Archive for November, 2015

Sheltered workshops being closed in MA despite protective budget language

November 16, 2015 3 comments

Despite the passage of protective language in the state budget last year and this year, the Department of Developmental Services appears to be moving rapidly to shut down all remaining sheltered workshops in the state for people with developmental disabilities.

“Can’t believe after all the hard work so many people put in, it (the workshop closures) is still happening,” one workshop supporter wrote in an email, referring to grassroots lobbying efforts mounted in the past two years to keep the workshops open.

The protective language that was inserted by State Representative Brian Dempsey in the past two years into the DDS community day line item in the budget seemed to be definitive.  The language states that DDS “shall not reduce the availability or decrease funding for sheltered workshops serving persons with disabilities who voluntarily seek or wish to retain such employment services.”

At the same time, however, Dempsey’s House Ways and Means Committee supported the appropriation of $1 million last year and $3 million this year in a separate DDS line item to fund the transfer of people from sheltered workshops to community-based day or employment programs. So, even while the language in one line item has appeared to protect the workshops for those who want to remain in them, the other line item has funded the removal from the workshops of everyone whose guardians haven’t formally objected to moving them to the day programs.

Sheltered workshops around the country have become an ideological target of the federal government and of many states, which contend that the workshops “segregate” people with developmental disabilities from their peers in the mainstream workforce. But many families of the sheltered workshop participants have countered that the programs are fully integrated into the surrounding communities and provide the participants with meaningful activities and valuable skills.

Sheltered workshops provide developmentally disabled persons with a range of assembly jobs and other types of work, usually for a small wage.

In 2013, the Massachusetts DDS and the state’s major lobbying organizations for corporate DDS providers issued a plan to close all sheltered workshops as of last June, and to transfer all of the participants to either DDS day programs or to “integrated individual or group employment at minimum wage or higher.”

Sheltered workshops are defined by the Social Security Administration as “a private non-profit, state, or local government institution that provides employment opportunities for individuals who are developmentally, physically, or mentally impaired, to prepare for gainful work in the general economy. These services may include physical rehabilitation, training in basic work and life skills…”

Integrated employment is defined by the federal Labor Department as “jobs held by people with disabilities in typical workplace settings where the majority of persons employed are not persons with disabilities, where they earn at least minimum wage, and where they are paid directly by the employer.”

Our concern regarding the DDS/corporate provider plan to close sheltered workshops is that there appears to be a limited number of opportunities in Massachusetts for persons with developmental disabilities to find jobs in “typical workplace settings” where the majority of the people employed are not disabled.  Unless and until these integrated workforce opportunities exist in sufficient quantities, we don’t think sheltered workshops should be eliminated as options.

Unfortunately, the state’s attitude concerning care for the developmentally disabled has long been to close facilities that are considered expensive or that otherwise don’t fit an ideological mold, without having a plan or sufficient resources to adequately replace those facilities.

The director of one sheltered workshop program I talked to said that while there hasn’t actually been a directive from DDS to transfer everyone out of his workshop by a particular date, DDS recently indicated that transfer funding had become available and that his workshop should “determine who would move at this time.”

The workshop director said he planned to transfer more than half of the program’s current participants out between next month and March of next year.  While the protective language in the budget would appear to allow the guardians of the workshop participants to object to the transfer plans, the workshop director said no one had yet voiced an objection.  It’s possible, he said, that people will begin to object once the transfers start.  But he said he sensed less resistance among families and guardians to the prospect of leaving his workshop program than was the case two years ago.

One of the existing integrated work settings in Massachusetts is MicroTek in Chicopee, an electronic cable manufacturer. The company employs 130 people, 15 of whom have disabilities, according to Cynthia Piechota, the company’s program director.  Piechota said she knew of only a handful of other integrated work programs in the state.

A workplace program that is smaller than MicroTek, but similar to it, is Interface Precision Benchmarks (IPB) in Orange, where six people are employed in manufacturing electronic cables. The IPB workforce is currently divided evenly between disabled and nondisabled employees (3 disabled and 3 nondisabled); thus it’s not clear that IPB actually fits the Labor Department’s definition of an integrated workplace.

Ed Orzechowski, whose sister-in-law, Carol Chunglo recently retired as an IPB employee, said he and his wife, Gail, “can’t say enough about what a positive experience it was for Carol to work at IPB. There should be more places like it.”  Ed Orzechowski is a COFAR Board member and president of The Advocacy Network, an affiliated advocacy organization for people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts.

