Home > Uncategorized > DDS upholds disenrollment of client from shared living, but appears to leave door open for her to reapply

DDS upholds disenrollment of client from shared living, but appears to leave door open for her to reapply

Department of Developmental Services (DDS) Commissioner Jane Ryder last week upheld the Department’s move last summer to disenroll Mercy Mezzanotti, a DDS client, from shared living services because Mercy has refused to move out of the home of her longtime caregiver, Karen Faiola.

However, in accepting a hearing officer’s 10-page decision in the matter, Ryder appeared to leave the door open for Mercy and Karen to reapply directly to a “qualified provider” agency in order to continue their shared living relationship.

DDS does not directly employ shared living caregivers such as Karen, but funds nonprofit “qualified providers” that do directly contract with them.

In an interview last week, Mercy said DDS officials had repeatedly told her that she would have to leave Karen’s home and find another caregiver in order to continue receiving shared living services. But Johanna Soris, the hearing officer, stated in her decision that it is the responsibility of the qualified provider agency, and not DDS, to determine whether to employ a particular caregiver and whether to accept a client into its program.

Karen Faiola and Mercy Mezzanotti

As we have reported, the previous qualified provider in the case, Venture Community Services, temporarily removed Mercy, against her will, from Karen’s Sutton home last May, and placed Mercy in the home of another person in Worcester whom Mercy had never met. That same day, May 23, Venture terminated Karen’s shared living contract without stating a reason for the termination.

Karen and Mercy maintain that Venture terminated Karen’s contract because the two of them had complained that Venture employees had emotionally abused Mercy.

After objecting to her involuntary move, Mercy was able to return, after two days, to Karen’s home. However, DDS notified Mercy in July that she was no longer eligible for enrollment in the Department’s Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) Intensive Support Waiver Program, which funds shared living services.

Mercy appealed her disenrollment, and a “fair hearing” was held on her appeal on November 10. Soris was appointed as hearing officer in the case by Commissioner Ryder.

DDS argued during the hearing that Mercy became ineligible for the HCBS Waiver program when she came back to live with Karen after her involuntary removal from Karen’s home.

According to DDS’s argument, which was presented in a legal brief in the case, shared living services must be provided by a caregiver who is employed by a qualified provider. The Department maintained that because Karen was no longer under contract with Venture, she could no longer provide shared living services under the HCBS Waiver program. And because Mercy had refused to leave Karen, DDS argued that Mercy herself was no longer eligible for the program.

DDS said to have no role in hiring shared living caregivers

Karen, who has continued to care for Mercy in her home, said she contacted a new qualified provider agency, but was told by that agency that DDS would have to refer her to them in order for her to continue to provide shared living services. She said DDS has refused to provide such a referral. As a result, she has not been paid for providing services to Mercy since May.

In her decision, Soris, the hearing officer, asserted that DDS has no authority under the Waiver program to refer Karen to another qualified provider because DDS does not contract directly with caregivers. According to the decision, the shared living process requires both Mercy and Karen to apply directly to qualified providers to participate as a client and caregiver respectively.

In our view, Soris’s decision, while upholding Mercy’s disenrollment from the Waiver program, implies that both Mercy and Karen could apply to any qualified provider of their choosing and ask that they be allowed to remain together. Karen said last week that she and Mercy plan to do that.

Soris’s decision added that, “The Appellant (Mercy) is still entitled to Waiver services so long as she fills out the proper paperwork and works with a DDS service coordinator to find a Qualified Provider.” In our view, it isn’t clear, based on Soris’s other findings, why Mercy would even need to work with a DDS service coordinator in that regard. Soris appears to have concluded that DDS plays no role in the shared living application process, either with regard to the client or the caregiver.

Hearing officer notes that Mercy benefited from Karen’s care

In her decision, Soris’s acknowledged that Mercy had “thrived” under Karen’s care. And her decision provided details that appear to cooroborate Karen and Mercy’s claim that Venture terminated Karen’s contract after Karen and Mercy had both complained that Venture employees had emotionally abused Mercy.

Soris noted that prior to living with Karen, Mercy had lived in four different shared living homes “that were each unsatisfactory in different ways.”

Citing the testimony of both Mercy and of her therapist, Grishelda Hogan, Soris wrote that Mercy originally “came to Karen Faiola’s home as a shy, timid person who could not effectively advocate for herself. Over the course of the four years with Karen Faiola, (Mercy) made great strides in overcoming her shyness and gaining self-confidence,” Soris added.

Soris also noted testimony from both Mercy and her therapist that that Mercy was having “difficulties” with her job coach, who was a Venture employee, and that Karen had asked Venture management on numerous occasions to have the job coach replaced. Mercy maintained that the job coach was emotionally abusive toward her.

Soris then stated that on May 19, Venture convened a Zoom meeting in which Karen “was informed she should resign and Venture employees would be removing (Mercy from Karen’s) home on May 23.” No reason was noted in Soris’s decision for Venture’s decision to terminate Karen.

