Home > Uncategorized > In establishing state commission on institutional care, Legislature ignored committee-approved language proposed by COFAR

In establishing state commission on institutional care, Legislature ignored committee-approved language proposed by COFAR

(COFAR Intern Joseph Sziabowski contributed to the research for this post.)

In July, the state Legislature approved the Fiscal Year 2023 budget with an amendment to establish a state commission to study the history of the former Fernald Developmental Center and other institutions in Massachusetts for persons with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

The budget amendment did not contain language proposed last year by COFAR, which would have helped ensure that the commission would not be biased against institutional care for persons with developmental disabilities.

We had expressed concern that the commission, as conceived in previously drafted bills (S.1257, and H.2090), might be used to call for the closure of the Wrentham and Developmental Center and Hogan Regional Center.

As we have reported, key proponents of the commission have promoted the closures of state-run residential care facilities, and have tried to focus public attention solely on the darkest periods of institutional care in this and other states prior to the 1980s.

The commission proponents have declined to acknowledge major improvements since the 1980s in care and conditions in the state’s developmental centers or Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs). Those improvements were implemented largely due to the intervention of the late U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro.

Committee redraft included COFAR language

However, even after the budget amendment was approved in the Senate in May, at least some of the language COFAR had proposed was included in a redraft of one of the original bills.

The redrafted bill (H. 4961), which was approved on June 30 by the Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery Committee, would give COFAR standing along with other named advocacy organizations to appoint some of the commission members. Each advocacy organization, including the Arc of Massachusetts, would have one appointment.

The redrafted bill also contained our suggested requirement that the commission study the wellbeing of current residents of the Wrentham and Hogan Centers. The previous versions of the legislation included requirements to study the wellbeing only of former state facility residents now living in the community.

We had opposed those previous versions of the commission bill because the versions would preclude assessments of care of current residents of Wrentham and Hogan. We think many, if not most, of those assessments would be likely to be positive.

The Senate budget amendment contains no directives for the study of the wellbeing of either former or current residents of state facilities.

COFAR language superseded

But while the redrafted bill was sent on July 11 to the Health Care Financing Committee, it never emerged from that committee. It has been superseded by the budget amendment, which does not include any of COFAR’s proposed language.

The budget amendment does specify that one current resident and one family member of both the Wrentham and Hogan Centers will be eligible to serve on the commission. The previous bills did not provide for seats for current residents of the facilities or their family members.

However, the budget amendment gives the governor, and not COFAR, the authorization to appoint those Wrentham and Hogan members to the commission. In contrast, the amendment gives three anti-institutional organizations, including the Arc of Massachusetts, the authority to make one commission appointment each.

The budget amendment was bundled with hundreds of other amendments and approved on a voice vote in the Senate in May. As such, the amendment was not subject to a hearing or debate in the Legislature.

The Mental Health Committee’s subsequent redraft with some of our suggested language remains stuck in the committee. As a result, our concerns about possible bias in the commission remain.

Questions remain about the planned commission and its funding

Thus far, we haven’t been able to get answers to some key questions about the planned commission:

  • There appears to be no clear indication when the commission will begin working, or how people can apply to serve on it.
  • While the budget amendment earmarks $145,000 in funding for the commission, there appears to be no indication what the funding will be used for. The amendment doesn’t specify any staff for the commission, for instance.
  • The budget amendment says the commission may study “the independent living movement,” but does not define that movement.

We have made repeated attempts to contact the sponsors of the commission legislation, other key lawmakers, and the governor’s office, which will make many of the appointments to the commission.

Only Representative Sean Garballey, the sponsor of the original House bill to create the commission, got back to us. In a phone call on August 26, Garballey said no decision had yet been made on when the commission will begin operating or when the appointments will be made to it.  He suggested the appointment process could take several months, and might be delayed until the next administration.

Garballey suggested that persons who want to serve on the commission send letters to the Office of Governor Charlie Baker and, if necessary, whomever occupies the office after him. The letters should reference the relevant statute (Chapter 126 of the Acts of 2022, section 144) and articulate the constituent’s case to be on the commission.

Garballey said he was open to receiving recommendations or requests, from persons willing to serve on the commission, that he could pass along to the relevant appointing entities.

Asked about the purpose of the commission funding, Garballey said the money will be spent “at the discretion of the commission and its voting process.” He said he didn’t know with certainty what the funding will be used for.

Garballey said it was his “vision for the commission to tell the whole story,” or the entire history of the state institutions, dating back to the 19th century and moving ahead to the more recent positive reforms.

“I’m looking for a factual history, not one with political bias,” Garballey said. “I would be opposed to any effort to push a certain view or co-opt the commission to shut down any institution,” he said. “I would be appalled and disappointed if the commission was utilized in that way.”

We hope Representative Garballey’s vision regarding the commission prevails. But to ensure that is the case, we hope that the Legislature will amend the now statutory language establishing the commission to incorporate our suggestions. We also would like to see a directive added to the language that specifies that the commission will include the reforms of the 1980s in its historical analysis.

  1. Richard Faucher Sr
    September 23, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    It is so important we fully document the history of all the institutions as Rep. Garballey mentioned in his talk to COFAR. There certainly have been some positive strides to improve the institutional setting, however, it took a judge to light the way so it would not happen again. I applaud COFAR and all the advocates for keeping the flame lit. In the past, there was no accountability, but there is now, and documenting the history sets a roadmap for what the future members of the committee will focus on.

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  2. Mary Ann Ulevich
    September 23, 2022 at 1:09 pm

    As a trustee at WDC, and guardian of a now deceased resident of WDC, I plan to write to the Governor (as recommended by Rep Garbelly) requesting appointment to the newly funded Commission to study the history of state care of those with developmental disabilities. I will copy my state representative David LeBouef of Worcester, a strong advocate for families and children who is interested in this commission. I spoke to him this week. Wil) let you know if I receive a reply.
    Although the suggested COFAR language was not included, we can try to influence the commission to ensure a balanced, not biased, study.
    Mau

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