Home > Uncategorized > DDS denial of our request for records could indicate plans exist to close state-operated group homes

DDS denial of our request for records could indicate plans exist to close state-operated group homes

In a move that may indicate plans are in the works to consolidate or close state-operated group homes in Massachusetts, the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has denied our request for internal records concerning such plans.

In a December 13 response to our request for the records, DDS said the documents are exempt from disclosure under the state’s Public Records Law because the records relate to an “ongoing or evolving policy matter.”

At issue are eight internal emails that DDS said are responsive to our records request.

We think the fact that DDS cited that Public Records Law exemption for evolving policy matters could be an indication that the Department is developing a new policy regarding the future of its state-operated group home network. We are concerned such a policy might not be good news for those facilities; however, any documentation that might shed light on that is now being withheld.

We first asked DDS on October 15 for any and all internal records, generated since September, that concern closures or consolidations of DDS state-operated group homes due to unvaccinated staff for COVID or for other reasons.

In mid-October, we received a report from a COFAR member that up to seven state-run homes in the southeastern region of the state had been closed because staff in them had not been vaccinated. Later that month, we heard that a state-run group home in western Massachusetts was being closed and that at least one of the residents there was moved without written notice to a location in another town.

In August, Governor Baker issued an executive order requiring all state employees to be vaccinated by October 17 or ultimately be terminated.

In October, we reported that we were growing increasingly concerned that the critically important state-run DDS group home network could be facing a crisis that could threaten its long-term existence.

We often advise families whose loved ones are experiencing poor care in provider-run residences to ask for placements in available state-run group homes. Staff in the state-run network generally receive higher pay and benefits and more training than their counterparts in the provider system.

DDS initially was going to charge $1,000 fee for the records

In an initial response to our public records request on October 29, DDS stated that there were potentially 1,600 responsive emails, and that producing the documents would require us to pay a $1,000 fee.

In a Nov. 9 phone call, I talked with Brian Fleming, the DDS associate general counsel and records access officer, about narrowing our request.

In his December 13 written response to us, Fleming said the narrowed search had turned up a total of 190 emails, and that eight of those were determined to be responsive to our request. However, he said that all eight of those emails were being withheld because they relate to the Public Records exemption for “interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters relating to policy positions being developed by the agency.”

Fleming said the Governor’s Executive Order requiring all executive branch employees to be vaccinated “is an ongoing and evolving policy matter which is subject to the deliberative exemption.”

Fleming said that in addition, an unspecified number of emails were being withheld on the basis of attorney-client privilege. He provided a log of 10 emails that he said were subject to that latter exemption.

Appeal unlikely to be successful

Unfortunately, it has been our experience that if DDS cites the evolving policy exemption or the attorney-client exemption, we would probably lose any appeal for the records that we might file with the state Supervisor of Public Records. We believe the Supervisor would claim an inability to determine whether an internal departmental policy is settled or evolving. Similarly, it is unlikely that the Supervisor would dispute a departmental claim of attorney-client privilege.

A pattern of withholding information

With this latest denial of our Public Records Request, we once agan find ourselves in the position of having to speculate as to what DDS’s plans are regarding the immediate and long-term future of care in the system.

In this case, we had initially emailed DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder and the press office at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) on October 14 with questions about the reports of closures and consolidations in the state-operated group home network.

To date, Ryder has not responded to our query. A spokesperson for EOHHS said in a response to our email that we would have to file a Public Records Request for that information.

On October 15, we filed that Public Records Request with both DDS and EOHHS. EOHHS responded that same day that that agency did not have any records relevant to our query. And on December 13, DDS responded, as noted, that the records it has are exempt from disclosure.

As we’ve said many times, we think the secrecy practiced by the administration over DDS matters, in particular, is unnecessary and does not foster trust in government by the public. The administration has the discretion to be transparent about its plans and policies. It should consider doing so.

  1. Anonymous
    December 18, 2021 at 10:54 am

    Closing of the DDS state-run Group Homes would be devastating to our loved ones who live in a Group Home. They have formed relationships of respect, boundaries, trust, and support with those who are caring for them, and also with their housemates (peers) living with them. Each one has their own personality/problems and they are accepted and form lasting friendships.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim Callahan
    December 18, 2021 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks for your efforts and your diligence.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Anonymous
    December 19, 2021 at 10:00 pm

    I see more than one address for COFAR. Would you please post the mailing address for donations. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. January 7, 2022 at 9:04 pm

    Programs through DDS and DDS providers have closed throughout December and January. I am starting to be a little worried as I love my job. The DDS provider I work for closed 2 programs that I know of with short notice.

    Liked by 1 person

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