Home > Uncategorized > DDS emails show concern that governor’s COVID vaccination mandate could worsen staffing shortage in state-op group homes

DDS emails show concern that governor’s COVID vaccination mandate could worsen staffing shortage in state-op group homes

Department of Developmental Services (DDS) Commissioner Jane Ryder and at least one other top DDS official were concerned last September that Governor Baker’s COVID vaccination mandate for state employees could worsen an already existing staffing shortage in the Department’s state-operated group homes.

Those concerns were expressed in a handful of emails, which COFAR received from DDS late last month after a nine-month battle for internal records relating to closures and consolidations of the homes.

On July 8, the state’s Public Records Supervisor ruled that DDS must produce the records because the Department had not met its burden of proof that the emails were exempt from public disclosure. DDS provided the emails to us on July 29.

The internal emails confirm that there had been closures of some state-operated group homes in Massachusetts due to an executive order issued last August by Governor Baker requiring all state employees to be vaccinated by October 17 or face termnation.

That vaccination mandate applies only to staff of state-run residential facilities. It does not apply to the much larger network of DDS-funded group homes that are run by corporate providers.

As of October 21, we had received unconfirmed reports 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 for COVID.

In an email, dated September 24, Gall Gillespie, the DDS Metro Region director, stated that she wasn’t sure whether Baker was aware of the impact his vaccination mandate might have on the state-operated group home system.  Her email, which was sent to a DDS consultant, stated:

I am not sure the governor knows about the impact (of his vaccination mandate). Jane (Ryder) is briefing the secretary (Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders).

We have had homes consolidate and close, staff taking individuals home with them, and administrative staff working shifts. Some agencies are asking about the National Guard… We may be asking area and regional staff to fill in shifts if staff get terminated around the vaccine mandate. We cannot ask staff if they are vaccinated; so only know a percentage based on a cross check with DPH.

In an email earlier that same day to the same consultant, Gillespie described “a major crisis looming with the staff shortage…I think it is a problem that is almost too scary to address and it seems not in our control. It also does not directly affect some of our senior staff. Some of us are meeting and trying to come up with plans if we lose 20-40% of our direct care staff on October 17.”

But while those emails show a concern within DDS over the staffing shortages in the group home system and the potential impact of the vaccine mandate, no concerns were expressed in the emails about other potential causes of the staffing shortages such as the problem of low direct-care wages. One email from Gillespie said only that DDS would pay overtime to staff willing to work shifts in state-operated group homes after their regular work week was completed.

We have reported that a key cause of the staffing shortages has been low direct-care wages that have plagued the entire DDS system.

No discussion about future of state-run group homes

Administration officials have declined to comment to us on the staffing shortages or closure reports regarding either state-operated or provider-operated homes. The emails provided to us on July 29 confirm the Department’s concerns about those issues, at least regarding the state-run homes.

But the emails don’t contain any discussions about any plans or concerns DDS might have had regarding the future of the state-run group home system, which was one of the reasons we sought the internal documents.

We view the state-operated group home system to be a crucial backstop for care in the DDS system as a whole. Yet DDS has been allowing the number of residents in the state-operated group home network to drop in the past several years.

Overtime offered to staff willing to work in state-ops

In an email on October 13 to DDS state-operated group home personnel, four days before the October 17 vaccination deadline, Gillespie again referred to the staffing shortage that DDS anticipated “will get worse after the deadline for the vaccine mandate passes.”

Gillespie said that while some staff had volunteered to work in Metro Region homes the previous week, DDS was now offering to pay overtime for staff willing to work shifts in those homes beyond their regular work week. She added that the Central West Region was also looking for volunteers to staff group homes.

In an October 12 email to all of the DDS regional directors, a DDS official listed clinics around the state at which state employees could get vaccinated.

As noted, none of the emails addressed the issue of long-term DDS policies concerning closing or consolidating state-operated group homes. As a result, it’s not clear why DDS fought so hard against releasing these emails to us.

No clear plan for addressing the staffing shortage or direct-care wages

It’s also not clear from the records that DDS has a systematic plan to address the staffing shortage or direct-care wage problems in either the state or provider-run group home networks.

The one thing that the internal DDS documents appears to show is that DDS offcials were, and potentially still are, concerned about staffing shortage in state-run group homes.

But it doesn’t appear DDS has done more to address that issue than to issue appeals for volunteers and offer to pay overtime to staff willing to work beyond their regular work week.

Late last month, Governor Baker signed the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which includes a provision requiring DDS and other human services agencies to direct up to $173 million in state funding to boost wages of their direct-care workers, But to date, there has been little or no information available as to when that money will start flowing, or even what the impact will be on worker wages.

We think a plan is urgently needed from the administration that includes details on how the administration intends to deal with these issues.

  1. Chris
    August 8, 2022 at 1:16 pm

    Bizarre. I recently did an open records request to see how much chapter 257 money had been paid to a provider, in order to try to figure out the impact of the 75%. They told me it was not public information.


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