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DDS client removed against her will from shared-living home in alleged retaliation for reporting abuse

July 26, 2022 3 comments

It was on a Monday in May that Mercy Mezzanotti, a client of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), was taken against her will from the home of Karen Faiola, with whom Mercy had been living for four years.

The person who came to take her worked for Venture Community Services, a nonprofit contractor to DDS. Up to that time, Venture had been paying Karen to provide shared-living services in her home to Mercy.

“I told them (the Venture employee and later other managers of the corporation) this is against my human rights,” Mercy said in a phone interview. “I’m my own guardian. I’m not going along with this. But they wouldn’t tell me anything. This should be under investigation.”

Both Mercy and Karen contend that Venture was retaliating against them because they had complained to managers of the organization in April that two of its employees had been verbally abusive toward Mercy.

Karen Faiola (left) and Mercy Mezzanotti

Mercy, 47, has a mild intellectual disability. As she put it, she has “trouble processing certain things.” But while she attended special needs classes in her school district as a child, she took mainstream classes in English and consistently made the honor roll. “I constantly studied,” she said. “I loved school.”

As her own guardian, Mercy has full legal authority to decide where to live, as well as to make other major life decisions. In our view, Venture’s alleged action to remove her from her home against her will was arbitrary if not unlawful.

Mercy and Karen said that the Venture employee drove Mercy on May 23 from Karen’s home in Sutton to the home of a family in Worcester that Mercy didn’t know. She said none of the people in the home spoke English. The next two days and nights were filled with anxiety and emotional trauma for her, Mercy said.

“I thought I would never see my home and Karen and my two cats that I love again,” she said.

Karen said that she conferred with Mercy’s private therapist after getting calls from Mercy saying she wanted to come home. She said the therapist maintained that Mercy had the right to make that decision; so Karen picked Mercy up on May 25, and drove her back to her home.  She said Mercy told her that she no longer wanted to have anything to do with Venture or its employees.

Venture stops payments

On May 23, the same day that Mercy was removed from Karen’s home, Venture notified Karen that they were terminating her shared-living contract to care for Mercy in her home. Karen said DDS officials have subsequently refused to act on her request that her contract be referred to another shared-living manager. She said the organization she suggested to DDS is located near her house and is one that she has experience with.

As a result of the contract termination, Karen said, she has not been paid since May for caring for Mercy in her home. She said that she nevertheless intends to keep Mercy there as long as Mercy wants. “I’m not going to allow anyone to take Mercy to any place she doesn’t want to be,” Karen said.

Under Mercy’s shared living arrangement, DDS had paid Venture to contract directly with Karen for providing residential services to Mercy. Karen said Venture paid her $2,882 a month under the contract.

“Karen has helpd me grow and see my potential and find a voice,” Mercy said. “I feel confident speaking to people.” She said Karen regularly takes her to doctors’ appointments, for pedicures, and to visit her father and a friend of hers.

Mercy added that she and Karen have gone hiking together and go shopping together. She said Karen makes her meals and helps here take care of her cats, while she takes the trash out. “I love Karen,” she said. “She’s  such a dream, such a great person.”

No written reason given in shared-living contract termination notice

Karen said a Venture employee alleged in a Zoom meeting with her and other provider personnel on May 19 that Mercy was going to be removed from her home because she had neglected to take Mercy to doctors’ appointments for the previous three years. Karen said this charge was untrue; and she provided COFAR with a doctor’s summary indicating that Mercy’s doctors’ visits and medications were up to date as of March of this year.

In a May 23 letter to Karen, Dorothy Cote, executive vice president and CFO of Venture, gave notice of the termination of Karen’s shared-living contract, but did not include a reason in the letter for the termination.

Cote’s termination letter cited a provision of the contract, which stated that Venture “may terminate (Mercy’s) placement upon due cause, a suspicion of due cause, abuse or neglect.”  The letter also said Mercy could be removed from the home  “pending the outcome of an investigation.” The letter, however, did not allege due cause, abuse or neglect against Karen. Cote’s letter also did not indicate that an investigation of any kind was pending.

If Venture officials did believe Karen had been neglectful in her role as a caregiver, there appears to be no indication that anyone reported an allegation against Karen of omission of care to the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC), as they would have been required to do.

Retaliation alleged for reporting abuse

Both Mercy and Karen contend that the sudden removal of Mercy from Karen’s home and termination of Karen’s contract were acts of retaliation by Venture against the two of them.

Karen said Mercy had been living with her for the past four years without incident. But she said that a number of months ago, there were changes in management at Venture, and problems began to develop with the new personnel. One of those new employees, she said, was assigned as a job coach to Mercy.

Mercy maintained that the job coach often harassed her at her job at a Papa Gino’s restaurant by mocking her work ethic. In one instance, in April, she said, the job coach suggested to the Papa Gino’s manager that she should fire Mercy. In another instance, she said, the job coach threatened not to drive Mercy home from work.

Karen said that in addition, a Venture service coordinator assigned to Mercy further abused her emotionally by threatening to remove her from Karen’s home.

Karen said she reported the incidents to a supervisor at Venture, and that led to the removal of Mercy from her home.

