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It’s budget time — time to blame the Fernald families

February 17, 2012 5 comments

The Massachusetts human service vendors are at it again — blaming the families of Fernald Developmental Center residents for the state’s budget problems.

In an online email to members this week, Gary Blumenthal, president of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, once again resorts to misleading statements about Fernald’s operating cost in order to stick it to family members and guardians of the 14 remaining residents there.

Here’s what Blumenthal says about the Fernald families in his message, which discusses a $10.2 million supplemental bill filed by the Patrick administration to keep Fernald operating:

While the state is still intent on closing Fernald and three other state institutions, the final closure date is uncertain as the last 14 families attempt to hold out, hoping against reality that they can force the state to reverse it’s closure decision.    

Despite the families being offered “equal to or better services” per federal Court Orders, the last Fernald families are using every available delay option available, urged on by anti-closure ideologues who still think they can force the state to leave Fernald open for the lifespan of the remaining 14 individuals. 

First of all, through their own volition, these families are exercising their legal right to prevent what they see as the unjust eviction of their loved ones from their long-time home.

Moreover, in at least three of the 14 cases, administrative judges in the Patrick administration itself have ruled that the guardians demonstrated that care would not be better in the new locations proposed by the Department of Developmental Services for those residents.

That’s why these cases have dragged on.  The administrative judicial decisions have been taken to state Superior court by both the administration and the 11 guardians who didn’t win their administrative appeals.  That is their legal right.  But Blumenthal and the ADDP have choosen to castigate the families and unidentified “anti-closure ideologues” for somehow bringing the state to its knees fiscally.

We suppose Blumenthal is referring to COFAR as an anti-closure ideologue.  It’s true that we oppose the administration’s planned closures of Fernald and three other state developmental centers, which we believe provide critically needed care to some of the state’s most severely and profoundly intellectually disabled residents.   But who are the real ideologues here?

We recognize the importance and need for community-based care for the majority of people with intellectual disabilities in Massachusetts.  What we have long argued is that the developmental centers are a necessary part of the continuum of care.  It is the ADDP and their state-funded vendor members who are the pro-closure ideologues.  They argue that the state should abdicate its responsibility of caring for its most vulnerable citizens and hand the entire business over to them.

In furtherance of this aim, Blumenthal has to bend himself into a pretzel logic-wise, and, as we said, make misleading statements about Fernald’s operating cost.  He implies in his message that if Fernald were closed immediately, the $10 million in supplemental funding would somehow be re-invested in the community system of care.

Yet, in the same message, Blumenthal admits what we’ve been saying for years — that the state has “reneged” (his word) on its longtime promise to re-invest funding  from the developmental centers into the community system.   Thus, Blumenthal knows full well that were Fernald to be closed tomorrow, that $10 million would not be invested in the community.  The money, or a good portion of it, would follow the residents themselves to their new locations, wherever they might be.  The community system as a whole would not benefit in any way.

Further, as they do every year at budget time, Blumenthal and the ADDP single out Fernald and discuss how the per-resident cost there has “skyrocketed.”   It’s true that cost has skyrocketed.  But what Blumenthal doesn’t say is that’s what happens when you drastically reduce the population of a care facility.  The fixed costs get spread out over a smaller and smaller base of residents. 

Despite the photo of an abandoned building at Fernald rising out of the weeds that runs atop his message, Blumenthal erroneously makes it sound as though the remaining residents are living the high life because the cost per resident there has risen.  As one of the 14 guardians wrote in an email in response to Blumenthal’s message:

Based on what he (Blumenthal) has to say about the “evil 14”, you’d think we were having a blast, loads of fun and just a grand old time! 

Also, just once I’d like to see a picture of one of Fernald “homes” like Malone Park or a cottage, or our beautiful chapel, not a building that hasn’t been occupied for 35 years!  

You’d think I be use to this by now, but I guess not.

The Herald headline and story are wrong

May 26, 2011 4 comments

On Tuesday of this week, The Boston Herald’s readership was treated to a bombshell headline and story, purportedly about government waste due to delays in the closure of the Fernald Developmental Center.

The headline was “$16M to care for 14 people”; and the story went on to imply that the 14 remaining residents of Fernald, whose guardians have filed administrative and court appeals of their transfers from the Center, are each costing taxpayers more than $1 million per year.

The only problem is that the headline and story are wrong.  I just received a letter from Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Elin Howe, confirming our information that the annual cost of caring for the remaining 14 people at Fernald is projected at $8.9 million.  It seems the $16 million is the projected cost of keeping Fernald open throughout the current fiscal year, during which time there have been far more than just 14 people living there.

As of the end of last June (at the start of the current fiscal year), there were some 70 residents left at Fernald, according to our records, and by the end of July, that number was down to about 40.  The adminstration has steadily moved people out, and 14 is the number of residents who remain as of this month.  So, the $16 million cost clearly reflects a higher number of residents than 14.

Moreover, Commissioner Howe stated in her May 25 letter that:

While the costs associated with operating Fernald have dropped following the census (residential population) reduction, the per-person costs have actually increased as the census declines in the final stage of closure.  This has been a typical pattern in previous closures.

In other words, a per-person cost spike is something that occurs in virtually all developmental center closures — it’s not something unique to Fernald because of the appeals filed by the guardians.  There are certainly added costs associated with the delay in closing Fernald, but those costs are something the administration should have anticipated as part of the overall cost of closure.

Nevertheless, the inaccurate claim that $16 million is being  spent on 14 residents was immediately seized upon this week by the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, whose members stand to benefit from new state contracts as Fernald and three other developmental centers are closed.  ADDP President Gary Blumenthal decried the alleged $16 million cost as “tremendous” and “excessive,” and implied that the Fernald guardians are responsible for it.

On Wednesday, the Herald’s editorial page picked up on the theme, stating that the alleged $16 million being spent on 14 Fernald residents is taking away from community-based services “and it’s impossible to argue that point.”   It’s especially difficult to argue it when the editorial’s point is based on deliberately misleading and inaccurate information.

The Herald editorial, by the way,  is very carefully worded not to equate the $16 million directly with the 14 residents, although it puts the two numbers as close together in the same paragraph as possible.  And of course the editorial never even bothers to mention our longstanding contention that the costs of operating Fernald and the other developmental centers have been overstated by the administration in comparisons made with the community system.

(I talked at length, by the way, with the Herald reporter about that whole developmental center-versus-community cost issue when she called me the day before her story ran on Tuesday.  None of that made it into print, of course.)

I would also note that Howe stated in her letter that the 95 staff left at Fernald is a projected number after a current round of layoffs is completed.  Howe provided a number of reasons for that apparently high number of remaining staff, and concluded that “all appropriate staff reductions have been or are being  taken and the remaining staff are necessary to meet the remaining residents’ needs.” 

We’re not sure, however, that  it’s the case that DDS has done everything they could to reduce costs lately at Fernald, particularly if — as Stephen Sheehy, the attorney for the remaining residents has pointed out — DDS has failed to take steps to move the remaining residents into one location on the campus.  That is something, according to Sheehy, that the residents would welcome, and which would no doubt save some money.
 
 
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