Monitor Finds Providence School In "Substantial Compliance" With DD Civil Rights Agreement

By Gina Macris

Educators at Mount Pleasant High School have done a good job integrating special education students with their peers and preparing them for the world of work as adults.

That’s the overall conclusion of a federal court monitor who says the Providence School Department is in “substantial compliance” with a 2013 civil rights agreement which ordered an end to unnecessary segregation of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mandating instead an inclusive approach that prepares them to live and work in the community as adults.

The 2013 agreement followed a federal investigation which found that the Birch Academy, a special education program operating within a city high school, was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The monitor’s report comes as the state prepares to take control of Providence schools in light of an explosive report by a visiting team from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, which found dramatic deficiencies in teaching, learning, achievement and discipline throughout the system.

However, the detailed, 80-page report by the court monitor, Charles Moseley, does not place the school department’s compliance efforts in the context of the Johns Hopkins report or the pending state takeover.

The finding of “substantial compliance” sets the stage for a federal court hearing on whether the city should be granted early relief from federal oversight of the 2013 Interim Settlement Agreement (ISA), which is due to expire July 1, 2020. Even if federal oversight is not curtailed early, the school department was still required to achieve substantial compliance by midsummer of this year to have the agreement terminated as scheduled on July 1, 2020, according to lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice.

The school department had asked to shorten the length of the agreement months before the appointment of a new state Commissioner of Education, Angelica Infante-Greene, who sent in the Johns Hopkins educators to evaluate the entire school system.

A hearing on the city’s request for early relief is expected in early fall, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. District Court John J. McConnell, Jr., who is presiding over the case.

Moseley said his finding of substantial compliance referred only to the city, and not the state, which is also a defendant in the 2013 case because it licensed a sheltered workshop for adults with developmental disabilities where most Birch students ended up once they left school.

In 2014, after a broader investigation, the DOJ extended the finding of unnecessary segregation to all the state’s sheltered workshops and day care centers for adults with developmental disabilities. The state and the DOJ subsequently signed a separate consent decree mandating a transformation of all Rhode Island’s daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities to an inclusive model over ten years.

Students who leave Birch will continue to receive protections under the provisions of the 2014 consent decree.

‘Culture Of Low Expectations’

Moseley’s report recounted the investigation of the DOJ, which found a “culture of low expectations” at Birch, where students performed menial tasks in a sheltered workshop setting inside the school, often without pay, and were redirected to the work in front of them when they indicated an interest in finding work in the community.

Some students sorted buttons by color into bags or buckets that were emptied by staff at night to be re-sorted the following day, according to the findings.

When students with intellectual and developmental disabilities aged out of the school system, they were sent to a nearby sheltered workshop in North Providence. DOJ found that Birch “served as a direct pipeline” to that workshop, called Training Through Placement. Former Birch students often remained there for decades, even when they asked for a change.

Even before the ISA was signed in June, 2013, Providence closed the sheltered workshop at Birch and replaced the principal, putting the program under the supervision of the special education director. The school department set about redesigning the curriculum with the goal of helping students build skills and confidence to realize individualized post-secondary goals as members of the community at large.

Since 2013, the enrollment at Birch has varied at any given time from 51 to 65 students, according to Moseley’s data.

Moseley praised the redesigned Birch program for its “robust, engaging curriculum;” its efforts to integrate students facing intellectual challenges with their peers throughout the school day, and for providing experiences and activities designed to prepare young people to plan for jobs and otherwise lead regular lives once they finished high school.

In stark contrast, the Johns Hopkins team found a shortage of special education teachers in the system as a whole, with some of them admitting they hadn’t been able to meet their students’ individualized educational goals in years.

Though Mount Pleasant High School was one of the 12 schools visited by the Johns Hopkins observers, their final report does not indicate whether they were briefed on the ISA involving Birch Academy students.

Systemic Improvements Cited

Moseley’s assessment cited improvements in staffing, professional development and leadership, as well as collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Education and state agencies serving adults with developmental disabilities, particularly in connection with the development of transitional and supported employment services.

One highlight of this type of collaboration has been the creation of Project Search, a work internship program at the Miriam Hospital for students aged 18 to 21. Under this program, the hospital has hired some former Birch students as permanent employees.

Other endeavors offering real-world experiences, including practice in independent living, job discovery and employment –related skills, are the Providence Transition Academy and the Providence Autism School to Tomorrow Academy, Moseley said.

Some Difficulty In Compliance Noted

Moseley noted that the school district has had difficulty meeting two requirements:

  • Matching each Birch student with two internships before graduation, each one lasting at least 60 days

  • · Linking students and their families with representatives of adult service agencies, the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) and the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Of 11 students who were to leave school at the end of the academic year in June, nine had had two internships by the end of February and the remaining two students each had had one. Of those two, one completed a second internship in June. The family of the remaining student, who uses a wheelchair, did not want her using public transportation to go to and from another trial work experience, Moseley reported. He said the school department should have provided the student other options for transportation.