Therapist corroborates claims of emotional abuse

Grishelda Hogan, a licensed clinical social worker, has been Mercy’s therapist since 2019. In a July 21 email to Mercy and Karen, Hogan wrote that Mercy had “expressed consistently that she was happy in her home (with Karen)…It was clear in therapy,” Hogan stated, “that (Mercy) was making great strides in her life and I was able to see her self-esteem and self-worth develop as she finally felt seen and heard.“

Hogan stated that Mercy “had been reporting ongoing concerns with her Venture job coach. She reported feeling trapped and unsupported…” Hogan added that Mercy felt she had been lied to, and that the job coach had violated her privacy by talking to another individual on the phone about Mercy’s personal information. She said she passed her concerns on to DDS.

Hogan stated that she contacted Mercy’s DDS service coordinator after she learned that Mercy had been “abruptly moved from her home without warning or discussion despite being her own guardian.

“I shared that Mercy was reporting intense anxiety, difficulty sleeping, feeling sad and defeated, missing her home and her cat and her shared living monitor (Karen),” Hogan stated in her email to Karen and Mercy. “She was reaching out to me consistently asking for help and advocacy to get home.”

Hogan said the service coordinator told her she didn’t know the reason Mercy had been removed from her and Karen’s home. Hogan said Mercy had told her neither Venture nor DDS had ever asked her about concerns in the home prior to the move.

In her email, Hogan wrote that she personally reported to the DPPC that Mercy had been improperly moved from Karen’s home. “Mercy has consistently stated she believes her rights were violated,” Hogan wrote, “and DDS should be held accountable. And she fully believes the move was retaliation due to herself and her shared living monitor (Karen) speaking up.”

DPPC decides against full investigations of emotional abuse allegations 

Karen said she also reported three allegations of emotional abuse against Mercy to the DPPC in May, just before Mercy was removed from her home. Those allegations include instances involving the job coach and the service coordinator, and the then pending removal of Mercy from her home.

Subsequent letters addressed to Mercy from DDS Area Director Denise Haley, dated May 27, indicate that Karen’s allegations were referred to DDS for an Administrative Review.

According to DDS regulations, an Administrative Review is undertaken when the DPPC “screens out” abuse and other allegations for full investigations by either the DPPC itself or DDS (115 CMR 9.11). It’s not clear to us why DPPC would have screened out Karen’s and Hogan’s allegations, as both Karen and Mercy stated that Mercy had suffered emotional injury as a result of the alleged abuse.

No response to COFAR query sent to DDS area director and Venture CFO

On July 19, I sent an email query to DDS Area Director Haley and to Cote, the Venture executive vice president and CFO, raising our concerns about the removal of Mercy from Karen’s home and the termination of Karen’s shared-living contract, apparently without written cause. I cc’d Anthony Keane, the DDS Worcester regional director.

In the email, I discussed Karen’s and Mercy’s allegations of retaliation by Venture against them for having alleged abuse by Venture employees. I asked for any comment Cote or Haley might have. To date, I have not received a response from any of those persons to my email.

DDS removes client’s eligibility for Medicaid funding for shared living services

In my email to Haley, Cote, and Keane, I said we were also seeking an explanation for the apparent disqualification by DDS of Mercy from eligibility for Medicaid Intensive Support Waiver Services. A July 6 legal notice from DDS stated that Mercy was being denied eligibility for the Intensive Support Waiver. No reason was given for that denial in the notice, other than an unsupported and unexplained statement that there were “no waiver services” available.

We agree with Mercy that a full investigation is warranted of Venture’s apparently unlawful removal of her from her home, and of the other alleged instances of emotional abuse against her. We also would urge DDS to immediately refer Karen to another shared-living contracting agency, and that she be reimbursed retroactively for having provided shared-living services to Mercy since May.

This case appears to fit a pattern in which family members or other individuals who report abuse or poor care of DDS clients are dismissed or find themselves subject to retaliation by corporate providers or by the Department itself. We are hoping that in continuing to shine a light on these cases that we can help one day break this pattern.

Fiscal 2023 state budget will finally require DDS providers to boost direct-care wages

July 21, 2022 3 comments

Corporate providers to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and other human services agencies will be required to direct up to $173 million in state funding to boost wages of their direct-care workers, under the Fiscal Year 2023 state budget.

This past Sunday, 17 days into the new fiscal year, a state legslative House-Senate conference committee approved a budget plan that includes mixed results for our budget priorities. But it appears the approval of the direct-care wage provision is a big win.

On Monday, the Legislature gave formal approval to the overall $52.7 billion state budget, and sent it to Governor Baker for his signature.

Assuming that the governor does not veto it, the direct-care wage provision will require any corporate human services provider receiving state funding under a special reserve account to direct at least 75% of that funding to compensation for direct-care and front-line staff.

The problems of inadequate direct-care wages and resulting staffing shortages have reached critical levels in the state’s human services system; and, up to now, the administration and Legislature appear to have done little to address them.

The conference committee approved $230 million in funding for the provider reserve account for Fiscal 2023 — the same amount proposed by Governor Baker. The 75% funding provision would appear to require that $173 million in the reserve account be directed by human services providers to boost direct-care wages.