Mercy told staying with Karen was “not an option”

On May 20, Soris wrote, a behavioral counselor from Venture picked Mercy up at her work place and “instructed her to pack her belongings over the weekend because Venture was taking her to a new home for a new start.” Soris added that Mercy “didn’t know why she couldn’t continue living with Karen Faiola. (The Venture behavioral counselor) told her it was not an option. (Mercy) was crying and stunned at this information.”

Then on Monday, May 23, Soris stated, the Venture job coach picked Mercy up at her work place and dropped her off at the new shared living caregiver’s home. Mercy then spent two days there.

“During that time,” Soris stated, Mercy “phoned and texted Karen Faiola and Grishelda Hogan exhibiting great distress to the point that both women (Karen and Hogan) filed complaints with DPPC (the Disabled Persons Protection Commission) alleging that (Mercy) was experiencing great emotional distress.”

On May 25, after having spent two nights at the new shared living caregiver’s home, Mercy called Karen “and asked her to bring her home,” Soris stated. “Karen Faiola did so and described (Mercy) as a ‘happy camper’ (in returning to her home.)”

As noted, we asked DPPC last fall to undertake a full investigation of the allegations of emotional abuse by the job coach and of Mercy’s involuntary removal from Karen’s home. DPPC has not responded to our request.

DPPC apparently referred the complaints filed by Karen and Hogan to DDS. A September 30 Complaint Resolution letter written by DDS Area Director Denise Healy did not assess whether the alleged actions of the Venture employees were appropriate, or indicate that the allegations of emotional abuse had been investigated.

We are hoping for a happy outcome to this continuing ordeal for both Mercy and Karen. Mercy said the fact that Karen hasn’t been paid since last May to care for her has had a severe financial impact on both of them. “I’m having sleepless nights,” she said. “We could end up homeless.”

  1. janet marcus
    February 13, 2023 at 12:55 pm

    Seems like there is no “mercy” when it comes to money. That of course is what is at the (can’t state heart”) basis of all this. $$$


  2. Karen Faiola
    February 15, 2023 at 1:43 pm

    We waited 8 months without being funded to tell Mercy and I we can go to another agency where I can be qualified and Mercy can apply for services? That DDS doesn’t refer individuals to agencies after we’ve been told other wise by the new agency we wished to be transferred to?

    I will be writing a more in depth comment later to try to clear the muddy water, but for now I want to clarify something important.

    DDS Worcester was in on the zoom meeting between Venture and myself. When I pushed that Mercy should be at this meeting since it’s about her and she is her own guardian, Venture said no. In this zoom meeting Venture said they were going to remove Mercy from my house immediately and Patricia Lee of Worcester DDS said they agreed with Ventures decision. It is my understanding, if DDS didn’t approve this plan to remove Mercy, it couldn’t have happened. So this excuse that DDS doesn’t have authority over agencies doesn’t ring true. These agencies (i.e. Venture) are approved and certified by DDS.

    M.G.L. s. 123N, s.3 states that; said department shall request said guardian’s consent prior to the transfer. Since Mercy is her own guardian, it appears that Venture and DDS Worcester violated this statute.


  3. Karen Faiola
    February 16, 2023 at 7:37 pm

    Another clarification on this issue; “In her decision, Soris, the hearing officer, asserted that DDS has no authority under the Waiver program to refer Karen to another qualified provider because DDS does not contract directly with caregivers. According to the decision, the shared living process requires both Mercy and Karen to apply directly to qualified providers to participate as a client and caregiver respectively.”

    The truth is;
    The request to DDS Worcester to be referred to the new agency was for Mercy, not me. I have the email with that specific request that I sent, which was ignored. The new agency made it clear that the referral is what they needed from DDS to move forward with Mercy. Mercy’s wishes were to work with a new agency because of what Venture pulled, removing her against her will from my home and their refusal to find a new job coach that was abusive.

    In the statement from the attorney for DDS, page 10 states; “the department was under no obligation to respond to Ms. Faiola’s request.” meaning the request I sent on behalf of Mercy, they didn’t have to respond to.

    In my mind DDS had an obligation to Mercy since the request for the referral was for Mercy to go to a different agency.


  4. Karen Faiola
    February 19, 2023 at 6:26 pm

    Another clarification needed here. In the hearing officer’s decision #26 states that “DDS witnesses told Mercy that she could regain her services and once again live with a shared living provider, or choose other living arrangements by contacting the Worcester area office to fill out the application and work with a service coordinator.”

    Whenever Mercy spoke to Denise Haley, Melanie Cruz or Patricia Lee (her coordinator) whether they called her or she called them to find out why they won’t refer her to Open Sky. No one from DDS Worcester answered her question. Mercy made it clear she didn’t want to move. I am first witness to these calls. Melanie Cruz finally came out and said “we won’t work with Karen”. So despite Mercy’s constant objections to moving to a new shared living provider, no one offered any solution to the problem. No one said what they should have said which is now said in the decision; If you want to continue to live with Karen she needs to become a qualified provider through another agency. No, they had their own agenda. There has been so much deceit and violation of laws here.