At the end of any given academic year, Providence reported between 51 percent and 91 percent of students preparing to leave school had completed two trial work experiences, although Moseley said this requirement has been met in the “vast majority” of cases.

He said the school department is making “meaningful efforts” to overcome barriers to the internships, such as transportation, irregular school attendance by some students, specific health care needs of others, and, in some instances, parental resistance.

In introducing students and families to adult services agencies, Moseley faulted the school department for not making it clear to parents that they may ask for a representative of either ORS or BHDDH to attend annual meetings for developing the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) for their son or daughter. The data on attendance at such meetings showed that ORS or BHDDH had a presence only when students were 19 or older, Moseley said. Transitional services are to be made available beginning at age 14, according to the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

Moseley said the state has agreed to amend the standard IEP meeting notice to give parents the option of requesting ORS or BHDDH attendance. The state has a contract with the private non-profit Rhode Island Parent Information Network to represent the adult service agencies at IEP meetings of students 14 through 17, Moseley noted.

Mosley said that since 2013, the changes made by the city and its school department “have shifted the focus of education and training toward the accomplishments of key benchmarks and provisions of the ISA.”

Assurances of funding and other important changes have grown out of a collaborative approach involving ORS, BHDDH and others that have resulted in memoranda of understandings “with the intention of producing enduring policy change,” Moseley wrote.

He said his reviews over the past few years “have documented the ability of PPSD (the Providence School Department) to maintain compliance with both the letter and intent of the ISA and strongly suggest that such changes will be maintained as ‘business as usual’ beyond the term of this agreement.”

RI Faces Uphill Climb Halfway Through DD Consent Decree Implementation

Bar graph on employment targets 60-30-19.JPG

Bar graph from RI’s latest report to federal court monitor indicates RI is on track to meet one of three categories of employment targets in 2019. “Youth Exit” refers to those those who left high school between 2013 and 2016. “Sheltered Workshop” and “Day Program” refer to persons who spent most of their time in those respective settings when the consent decree was signed.

By Gina Macris

Halfway through Rhode Island’s decade-long agreement with the federal government to ensure that adults with developmental disabilities can work and enjoy leisure time in the larger community:

  • Rhode Island has linked 38 percent of its intellectually challenged residents to acceptable jobs, prompting a federal monitor to warn that it needs to step up its game

  • Service providers argue that continued progress will take a larger financial investment than the state is making

  • Success stories abound but some families remain skeptical about whether the changes will ever work for their relatives.

Five years and three months after Rhode Island signed a federal consent decree to help adults with developmental disabilities get regular jobs and lead regular lives in their communities, 857 people have found employment. Yet, 1,398 others are still waiting for the right job match or for the services they need to prepare for work.

The pace of adding individuals to the employed category has slowed dramatically. Only 37 individuals were matched with jobs during the first two quarters of the current year. To meet its overall employment target for 2019, the state will have to find suitable job placements for 199 more adults. That would require a pace in the second half of the year that is five times faster than the first half.

Though the federal consent decree was signed in 2014, meaningful efforts to comply with its terms did not get underway until two years later, when a federal judge threatened to hold Rhode Island in contempt and levy fines if it did not take numerous and precise steps to begin compliance in a systematic way. At that point, state officials were struggling even to come up with an accurate count of the number of individuals protected by the consent decree, so inadequate was its data collection.

The active census of the consent decree population has grown since 2016, when the judge ordered the state to improve its record-keeping and the monitor forced the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) to look again at special education students who might be eligible for adult services.

The most recent figures show that there are 3,764 intellectually challenged adults active either with BHDDH or RIDE who covered by the consent decree.

Of that total, 211 were employed in the community prior to the consent decree. Some have signaled they don’t want to work, either because they are of retirement age or for other reasons. Nearly 1,200 others are still in school and not yet seeking jobs.

Of the 2,255 adults who must be offered employment over the life of the consent decree, 38 percent have landed jobs.

The figures are re-calculated every three months.

state's employment chart as of 6-30-19.JPG

Employment data from the state’s report to the consent decree monitor as of June 30, 2019. broken down by categories of persons who must be offered jobs. “Youth exit” refers to those those who left high school between 2013 and 2016. “Sheltered Workshop” and “Day Program” refer to persons who spent most of their time in those respective settings when the consent decree was signed.

Rhode Island agreed to overhaul its services for the developmentally disabled population after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice found the state’s over-reliance on segregated sheltered workshops and day care centers violated the integration mandate of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

People with disabilities have the civil right to the supports and services they need to live as part of their communities to the extent that it is therapeutically appropriate, the U.S. Supreme Court said in the Olmstead decision of 1999, which upheld the integration mandate. In other words, integration should be the norm, not the exception.

