Home > Uncategorized > Administration keeping records hidden and declining comment on COVID-19 in DDS system

Administration keeping records hidden and declining comment on COVID-19 in DDS system

The Baker administration seems to be going out of its way to avoid providing information to us regarding the impact COVID-19 has had on persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Massachusetts.

We have four outstanding Public Records Requests with three state agencies – the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), and the Department of Public Health (DPH). In none of the cases have we received responsive documents.

Administration officials also don’t appear even to want to talk about their response to the pandemic. Neither HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders nor DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder have responded to our repeated questions over the past several months about the lack of mandatory testing of staff in the DDS system for COVID-19.

A key state lawmaker also declined to clarify her apparently erroneous remarks recently made to a COFAR member about why mandatory testing of staff isn’t being done. (More about that below.)

Ryder also has refused to respond to our questions about the administration’s apparently haphazard policy on retesting of persons in the system or the slow pace of testing of both residents and staff.

For instance, one parent of a resident in a state-operated group home said his daughter has been tested four times in her group home since April, and has been negative each time. Meanwhile, approximately 1,400 residents in the DDS system haven’t even been tested once.

We are concerned that if a second wave of the virus hits Massachusetts, DDS’s lack of a coherent policy on retesting could be tragic.

No mandatory testing records provided 

Our longest-running Public Records request to the administration is for internal emails and other documents relating to the topic of mandatory testing of staff in the DDS system. As we have reported, DDS does not require staff to be tested even though it is likely that much of the spread of the virus in group homes has been caused by asymptomatic staff.

I first asked EOHHS, DDS, and DPH on May 26, more than a month and a half ago, for emails and other records regarding mandatory testing, and so far none have been provided. The stories keep changing from EOHHS as to whether they have any such records.

First, EOHHS said in early June that they had so many records that the cost could potentially be prohibitive to provide them to us. But after I narrowed down my request at their suggestion, they said earlier this month that they have no responsive records. I filed an appeal with the state Public Records Division on July 14.

EOHHS has also failed to provide us records I requested on June 16 relating to a contract with Fallon Ambulance Service, which is carrying out the testing in the DDS system.

Among the records I asked for were records showing how much Fallon had been paid since they started the testing work on April 10, and copies of daily reports, which the contract requires Fallon to submit to EOHHS.

We have also have not yet received any records, which I asked for on June 25, concerning the online reporting system used by DPH regarding COVID test results in the DDS system. We want to know why the reporting system has been changed from cumulative data to current data, and why the site shows only currently positive cases.

DDS itself has provided cumulative COVID testing data to us, but the Department refuses to display the data on its website where the public could access it on a daily basis.

No indication whether administration has discussed mandatory testing

To date, no one in the administration has given us a reason for the decision not to make testing of staff mandatory in the DDS system.

On May 26, I asked EOHHS, DDS, and DPH for internal emails, memos and other records relating to internal discussions of the topic.

To date, I have received zero documents in response to my request. As a result, on July 14, I filed an appeal with the state’s Public Records Supervisor.

It’s hard to believe  that there have been no such internal discussions at the highest levels in EOHHS.

EOHHS story keeps changing on the records it has

On June 9, when a response was legally due under the Public Records Law to my May 26 request for documents, an EOHHS records officer told me initial searches of emails of all EOHHS personnel using the term “mandatory testing” resulted in such a voluminous number of documents that the cost of reviewing and reproducing them would be potentially prohibitive.

As a result, I agreed to the records officer’s suggestion that I narrow the requested communications to Secretary Sudders and her executive team, and narrow the time frame to a period between April 1 and June 1, 2020.

About a month went by, and I received no further word or documents from EOHHS or from DDS or DPH. On July 9, after I queried EOHHS, the records officer said he had a “responsive record” and would provide it by July 13. When no response was forthcoming by July 14, I appealed to the Public Records Division.

The next day, the EOHHS records official emailed me to say that he had been mistaken about the responsive record, and that EOHHS actually had no records that were responsive to my narrowed request.

So, in the month and a half since my original Public Records Request, EOHHS had gone from having a voluminous number of records in response to it, to having zero records after I narrowed the request according to their suggestions.

So, I asked on July 15 if EOHHS could redirect their search to the highest-level personnel in the agency whose emails did include references to mandatory testing in the agreed-upon time frame.

Secondly, I asked for an explanation as to why it had taken more than a month since our June 9 agreement on narrowing my records request to do a search of the emails of the secretary and her team, which then came up empty. To date, I have received no response to those follow-up questions. 

DPH wanted to charge us for records … then did not respond to us

On June 17, DPH responded to my May 26 Public Records request regarding mandatory testing records with a letter stating that that agency had identified more than 2,700 emails that might be responsive to my request, and that providing all of them would cost us more than $1,600.

In a June 18 email to the DPH records officer, I offered to similarly narrow my request to communications involving DPH Commissioner Monica Bharel and her executive team and to a time period from April 1 through June 1.  To date, I have not received a response from DPH to my offer, nor have I received any records.

