assembly had approved.

In adding $3.3 million in state revenue for “caseload” expenditures for the 2020 fiscal year, Raimondo’s executive summary said she “accepts the Department’s (BHDDH’s) most up to date projections” on costs, “ensuring no changes to services for DD consumers and continued financing to improve achievement of consent decree mandated services.”

Last year at this time, Raimondo had proposed cutting a total of more than $18 million in federal-state funding from developmental disability services, with a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget saying the proposed reduction was based on calculations made from “estimated growth rates in the cost of providing services.” She did not elaborate.

Raimondo, pressed by the independent court monitor overseeing the implementation of a 2014 federal civil rights consent decree, eventually restored the funding and pledged the state’s support of the work ordered by the federal court.

The consent decree requires Rhode Island to correct violations of the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act, reinforced by the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, by ending its over-reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day care.

This year, according to Boss, BHDDH submitted cost projections on the basis of actual claims, as directed by the Executive Office of Health And Human Services, rather than individual funding authorizations.

In the process of updating projections, the data was refined to remove claims that had been double-counted on Medicaid rolls of both BHDDH and EOHHS, according to the executive summary of the budget.

For Fiscal 2020, the governor’s budget summary highlighted three additional areas for savings:

  • ·A continuation of “residential rebalancing”, a multi-year effort to reduce the number of people in group homes, a cost-saving measure that also is intended to provide more “community-based placements such as shared living.” The budget projects $1.5 million in “residential rebalancing” in 2020.

  • Closure of one state-operated group home for an estimated savings of nearly $92,000. The staff in that location will move to other sites, reducing the need for overtime in the state-run system.

  • So-called “right sizing” of staffing at the state-run group home system to realize additional projected savings of $202,721. “Right-sizing” means staffing patterns will be reassessed and employees will re-bid jobs. This change is expected to reduce overnight staffing and further reduce overtime costs.

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?”

DiPalma: RI Must Invest In Transformation of DD Services To Protect Most Vulnerable

By Louis P. DiPalma

DiPalma headshot

The Rhode Island Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) in the Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals (BHDDH) is undergoing a significant transformation, much like Department of Children, Youth and Families. This transformation requires financial investment to succeed, not the proposed cuts.

As legislators, we must work to ensure we invest in the most vulnerable populations in our state, including the more than 4,000 individuals living with intellectual/ developmental disabilities (I/DD) who are served by BHDDH-DDD.

From a programs perspective, there are at least two critical elements of transformation the agency is undertaking. The first element is required by the 10-year 2014 consent decree settlement with the Department of Justice for violation of the civil rights of individuals with I/DD. The state, currently in its fourth year of transformation, is now under a court order.

The key focus of this transformational initiative is to transition individuals with I/DD from working in sheltered workshops to integrated employment and community-based programming. And, while the state is making progress in many areas, there is still a need for increased focus and attention.

When all is said and done, in 2024, successfully achieving the goals of the Consent Decree will require approximately $25 million in annual state and federal funding. The Department of Justice is closely monitoring our investments and commitment to reforming our practices toward full inclusion of individuals with disabilities in local communities and businesses. We must invest and commit to the ideals of inclusion for individuals with I/DD.

Another critical element of transformation is the transition of individuals with I/DD from living in group homes to alternative living arrangements, such as shared living arrangements. This transformational, voluntary program, when fully implemented, will require less funding than what is currently needed to support the same individuals in group homes.

The state is making progress in ensuring new DD clients who enter the system have the opportunity to live independently with supports, though challenges remain. During this multi-year transition, the agency will be required to sustain and maintain both systems, necessitating additional investment for multiple years, including in additional personnel. Without it, the transition will not be successful, individuals will not be in the most appropriate settings, and the savings would be unrealized.

Gov. Gina Raimondo has committed to new leadership for BHDDH and DDD to lead this transformation, and progress is being made. However, we are at a point in the transformation that requires investment in the division and the services they fund.

A review of the proposed budgets for the BHDDH-DDD, shows a revised current year budget, including general revenue and federal funding, of $269 million and the proposed fiscal year 2019 budget of $248 million, a reduction of $21 million.

A $21 million reduction in funding at a time when investments are needed. As a legislator, I appreciate the challenge the governor is confronting, especially in light of our structural deficit. Any increases in revenues should be invested in Rhode Island’s most vulnerable citizens, including individuals living with I/DD. It is the right thing to do, and it will help continue progress toward system transformation and compliance with the consent decree.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said it best: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

Louis P. DiPalma, a Rhode Island state senator, is a Democrat serving Newport, Middletown, Little Compton, and Tiverton

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

tom Kane                         RI capitol tv Image

tom Kane                         RI capitol tv Image

By Gina Macris 

This article has been updated. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RI Senate Finance Hearing Highlights Cost Overruns, Challenges, in DD Budgets

By Gina Macris 

Cost overruns are a recurring theme for Rhode Island’s Division of Developmental Disabilities, with expenses for mandated services running  about $4.4 million over budget in the current fiscal year, while $6 million in projected savings group home-related costs  are proving elusive. 

Overall, Governor Gina Raimondo seeks to close out the current fiscal year with a total of $250.6 million in developmental disabilities funding and requests $256.7 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Taken together, the $4.4 million increase she has requested in current spending and the proposed increase of nearly $6.1 million for the next fiscal year run almost $10.5 million more than the existing budget authorized by the General Assembly - $246.2 million.   

At a budget hearing April 4, members of the Senate Finance Committee seemed to understand the challenges faced by the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), but Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, still asked officials for more realistic budget figures in the future.

One case in point was $100,000 in actual savings in costs related to group homes, rather than the $2.6 million cut in state revenue that originally had been projected during the current fiscal year. 