A University of Massachusetts report noted that in 2010, there were 3,700 people with intellectual disabilities in sheltered workshops in Massachusetts and about 3,500 people in “integrated employment.” However, there were about 9,500 people in “non-work” settings, which appear to include DDS day programs.

COFAR has filed a Public Records Law request with DDS to try to determine how many people the Department anticipates will be transferred over the next five years to integrated workplaces, and how many will be transferred over that time to DDS day programs.

It’s unfortunate that sheltered workshops appear to be going the way of so many other previous high-quality programs and services for people with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts. The potential elimination of these services is usually vigorously opposed by families and guardians who understand how critically important they are.  But DDS has long perfected a wait-them-out strategy.

The Department understands that grassroots resistance to new, untried policies, can be worn down over time.

Andy and Stan McDonald gain a small victory in a system that has been pitted against them

November 3, 2015 1 comment

In a Middlesex Probate Court hearing last Monday (October 26), Andy McDonald, an intellectually disabled man, finally got the opportunity to tell a judge his long-sought wish — that he be allowed to visit his aging parents in their Sherborn home.

As we have reported, Andy, who is 48 and lives in a group home in Westborough, has been denied permission since 1996 to visit his parents. Andy’s father, Stan, is now 80.  In a ruling in 2006,  former Probate Judge Edward Rockett concluded that Andy was sexually dangerous and should never be allowed to return to his childhood home.

Not only were Andy’s parents never to discuss with Andy the prospect of his ever visiting his home, but Rockett ruled that Stan must personally tell his son, in the presence of clinicians, that he would never be allowed to go home again. McDonald said he has refused to say something like that to Andy.

I will discuss Rockett’s ruling more fully below.  We have noted previously that a key claim made in the ruling — that Andy was arrested in 1990 for sexually assaulting three young girls — is untrue.  Andy has never been charged with a sexual offense.

Yet Rockett’s decision, and the claim in it that Andy was arrested for sexual assault, is the basis for the Department of Developmental Services’ longstanding position that Andy should never be allowed to return to Sherborn, and that the matter of visits there should never be discussed with him.

Rockett’s ruling

We think it is important to expose what we see are misstatements and a lack of a factual basis in Judge Rockett’s ruling. Rockett decision, and an appeals court ruling upholding it, were repeatedly cited during a break in the court hearing last week by a DDS attorney as reasons to oppose ever lifting the ban on home visits.

Stan was even told he would be in contempt of court if he mentioned to the judge his own wish that Andy be allowed supervised visits home. As it turned out however, it was Andy himself who brought up the subject of home visits before the judge.

Beyond that, there is a larger reason for examining Rockett’s decision, we think.  Someday, Andy will be on his own; and if the conclusions in Rockett’s decision are never challenged, he may be locked up somewhere for good.  One attorney contacted by Stan about his case termed Rockett’s decision “devastating.”

It therefore seemed somewhat extraordinary that there were no objections last week when Andy asked to speak to Middlesex Probate Judge Megan Christopher during the October 26 hearing.  When Christopher assented to his request to speak, Andy politely asked  that he be granted a supervised visit home “for a couple of hours.”

Judge Christopher didn’t flatly deny Andy’s request, but said she would schedule a new trial date in which that issue may be considered.  She told Andy that what he wanted “was  complicated and required more looking into.”  She pointed out that “it’s not always possible to have everything you want.  You understand that,” she added.

The October 26 probate hearing was held to consider the appointment of attorney Marie Dunn as Andy’s new guardian, replacing Dennis Yeaw, an attorney who had opposed home visits for Andy, also citing Rockett’s decision.  In 1986, Stan and his former wife agreed to the appointment of a guardian for Andy as part of the settlement of a longstanding custody battle over him.  Stan has been unsuccessful since that time in regaining his guardianship, even though his former wife, local legislators, and other supporters have publicly expressed support for that.

Andy’s arrest

Andy was arrested in Sherborn in May of 1990 for threatening an unidentified person during a telephone call, according to the district court record.  The nature of the threats was not disclosed.  In July of that year, he was charged with disturbing the peace in downtown Sherborn, according to a police department report. In that incident, he allegedly followed a young woman and threatened to kill her father. That same day, he was charged with assault after he punched Ellen, his stepmother.  Stan and Ellen say the punch was accidental.