The passage of the funding provision was hailed by SEIU Local 509, a human services employee union that had been pushing for it, along with COFAR. But it remains unclear how much the requirement will raise direct-care wages, and how the 75% fundng provision will be tracked and enforced. We have called for a mnimum direct-care wage of $25 per hour.

On Twitter, Peter MacKinnon, president of Local 509, termed the enactment of the 75% wage provsion “a powerful statement of support for these essential workers and a significant first step in repairng the workforce crisis plaguing the human services industry.”

Additional reserve account funding proposed

The House earlier this week approved a separate bill (H.5034) that would establish a separate $100 million reserve fund based on federal COVID relief funding for the corporate providers, and would require that 90% of that reserve account be directed to direct-care staff.

The Senate has proposed funding that reserve account at $250 million, but has not yet acted on the legislation.

Conference committee approves flawed state commission budget language

The Fiscal 2023 budget also includes what we consider a flawed proposal to establish a state commission to study the history of institutional care in Massachusetts of persons with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

We had urged the conference committee not to approve what appeared to be a last-minute Senate budget amendment to establish the commission because it is not clear to us that the proposed commission will acknowledge major improvements since the 1980s in care and conditions in the state’s developmental centers or Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs).

We support the establishment of a commission to study the full history of the state facilities. But our concern is that proponents of further deinstitutionalizaton and privatization in the DDS system could use the commission, as established in the budget, to call for the closures of the Wrentham Developmental Center and Hogan Regional Center, and potentally other state-run residential facilities.

Nominal increases approved in funding for ICFs and state-operated group homes

The budget conference committee also approved nominal funding increases for state-operated group homes and the Wrentham and Hogan ICFs.

Both the House and Sente essentially adopted the governor’s budget numbers for those line items. The ICFs and state-operated group homes will receive increases in the current year of between 5% and 6% from the just-completed fiscal year.

However, in inflation-adjusted terms, these budget increases amount to cuts in funding for both the ICFs and state-operated group homes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the inflation rate in New England was 7.9% as of June.

We will keep fighting for adequate funding for state-run services in Massachusetts. And we will continue to bring you news of the efforts at long last to address the direct-care wage problem in the state.

 

Our state budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2023

July 6, 2022 3 comments

Fiscal Year 2023 in Massachusetts actually started this past Friday — on July 1 — but, as has become inceasingly the case in recent years, the state Legislature has gone past the fiscal year deadline wthout enacting a state budget.

For nearly a month, the Fiscal 2023 budget has been subject to closed-door deliberations in a conference committtee whose job is to iron out differences between the budget positions adopted this spring by the full House and Senate.

As a result, our budget priorities remain up in the air — dependent on the decisions being made by the six-member conference committee. Until the committee submits its report to the full Legislature, we won’t know the outcomes of the following priorities (not necessarily in order of importance to us):

1. More funding for direct-care wages

In early June, the Senate approved a budget provision requiring that any corporate human services provider receiving state funding under a special reserve account direct at least 75% of that funding to compensation for direct-care and front-line staff.

There was no such requirement in the House version of the budget. As a result, the House-Senate conference committee will decide whether the 75% provision stays in the final budget.

Earlier this year, both the House and Senate approved $230 million in funding for the reserve account for Fiscal 2023 — the same amount proposed by Governor Baker. The 75% funding provision would appear to require that $173 million in the reserve account be directed by human services providers to boost direct care wages.

We are supporting the 75% funding requirement although it is unclear how much the requirement would raise direct care wages. We have called for a mnimum direct care wage of $25 per hour.

2. Higher funding for state-operated group homes and Intermediate Care Facilities

State-operated group homes and the Wrentham Developmental Center and Hogan Regional Center would receive nominal dollar increases in the Fiscal 2023 budet.

But while the increase for the state-operated homes would have been roughly equal to the inflation rate when the governor proposed his budget in January, the proposed funding increase both for those residences and the Hogan and Wrentham centers would be lower than the inflation rate today.

Both the House and Sente have adopted the governor’s budget numbers for those line items. In inflation-adjusted terms, these budget numbers amount to cuts in funding for both the ICFs and state-operated group homes.

While we don’t expect the conference committee to increase funding for either line item, we hope it doesn’t cut either one.

State-operated group homes and the Hogan and Wrentham centers are the backbone of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system because they care humanely and efficiently for even the most profoundly intellectually disabled and medically involved people. They also provide jobs.

The developmental center or Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) line item has been cut by $68.4 million, or 39%, over the past decade, when adjusted for inflation.

That decrease in funding when adjusted for inflation stands in contrast to funding for the DDS corporate residential line item (5920-2000), which has skyrocketed over the past decade to over $1.4 billion. That is an amount that dwarfs the funding for state-operated group homes and the two remaining ICFs in Massachusetts.

3. Rectifying problems with state commission on the history of state facilities

We have urged members of the budget conference committee not to approve what appears to be a last-minute Senate budget amendment that would establish a state commission to study the history of institutional care of persons with developmental and other cognitive disabilities.

As is the case with proposed legislation still in committee to establish the commission, the Senate amendment does not make it clear that the proposed commission would acknowledge major improvements since the 1980s in care and conditions in the state’s developmental centers or ICFs.