The savings are associated with a shift in residential care from group homes to less costly shared living arrangements in private homes scattered throughout the state, a change that is driven both by budgetary constraints and federal Medicaid rules.

In April of 2016, BHDDH said it would move a total of 100 individuals with developmental disabilities from group homes to shared living by the end of the fiscal year June 30, but it achieved only 27 transfers, DiPalma said. 

For the current fiscal year, the goal is 66 moves. Noting the $2.5 million gap between projected and actual savings, DiPalma said he would have recommended a target of 45 transfers. 

But “the budget is what it is,” he said.

“If you want to move someone, they have to say yes,” DiPalma said. “If they say no, they stay where they are.”

Rebecca Boss, the acting BHDDH director, said, “you are right about the challenges.”

But she added that BHDDH already has 45 commitments from group home residents who have agreed to go into shared living.  

A year ago, the Division of Developmental Disabilities had not yet done a “deep dive” into the shared living program to understand what needed to be done to make it more attractive to consumers, Boss said.  She suggested that since then, officials have identified some issues that have prevented more rapid expansion of the program, but Boss was not specific.

Pressed for more details, she said they would be forthcoming in a month – May 5.  At last count in December, there were 333 residents in shared living arrangements and 1,283 in state or privately-run group homes, according to a Senate fiscal analysis. 

In the next budget, beginning July 1, BHDDH has proposed saving $3.9 million in state revenue related to movement out of group homes, but Boss said she could not guarantee that the department would meet its future budget targets. 

DiPalma also warned Boss that a similar transition away from group home care for children in state custody has shown that, for a time, residential costs actually increase because the state must maintain group housing while it builds its community-based network of home care.

A big part of the savings plan in the next fiscal year is to close a total of five group homes run directly by the state through Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS), a division of BHDDH, including two in July, one in October, and two in January, 2018. 

Jim Cenerini, legislative affairs and political action coordinator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 94, (AFSCME) expressed concern about the closures, which would move 30 residents, or 20 percent of the 150 people in the state-run system, into private care.

He said BHDDH officials have not talked about the closings with the union, which represents several hundred workers staffing the homes. 

Boss said BHDDH officials would be “more than happy” to sit down with the union.

Cenerini said, “We believe RICLAS provides a very vital service as a provider of last resort.”  He maintained that RICLAS residents are not ready to go to shared living arrangements. 

Two years ago, the union negotiated many cost-saving concessions with BHDDH that gave the department much more flexibility in staffing, but BHDDH hasn’t implemented any of the reforms except to hire seasonal workers who are ineligible for benefits, Cenerini said.

RICLAS workers are state employees, many of whom make at least double the poverty-level wages of workers in a parallel system of private agencies under contract with the state to provide most of the developmental disability services.

DiPalma told Cenerini that the “train has left the station” on the shift from congregate care to settings that are more like home. 

The change in Medicaid rules have been influenced by the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act requires services for all people with disabilities to be available in the least restrictive environment that is therapeutically appropriate. That environment is presumed to be the community for both daytime and residential services.

“It’s up to us to figure out how to move those people into the community,” DiPalma said, and “how to facilitate the  workers at RICLAS to do other things.”  The conversation should not be about residents remaining in RICLAS homes “because this is what we have,” DiPalma said.

Cenerini emphasized that RICLAS offers continuity of care, something the private system lacks because of low wages and high turnover. “I don’t want to see the destruction of my union,” he said.

About 20 RICLAS workers also host adults with developmental disabilities in their homes as shared living providers, Cenerini said.

One reason BHDDH has a hard time meeting budget targets, Cenerini said, is that “they are asked to do so much with so little.”

Testimony at the hearing reiterated support for a $6 million wage increase in the fiscal year beginning July 1 for private-sector direct care workers, who now earn an average of about $11.14 an hour, according to the latest figures provided by Donna Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island. 

The current hourly average of $11.14 is only slightly higher than the federal poverty level of $9.82 an hour for a single parent household with two children, a profile that represents the typical direct care worker in developmental disability services, she said.

About one in three workers a year leave private agencies, many of them for slightly higher pay in a local market or to work at RICLAS, where they are paid an additional $5 an hour to do the same work, Martin said in written testimony she submitted to the committee.

The budget now in effect gave private-sector workers their first increase in a decade, putting an additional 36 cents an hour in their pockets, before taxes.  

DiPalma has sponsored a resolution that would increase the pay of these workers to $15 an hour in five years – the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2021. (In the House, State Rep. Teresa A. Tanzi has sponsored a similar resolution, which would achieve a $15 hourly rate in three years – by July 1, 2019.)

DiPalma’s and Tanzi’s resolutions also urge the legislature to link future annual raises to the consumer price index so that pay stays ahead of the minimum wage, currently $9.60 an hour. Governor Raimondo has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $10.50 on July 1.   The Senate Finance Committee held a separate hearing on wage increases May 21. (Click here to read related article.)

DiPalma highlighted another feature of the budget that seeks to add a total of $500,000, or $250,000 in state funds, to a supplemental allocation for developmental disability services that he said runs about $20 million to $22 million annually.

These supplemental funds are used when those receiving developmental disability services believe their individual budgets are inadequate and make a successful argument for more money, or when they need a short term boost in care triggered by events like a discharge from a hospital, according to Kerri Zanchi, Director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities.

DiPalma said he concurred with the use of funds to cover short-term extra needs, but he believed $22 million a year, or 10 percent of all service appropriations -  was too high for supplemental appropriations. 

 He called on BHDDH to change the equation that assigns individual funding.

Zanchi said the individual budgets are assigned on the basis of a standardized assessment of an individual’s need called the Supports Intensity Scale. In November, Rhode Island moved to an updated version of the assessment believed to be more accurate and began tracking the results to see if the number of appeals decline in the long run.

