Home > Uncategorized > The Herald headline and story are wrong

The Herald headline and story are wrong

On Tuesday of this week, The Boston Herald’s readership was treated to a bombshell headline and story, purportedly about government waste due to delays in the closure of the Fernald Developmental Center.

The headline was “$16M to care for 14 people”; and the story went on to imply that the 14 remaining residents of Fernald, whose guardians have filed administrative and court appeals of their transfers from the Center, are each costing taxpayers more than $1 million per year.

The only problem is that the headline and story are wrong.  I just received a letter from Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Elin Howe, confirming our information that the annual cost of caring for the remaining 14 people at Fernald is projected at $8.9 million.  It seems the $16 million is the projected cost of keeping Fernald open throughout the current fiscal year, during which time there have been far more than just 14 people living there.

As of the end of last June (at the start of the current fiscal year), there were some 70 residents left at Fernald, according to our records, and by the end of July, that number was down to about 40.  The adminstration has steadily moved people out, and 14 is the number of residents who remain as of this month.  So, the $16 million cost clearly reflects a higher number of residents than 14.

Moreover, Commissioner Howe stated in her May 25 letter that:

While the costs associated with operating Fernald have dropped following the census (residential population) reduction, the per-person costs have actually increased as the census declines in the final stage of closure.  This has been a typical pattern in previous closures.

In other words, a per-person cost spike is something that occurs in virtually all developmental center closures — it’s not something unique to Fernald because of the appeals filed by the guardians.  There are certainly added costs associated with the delay in closing Fernald, but those costs are something the administration should have anticipated as part of the overall cost of closure.

Nevertheless, the inaccurate claim that $16 million is being  spent on 14 residents was immediately seized upon this week by the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, whose members stand to benefit from new state contracts as Fernald and three other developmental centers are closed.  ADDP President Gary Blumenthal decried the alleged $16 million cost as “tremendous” and “excessive,” and implied that the Fernald guardians are responsible for it.

On Wednesday, the Herald’s editorial page picked up on the theme, stating that the alleged $16 million being spent on 14 Fernald residents is taking away from community-based services “and it’s impossible to argue that point.”   It’s especially difficult to argue it when the editorial’s point is based on deliberately misleading and inaccurate information.

The Herald editorial, by the way,  is very carefully worded not to equate the $16 million directly with the 14 residents, although it puts the two numbers as close together in the same paragraph as possible.  And of course the editorial never even bothers to mention our longstanding contention that the costs of operating Fernald and the other developmental centers have been overstated by the administration in comparisons made with the community system.

(I talked at length, by the way, with the Herald reporter about that whole developmental center-versus-community cost issue when she called me the day before her story ran on Tuesday.  None of that made it into print, of course.)

I would also note that Howe stated in her letter that the 95 staff left at Fernald is a projected number after a current round of layoffs is completed.  Howe provided a number of reasons for that apparently high number of remaining staff, and concluded that “all appropriate staff reductions have been or are being  taken and the remaining staff are necessary to meet the remaining residents’ needs.” 

We’re not sure, however, that  it’s the case that DDS has done everything they could to reduce costs lately at Fernald, particularly if — as Stephen Sheehy, the attorney for the remaining residents has pointed out — DDS has failed to take steps to move the remaining residents into one location on the campus.  That is something, according to Sheehy, that the residents would welcome, and which would no doubt save some money.
  1. Ed
    May 26, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    That story, posted on The Herald’s site, spawned scores of comments, many filled with vitriolic and bigoted comments against the developmentally disabled residents of Fernald and their families. To learn now that the figures in the story were wildly inaccurate and misleading makes it even worse.

    The ARC and ADDP, both of whom are service providers, have a huge stake in this. They stand to profit when Fernald and other such facilities close because they take in the bulk of the residents who are moved. Their private contracts with the state make it even more difficult to track where taxpayers’ dollars are going.


  2. Susan Nadile
    May 26, 2011 at 10:24 pm

    You at the Herald need to get your facts straight as this is sooooo wrong. Who is feeding you this info, Mass. ARC? Since they are against the state facilities they will tell you a bunch of lies. Why don’t you contact COFAR who tells it straight.


    • Sue S
      May 27, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      Dave indicated he spoke at length with the Herald reporter. They chose to print inaccurate information anyway.

      All I can say to the guardians of the people of Glavin, Monson & Templeton is prepare yourselves.


  3. Sue S
    May 29, 2011 at 2:23 am

    THANKS COFAR for jumping on this story and setting the record straight.


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