Given that the House did not adopt a similar budget provision to establish the commission, the commission proposal is subject to the House-Senate conference committee.

We think it is unwise for the conference committee to adopt the commission idea as a budget provision. This is an idea that needs to work its way through the checks and balances of the committee process.

At the least, we think language should be added to the proposed legislation stating that the commission will examine the complete history of the state’s institutional facilities.

4. Correcting misleading language that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the elimination of institutional care

We have asked legislative leaders to correct language in the budget that mistakenly implies that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the closures of institutions for persons with developmental disabilities.

The budget language cites Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court’s landmark 1999 decision, which considered a petition by two residents of an institution in Georgia to be moved to community-based care.

The Olmstead decision has been frequently mischaracterized as requiring the closure of all remaining state-run congregate care facilities in the country. The decision, however, explicitly states that federal law — specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — does not require deinstitutionalization for those who don’t desire it.

In one of three instances in which we are seeking changes or corrections, the budget language states that DDS must report as of December 15 to the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees on “all efforts to comply with …Olmstead…and… the steps taken to consolidate or close an ICF…” (my emphasis)

In letters sent in May to the chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committtees, we noted that closing institutions was not the intent of the Olmstead decision, which was written by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

We are concerned that the misstatements in the ICF line item in the state budget each year could allow the administration and Legislature to justify continuing to underfund the line item, and possibly to seek the eventual closures of the Wrentham and Hogan centers.

Once again, given that this language is in both the House and Senate versions of the budget, it isn’t clear that the conference committee will make any changes in this particular budget. But whatever the short-term outcomes, we will continue to fight for these priorities.

We’ve been in a nine month battle with DDS to view 8 emails about closures of state-operated group homes

June 30, 2022 1 comment

Last week, we filed the second of two appeals with the state Public Records Division for eight internal emails from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) that may concern plans to close or consolidate state-operated group homes.

After two months of negotiations with DDS last fall, we had narrowed our Public Records request to just those eight emails. But following the negotiations, DDS simply declined in December to provide them, contending they are exempt from disclosure under the state’s Public Records Law.

As of the filing of our second appeal last week, our battle with the Department for records concerning its state-operated group home policies had stretched to nearly nine months.

In denying our request for the eight emails in December, DDS cited what is known as “Exemption d” to the Public Records Law, which says that a state agency can decline to disclose internal records “relating to policy positions being developed by the agency.”

As I’ll explain further below, we have countered that Exemption d does not apply in this case because the policy in question was adopted by the administration last August, and was no longer being developed when we requested the emails. We have suggested that the state Public Records Supervisor Rebecca Murray inspect the emails herself to determine whether Exemption d does or does not apply to them.

We’ve been concerned about the future of the state-operated group home network for years. While those homes are likely to recieve a nominal increase in state funding in the coming fiscal year, it is clear that DDS has been allowing the number of residents in the state-operated group home network to drop in the past several years. Yet the Department has not provided any public information about its intentions regarding the future of the state-run residental system.

State-operated group home network facing unique pressures

We view the state-run group home system as as a crucial backstop for care in the DDS system as a whole. Staff in the state-run network generally receive higher pay and benefits and more training than their counterparts in the corporate provider system.

Yet the state-operated system has been facing unique pressures, particularly since the start of the COVID crisis. Last 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 for COVID.

Just weeks prior to that – in August — Governor Baker issued an executive order requiring all state employees to be vaccinated by October 17 or ultimately be terminated. 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.

Baker administration would not provide information

We 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.

Ryder never 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.

Records request narrowed from more than 1,000 emails to just 8

Based on the EOHHS response, we filed a Public Records request with DDS on October 15 for internal records that concerned closures or consolidations of DDS state-operated group homes due to unvaccinated staff or for other reasons.

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

We agreed to narrow our request. And in a December 13 written response to us, a DDS attorney said the narrowed search had turned up a total of eight emails that were determined to be responsive to our request.

DDS cites “implementation of” the governor’s executive vaccination order as an “ongoing and evolving” policy

But despite identifying the eight emails as responsive, the DDS attorney stated in the December response that all eight of those emails were being withheld because they fell under Exemption d to the Public Records Law.

The attorney described the “implementation” of the governor’s vaccination order as “an ongoing and evolving policy matter.”

Renewed request for the 8 emails

In May of this year, after an initial appeal that did not result in the production of any additional documents by DDS, we tried again. We renewed our request for just the eight emails with the intention of appealing for a second time if DDS once again cited Exemption d. That is, in fact, what happened.

In a June 13 response, the DDS attorney stated that the “implementation” of the governor’s executive order was “still an ongoing and evolving policy matter which is still subject to the deliberative exemption.”

This time, the DDS attorney stated that:

While the governor’s executive order was implemented on August 19, 2021, ongoing and evolving policy matters continue related to the Agency’s implementation of the Executive Order, and the deliberative exemption applies to those policy decisions.