DiPalma noted that the current arrangement favors those who have the strongest advocates on their behalf.

Another hearing on budget is scheduled before a subcommittee of the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, April 11, in Room 35 of the State House at the conclusion of that day’s full House session. 

 

 

Friends of the Disabled to Hold Forum in Newport on DD Services in Rhode Island

By Gina Macris

Friends of the Disabled, organized by Newport County families who have members with intellectual or developmental disabilities, will host a forum on the future of Rhode Island’s disability service system Wednesday, Oct. 5, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Newport campus of the Community College of RI. 

Candidates for the General Assembly have been invited to attend and address several questions about adult services that are provided by the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), according to Chris Semonelli of Middletown, co-director of the group.  

Most of the issues of concern to the parents are related to a history of declining funding.  The General Assembly, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. District Court, and Governor Gina Raimondo, added about $11 million to developmental disabilities for the current fiscal year to comply with a federal consent decree requiring community-based employment and day services. 

Wednesday's program will cover current and future options for both daytime and residential services. 

The consent decree does not apply to residential services, although parents have expressed concern about the future availability of group home placements, which have been hard to come by in recent years. 

Since January, BHDDH has been emphasizing shared living arrangements, in which adults with developmental disabilities live in private homes. BHDDH should provide better supports to families providing shared living, according to Jane Gallivan, who until Sept. 30 served as Interim Director of Developmental Disabilities. 

Parental Concerns Over RI Consent Decree Persist; State Says No One With DD Will be Forced Into Job

 All Photos by Anne Peters

 All Photos by Anne Peters

Jeanne Connery, mother of a young adult on autism spectrum, talks about a job trial that did not go well for her daughter during Wednesday's public forum at the Buttonwoods Community Center in Warwick.

By Gina Macris

“You threw the baby out with the bathwater when you eliminated sheltered workshops,” Brian Newton, the father of a woman with developmental disabilities, told Rhode Island officials at a public forum in Warwick Aug. 17.

In reality, most, but not all, sheltered workshops in Rhode Island closed abruptly in the wake of U.S. Department of Justice findings in 2014 that segregated employment – at sub-minimum wage – violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

“What happened to my daughter’s right to work in a sheltered workshop?” he asked. She and her friends “were happy making 5, 7, 12 dollars a week,” Newton said.

“You have to admit there’s a certain population that will never work” at a regular job, he said.

Newton looked straight at Jane Gallivan, Rhode Island’s interim Director of Developmental Disabilities, who happens to have three decades’ professional experience in Maine and Delaware and a national reputation among her peers as an innovator.

Gallivan smiled as she looked back at Newton and slowly shook her head from side to side, kindly but firmly.

“Not to go there,” said Gallivan, who has extensive experience promoting job opportunities for individuals facing intellectual challenges.

Newton persisted, saying there’s a “certain percentage” that won’t be  “bagging groceries or doing piece work.” 

“I hope not,” Gallivan replied. “I hope it’s customized to what they can do.”

Newton:  “They have to have somebody with them.”

Gallivan

Gallivan

Gallivan: “People have job coaches now. You can have a job coach for a very long time.”

 Jeanne Connery, the mother of a 20-year-old woman on the autism spectrum, said her daughter has a high aptitude for math and science but does not connect with people.

She was placed in a job trial in a retail store, where she tagged and stocked shoes and boots, an experience which was not a good match for her, Connery said.

What her daughter needed was the Job Club at the Groden Center, a group that talked about the social and behavioral pointers that do not come intuitively to people on the autism spectrum, Connery said.

That job club did not have the capacity to take on another group member, according to Joseph F. Murphy, administrator in the state Office of Rehabilitation Services.

Mary Madden, Rhode Island’s Consent Decree Coordinator, said, “The bottom line is that this is a free country. Nobody is going to make your son or daughter go to work at a job that isn’t appropriate to them. I just want to say that there are a lot of misconceptions out there.”

There are now “400 people working in the community,” Madden said.

Most of them “are not bagging groceries or working at Home Depot,” Madden said. “We haven’t done a good job getting stories out” about individuals with unique skills matched to the needs of a company.

In fact, one person with a unique job was in the audience. Mark Susa of Warwick, with the help of his father, John Susa, and paid support staff, trains peers with disabilities – readers and non-readers alike -  to use public transportation independently.

Mark Susa also serves on the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. 

Madden, meanwhile, said that regardless of the 2014 consent decree which mandated integration of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,“people should be doing meaningful things every day.

Jennifer wood

Jennifer wood

“Not everyone is in the community all of the time. People only tend to work 10, 15, or 20 hours a week. They should be able the rest of the time to do something meaningful,” she said.

Gallivan, Madden and others, including Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, gave an audience of about 75 people progress reports on budgetary and programmatic fronts since the last community forum in late April.

Among other things, front line support staff will see wage increases in their paychecks by October 1, along with a lump sum retroactive to July 1.

The General Assembly earmarked $5 million for wage increases to some 4,000 direct support staff in the current budget. The increase will average about 30 cents an hour, or about $600 a year, before taxes, based on a 40-hour work week.  

Another $6.8 million in the budget will be set aside for performance bonuses as private service providers meet certain benchmarks in moving clients into jobs in the community and helping keep those jobs.

During the last two months, there has been nearly a complete turnover in the leadership of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, with two key positions yet to be filled.

The state is looking for a new departmental director to succeed Maria Montanaro, who left at the end of June, as well as a permanent Director of Developmental Disabilities to replace Charles Williams, who retired at the end of July.

In the meantime, the deputy BHDDH director, Rebecca Boss, serves as acting director. She attended the community forum.

Gallivan said she can remain as Interim Director of Developmental Disabilities only until the end of September.