Some people couldn’t wait to get out of sheltered workshops when the consent decree was signed and quickly found jobs in the community with a little bit of assistance. But some families with sons and daughters who have more complex needs saw sheltered workshops close without any transition plan. For some of them, the consent decree continues to represent a sense of loss.

At a recent public forum, Kerri Zanchi, director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), and Brian Gosselin, the state’s consent decree coordinator, had just finished applauding the successes of those who have found jobs or are on their way to shaping their careers, when Trudy Chartier spoke up on behalf of her daughter.

Trudy Chartier * all photos by Anne Peters

Trudy Chartier * all photos by Anne Peters

Her daughter is 55, deaf, has intellectual and behavioral problems and uses a wheelchair, Chartier said. She wants a job in the community and she’s been looking for five years.

Her daughter was in a sheltered workshop for a while, Chartier said, and “she loved it.”

“She didn’t care about making $2 an hour,” her mother said, and she made friends there. Now, she said her daughter “is not getting anywhere” and is “so dissatisfied.”

At the age of 80, Chartier said, she doesn’t have the energy she once had to help her daughter change things.

Later, Douglas Porch sounded a similar concern. “I can understand that the idea is to get them into the community, but what it’s actually done is destroyed my daughter’s community, because you’ve taken away her friends.”

“She’s in a group home, with nothing for her to do,” Porch said.

Zanchi, the DDD director, said that the consent decree certainly has changed the way people receive services. The intent is “not to isolate, but the opposite, to build communities,” she said.

“If that’s not working and it sounds like it’s not, we need to hear about that,” Zanchi said. “We can help you so that she can engage with her peers more effectively.”

Another parent, Greg Mroczek, also spoke up. “In terms of all the possible models, isn’t a sheltered workshop for a segment of the DD population the best possible model? Isn’t that what people are saying? It worked for my daughter as well,” he said, and nothing has replaced it.

Kerri Zanchi

Kerri Zanchi

He asked whether the sheltered workshop is “off the table” in “any way, shape or form” in Rhode Island.

Zanchi talked about the state’s Employment First policy, which values full integration and“investing in the skills and talent of every person we support.”

“We know that individuals of all abilities have had successful employment outcomes. We also know that employment is not necessarily what everybody wants,” Zanchi said.

“Striking that balance is a challenge,” she said. The state’s developmental disability service system and and its partners are working hard to help meet people’s needs, Zanchi said.

Rebecca Boss

Rebecca Boss

When Zanchi was hired at the start of 2017, she was the first professional in developmental disability services to run the Division of Developmental Disabilities in about a decade.

Zanchi and Rebecca Boss, the BHDDH director, have improved the bureaucratic infrastructure to foster employment, professional development, quality control, and communications with families and consumers and the private agencies the department relies on to deliver services that will meet the monitor’s standards.

For example, the developmental disabilities staff has been expanded and reorganized. An electronic data management system has been introduced. BHDDH invited providers and representatives of the community to the table to overhaul regulations governing the operations of the service providers and has maintained a quality assurance advisory council, with community representation.

Broadly speaking, the leadership of Boss and Zanchi has set the tone for a philosophical shift in which employment is part of a long-range campaign to open the door to self-determination for adults with developmental disabilities – in keeping with the mandates of the consent decree. The state’s last sheltered workshop closed in 2018.

The consent decree also has fostered a revival of advocacy in the community and the legislature, where there had been a vacuum once an older generation of leaders had passed on.

So why isn’t the glass half full at the halfway point in the decade-long life of the consent decree? In a word, money.

Advocates say a central issue is the lack of an investment in the ability of the system to reach more people with the array of services that will open doors and enable them to find their places in the community.

To satisfy the requirements of the consent decree, the state relies on the efforts of private agencies that provide the actual direct services.

The federal monitor in the consent decree case, Charles Moseley, has asked the state to get to the bottom of what he described as a lack of “capacity” on the part of these private agencies to take on new clients.

BHDDH is circling around the funding issue with an outside review of the fee-for-service rate structure governing developmental disability services. That analysis is designed to expand the analytical capabilities BHDDH, leaving the policy decisions to the department leadership.

Advocates for adults with developmental disabilities, most prominently state Senator Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown, say there must be a public discussion about how much money it will take in the long run to complete the transformation from sheltered workshops and day care centers into one that assists people in finding their way in life. DiPalma chairs a special legislative commission studying the current fee-for-service system.

In the meantime, DDD is soliciting a proposal for the third iteration of its performance-based supported employment program, which is designed to focus on people who have never held a job. This group includes young people completing high school and seeking adult services for the first time, as well as adults who face multiple challenges and would find it difficult to fill the standard job descriptions put out by employers.

The new Person-Centered Supported Employment Performance Program (PCSEPP 3.0) is expected to launch Jan.1 with an emphasis on “customized” employment, tailored to match an individual’s strengths and interests with the needs of an employer who is willing to carve up the work at hand in a non-traditional way.

The concept of customization is not new.