The DDS attorney added that the governor’s executive order had:

…impacted the discussion about and process of handling staffing shortages at DDS. The vaccine policy is still impacting the Department’s staffing shortage. Therefore, the records are still exempt under (Exemption d). (My emphasis)

DDS conflates policy implementation with policy development

In our second appeal of DDS’s response — which we filed on June 23 — we argued that the Department was “conflating the separate steps of policy development and policy implementation.”  We noted that Exemption d refers to policy positions “being developed” by an agency. The exemption does not say that records relating to policy positions that are  “being implemented” are exempt from disclosure.

We pointed out that public policies or policy positions are normally implemented after they have been developed or formulated. The implementation of policies can go on for years or decades or more. As we put it:

Certainly, the intent of “Exemption d” was not to allow agencies to assert that so long as policies are continuing to be implemented, all records concerning those policies remain exempt from disclosure.

We added:

As of June 23, now more than 10 months after the governor signed Executive Order 595, (DDS) says the policy is “still impacting the Department’s staffing shortage,” and has “impacted the discussion about and process of handling staffing shortages at DDS.” Here again, (DDS) appears to be talking about problems or issues the Department is having in implementing the executive order.

Finally, we suggested that the Public Records Supervisor review the eight emails in-camera to determine whether or not Exemption d does or does not apply to them.

In sum, we don’t know what is in the eight emails or whether the emails might shed any light on DDS’s plans for the future of the state-operated group home network. But given the administration’s unwillingness to provide any public information about those plans, all we can do is to fight for documents that are legally available and that might disclose the administraton’s intentions.

The fact that DDS is fighting back so hard to prevent the release of just those eight emails leads us to believe we may be onto something in seeking their release.

Senate budget amendment for commission on history of state schools continues to raise concerns of bias against state care

June 20, 2022 1 comment

In what appears to be an end run around the legislative committee process, the state Senate last month approved an amendment to state budget legislation that would establish a state commission to study the history of institutional care of persons with developmental and other cognitive disabilities.

But as is the case with proposed legislation still in committee to establish the commission, the Senate amendment does not make it clear that the proposed commission would acknowledge major improvements since the 1980s in care and conditions in the state’s developmental centers or Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs).

We have previously raised concerns about the legislation to establish the commission (S.1257, H.2090), which has been in the committee process for more than a year.

Given that the House did not adopt a similar budget provision to establish the commission, the proposal will be subject to a House-Senate conference committee that is currently meeting on the Fiscal Year 2023 state budget.

The Senate budget amendment addresses some concerns we previously raised about the proposed commission legislation, including language that indicates a bias against the state’s two remaining developmental centers – the Wrentham Developmental Center and the Hogan Regional Center in Danvers.

We do support efforts to study the history of the former state schools in Massachusetts for persons with developmental disabilities. Toward that end, we support proposed legislation to open up all historical state records to public inspection (S.2009, H.3150). But we want to ensure that the proposed commission considers the full history of these institutions, not just the darkest parts of that history prior to the 1980s.

Our concern is that proponents of further deinstitutionalizaton and privatization in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system could use the commission to call for the closures of the Wrentham and Hogan centers, and potentally other state-run residential facilities.

As we have pointed out many times, Wrentham and Hogan today provide state-of-the-art care, and are closely tied to their surrounding communities.

Budget amendment would provide four seats for residents and family members at Wrentham and Hogan

In one major improvement over the proposed legislation in committee, the Senate budget amendment would give residents and family members of the Hogan and Wrentham centers four out of what appear to be 16 seats on the commission.

But even in the Senate amendment, the makeup of the commission appears to still be largely dominated by opponents of the ICFs.

Also troubling is that pro-deinstitutionalization organizations such as the Arc of Massachusetts would specifically appoint at least three members of the commission. Meanwhile, the Hogan and Wrentham members would be appointed by the governor, who has also been a supporter of deinstitutionalization and the privatization of public services.

Commission proponent’s op-ed focuses on dark and early period of Fernald Center’s history

It is also troubling that some key proponents of the commission have continued to publicly express largely negative views of the history of the state schools without mentioning the significant upgrades that occurred starting in the 1980s in those institutions.

In discussing the Senate budget amendment in an op-ed in The Boston Globe on June 7, Alex Green, a major proponent of the commission, focused on the darkest years in the history of the state facilities in Massachusetts. Green specifically noted the connection of the former Fernald Center, in particular, to the eugenics movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Eugenics has been correctly characterized as a “scientifically erroneous and immoral theory of ‘racial improvement’ and ‘planned breeding.'” It gained popularity during the early 20th century.

In protests Green has organized against Fernald, and in petitions to Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy, Green has similarly focused exclusively on  human rights abuses at Fernald in the first half of the 20th century. The Arc and other advocacy organizations have signed on to those petitions.

The early history of Fernald and the other state schools in Massachusetts is certainly a deeply troubling one. And the man for whom the institution was later named — Walter E. Fernald — was initially an active proponent of eugenics laws that were being adopted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the U.S. 

But by the 1920s, even Walter Fernald had come to reject the principles of eugenics, andbecame a supporter of community placement…” for persons with developmental disabilities, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The commission legislation does not specify that the commission would examine the history of Fernald subsequent to Judge Tauro’s involvement

We have repeatedly objected to the commission legislation on the grounds that it doesn’t specify that the commission would consider the full history of the state schools.