Recently retired from the top developmental disabilities post in Delaware, Gallivan had promised her mother, now 101 years old, that she could spend winters with her in her home in Florida. That was before Rhode Island came calling. Gallivan's mother is spending the summer on Cape Cod. 
“How many more winters are we going to have together?” Gallivan said. “That’s why I’m not going to continue much longer” than September, she said.

Wood, the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, quipped that Gallivan’s mother has, in effect, set the timeline for filling the developmental disabilities director’s job.

Gallivan said the challenges Rhode Island faces are “not very different than in many of the other states.”

“We need to have a strong vision of what it is we want to have in Rhode Island,” Gallivan said. “That’s my task when I’m here.”

She indicated there are conflicting internal and external pressures on state government with regard to developmental disabilites.

“Internally, there’s a lot of pressure to deal with rising costs. Externally, the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services,  “who give us 50 percent of the money, wants us to look at services differently.”

By 2019, all states must provide Medicaid and Medicare services in all categories in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate, according to the latest rules of the CMS. The rule change is in keeping with the Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which clarified a mandate for integrated community-based services in Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Olmstead decision also forms the legal basis for the 2014 consent decree in Rhode Island, which affects only daytime supports for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Gallivan was asked about the Supports Intensity Scale, (SIS) a controversial needs assessment questionnaire that is used to develop individual funding allocations.

She said the Division of Disabilities “has begun to take a close look” at variability in the scores of the SIS at it has been administered in Rhode Island.

For an individual with developmental disabilities, the results of periodic reassessments are supposed to be relatively stable, because the need for support generally does not change dramatically over a lifetime.

However, analyses of SIS scores performed by a healthcare consulting company under contract to the state show that 46 percent of individuals who were re-assessed showed changed levels of need – and funding.

The review of the use of the SIS is “high on the agenda,” Gallivan said.

Sue Joinson  asked whether there will be an “opening of restrictions on residential placements,” which appear to be available only to families who are in crisis.

“Why is it that I can’t get a concrete plan” for the transition of the younger of her two daughters with developmental disabilities? she asked. She is 60 and her husband is 70, Joinson said.

Gallivan said residential services have been identified “as a need.”

“We need to evaluate all residential options” including shared living, “and move slowly,” she said.

Wood, meanwhile, said that the legal framework of the “least restrictive environment” in the ADA means that state policy does not assume that a group home is the most appropriate residential setting for an individual with developmental disabilities.

The state must offer a “continuum” of options suited to individual needs, she said.

 

Jane Gallivan Settling In as Interim Director of Developmental Disability Services in RI

Jane Gallivan  Photo by Anne pETERS

Jane Gallivan  Photo by Anne pETERS

By Gina Macris

Six days into her new role as an acting director of developmental disabilities in Rhode Island, Jane Gallivan said she has met an “extremely welcoming staff” who are “ready to improve what they’re doing.” 

“It’s a staff that has had a rough time. Underneath all the workload issues, trying to get the work done, they have some good values,” she said. 

“They are kind of desperate for leadership,” she said, from “someone with depth of experience with developmental disabilities.”

“I am very impressed with the staff, but they need a vision,” she said. 

Gallivan, who has great breadth and depth of experience in developmental disability issues elsewhere, said she’s “not sure that the focus has been what it needs to be” in Rhode Island. Some people are “nervous” about change, she said. 

Gallivan spoke July 12 at the monthly meeting of the Employment First Task Force, a committee representative of community agencies and parents that is intended to serve as a bridge between state government and individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities and their families. 

The Employment First Task Force was created by a 2014 federal consent decree in which Rhode Island agreed to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act by moving away from sheltered workshops toward integrated, community-based employment and other activities. 

 In its 2014 findings in the sheltered workshop investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice said, among other things, that developmental disability social workers at the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) were small in number and lacked the training and specialization needed to work with their clients, particularly in the area of job supports and community integration. 

Charles Williams, the soon-to-retire director of developmental disabilities, says the average caseload for each of the 20 social workers in case management is about 190 clients. 

Gallivan, who has more than three decades’ experience as a state-level developmental disabilities director in Maine and Delaware, will help  select someone to fill that role in Rhode Island, according to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services. 

“We are very grateful to have her,” said Wood. 

Kevin Nerney, chairman of the Employment First Task Force, asked if the group could be represented on the search committee for the new developmental disabilities director. 

Wood, who is leading an interdepartmental team charged with turning around developmental disability services and complying with the consent decree, said, “I can’t make any firm commitments today.” (Click here for article on Wood and her team.)

“I think it is appropriate, and I will keep it firmly in mind as that search committee is selected,” she added. 

Gallivan, who said she values the stakeholder group, suggested that task force members make a list of the characteristics they believe the next developmental disabilities director should have and send them to her. Change cannot occur without a strong community advocacy group, Gallivan said.  

Gallivan worked for 28 years as developmental disabilities director in Maine, where she oversaw implementation of a federal consent decree focused on de-institutionalization. Besides her consent decree experience, she also has dealt with issues like those Rhode Island faces, including the need for supported employment, shared living arrangements, and the introduction of electronic records. 

She said she worked for 7 or 8 governors in Maine, before “the current governor and I parted ways.”  Gallivan moved into the same position in Delaware, intending to stay two years, and remained for four. 