State lawmaker declines to support claim that mandatory COVID testing is prohibited by statute

In a July 7 email to a COFAR member in response to a question about mandatory testing of staff, state Representative Kay Khan stated that she has been advocating for increased testing in the DDS system.

Khan, who is House chair of the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee, said it was her understanding, however, that requiring mandatory testing of staff is not allowed by statute and that the Massachusetts General Laws would need to be changed through legislation for this to become policy.

We at COFAR are not aware of any such statute that would prevent mandatory testing. In an email to Khan on July 8, I asked if she could provide a citation of the statute she was referring to. Khan has not responded to my query. 

No new records provided regarding Fallon COVID testing contract

On June 16, I asked EOHHS for documents relating to a contract with Fallon Ambulance Service to test residents and staff in the DDS system. We had previously received the contract itself from EOHHS.

Among the documents I asked for on June 16 were records showing how much Fallon had been paid since they started the testing work on April 10, and copies of daily reports, which the contract specifically required Fallon to submit to EOHHS.

In its response on July 16, a month later, EOHHS provided only the same contract it had provided earlier.  The EOHHS response stated that the agency had no daily reports from Fallon, but that we should ask DPH for those.

As far as payment to Fallon, the EOHHS response stated that I should go to the Comptroller’s online database at https://www.macomptroller.org/cthru. This database, however, does not make it clear how to determine payments made to contractors.

For instance, when I did a search for Fallon Ambulance, the Comptroller’s site appeared to indicate that the last time Fallon Ambulance was paid was in Fiscal Year 2018. When I checked it, the site listed $0 paid to the company in the previous and current fiscal years.

I emailed the EOHHS records officer about the problem with his agency’s response to my Public Records request yesterday (July 20.) I have not received a reply.

DPH ignores Public Records Request regarding its reporting system

On June 25, I asked EOHHS, DDS, and DPH for documents concerning the weekly online data reporting system used by DPH for testing results in the DDS system. We wanted to know why the reporting system had been changed from cumulative data to current data, which shows only currently positive cases.

Both DDS and EOHHS stated they would provide a response by July 17. To date, however, I haven’t received that response from either agency.  I have received no communication from DPH since filing my June 25 Public Records request.

As a result, I appealed to the state Public Records Supervisor on July 16, specifically regarding the lack of response from DPH.

It’s not clear to me what, if anything, the Public Records supervisor is going to do about any of these matters.

In any event, maybe it’s just us, but is anyone else sensing a pattern here? After initially seeming responsive to our information and records requests when the viral pandemic first appeared in March, the administration has become increasingly secretive.

We are at a loss to explain this apparent lack of transparency. Overall, the administration has been getting high marks for its response to the pandemic. Massachusetts is one of the few states in the nation in which the rates of infection have been declining.

But when it comes to the DDS system, the administration just doesn’t want to answer any questions.

  1. Anonymous
    July 21, 2020 at 5:37 pm

    So, to summarize, COFAR flicked a light switch, and certain people scattered, and continue to scatter, like the cockroaches they are. One person is one person, but more than one person hiding information is collusion.

    Like

  2. Anonymous
    July 21, 2020 at 5:48 pm

    Don’t know if you are aware, but the legality of Baker’s executive orders is being challenged as unlawful.

    Like

  3. Clare Stone
    July 21, 2020 at 9:32 pm

    How disappointing. Thank you for your diligence with this David.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Gloria J Medeiros
    July 22, 2020 at 9:45 am

    I so appreciate all your time and labor trying to keep our loved ones safe and to be able to receive what they need. I also Thank You for your diligence with this David.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. peter
    July 26, 2020 at 11:09 am

    …fortuitously found this blog. I am simultaneously in a state of profound admiration and confusion. While I see how diligent someone like David can be and is, and then I’m very surprised that others are surprised by bureaucratic intransigence. In my 55 years it has been my direct experience that every single bureaucracy in our country behaves in this way. Perhaps someone out there (or David) will straighten me out on this. Has anyone actually ever succeeded in endeavors like this? I have ALWAYS failed. Let me be more specific here as well, any positive responses I have had are always achieved are somehow ‘contained’ and I’ve never came to a place where I had succeeded for myself or others I was advocating for. …?

    Like

    • July 26, 2020 at 11:33 am

      Peter, I think we’ve had some successes in that we’ve been part of a wider effort that has gotten the administration to at least start systematic testing in the DDS system for COVID-19 and to publicly release at least some of the results of those tests.

      I think we would have more success if we had the press behind us; but despite our best efforts, there has been almost no mainstream media coverage of issues affecting persons in Massachusetts with developmental disabilities.

      We therefore do what we can, particularly on this blogsite and via social media. When people like you comment on these issues, it sends a strong message to the administration.

      Like

      • Anonymous
        July 26, 2020 at 11:44 am

        Thank God or Nature or whatever for people like you David!
        May you find success in all of your endeavors…

        Like

      • July 26, 2020 at 11:59 am

        Thanks for your support!

        Like

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