In Rhode Island, a few adults with developmental disabilities have had customized employment for many years, most often arranged with the support of their families, who hire staff and direct a unique array of services for them rather than relying on an agency.

In addition, the Rhode Island Council on Developmental Disabilities promotes self-employment, a form of customization, through a business incubator created with the help of the Real Pathways RI Project sponsored by the Governor’s Workforce Board.

The DD Council highlights the products and services of self-employed adults with developmental disabilities as part of its annual holiday shopping event, Small Business Saturday Shop RI, scheduled this year for Nov. 30 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines customized employment as a “flexible process designed to personalize the employment relationship between a job candidate and an employer in a way that meets the needs of both. It is based on an individualized determination of the strengths, needs, and interests of the person with a disability, and is also designed to meet the specific needs of the employer.”

Since the supported employment program started in 2017, providers have expressed concerns that, because it is tied to the fee-for-service reimbursement system, it does pay for initial investments the agencies might have to make to participate.

Those concerns persisted during a meeting between DDD officials and potential applicants for the customized employment program in mid July. At the providers’ request, DDD has extended the application deadline to October 4.

Womazetta Jones

Womazetta Jones

The state’s new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Womazetta Jones, has promised to be a careful listener to the concerns of the developmental disability community.

Speaking at the recent public forum, after just eight days on the job, Jones acknowledged the state’s efforts to improve services for adults with developmental disabilities but also cautioned against complacency.

Even though the state has substantially increased funding for developmental disabilities in recent years and gained “stable and effective leadership” at BHDDH, “that doesn’t mean anyone in this room or state government is content with recent progress,” she said.

“The moment we think we don’t have more to do, is the moment we have lost our way,” Jones said, signaling that she is available for further discussion of issues affecting people with developmental disabilities.

Moseley To Step Down As Court Monitor of RI Olmstead Consent Decree, Citing Health Concerns

Charles Moseley

Charles Moseley

By Gina Macris

Charles Moseley, the independent federal court monitor overseeing implementation of two federal civil rights decrees affecting Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities, will step down at the end of September because of what he termed “emerging health issues.”

Brian Gosselin

Brian Gosselin

In a related matter, Brian Gosselin, chief strategy officer at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), has been named the state’s consent decree coordinator, a post he has filled on an interim basis twice in the last few years. Rhode Island has had five consent decree coordinators, including Gosselin, in five years.

The personnel changes were announced July 18 by EOHHS. Before Moseley resigns on Sept. 30, he said in his letter, he intends to complete his assessment of whether the city of Providence is in substantial compliance with the first of the two federal agreements, reached in 2013.

In it, the city stopped using the Birch Academy at Mount Pleasant High School as a feeder program for a now-closed sheltered workshop called Training Through Placement and instead pledged to help high school students with intellectual or developmental challenges make the transition to competitive employment in the community.

The 2013 “Interim Settlement Agreement” (ISA) is set to expire in 2020, but lawyers for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have said the city must be in “substantial compliance” a year ahead of time. Moseley’s resignation letter indicated he is working on that assessment. The city, meanwhile, has asked for early release from the ISA.

Moseley has served as the federal court monitor since late 2014, a few months after the state and the DOJ settled a broader civil rights complaint saying that Rhode Island’s system for developmentally disabled adults relied too heavily on sheltered workshops and segregated day centers. Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee signed a consent decree with the federal government in which he pledged that the state’s system would be overhauled by 2024, making certain that those who wished to participate in work, learning and recreation in the larger community would be helped to do so.

The 2014 settlement marked the first Olmstead consent decree in the country targeting segregated day services for adults with developmental disabilities. The Olmstead decision of the U.S Supreme Court reinforced the Integration Mandate of the Americans With disabilities Act. Previously, the DOJ had enforced the ruling in connection with segregated housing.

Moseley is a former director of developmental disabilities in Vermont and a former associate executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services.

A new court monitor would need the approval of the state, the DOJ and Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. of U.S. District Court, who is overseeing the case. McConnell has made it clear that he relies on Moseley’s recommendations in steering the implementation of the consent decree.

In his letter, Moseley said the decision to step away after five years “is a very difficult one to make.”

He said he has enjoyed working with all involved and will miss the “in-depth discussions and negotiations that we have had in our ongoing efforts to achieve the goals and outcomes identified by the two agreements.”

Moseley, who lives in Vermont, has made site visits to Rhode Island several times a year, usually keeping out of the public eye, and has incorporated his observations, as well as data supplied by the state and the city, into quarterly reports to McConnell. He also has attended periodic status conferences on the case before McConnell.

“Implementing comprehensive systems change within the boundaries of the complicated developmental disabilities system is challenging,“ Moseley said. He praised a variety of state and city officials for “actively addressing the changes that must be made.” He also recognized the DOJ lawyers for their “constructive approach and unwavering focus” on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the BHDDH first quarter spending report.