Gallivan, who is spending two to three days a week in Rhode Island, said, “I love the work,” but “my family is not happy” with her decision to accept a temporary stint here. Her responsibilities include her 101-year-old mother, Gaillivan said, so she’ll “not be coming out of retirement,”

 

 

 

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

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

ABNEY                                          Image by Capitol TV

ABNEY                                          Image by Capitol TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In addition:

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

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

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

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

Montanaro                                                               Image by Capitol TV

Montanaro                                                               Image by Capitol TV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tobon                                                           Image by Capitol TV 

Tobon                                                           Image by Capitol TV 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serpa                                                  Image by RI Capitol TV 

Serpa                                                  Image by RI Capitol TV 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KanE                                                    ImAge by Capitol TV 

KanE                                                    ImAge by Capitol TV 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

RI Governor's New Request for More DD Funding To Go Before House Finance Committee Thursday

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has proposed adding nearly $16.9 million in state and federal revenue funds during the next fiscal year to shore up the state’s developmental disability system, which is under a federal court order to expand participation of adults with intellectual challenges in work and leisure activities in their communities to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). 

The addition of these funds, in four disability-related categories, will be heard by the House Finance Committee May 26, along with dozens of other proposed amendments Raimondo submitted in light of positive revenue estimates made a few weeks ago by state fiscal analysts. 

The new revenue reflects a change in the Governor’s approach to budgeting for developmental disability reforms, which originally depended on cost-shifting within the Division of Disabilities in the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

The disability-related amendments are:

  •  An additional $4 million - about equally divided between state and federal funds – to raise the wages of some 4,000 direct care workers for private agencies that provide most of the services to adults with developmental disabilities. The amendment would raise the total allocation for worker raises from $5 million to $9 million.
  • A $10 million increase in reimbursements to private providers, including $5 million in additional state revenue, to restore most of the cuts in housing costs made in the Governor’s original budget. That proposal projected 500 adults with developmental disabilities would move from group homes to shared living arrangements with individual families by June 30, 2017, although those estimates were later lowered to 300.  A total of 21 individuals have moved during the current fiscal year, according to the latest figures released by BHDDH. The added revenue will enable BHDDH to take a “more appropriate, more deliberative approach to transition individuals from group homes to shared living arrangements” in the future, according to Michael Raia, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
  • A total of $170,000 in state and federal funding for an ombudsman who would protect the rights of adults with developmental disabilities. Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to define the office and its duties, in response to the death of a resident of a state-run group home in February.
  • Restoration of $4.4 million in state and federal funds used to pay for professional services like physical therapy in day centers, In February, the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) sought to shift the entire $2.2 million to Medicaid managed care organizations, but families complained that services had in fact been denied. The action was rescinded in March.

One of many provisions of a U.S. District Court order issued by Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. on May 18 is that “the State will appropriate the additional money contained in the Governor’s budget for fiscal year 2017 in order to fund compliance with the Consent Decree.” 

Any violation of that or any other requirement in the 21-point court order would allow the U.S. Department of Justice or the independent court monitor in the case to ask the judge for a contempt hearing. If the state is found in contempt, it will be fined a minimum of $5,000 a day for the duration of the violation, up to $1 million a year. 

In a telephone interview May 25, BHDDH director Maria Montanaro emphasized the need for the total $9 million Governor Raimondo has earmarked for wage hikes for direct care staff in the private service system, in addition to the other adjustments.  

Part of what the court wants is a redesign of reimbursement rates, which is more complicated than only raising wages, Montanaro said. The changes in reimbursement that the judge wants, however, can’t be accomplished without paying the workers more, she said. 

Raimondo’s budget originally envisioned an increase of $5 million in state and federal funds to pay for a 45-cent hourly wage increase for a workforce now making an average of roughly $11.50 an hour, according to testimony in recent House and Senate committee hearings. 

Montanaro could not say exactly how the additional $4 million in federal and state funds would further affect wages, but it would allow BHDDH management and agency representatives to discuss factors like the salaries of supervisors of direct care staff and the cost of employer taxes and benefits, she said. Those discussions would be held after the budget is adopted, she said. 

 Currently, private agencies are not fully reimbursed for those employer costs, spokesmen for the service providers have testified at recent budget hearings, and they operate at loss for each person they employ.  

 

 

Judge in Disabilities Case to Mull Costly Sanctions Against RI

By Gina Macris

U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. said May 2 he is prepared to take “swift and dramatic action” if the state of Rhode Island fails to adequately fund a 2014 consent decree intended to correct longstanding  violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

U.S. District Court RI

U.S. District Court RI

Nicole Kovite Zeitler, lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, said she plans to file a formal request  asking the judge to order the state to contribute to a “consent decree compliance fund” unless adequate funding is secured by “a date certain” through the budgetary process, now underway in the General Assembly.

Neither Zeitler nor the judge put a specific dollar amount on the cost of the consent decree, although McConnell said he wants to see the money in Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal enacted “at a minimum.”

Zeitler and the state’s lawyer, Marc DeSisto, will take one week to decide whether they can jointly submit a proposed order to McConnell, according to an informal schedule the judge approved from the bench.

If the two sides cannot work together, the DOJ will draft its own proposal. McConnell will hear arguments and then make a decision. The date of the next hearing has not yet been set.

The developmental disability system in Rhode Island has been underfunded for a decade, Zeitler said.

Moreover, she said she is concerned that the cost of the consent decree is being misrepresented in budgetary discussions. 

Families fear that the state is shutting sheltered workshops and providing nothing in their place, and “we share those concerns,” she said.

Zeitler, meanwhile, said the cost of the consent decree is being characterized in budget hearings at the State House as $1.8 million, but the consent decree requires changes throughout the developmental disability system.

The sum of $1.8 million happens to be one line item in the budget of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) for subsidizing one-time start-up costs incurred by direct service providers who convert to community-based services from the segregated employment and day programs that the DOJ found in violation of the ADA.

 

Impact of Budget Plan Unclear

In the next 14 months, Raimondo wants to put an additional $24.1 million into private agencies that provide most of the direct services to adults with developmental disabilities, but whether her budget actually will achieve that goal remains open to question.