The improvements at Fernald and the other institutions were undertaken as a result of the intervention of the late U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro. Tauro noted those improvements when he disengaged from his oversight of a landmark consent decree case in 1993. He wrote that the improvements had “taken people with mental retardation from the snake pit, human warehouse environment of two decades ago, to the point where Massachusetts now has a system of care and habilitation that is probably second to none anywhere in the world.”

The Senate budget amendment provides little specificity as to the historical focus of the commission. It does, however, contain this fairly convoluted sentence, which raises a number of questions about the commission’s focus. The sentence states that the commission will:

…design a framework for public recognition of the commonwealth’s guardianship of residents with disabilities throughout history, which may include, but shall not be limited to, recommendations for memorialization and public education on the history and current state of the independent living movement, deinstitutionalization and the inclusion of people with disabilities. (my emphasis)

Given the commission will be largely dominated by organizations in favor of deinstitutionalization, we are concerned any such study of that issue may be biased.

It is also curious that  the history and current state of the independent living movement and deinstitutionalization would be included in the commission’s charge, given the subject of the commission is the history of state institutions.

The Senate amendment doesn’t define the “independent living movement.” Also, a complete study of just deinstitutionalization would take the effort of a separate commission in itself.

In addition, we think it is unwise for the budget conference committee to adopt the commission idea as a budget provision. This is an idea that needs to work its way through the checks and balances of the committee process.

As part of that committee process, the concerns we’ve raised about the makeup and possible bias of the commission still need to be addressed. At the least, we think language should be added to the proposed legislation stating that the commission will examine the complete history of the state’s institutional facilities.

The full history of the state institutions for persons with cognitve disabilities in Massachusetts starts with the founding of those facilities, and it continues to the present day.

State budget language mistakenly implies Supreme Court ordered closures of institutions for persons with developmental disabilities

May 31, 2022 2 comments

COFAR is urging state legislative leaders to correct language in state budget legislation that mistakenly implies that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the closures of institutions for persons with developmental disabilities.

The language in a budget line item cites Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court’s landmark 1999 decision, which considered a petition by two residents of an institution in Georgia to be moved to community-based care. The Olmstead decision has been frequently mischaracterized as requiring the closure of all remaining state-run congregate care facilities in the country.

According to this characterization, Olmstead further required that all residents of those facilities, which include Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs), be transferred to community-based group homes.

In one of three instances in which COFAR is seeking changes or corrections, the Massachusetts budget line item language states that the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) must report as of December 15 to the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees on “all efforts to comply with …Olmstead…and… the steps taken to consolidate or close an ICF…” (my emphasis)

However, in letters sent last week to the chairs of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committtees, COFAR noted that closing institutions was not the intent of the Olmstead decision, which was written by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

As our national affiliate, the VOR, has pointed out, “the Court’s determination in Olmstead supports both the right to an inclusive environment and the right to institutional care, based on the need and desires of the individual.” (my emphasis)

We are concerned that the misstatements in the ICF line item in the state budget each year could allow the administration and Legislature to justify continuing to underfund the line item, and possibly to seek the eventual closures of all remaining ICFs in Massachusetts. Those ICFs consist of the Wrentham and Hogan Developmental Centers, and three state-run group homes on the campus of the former Templeton Developmental Center.

The problematic language in line item 5930-1000 is included in both the House and Senate Ways and Means Committee versions of the budget for Fiscal Year 2023, which begins on July 1.

Declining funding in line item tracks budget language history

COFAR first identified the budget line item language last year, and reported that the language appears to have been included in the line item in state budgets going back as far as Fiscal Year 2012.

It is perhaps not coincidental that since Fiscal Year 2012, four of six remaining developmental centers in the state have been closed. And when the Fiscal Year 2023 budget is adopted, the ICF line item will have been cut since Fiscal 2012 by $78.2 million, or 42%, when adjusted for inflation. (Those numbers are based on the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center’s Budget Browser app.)

Three of the DDS reports required by the line item language — for calendar years 2018, 2019, and 2020 — discussed a steadily dropping population or census at the Wrentham and Hogan centers, and practically zero admissions to those facilities after 2019 as well.

We have noted that the lack of admissions to Wrentham and Hogan indicate that the administration is unlawfully failing to offer those settings as residential options to indivdiuals with developmental disabilities who are seeking residential placements in the state.

Three mistaken or misleading statements

There are what appear to be at least three mistaken or misleading statements in the language in line item 5930-1000: (The first item below is simply a case of wrong terminology.)

1. The budgetary line item language mistakenly identifies ICFs as “intermittent care facilities.”  The correct term is “intermediate care facilities.”

2. As noted, language in the line item mistakenly implies that the Olmstead decision was intended to close ICFs. In fact, Olmstead held that:

We emphasize that nothing in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or its implementing regulations condones termination of institutional settings for persons unable to handle or benefit from community settings. . . Nor is there any federal requirement that community-based treatment be imposed on patients who do not desire it. (my emphasis)

3. A statement in the line item, which lists three conditions for discharging clients from ICFs to the community, leaves out one of the key conditions in Olmstead, which is that the client or their guardian does not oppose the discharge.