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: RI Division of Developmental Disabilities

Source: RI Division of Developmental Disabilities

 

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

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

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

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

Click here to read Moseley's entire report.

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

photo by gina macris

photo by gina macris

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Efforts to reach CWS and Fedcap officials were unsuccessful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

By Gina Macris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

Judge Orders RI to Fund Disabilities Reform; State Faces Possible Contempt, Fines

By Gina Macris

U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell Jr. today (May 18) ordered the state of Rhode Island to appropriate the money necessary to fund the so-called “sheltered workshop” consent decree. The judge also set short-term deadlines for a series of incremental steps needed to begin changes in the developmental disability system.

 In the case of any missed deadlines or other violations of the order, either the court monitor in the case or the federal government may request a show-cause hearing to determine whether the state should be held in contempt.

 If the Court finds Rhode Island in contempt, the state will pay into a Consent Decree Compliance Fund at the rate of $5,000 a day for each day it is remains out of compliance and $100 a day for each person whose integrated day services are delayed or interrupted by a particular violation. The fund is capped at $1 million a year.

 The judge did not spell out how much the state must budget to fund the consent decree.

 The order comes after an April evidentiary hearing which showed the state had made little progress in gearing up for system-wide changes needed to offer job-seeking services and other community supports for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities who want them.

 Between 2009 and 2011, the state budget for developmental disabilities sustained an overall cut of about 20 percent and has not yet recovered. Since 2013, expanding caseloads have continuously outpaced increased appropriations, leaving a system of private service providers that operate at a loss.

 McConnell’s order largely follows recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice, although he reserved for himself the right to decide whether the state must pay into the compliance fund.                                                                                                         

The DOJ would have allowed the court monitor to make the determination, arguing that a contempt finding shouldn’t be needed to trigger payments to the fund.

 In his order, McConnell disagreed on that point.

 He also responded to arguments made by the state that the series of deadlines and other provisions of the proposal originally made by the DOJ “contains ambiguous terms and mandates that are not defined.”

 McConnell’s order says that If the state believes any term “is ambiguous or any mandate ill defined,” it must immediately seek clarification with the DOJ and the court monitor. If the state is still not satisfied, it must promptly ask the court for a hearing on the matter, McConnell said.

 Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next one would put an additional $24.1 million into the network of private agencies that provide most of the services to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

However, a Senate fiscal report raises doubts that projected revenue and expenses in the budget of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals will balance out. In question is a projected $19.3 million in savings from a reduction in group home costs that depends on voluntary moves by residents into private homes with families throughout the state. 

Click here for Judge McConnell's order

DOJ Seeks up to $1 Million a Year from RI For Consent Decree Violations; State Objects

By Gina Macris

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking penalties of up to $1 million a year from the State of Rhode Island if it does not move immediately to provide the job-related support services and day community programs for adults with developmental disabilities like it promised two years ago.

Employment-related services are at the heart of a 2014 consent decree in which the state agreed to shift away from reliance on sheltered workshops and segregated day programs and instead move toward integrating adults with developmental disabilities into the larger community. 

After two years of“failed outcomes and missed deadlines,” the state has shown that “compliance in this case requires accountability measures, not just deadlines,” according to a proposed order drafted by DOJ lawyers for the review of U.S. District Court Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. 

 In response,  Marc DeSisto, lawyer for the state, called the DOJ order a “pre-determined contempt sanction ” that denies the state procedural safeguards, including a provision in the consent decree that allows the state to show it put forth its“best efforts,” but failed to comply because of factors beyond its control. 

The state did present evidence of its efforts in a hearing April 8. The DOJ argued in its request for sanctions that the “hearing revealed– and the state admitted – that it has only been through this Court’s continued attention and involvement that the state has taken any real steps toward compliance.”

The Justice department lawyers said the financial sanctions will “facilitate compliance” by addressing a barrier the state itself has identified – lack of funding. 

Without the Consent Decree Compliance Fund to provide “consequences for violations, the proposed order could end up being just another plan that the state fails to implement.” according to the DOJ filing. 

The judge has not yet responded to the DOJ proposal, submitted May 6, and DeSisto’s response, filed May. 12. 

McConnell made it clear from the bench just two weeks ago, however, that he would take “swift and dramatic” action to enforce compliance, holding the state responsible without distinguishing between the Governor and the General Assembly. 

The General Assembly is heading into final budget deliberations during the next three to four weeks.  The May Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference has projected that the state will have $47.5 million more in revenue than Governor Gina Raimondo counted on in February, when she submitted a combined $9-billion fiscal plan for the remainder of the current fiscal year and the next one.

It remains unclear how much money the state needs to correct a structural deficit in the developmental disabilities budget and keep pace with the requirements of the consent decree during the next fiscal year. 

Raimondo has proposed an additional $24.1 million for developmental disabilities through June, 30, 2017, with $19.3 million of that total coming from reductions in residential costs. So far, very little of those savings have materialized, according to information the state Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) provided to the Senate Finance Committee about three weeks ago.