Andy has not exhibited any significant behavioral problems in close to a decade and has been taken on community outings to many places other than his home without any behavioral incidents, according to Stan and to his yearly clinical care plans.  He is described in his latest clinical care plan as “kind and friendly to others,” and as “a polite man.”

According to the plan, Andy enjoys going to the library, going out to dinner, and seeing his father’s jazz band play.  He regularly goes into the community to shop for program supplies and volunteers at Meals on Wheels.

Yet, Andy has in the past told clinicians that he has had sexual fantasies about children; and that, combined with the mistaken claim that he was arrested for sexual offenses in Sherborn in 1990, led to Rockett’s lifetime ban on him from visits home.  Stan maintains that the ban on visits has caused Andy emotional harm.  His latest clinical care plan states that Andy’s rapid speech and eating habits are related to anxiety, although the plan attributes that anxiety to a fear of death and bees.

One-sided view

Rockett’s decision appears to take a selective view of the history of the case.

In his ruling banning Andy from Sherborn for life, Rockett concluded that Stan “should never be considered for appointment as guardian of his son,” and that Stan “lacks common sense and has poor judgment skills.”  Rockett stated that Stan and other family members, who he didn’t name, “wish to usurp the authority over the program and introduce their own ideas for clinical treatment for Andrew…”

Rockett further banned Stan from ever directly contacting any doctor, clinician, or service provider providing care to Andy.

Rockett’s decision, however, said nothing about Stan’s long-time personal advocacy on behalf of Andy, in particular his successful fight to discontinue the use on Andy of Stelazine, an anti-psychotic drug, which appears to have caused Andy’s disruptive behaviors prior to 2006. Rockett also did not mention the fact that clinicians had misdiagnosed Andy in the early 1990’s as mentally ill when, in fact, he is intellectually disabled, and that, as a result, Andy was inappropriately placed in Westborough State Hospital, a facility in which he was first put on Stelazine.

The Stelazine caused Andy to develop Tardive Dyskinesia, a disorder  resulting in involuntary, repetitive body movements.  Because the court-appointed guardians did little or nothing to address that problem, Stan said he personally got a court order and paid for an independent evaluation of Andy’s medications. This resulted in discontinuing the Stelazine and replacement of the prescribing doctor.

Among those who have written DDS in support of Stan’s bid for guardianship since that time has been State Representative David Linsky, who earlier this year was joined by State Senator Richard Ross in calling for a new, independent clinical evaluation of Andy.

John Carroll, a former residential counselor to Andy at the Cardinal Cushing School, wrote to DDS in 2013 to say that he had frequently observed visits to Andy by Stan and Ellen, and that “Stanley’s and Ellen’s dedication to Andy’s care and treatment in all circumstances leaves no question in my mind that Stanley McDonald is the sole individual with the knowledge, experience, and love, deserving to have responsibility for major decisions in Andy’s life as guardian.”

But Rockett didn’t see it that way. In his 2006 decision, Rockett accused Stan of failing to cooperate with Andy’s court-appointed guardians and with clinicians, and stated that Stan failed to “recognize the seriousness of Andrew’s fantasies.” He also implied in his decision that Stan had a drinking problem.  He offered no evidence for that, however.

Failure to specify prohibited materials

In support of the former accusation regarding the seriousness of Andy’s fantasies, Rockett stated that “Andrew uses pictures of children as sexual stimulants,” and that Stan had provided Andy on a number of occasions with “prohibited materials.”  But Rockett did not state what those prohibited materials were.

According to Stan and Ellen, the prohibited materials consisted of the following items: A piece of beach glass (which Westborough State Hospital considered dangerous), a sparkler that was lit on a birthday cake, a drawing of a baby from a Family Circus cartoon, and a photo of Andy’s niece and nephew.  Ellen said a poster-sized version of the photo of Andy’s niece and nephew had been on the wall in his room in his group home with the staff’s full knowledge.  “The poster seemed to us to indicate explicit authorization for Andy to have pictures of his niece and nephew,” Ellen said. “Stan did not show or give anything to Andy believing Andy would use them for any inappropriate purpose.”