The House and Senate line item language states that in order to comply with Olmstead, DDS:

…shall discharge clients residing in intermittent care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities…to residential services in the community if:

(i) the client is deemed clinically suited for a more integrated setting;

(ii) community residential service capacity and resources available are sufficient to provide each client with an equal or improved level of service; and

(iii) the cost to the commonwealth of serving the client in the community is less than or equal to the cost of serving the client in an ICF/IID…” (my emphasis)

The first two of those conditions in the line item language are contained in the Olmstead ruling. The third condition about cost being less in the community actually isn’t contained in Olmstead.

The third condition in Olmstead for discharging clients from ICFs is that such a discharge is “not opposed” by the client and/or their guardian. That condition is not included in the House or Senate budget line item.

Here is the actual language from the Olmstead decision:

…we conclude that, under Title II of the ADA, States are required to provide community-based treatment for persons with mental disabilities when the State’s treatment professionals determine that such placement is appropriate, the affected persons do not oppose such treatment, and the placement can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available to the State and the needs of others with mental disabilities. (my emphasis)

We have asked Senator Michael Rodrigues and Representative Aaron Michlewitz, the chairs of the Senate and House Ways and Means Committees respectively, to consider redrafting this line item language to correct these mistakes.

UPDATE: Senate budget amendment is redrafted to require that provider funding go to direct care workers

May 19, 2022 5 comments

After COFAR questioned a state Senate budget amendment earlier this week that would provide almost $600 million in funding to corporate human services providers without requiring that any of that funding be spent to boost wages for direct care workers, we’ve learned that the amendment was redrafted yesterday to include that requirement.

According to the redraft of Amendment 466, any human services provider receiving funding under a budgetary provider reserve account must direct at least 75% of that funding to compensation for “direct care, front-line and medical and clinical staff.”

Amendment 466, which has been filed by Senator Adam Gomez, Senate chair of the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilites Committee, would also increase the provider reserve account from $79 million to $581.6 million in Fiscal Year 2023.

The direct care compensation requirement in Senator Gomez’s redrafted amendment is now identical to language adopted by the Senate Ways and Means Commitee last week with regard to the reserve account, known as the Chapter 257 account.

In a blog post on Tuesday, COFAR reported that the original draft of Gomez’s amendment would significantly raise the reserve account level while eliminating the 75% direct care wage funding requirement. The redrafted amendment both raises the reserve account level and includes the 75% requirement.

On Monday, I had sent an email to Senator Gomez and his staff, which was based on the original language in Amendment 466. In my message, I said we were concerned that without specific language requiring that funding in the reserve account be used for direct care wages, there is little or no assurance that adoption of his amendment would lead to higher wages for those workers.

No one from Gomez’s office has yet responded to my email. But we were informed yesterday that the senator’s office had redrafted the amendment to include the 75% funding requirement, and that the requirement had reportedly been left out of the orignal draft “by mistake.”

The redraft of Amendment 466 is available on the budget page of the Legislature’s website.

Senator Gomez’s redrafted amendment would still add more than $350 million to the amount approved for the provider reserve account by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The Ways and Means Commmittee approved $230 million in funding for the account for the coming fiscal year — the same amount proposed by Governor Baker and approved by the House last month.

Based on a request by a coalition of provider organizations, Senator Gomez’s amendment would  bring the total reserve account funding to $581.6 million.

The Senate is scheduled to vote next week on the budget for Fiscal Year 2023 and on amendments filed to it.

Under the Senate Ways and Means budget plan, the 75% funding provision would appear to require that $173 million in the reserve account be directed by human services providers to boost direct care wages.

Based on the much larger funding total in Senator Gomez’s amendment, the amount directed to direct care wages would appear to be $436 million.

All of this still leaves a number of questions. For instance, how much would the $436 million funding requrement actually boost direct care, front-line, and medical and clinical staff wages? Is the 75% language sufficient to ensure that the money would indeed go to those workers?

As we reported earlier this week, both the state inspector general and the state auditor have found that controls are needed over spending by the providers to ensure that the funding goes to direct care workers.

In the House, a budget amendment, which was rejected last month, would have required that the providers sign a form attesting to a plan for spending the reserve account funding. Neither the Senate Ways and Means language nor Senator Gomez’s amendment contain that attestation requirement.

It’s also the case that while the Senate now will approve a 75% funding requirement regarding the reserve account, there is no such requirement in the House version of the budget. So a House-Senate conference committee will have to decide whether the 75% provision stays in the final budget.

But even with those questions surrounding it, we still support the 75% funding provision, and hope it stays in the final budget.

Senate budget committee revives measure targeting state funding for direct care wages; but provider amendment would undo it

May 17, 2022 4 comments

The state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee has revived a state budget provision for the coming fiscal year that would require that hundreds of millions of dollars be spent to boost direct care wages in the human services system.

A similar provision was rejected last month in the House.

But an amendment filed this past week in the Senate on behalf of the corporate human services providers would override the Senate Ways and Means provision requiring that 75% of funding in a reserve account for the providers go toward boosting wages for their direct care workers.

The Senate budget amendment, which was filed by Senator Adam Gomez, would significantly raise the reserve account level while eliminating the 75% direct care wage funding requirement.  Gomez is Senate chair of the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee.