The savings depend on voluntary moves by some 300 group home residents into shared living arrangements with families throughout the state. Shared living has been available in Rhode Island for about 10 years, with 267 individuals taking that option at the end of the last fiscal year..Since July 1, 2015, the number of shared living arrangements has increased by 21, .according to the most recent figures made public by BHDDH.

Even if the added $24.1 million can be assured and the General Assembly approves Raimondo’s request, it is not clear whether that sum would be enough to satisfy the requirements of the proposed court order

 Neither the latest DOJ filing nor the consent decree itself puts a number on the cost. The decree says only that its requirements will be “fully funded.”

The proposed order takes a highly prescriptive approach, setting out a series of detailed benchmarks and deadlines for the remainder of the year, most of them during the next six weeks. 

The DOJ’s proposal was signed by Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division, and other officials, including trial attorneys Nicole Kovite Zeitler and Victoria Thomas. 

For each goal the state fails to achieve on time, it would be required to contribute to the Consent Decree Compliance Fund at a rate of $5,000 a day for as long as it remains in violation. In addition, the state would be required to pay $100 a day for each person affected by the consent decree “whose employment or integrated day services are delayed or interrupted as a result of violation of this order,” according to the DOJ’s language. 

At the evidentiary hearing April 8, there was much testimony about individuals aged 18 to 21 with developmental disabilities whose whose applications for adult services languish until shortly before they turn 21, leaving insufficient time to put a good program of adult services together. When BHDDH finally determines that the young adults are eligible for funding, they often go from the routine of a busy school day to sitting at home doing nothing, according to testimony.  

Finding appropriate services from a private provider is a a challenge for families. Agencies routinely refuse new clients because BHDDH does not them the full cost of providing the necessary supports.

If the proposed order is accepted by the federal court, the court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, would oversee compliance and determine the amount due to the Compliance Fund. The monitor, in consultation with the DOJ and the state, also would decide how the money would be used to “fund consent decree activities that directly benefit target population members,” according to the DOJ’s filing. 

DeSisto, in his response for the state, argues that the proposal improperly delegates the authority decide individual fines to the monitor, when it should be the prerogative of the Court. As proposed, he said, the state would only be able to appeal after a penalty has been assessed. 

The corrective action topics and corresponding deadlines:   

Tools For Verifying Compliance

  • May 30: The state would report to the DOJ its progress in developing a continually updated or “live” database that would allow federal officials to see how money is spent on required services for each person affected by the consent decree – at least 3400 people.

  • June 30: The state would provide federal officials access to the database or a list of entries from which the judge, the monitor, and the DOJ could select to verify compliance.
  • July 5: The monitor would give the state the list of records federal officials se;ect for verifying compliance. 
  • July 12: The state would turn over the records the federal officials sought.  For example, federal officials would seek to determine whether all young adults who left school during the 2015-2016 school year had supported employment placements in the community by July 1, as required by the consent decree.

Funding Employment-Related Services 

  • July 1: The state would implement a new model for reimbursing service providers that is flexible enough to cover the costs they incur. The current reimbursement system pays only for the time that workers spend in face-to-face contact with clients but not other activities like seeking out potential employers.
  • July 1: In funding an array of services for a particular consumer, BHDDH would earmark some funds for supported employment. Currently consumers must give up something else to get employment-related services.  
  • July 1: The state would “appropriately increase salaries, benefits, training, and supervision for employees of private agencies who work directly with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • July 1: The state would implement at least some performance-based contracts with service providers that link funding to numerical targets and implementation timelines for “quality” job placements.
  •  Dec. 31: The state would show evidence that all service providers have signed performance-based contracts.
  • Dec. 31: The state would file with the court examples of weekly activity plans used by each provider of community-based day services that has received additional funding for those supports required by the consent decree.  

Assessment of Individual Need and Funding

  • June 1: BHDDH would amend its policy for determining an invidual’s need for services and supports to make it clear that this assessment process, called the Supports Intensity Scale (SIS), remains separate and apart from considerations of individual funding levels.

  • June 30: BHDDH would file with the court agendas or meeting minutes that demonstrate that all SIS interviewers have been trained in the change to the policy.

CAREER DEVELOPMENT PLANNING

  • June 1: The state would finalize a plan for ensuring that representatives of BHDDH and the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the state Department of Human Services (ORS) consistently attend annual educational planning meetings for high school students with developmental disabilities, with an eye toward their transition to adult services
  • June 30: BHDDH, ORS and the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) must implement ongoing training in the use of career development plans and must provide ongoing supervision to ensure that the plans are utilized as envisioned by the consent decree
  •  June 30: RIDE must train all school census clerks to accurately report the number of career development plans in place
  •  June 30: The state would hire a Program Developer and Employment Specialist

Communications

  • June 1: The state would finalize a detailed communications plan in which some information is disseminated to the public and other information is sought from the community.