Regarding the drinking issue, Rockett wrote that “Andrew has stated that his father’s drinking bothered him.” Rockett offered no further explanation of that claim, other than two follow-up statements concerning Stan’s visits to his son. One statement was that “Mr. Burch (the clinical director of Andy’s group home) had instructed Stanley McDonald not to drink during the visits.” The next line stated: “They (Stan, Andy, and Burch) went to a restaurant and Stanley McDonald immediately ordered wine.  Andrew became very agitated and went to the restroom, where Mr. Burch had to quiet him down.”

In our view Rockett’s statements imply, without actually stating it, that Stan brought alcohol to Andy’s group home, and that Andy was bothered because Stan must have been drinking excessively during the visits.  In fact, here is Stan’s wife, Ellen’s, explanation of the drinking issue:
Stan has never brought alcohol to Andy’s (group home) program.  Andy does not like to be around Stan when he is drinking.  Andy worries about the effects on Stan of alcohol and tobacco.  He doesn’t want Stan to drink or smoke.  He is very influenced by ads he sees on TV about the danger of drinking and driving.  After that incident where Stan ordered a glass of wine in a restaurant he never again ordered an alcoholic beverage in Andy’s presence – until once very recently, when Andy didn’t express any objection.  Stan does drink at Primavera (in Millis) while he is playing (in his Blue Horizon Jazz Band), and nobody has raised this as an issue – neither Andy nor staff who accompany him.  Andy loves to be at Primavera when Stan is playing.  He goes from table to table and talks with all of the guests and band members.  Many have known him since he was a child.  Nineteen years ago when Andy last visited at home Stan did not have a drink while Andy was there.  Stan honors Andy’s wish and orders iced tea when we go out to supper.  Stan smokes in Andy’s presence but tries to minimize it.  It’s a tough habit for him to give up.

No support for statements about alleged dangerousness

Rockett’s decision also included a lengthy discussion of Andy’s alleged sexual dangerousness, starting with the mistaken claim discussed above that Andy was arrested in 1990 for sexual assault. Rockett referred three times to the arrest, and, in one instance, stated that Andy had “stalked the three neighborhood children.”  As noted, there is no evidence in police or court records that anyone was sexually assaulted in those incidents, that any young children were involved, or that Andy stalked anyone.

(Even the appeals court, which upheld Rockett’s decision in 2009, stated in a footnote that “some of the fact findings adopted by the judge (Rockett) were not supported by the evidence…” The appeals court footnote specifically stated with regard to Rockett’s claims about the arrest for sexual assault and stalking three girls, “the specific facts (of the incidents in Sherborn) and the charges are not clear from the record.”)

Rockett also claimed in his decision that Andy had confessed to having “bizarre sexual fantasies” about children; yet Rockett noted that Andy “will always say what people want to hear.”

In addition, Rockett included what appears to be an unsupported and inflammatory statement by Burch that Andy was “the most dangerous person he has ever treated.”

But there is no evidence cited or presented in Rockett’s decision that Andy ever sexually assaulted anyone. Rockett stated, for instance, that in the 1990’s, when he was first admitted to his group home, Andy “attempted to attack female staff” in both his residential and day programs.  But Rockett provided no details about those alleged attempted assaults.

Rockett’s decision also included two accounts about Andy’s alleged fantasies and about Andy engaging in masturbation; but while the accounts were graphic, nothing that Rockett described could be said to constitute crimes or prove that Andy was dangerous.

Ellen and Stan maintained that at least some of the statements given by clinicians regarding Andy’s alleged sexual fantasies may have stemmed from statements Andy made while participating in a group therapy program in the 1990’s in Andy’s group home, which is run by Community Resources for Justice.  Participants were reportedly encouraged to discuss their sexual fantasies in the sessions.

“As I recall we were told at least some of the group members had actually offended,” Ellen said. “We weren’t told details of these sessions.”

Questions remain

Marie Dunn, the new guardian appointed last week for Andy, was not present at the October 26 court hearing.  But both Andy’s court-appointed attorney and the DDS attorney encouraged Stan and Ellen to meet with Dunn.  Stan is hopeful that Dunn will agree to a new, independent evaluation of Andy, and that she will support supervised home visits for him.

We hope things will finally move in a positive direction for Stan, Ellen, and Andy.  We think it was a good sign that Judge Christopher allowed Andy to state his wish in open court to visit home.  We also think it is a positive thing that Andy finally has a new guardian.

We strongly support at least a co-guardianship for Stan; and we hope the day comes soon when Andy can have supervised visits home once again, and that common sense will finally prevail in this case.

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