Archive for June, 2013

State-run facilities being asked to do more with less

State-operated care appears to be in increasing fiscal trouble in Massachusetts even though that type of care remains the choice of many families, including those whose loved ones have been transferred from developmental centers in recent years.

Unfortunately, the Legislature seems to be either unaware of the situation or simply doesn’t care about it.

The Patrick administration appears to be relying on state-operated residences and two remaining developmental centers to care for a large number of former residents of four developmental centers targeted for closure in 2008.

As a result, funding for state-operated residences was increased by about 17 percent between Fiscal Year 2010 and the current fiscal year.  However, funding for the developmental centers has been cut in that time by the same percentage, according to the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center’s interactive Budget Browser

An analysis of the Budget Browser numbers by COFAR shows that as a result of the drop-off in developmental center funding, total funding for state-operated care in the Department of Developmental Services system has actually declined slightly in inflation-adjusted numbers since FY 2010. 

We’ve previously noted that the funding previously provided to the developmental centers in the budget doesn’t appear to have been transferred to most community-based budget accounts.  However, during that same period from FY 2010 to 2013, funding for corporate, provider-operated group homes did increase by roughly 6 percent.

It appears that the relative decline during that period in funding for state-operated care is putting strain on the state system.  DDS Commissioner Elin Howe projected in April that two to three state-operated group homes might be forced to close if the governor’s proposed $7.8 million increase in funding for those residences for the coming fiscal year wasn’t approved. 

Yet, in April and May, the House and Senate chose to cut the governor’s proposed increase for state-operated group homes, and made larger cuts than the governor proposed in the developmental center account.   While lawmakers subsequently approved budget amendments to increase funding for some community-based accounts, administration-supported amendments to restore funding for both state-operated group homes and the remaining developmental centers were rejected by the House and Senate.

Currently, a House/Senate conference committee is considering how big a cut to make in the governor’s budget for state-operated group homes.  The conference committee must decide between the House budget, which would cut the governor’s proposal by $1.9 million, and the Senate budget, which would cut it by $1.5 million.  COFAR has been seeking adoption of the Governor’s budget recommendations in the state-operated group home and developmental center accounts.

We intend to ask DDS for data on the number of former developmental center residents who have opted for state versus provider-operated care.  The administration projected in 2008 that state-operated group homes and two remaining developmental centers slated to remain open would accept close to 50 percent of the roughly 400 residents then remaining in four developmental centers targeted for closure.  Provider-operated group homes were projected to accept the remaining 50 percent of those former developmental center residents, yielding these entities millions of dollars of additional revenue.

In the current fiscal year, funding for state-operated group homes and developmental centers comprises about 23 percent of the DDS’s total $1.4 billion budget, compared with funding for privately run group homes, which comprises 57 percent of the DDS budget. 

The administration has claimed for a number of years that it is committed to a “Community First” agenda of boosting funding for corporate  group homes and other community-based initiatives.  That’s all well and good; but if the administration is continuing to rely on state care, particularly for those with the most severe and profound levels of intellectual disability, we hope the Legislature will agree to fund that care adequately.

Will we finally get a national background check for DDS hires?

June 24, 2013 2 comments

A little more than two years ago, I wrote about a man who had served a year in prison in California for having sex with a minor before violating probation and fleeing to Massachusetts where he took a job driving people with intellectual disabilities to day programs.

I noted that this individual’s out-of-state conviction was not picked up in an in-state background check done on him in Massachusetts.  That was because a longstanding bill that would require that national background checks be done of people hired to work in the Department of Developmental Disabilities system had not yet been enacted by the Massachusetts Legislature.

It’s now two years later, and the DDS national background check is still pending in the state Legislature.  In the past two years, it was approved by the Judiciary Committee, but never got out of the House Ways and Means Committee.

This year the measure (H. 1674) is pending once again in the Judiciary Committee, awaiting a scheduled hearing before the committee on  July 9.  This much-needed bill has been filed each year going back as long as a decade by Representative Martin Walsh of Boston.  It has never been clear to us why the bill has never made it through the legislative process or who has opposed it.

National background check legislation for new DDS hires has long been supported by a wide range of advocacy organizations for the developmentally disabled.  We know of no advocacy groups that have voiced any opposition to it.

The Patrick administration and the Legislature appear to support national background checks in general.  In 2010, the state upgraded its criminal records database to make it compatible with databases in other states and the FBI.  And last year, Governor Patrick signed a bill into law  (Chapter 459 of the Acts of 1012), which requires that all persons hired to work in public, private and parochial schools in the state as well as employees of contractors to the school systems and child care organizations undergo national background checks.   Massachusetts apparently became the last state in the nation to impose those requirements.