Organizational Activities

  •  June 1: The state would finalize a detailed project management plan for consent decree activities, showing the respective responsibilities of BHDDH, RIDE and ORS. 

  •  June 1: The state would finalize a similar plan for engaging with individuals moving from school life to adult services, with the roles of each of the three agencies delineated.

The proposed order also requires the state to catch up with back pay it owes the court monitor, Moseley, and the state’s consent decree coordinator, Mary M. Madden, and to pay them on time in the future.

At the April 8 hearing, Madden said she had not been paid since she was hired in January. At the same time, Moseley, who began the job late in 2014, said he had received his first check at the end of March, 2016. 

 

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. 

Court to Hear Evidence Friday on RI Compliance with Olmstead Decree

By Gina Macris

The state of Rhode Island says it is in “substantial compliance” with a 2014 consent decree  mandating a decade-long transformation of services for people with developmental disabilities to conform with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

That assertion, made in a compliance report filed April 1 in U.S. District Court, will face close scrutiny in an evidentiary hearing scheduled for April 8 before Judge John J. McConnell, Jr.

The judge also has in hand a recent report from the court monitor in the case, Charles Moseley, that expresses doubts about the state’s ability to meet employment targets in the decree or sustain them over time. The decree remains in effect until Jan 1, 2024.

Other filings submitted this week say the state developmental disabilities agency delays services until young people reach the age of 21 – or later – in violation of state law.

One of the statements also says there is a dearth of job development services available to individuals with disabilities, because the state does not fund these supports. Instead, the state expects service providers to shift money from other funding categories to pay for job development.

In a joint motion filed March 1, Moseley and lawyers for both the state and the U.S. Department of Justice identified three issues that could stand in the way of full compliance: a lack funding, too few placements in community-based employment and other integrated activities, and insufficient leadership necessary to fulfill the requirements of the consent decree.

A month later, the state’s report says it has:  

  •   Put the necessary interdepartmental leadership in place, at an annual cost of $591,244.
  •   Exceeded current targets for supported employment.
  •  Has remained “fully committed to providing sufficient funding to effectuate the goals and targets in the consent decree.” The report cites millions of dollars spent since 2014 and proposed by Governor Raimondo in budgets submitted for General Assembly approval for the remainder of this fiscal year and for the next year.

The state identified more than 3,000 adults in segregated programs and secondary-school special education students who are currently covered by the decree.

In terms of employment goals, the decree requires relatively modest targets, starting with perhaps 150 new jobs a year, depending on how many of the job seekers are eligible high school students in a particular graduating class.

At its heart, the agreement requires the state to fundamentally transform its approach to daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities, and to show exactly where it is putting its money. Most of the population affected by the consent decree has worked in sheltered workshops or stayed in segregated day programs in violation of the 1999 Olmstead decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the right of people with disabilities live and work in their communities under Title II of the ADA.  

Among the key budget items the state cited in its April 1 report is a proposed $5 million increase for the wages of private agency staff during the next fiscal year; it would hike workers’ pay by about 45 cents an hour.

The “Enhanced Payments Direct Care Staff” would provide financial incentives to providers who commit to achieve targets for placing people with developmental disabilities in jobs according to timelines that satisfy the consent decree, according to the state’s report. 

The labor force working directly with people who have intellectual challenges makes an average of about $11.55 an hour, according to a spokeswoman for the Community Provider Network of Rhode Island, which represents 23 private agencies that provide most of the services in Rhode Island.

Agencies operate at a loss for each worker they employ, because the state does not reimburse them for the full cost of employer-related taxes and other benefits, according to the spokeswoman, Donna Martin, who was interviewed about Governor Gina Raimondo’s budget proposal in February.  The $5 million proposal does not contain a provision for employer-related costs.

 

DD System Under Financial Strain

BHDDH director Maria Montanaro, meanwhile, has acknowledged that past cuts in reimbursement rates have left the private provider system “fragile,” according to a Providence Journal report on her testimony before the House Finance Committee in early January. 

Providers report that the cuts have forced them to reduce wages, resulting in lower quality applicants and high turnover.

In a court order spelling out the parameters for the April 1 report, McConnell asked for evidence that the state is implementing performance-based contracts for community services, in conjunction with a “flexible reimbursement model” that includes incentives to service providers for placing clients in jobs. 

The state’s report does not mention a flexible reimbursement model.

The consent decree requires that the state “ensure that its reimbursement model for day activity services is sufficiently flexible to allow providers to be reimbursed for costs” directly related to supporting integrated employment, including those that are carried out “when service provider staff is not face-to-face with a client.”

The decree goes so far as to cite specific reimbursable activities, including negotiating with employers and counseling clients by telephone, which are not covered by the current system.