The way the budget document is now written, $19.3 million of that sum would come from savings in residential costs as occupants of group homes move into less costly shared living arrangements with individual families throughout the state. The proposal counts on 100 group home residents making the transition by June 30 on a strictly voluntary basis and another 200 moving in the next fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2017.

In the last ten months, however, only 21 individuals have entered shared living arrangements, accounting for a projected savings of about $200,000 in the current fiscal year, according to BHDDH figures.

There are other uncertainties about the budget.

The independent monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, and the DOJ are looking for a reconfigured method of reimbursing service providers that would allow them flexibility to individualize community-based services while requiring that they meet performance targets.

The new reimbursement model would come with increased funding to the agencies, but BHDDH director Maria Montanaro told the Senate Finance Committee last week there isn’t enough money in the Governor’s budget plan to extend this methodology to all the service providers. Instead, Montanaro proposed a pilot program involving a “subset” of the service providers.

A spokeswoman for the provider agencies, Donna Martin, said she “respectfully disagreed” with Montanaro’s  approach. 

“If we target certain agencies (for pay hikes), we will not be able to recruit staff for any other program,”  said Martin, executive director of the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island (CPNRI) .

“We are facing an incredible staffing crisis,” she told the Senate Finance Committee.

 “Our staff are working minimum wage jobs. We are competing with McDonald’s” for workers, Martin said.

According to the current reimbursement rules, BHDDH pays service providers only for the time clients spend in direct contact with daytime support staff. That person-to-person interaction must be reported for each client and each worker, in 15-minute increments, throughout the day. Agencies are not paid when clients are absent, for whatever reason.

Job-scouting activities, in which a service provider might meet with a potential employer, are not part of the standard funding allocation package for individual clients.Clients who want employment supports must give up some hours in another category to get this funding. 

Until 2011, service providers received a set per-person allocation for a bundle of services that could be individualized, depending on a client’s needs.  Martin indicated that providers need a similarly flexible arrangement going forward to meet their obligations under terms of the consent decree.


Montanaro, meanwhile, said during the Senate Finance Committee meeting that a recent planning exercise came up with a $30 million price tag for applying a redesigned reimbursement model to all the service providers. She said that price tag was “impossible,” at a time when the department faced a $7 million deficit in the current budget.

Delays in Eligibility Decisions

Meanwhile, a backlog of applications for adult services that has caught the attention of the court could put additional strain on the budget that is not yet defined.

A BHDDH official told parents last week that there is a “very significant backlog” of pending applications for eligibility. At an average annual cost of $50,000 per client, an increase of 100 to the BHDDH caseload would add $5 million to the BHDDH budget.

BHDDH has been under pressure from the court to determine eligibility for young people promptly as they approach their 18th birthday, when they are defined by law as eligible for adult developmental disability services as long as they meet certain criteria.  

Since March, the Consent Decree Coordinator, Mary Madden, and other state officials have met with representatives of applicants for adult services who have experienced “inordinately long delays” in getting eligibility determinations as well as “receiving inadequate communication about the progress of their applications,” according to a report to the court submitted by the state last week.

“Those individual cases have been resolved,” the report said, but Madden told the court Monday the backlog still exists. She could not say how many applications are stuck in the pipeline.

Action Items Long Past Due

Many of the questions put to Madden and to Jennifer Wood, Deputy Secretary of the Executive Office of Human Services, had to do with pending consent decree action items that are long past due.

The state and the monitor were to have settled on a protocol for reporting compliance by Oct. 1, 2014, but it became common knowledge to dozens of individuals following the implementation of the consent decree that Moseley was having trouble getting access to BHDDH data throughout 2015.

Wood reported Monday that a confidential electronic data base allowing the monitor to track compliance according to each individual affected by the consent decree will go online in 2017, although an interim solution, in a quarterly report, will be available July 1.  

A Quality Improvement initiative was to have been launched by Nov. 1, 2014, but it is still waiting for the appointment of a quality improvement director. Funding for the position has been authorized. Each individual affected by the consent decree was to have an individual career development plan by Jan. 1 of this year, but those are not all in place.

The performance-based contracts that Montanaro said would be part of a new pilot reimbursement program with a portion of the service providers were to have been implemented system-wide by Jan. 1, 2015. 

A public education plan to explain the requirements and the philosophy of the consent decree was to have been up and running Sept. 1, 2014.

BHDDH officials submitted what they believed was the final version of the public education plan to the monitor on April 1, but Madden told the monitor Monday that “events of late have caused us to think how many more people need to be involved.”

She did not elaborate. BHDDH officials who hosted a “town hall” meeting with families and consumers in Warwick last week were met with a wave of hostile comments about the consent decree and disability services.

 

 

 

RI Families Blast Consent Decree and DD Services

By Gina Macris

Officials of Rhode Island’s developmental disability system hit blowback Wednesday from family members who oppose a 2014 federal consent decree that requires the state to move from sheltered workshops and segregated day programs to community-based work and leisure activities.

Debra Feller

Debra Feller

Debra Feller, whose son has developmental disabilities, challenged the basis of the decree, saying it is contrary to the very law on which it is based, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), by limiting, rather than expanding, opportunities for employment.

The decree, “violates the ADA“ for people like her son, who cannothandle outside employment, Feller said. She also contended that“sheltered workshops are being allowed to deteriorate at the expense of the consent decree.”

Michael Carroll, who works at a day facility in Middletown run by the James L. Maher Center of Newport, mocked a consent decree mandate that the state help adults with disabilities find and keep jobs in the community.

“The emperor has no clothes,” Carroll declared. “These jobs don’t exist. What happens then?”

The “same individuals who were working before at subminimum wage are now doing nothing,” Carroll said.