However, the DDS in Massachusetts still hasn’t been authorized to require that the people whom the Department or its providers hire also submit to national background checks.  H. 1674 would provide that authorization.

State regulations currently authorize DDS to require only that Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks be done on individuals hired to work in both state and privately operated facilities in the DDS system.  However, CORI records list only criminal arrests and convictions in Massachusetts and do not identify any convictions a job applicant might have from another state.  A national background check system would fill in those potential gaps in the records of persons seeking to work with intellectually disabled persons in Massachusetts.

In enacting the requirement for national background checks for school employees, legislators maintained that such checks would prevent people with convictions for abusing children in other states from coming into contact with Massachusetts schoolchildren.  But schoolchildren aren’t the only ones who are at risk for sexual and other types of abuse.  People with developmental disabilities are at high risk as well.

H. 1674 appears to have numerous checks built into it to protect the rights and privacy of persons applying for DDS positions.  The measure would give persons seeking DDS employment the right to inspect and contest the accuracy of out-of-state records and would require the Criminal History Systems Board to help resolve any such contested records within 30 days.

In addition, H. 1674 would require that only information from other states regarding convictions and open cases be made available to DDS or providers considering individuals applying for employment.  Juvenile records would not be made available.  The national background checks system would be jointly overseen  by the Criminal History Systems Board, the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, and the State Police.

Clearly, this legislation is long overdue.  The question is whether this will finally be the year for it.

‘Real Lives’ bill proponents are abandoning the democratic process

It appears the supporters of the flawed ‘Real Lives’ bill are trying an end-run around the normal democratic process for getting bills enacted in the state Legislature.

Their latest strategy has been to insert the language of the proposed legislation into the state budget bill for the coming fiscal year via an amendment process that does not require any recorded votes or public hearings.  The fate of the proposed legislation therefore will now be decided as part of the closed-door horse-trading that is going on among the six members of a House-Senate conference committee on the budget.

I’ve written before about our concerns with the Real Lives bill, which is intended to give clients of the Department of Developmental Services more choice in the services they receive.   While we support the overall concept of the bill, our concerns about it center around provisions that we believe are primarily intended to benefit corporate providers to DDS.   As we see it, one of those provisions will essentially compensate providers for not providing services.

The prime sponsor of the bill, Representative Tom Sannicandro, has tried without success in recent years to get the bill enacted through the normal legislative process.  That process of course involves first referring the measure to the appropriate legislative committee (or committees).

The appropriate committee — in this case, the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee — would then schedule the bill for a public hearing and vote the measure up or down.  If approved by the committee, the measure would ultimately be voted up or down by the full membership of the House and Senate, whose votes on the measure would be recorded.

Last year, the Real Lives bill was passed by the House, but the Senate declined to take it up, so it died at the end of that session as a result.  We first expressed our concerns about the provider-friendly provisions of the bill to Sannicandro during the debate on it last year.

Unfortunately, when Sannicandro re-introduced the bill (now H. 151) at the start of the current legislative session in January, he made no changes to it, despite our concerns.  The corporate-friendly provisions were all still there.

The bill was duly referred on January 22 to the Children and Families Committee.  To date, the committee has not scheduled the bill for a public hearing.  I called the committee this week to ask why no public hearing had yet been scheduled and was told it was because Sannicandro had asked that a hearing on the bill not be scheduled because the language in the bill was being proposed as a budget amendment.

Sannicandro’s budget amendment was in fact adopted by the House during its budget deliberations in April, meaning the House leadership agreed to put the amendment in the “yes pile” of amendments approved as a bloc by an unrecorded voice vote on the House floor.   However, an identical amendment was subsequently placed by Senate leaders in the “no pile,” meaning it got rejected in that chamber by a similar unrecorded voice vote.  As a result, it’s now up to the conference committee to decide whether the Real Lives bill lives or dies.

We don’t think the “yes pile” and “no pile” process used in the House and the Senate for deciding budget amendments is a particularly good or democratic one.  We understand the rationale for it is that it saves a lot of time taken up by debate on budgetary issues — something we understand used to occur in the distant past in the Massachusetts Legislature.

But while there may be a valid rationale for taking up budget-related amendments in blocs that are not subject to debate or recorded votes, we don’t think that rationale applies to something like the Real Lives bill.  The Real Lives bill is intended to make far-reaching changes in the way services are delivered to people with developmental disabilities.  It appears to be only marginally a budgetary measure, and that’s only because of the special fund it sets up to compensate providers for not providing services.

For that reason, we wrote to Sannicandro yesterday, urging him to prevail on the conference committee not to adopt his bill, but to let the measure take the normal, democratic course in the Children and Families Committee.  We think that’s the right way to go on this important issue.

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