Currently, BHDDH reimburses private agencies for daytime services according to the amount of time each worker spends with a client. The time must be documented for each client and worker in 15-minute increments. Agencies are not reimbursed when clients are absent, for whatever reason. Unless a client has 100 percent attendance, the agency cannot collect the full amount of funding that BHDDH authorizes for each person on an annual basis.

In response to McConnell’s request for information on performance-based contracts, the state’s report says those are still in the planning stages in all agencies governed by the state’s Executive Office of Human Services, including BHDDH. The report indicated BHDDH would have performance-based contracts in place with service providers during the next fiscal year.  The consent decree says performance-based contracts were to have implemented by Jan. 1, 2015.

 

Consent Decree Requires its Own Budget

The 2014 agreement between the state and the Justice Department requires that the state maintain a budget that can track the amount spent on consent decree compliance that is distinct from general expenditures on behalf of adults and adolescents with developmental disabilities.

Besides the planned $5 million in wage increases, the state’s compliance report cites another $1,870,474 in enhanced services targeted for a total of 75 individuals who would move to supported employment from a sheltered workshop or a segregated day program during the next fiscal year.

McConnell had asked the state for individualized funding information and other information that “follows the person” as each of the individuals under the jurisdiction of the consent decree makes the transition from a sheltered workshop to community-based employment or integrated day services.

So that the court, the monitor, and lawyers for both sides can track specific individuals’ progress over time while protecting their privacy, McConnell said that each person should be identified by a letter code that blocks personally identifiable information.

The state did not submit any information that could be tracked on an individual level, but its report says that it has contracted with the Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College to reconfigure an existing “Employment and Day Supports Survey” to accomplish that goal.

Beginning in June, the Sherlock Center will conduct the survey quarterly, providing all the requested data and enabling “ongoing measurement of targets related to the consent decree at the individual level,” according to the report.

BHDDH already has a $675,000 contract with the Sherlock Center to provide technical expertise and guidance to private agencies converting from segregated programs to community-based day services in a so-called “Conversion Institute” required by the consent decree. Governor Raimondo would keep that level of funding for the Conversion Institute in her budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

The state is “working systematically” with Sherlock Center on the Conversion Institute, as well as with direct support agencies, “to entirely transform the delivery system” for supported employment and integrated day services in Rhode Island, according to the report.

The state’s report identifies a total of 3,076 individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities under the purview of the consent decree, including 99 who left high school in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years.

The consent decree requires integrated employment for 75 adults formerly in sheltered workshops or segregated day programs by Jan. 1, 2016, and the state ’s report counted 101 who had met that goal.

Another of the decree’s requirements is that all of the 99 students who left high school in the past two years were to have jobs by July 1, 2015, but as of April 1, the state had identified 37 in that category who have work.  

Moseley, the monitor, told the judge in his most recent report report that his conversations with private providers and with BHDDH staff indicate that the agencies are not receiving any extra support to place people in jobs and may not be able to keep up the current pace.

 

Other Consent Decree-Related Funding

The state’s April 1 submission enumerates other consent decree expenditures, from July 1, 2014 through the end of the next fiscal year, June 30, 2017, at the three agencies responsible for implementation: BHDDH, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) and the Office of Rehabilitation Services of the Department of Human Services (ORS.)

The categories and amounts are:

  • $800,000 in each of the current and previous fiscal years for a consent decree “trust fund” to help direct service agencies with start-up costs for converting from sheltered workshop operations and segregated day programs to community-based supports.
  • $244,260 to the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services (NASDDDS) and its State Employment Leadership Network (SELN) for guidance and technical assistance in transforming the state’s system of services. The SELN is a partnership between the NASDDS and Institute of Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
  • ·A tripling of the ORS budget for services to individuals with developmental disabilities, from $884,370 in the first fiscal year of the consent decree (July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015)  to a projected $2,603,374 in the next fiscal year.
  •  More than $300,000 a year, through the next fiscal year, budgeted by RIDE for personnel and contracts to help implement the consent decree, in addition to supports provided by individual school districts to transition-aged special education students.
  • A total of $591,244 for new leadership positions focused on implementation of the consent decree: a consent decree coordinator, a chief transformation specialist, an employment specialist and a program development director.

Moving to Fill Leadership Gap

The most critical of the posts is that of the consent decree coordinator, Mary Madden, whose position gives her authority to bring about cooperation among BHDDH, ORS, and RIDE in implementing the consent decree, according to the report.

As recently as December, Moseley and lawyers for the DOJ had expressed concerns that the coordinator’s position, subordinate to BHDDH director Montanaro, did not have enough clout and that leadership was foundering. 

Since then, Madden has been appointed as the coordinator on a permanent basis and reports directly to the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Roberts, “with the full authority of the Secretary and the Governor,” according to the report.

“The Secretary of Health and Human Services, the deputy secretaries and each of the directors of the state agencies are personally involved in monitoring consent decree implementation” and are briefed regularly by Madden and by their representatives on an “Interagency Consent Decree Team,” the report said.