Their comments came during  a two-hour “town hall” meeting at the Buttonwoods Community Center on West Shore Road in Warwick, where about 100 consumers, their families and state officials discussed both the philosophical as well as the practical underpinnings of the consent decree.

The decree was signed after the U.S. Department of Justice found Rhode Island violated Title II of the ADA because it unnecessarily segregated adults with developmental disabilities in day programs or workshops that paid sub-minimum wage.

Title II of the ADA, underscored by the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, says that services must be provided to individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities in the least restrictive setting that is appropriate.

Maria Montanaro, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), was to lead the session in Warwick, but she was ill Wednesday. Other BHDDH officials, including Andrew McQuaide, chief transformation officer, and Charles Williams, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities, responded to the comments.

Thee sister of a man who is significantly impaired said the employment mandate of the consent decree was being carried out to an illogical extreme, at least in her brother’s case.

Lidia Goodinson said her brother is 56 years old and “doesn’t know the concept of work. ““Nobody would expect a two year-old to go out and get a job,” she said.

And yet her brother’s social worker told her that “to get funding, he has to look for work.”

Williams, of BHDDH, said, “Your response is to say that ‘I don’t believe he can work.’ “

Goodinson, however, said she did make herself clear. Nevertheless, the social worker said, “This is what the state requires,” according to Goodinson.

Williams asked Goodinson to give him the name of the social worker after the meeting.  

When Debra Feller asked whether “a sheltered workshop is a reasonable or appropriate environment for anybody,” the BHDDH transformation chief, McQuaide, said:  “The consent decree says it is not.”

McQuaide said there are many individuals with developmental disabilities who can and want to work in the community but can’t access the supports they need. The consent decree is designed to give them that choice.

“Nobody’s arguing about that,” Feller replied, but individuals like her son “can’t be left out of the conversation, either.”

The government is “stepping on their rights by saying they can’t be in a sheltered workshop,” Feller said. The audience applauded her remarks.

 McQuaide said the Department of Justice will say the consent decree “does not close sheltered workshops, but effectively it does.”

He said the state still has sheltered workshops, but at some time in the future, the state will no longer fund those.

He agreed with Feller that a sheltered workshop can provide space for a meaningful activity and foster long-lasting relationships, but he said those same meaningful relationships and activities can occur in the community.

As to Michael Carroll’s challenge that community-based jobs don’t exist, McQuaide said the employment targets in the consent decree are not “so astronomical” as to be difficult to achieve.

McQuaide scotched a rumor that the consent decree requires the state to close all segregated day facilities.

One center in Bristol is closing because its neighbor, Roger Williams University, wants to buy the property and the state has agreed to sell it, McQuaide said.  He said some of the people who attend that program will go to the Middletown center operated by the Maher Center and others will have community-based day programs.

McQuaide, after hearing the comments during the town meeting, said that “we have to do a much better job communicating about the consent decree.”  He offered to give Feller contact information for DOJ lawyers.

At the very least, the families’ comments underlined a gap between the promise of the consent decree and its day-to-day implementation in a service system hindered by poverty-level wages for professional staff workers and restrictive rules that prohibit flexibility and innovation.

Between 2008 and 2011, funding for developmental disability services was cut 20 percent, according to statistics presented in February to the state Senate Committee on Health and Human Services by the director of the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College.  

A. Anthony Antosh said a smaller percentage of individuals with developmental disabilities had community-based jobs in 2015, a year after the consent decree was signed, than had been employed earlier at minimum wage or higher.  

“What has increased is the number of people who are essentially doing nothing” during the day, he told the committee.

After the consent decree was signed in 2014, sheltered workshops began closing abruptly under pressure from a previous BHDDH administration. Private agencies strapped for cash had no alternative programs already in place to support their clients in the transition to work and leisure activities in their communities.

At the Buttonwoods Community Center on Wednesday, BHDDH's Williams touched a nerve when he told parents they needed to be frank about their loved ones’ support needs during a periodic assessment called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS).

Debra Feller said she was direct but “the SIS intake person refused to accept my answer,” a comment which again drew applause from the audience.

“I asked, ‘How long before I get this back?’ “ she said.  The BHDDH worker told her she didn’t know, “because I didn’t answer the questions the way she wanted,” Feller said.

The Department of Justice found that that the SIS was being used improperly as a funding mechanism. The multiple choice questionnaire was developed by the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities as a guide in defining the supports necessary to help a particular person achieve his or her individualized goals.

The consent decree requires an outside health consulting firm to do an annual analysis of the way BHDDH uses the SIS and to submit the report to the independent court monitor in the case.

Devlin Allen, who hosts a man with developmental disabilities as a shared living provider, said that after a recent SIS, his client’s funding was cut by $8,000 a year, a 24 percent cut in reimbursement, which makes it “very difficult to maintain that  person in my home.” 

“They’re cutting the funding because we’re doing a good job with an individual,” he said. The SIS should take into account that if the supports are removed, a client’s level of need will increase, he said.

Williams told Allen to file an appeal. Almost all, if not all, appeals are granted, Williams said.

In closing, McQuaide said Montanaro, the department director, would reschedule her appearance for sometime in May. 

Funding Shift in RI Developmental Disabilities Budget Falling Far Short of Goal

By Gina Macris

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s strategy for funding federally-mandated reforms to developmental disability services is in trouble, according to updated figures that emerged in a Senate Finance committee hearing Tuesday. 

Raimondo’s proposed budget puts an overall price tag of $24.1 million on expanded community-based services funded through the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) over the next 14 months to satisfy a first-in-the-nation consent decree designed to correct violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

        MARIA MONTANARO

        MARIA MONTANARO

The BHDDH budget plan relies on a total of $19.3 million savings in group home costs to pay for most of that $24 million bill, but the actual savings are materializing at a trickle. BHDDH director Maria Montanaro told the Senate Finance Committee only $200,000 in reductions are expected by the end of the current fiscal year June 30.