    Venture and DDS never received Mercy’s authorization to move.

    In addition to that, this notion that I asked for both of us to be referred to Open Sky is untrue. I knew I would have to be re-qualified as a shared living provider through the new agency.

    Here is the actual request for referral.

    Sent via email 6/2/2022


    Could you could send a referral to Open Sky so they could become Mercy’s agency? It is a mile from my house, they have a lot of activities, Mercy is friend with an individual there and they were the agency (Alternatives) I worked with when I did shared-living for six years.

    I spoke to Tammy Stackpole about the situation this morning and she said she would need a referral from you in order for this to happen. Her number is 508-318-7555.

    Additionally, Mercy has cut her ties with Venture and requested to have a new agency. This happened in one of her therapy sessions with Greshelda on May 12th when is became apparent to Mercy that Venture wasn’t doing anything about replacing Ellen as her job coach, which has gone on for 1 ½ years.

    Karen Faiola


  5. Karen Faiola
    February 23, 2023 at 3:54 pm

    Last comment on this bogus decision.

    That above email regarding the request for a referral, 8 months ago, was one of the many exhibits submitted to the hearing officer. I love how they twisted everything to fit their illegal actions (we asked to be transferred jointly) which you can see in the actual email I posted it isn’t true. There are pages and pages about the waiver services, blah blah. The hearing officer even down grades Mercy’s abuse to “treated with disrespect by Venture and DDS”. As well as smoothing the job coach’s abuse to “the job coach and the Appellant could not get along”. Not listening to Mercy’s desires and following the laws and rights being dismissed again.

    The hearing officer recommends Mercy to contact with DDS to find a new provider (meaning agency). Back in May this referral was requested and DDS Worcester refused to send the referral. It was for the sole purpose to defund Mercy. Yet the hearing officer really doesn’t address this at all.

    We’ve already done (8 months ago) what the hearing officer is recommending in her decision. The hearing officer doesn’t seem to understand that an important law was broken by Venture and DDS. Not getting the consent from Mercy to remove her from her home is illegal. It appears that laws are only followed when it suits DDS (i.e. waiver services). The elephant in this room is, THE REMOVAL OF MERCY FROM HER HOME SHOULD HAVE NEVER HAPPENED! Therefore the defunding shouldn’t have happened. Venture and DDS committed a crime here; they had no right to do this! We submitted the law M.G.L. c. 123B, s.3 as an exhibit as well for the hearing. But that was never addressed by the hearing officer.

    The other thing the hearing officer doesn’t understand was the way Mercy would feel about the people (DDS and Venture) who did this to her and suggests Mercy contact the very people who broke the law and took her against her will. She is scared they will “kidnap her again”. The hearing officer doesn’t get the damage that has been done to Mercy, neither does DDS Worcester.

    This precedence set is devastating for the special needs community. It tells us that any special needs person who is their own guardian can be removed from their home without their consent and put in a place they don’t want to be. It also means that people who are guardians of special needs people can be overridden, (i.e. parents, relatives, etc.).

    Another outrages statement from the hearing officer;

    “The Appellant wants to live with Karen Faiola as her shared living provider under the provisions of the waiver. Based upon facts and the applicable regulations and law this particular resolution cannot happen. However, the Appellant has options should she decide to work with DDS going forward.” What does that mean? It sound like “Real Life Laws” don’t matter here and even if I became an approved shared living provider through a new agency DDS wouldn’t allow Mercy to stay living with me.

    How could this ever be considered a fair hearing, DDS has lawyer paid by taxpayers, and Mercy has no lawyer. The hearing officer is paid by the state and DDS is paid by the state, so they all protect each other’s job.

    Everyone should be outraged. I know it’s hard to feel that when it’s not happening to you, but if it happened to us, it could happen to you.

    I will fight to my last breath to get justice for Mercy, she deserves it.


  6. Karen Faiola
  7. March 1, 2023 at 1:34 pm

    [I’m posting this comment written by Mercy Mezzanotti. For some reason our WordPress blogsite wouldn’t accept it when she submitted it from her computer:]

    As the person who’s the one that was verbally and mentally abused, I feel I’ll never have any justice because DDS & Venture won’t ever have to answer for what they did to me. They violated my human rights.

    There’s nothing protecting me and other people like me from DDS & Venture and how they got away with it. How the Venture employees treated me is abusive and no investigation was ever done.

    DDS and Venture gets away with anything, even laws don’t protect me.

    DDS & Venture think they know what’s best for me more than I do and they don’t. After all the terrible places I lived before, the best place I’ve ever lived they want to move me, even against my will being my own guardian. Then since I didn’t go along with their moving me to a woman from another country who hardly spoke English, which was no match for me, they defunded me after they refused to refer me to another agency so then Karen could have become a qualified shared living provider again. These people are mean and cruel, sick with power.

    This hearing officer should be ashamed of herself.

    Mercy Mezzanotti


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