The $200,000 savings comes from an increase of 21 individuals who have moved from costly group home care to less expensive shared living arrangements since the start of the current fiscal year July 1, 2015, a BHDDH spokeswoman said Wednesday. In the last ten months, the total number of individuals in shared living has risen from 267 to 288. BHDDH had projected 100 new additions to shared living by June 30 of this year and 200 more in the next budget.

The $200,000 in savings is less than a tenth of the $3.1 million in housing cost reductions that BHDDH had hoped to realize in the current budget. 

The figures raise big questions about a huge revenue gap in Raimondo’s plan, which is due for its next review in U.S. District Court Monday, May 2 at 1:30 p.m. before Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. The state faces contempt proceedings and fines if it fails to adequately finance supported employment and other community-based services as required by the consent decree.

On Tuesday, the gap between projected and actual savings in the BHDDH budget caught the attention of Sen. Louis DiPalma,  (D-Newport, Middletown, Tiverton and Little Compton), who chaired the hearing.

DiPalma questioned Montanaro sharply.

“What are we doing about achieving $16.2 million?” he asked Montanaro, referring to the lion’s share of the $19.3 million cut in group home costs that is projected for the next fiscal year. 

First Montanaro said it is possible BHDDH will meet the targeted $16.2 million in savings as more individuals move into shared living.

“The pace will be slow,” she said. Shared living is “a completely voluntary activity.” Families are making a decision about something that is “a new concept and a scary concept.”

“With that said, I believe the target for (fiscal) 2017 will be realistic,” Montanaro said.

The goal may be possible, DiPalma said, “but the probability is zero.”

Exacerbating the financial situation at BHDDH is the short-term failure of a plan to shift a total of $4.4 million in professional services like physical and occupational therapy out of the BHDDH budget to Medicaid Managed Care. After BHDDH officials sent out letters in February telling clients to seek reimbursement directly from Medicaid, the Division of Developmental Disabilities received numerous complaints that individuals were, in fact, being denied services.

BHDDH rescinded the move in a subsequent letter of apology sent to consumers and families, at the same time nullifying planned savings of $2.2 million through June 30. Christopher Feisthamel, chief financial officer of BHDDH, said after the hearing Tuesday that the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHSS) hopes to eliminate some of the bureaucratic hurdles that stand in the way of that cost-shifting during the next fiscal year. He could not be more specific.

DiPalma, meanwhile, indicated after Tuesday’s budget hearing that legislators will have a clearer idea of where BHDDH stands after the May revenue estimating conference, which concludes May 9. At the twice-yearly conference, the top fiscal officers for the governor and each legislative branch reach consensus on estimates for state revenue and caseload expenditures that are used in final budget deliberations.

Montanaro’s testimony put the shift toward shared living in a philosophical and budgetary context.

The single underlying principle of the Rhode Island consent decree and similar settlements in other states is that the “state should try very hard to move to the most inclusive, community-based system possible,” she said. Supported housing and shared living is part of that movement, she said.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Montanaro said.

At the same time, “we are faced with a targeted goal from OMB (the state Office of Management and Budget). There are very few places we can go to make those cuts,” Montanaro said.

Seven years of rate cuts to the private agencies that provide most of the developmental disability services in Rhode Island “have dramatically weakened the system,” she said. These funding reductions “have left clients very vulnerable.”

After a devastating cut of more than $24 million in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the General Assembly has added a total of $18 million to the Division of Developmental Disabilities in succeeding budgets, but none of that money has reached the private service providers, according to Tom Kane, CEO of Access Point RI.

Instead, the money repeatedly has gone into plugging a structural hole in the BHDDH budget, he said.

Kane warned that if a $5.2 million supplemental increase to the current budget is not carried forward to the next fiscal year, the structural deficit will continue and the money Raimondo has set aside to shore up the private agencies will once again be diverted, threatening the stability of the entire service system. 

Earlier this month, Kane told a House Finance subcommittee that the private agencies operate at a loss of $5,700 a year for each person they employ, because the state does not cover the full amount of employer-related taxes and benefits.

On Tuesday, he indicated that said that if the agencies are forced to continue operating in the red, “there will be fewer of us next year.”

The General Assembly must “stabilize the system,” Kane said. 

Montanaro to Meet with Families and Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

By Gina Macris 

Rhode Islanders with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their family members will have a chance to speak with Maria Montanaro, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals Wednesday, April 27, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Buttonwoods Community Center, 3027 West Shore Rd., Warwick. 

The session will be the third such community meeting for Montanaro, who was appointed to the position by Governor Gina Raimondo in January, 2015. 

 Montanaro is expected to take questions from the audience and to discuss reforms underway in the division of developmental disabilities, one of the state agencies under federal oversight until Jan. 1, 2024, in connection with the way it delivers daytime supports to adults receiving its services. 

The division is gearing up for a shift from group home residential care to shared living arrangements with individual families throughout the state.  The move, intended to add 300 adults to shared living arrangements by June 30, 2017, would free up millions of dollars that would be reinvested in supported employment services and other integrated activities as required by a 2014 statewide consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice. 

There are now roughly 1300 people with intellectual or developmental disabilities living in group homes in Rhode Island. At the end of March, there were 288 individuals in shared living arrangements, an increase of 10 during that month, according to the most recent figures publicly available.

For directions to the Buttonwoods Community Center, click here. 

DD Budget Plan Scales Back Shared Living Expansion in Rhode Island

Hearing Highlights Two Systems of Care

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared Living Target Number Cut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis in Staffing Direct Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State Employees Fear for Their Jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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