The Senate is scheduled to vote next week on the budget for Fiscal Year 2023 and on amendments filed to it.

Last month, a budget amendment filed in the House to impose the 75% funding requirement was killed by the House leadership even though it had garnered 107 cosponsors, an amount comprising more than two thirds of the House membership.

Last week, the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved an overall state budget bill that revives the 75% requirement. The Ways and Means Committee also approved an increase in the provider reserve account, known as the Chapter 257 reserve account, from $79 million to $230 million.

Senator Gomez’s amendment (Amendment No. 466) would add $350 million to the $230 million approved for the reserve account by the Senate Ways and Means Committee and previously by the House. The amendment’s total proposed funding of $581 million in the reserve account has been sought by a coalition of corporate human services providers.

However, Gomez’s amendment no longer contains any language that requires that the additional $350 million go toward direct care wages.

Like the previous House amendment, the Senate Ways and Means language requires that 75% of the reserve account funding amount be used for “compensation for direct care, front-line and medical and clinical staff,” and states that the funding may include “hourly rate increases, wraparound benefits, shift differentials, overtime, hiring and retention bonuses or recruitment.”

Under the Senate Ways and Means plan, the 75% funding provision would require that more than $170 million be earmarked by corporate human services providers for direct care wages.

The House amendment went a step further than the Senate Ways and Means Committee provision by requiring that the providers sign a form attesting to a plan for spending the $170 million. The Senate Ways and Means provision doesn’t have that attestation requirement.

COFAR is strongly supporting the 75% funding requirement because it would address a key reason for staffing shortages in the state’s human services system. COFAR has called for a minimum wage for direct care workers in the DDS system of $25 per hour. Right now, the average hourly rate for these workers appears to be $16 or possibly even less.

In an email I sent to Senator Gomez and his staff yesterday, I noted that we are concerned that without specific language requiring that funding in the reserve account be used for direct care wages, there is little or no assurance that adoption of his amendment would lead to higher wages for those workers. I haven’t yet received a response to my message.

IG and state auditor have both found a lack of controls over promised funding for direct care wages

I also noted in my email to Gomez that the Massachusetts Inspector General’s 2021 Annual Report stated that the IG had examined how human services providers spent $139 million in federal COVID relief funds that the adminiistration disbursed in April 2020.

The IG report said the $139 million was supposed to be spent on “staffing, PPE, and infection control activities.” However, the Bureau received several hotline complaints “that the vendors received excessive funding and misspent it on executive compensation.” (my emphasis)

The Annual Report stated that the IG investigated the complaints and “found evidence that some vendors may have used the funds for unauthorized expenditures.”

The IG Annual Report added that the IG recommended that providers provide detailed expenditure reports, and that the Executive Office of Health and Human Services “coordinate and share information with DDS and other agencies.” However, the report said that EOHHS did not fully implement these recommendations.

Also, in a 2019 report, State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office reported that Chapter 257 funding, which was at least partly intended to boost direct-care wages, “likely did not have any material effect on improving the financial wellbeing of these direct-care workers.”

The bottom line is that additional funding is needed to ensure that direct care wages in the human service sector are boosted to competitive levels. But controls are clearly needed to ensure that the money gets where it’s supposed to go, and doesn’t go instead into executives’ pockets.

Unfortunately, Senator Gomez’s amendment doesn’t provide for needed controls or even a spending reqirement with regard to the provider reserve account. The Senate Ways and Means language does at least establish a requirement that the increased funding go to direct care workers.

Mother says she is being ‘railroaded’ out of her guardianship by unfair court report

May 4, 2022 6 comments

The mother of an intellectually disabled man says she is being unfairly accused in probate court of having a conflict of interest in caring for her son, and that the conflict charge is being used to limit and possibly eliminate her co-guardianship rights.

Valerie Loveland said that in an April 19 Barnstable County Probate Court hearing on Zoom, an investigative attorney appointed by the judge presented a report concluding that Valerie had a conflict because she both sells natural medicinal products to customers and provides those products to her son.

Valerie maintains, however, that she derives no material benefit from the arrangement involving her son. She said her son buys the products directly from the company, Young Living Brand. She said his primary medical care provider approves all of his alternative medicines in accordance with his group home’s policy.

Valerie’s 24-year-old son is a resident of a group home on Cape Cod run by the May Institute, a corporate provider to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS). Valerie has asked that her son’s name be kept private.

We have previously reported that Valerie has been fighting both a motion to limit her co-guardianship of her son and a move to evict her from her subsidized apartment due to an alleged technical violation of her lease.

The motion to limit Valerie’s co-guardianship was filed in March by John Cartwright, an attorney who is paid by DDS to serve as Valerie’s son’s other co-guardian. Cartwright’s motion seeks to remove Valerie’s authority to make medical decisions for her son and to transfer her authority as representative payee for her son’s Social Security funds to the May Institute.

(Valerie said yesterday that her housing situation was being resolved favorably for her after discussions with housing officials.)

Health clinic program director approves natural medicines

In an April 27 letter, Gretchen Eckel, a certified physician assistant and a program medical director at Outer Cape Health Services, said Valerie’s son’s natural medicines have been subject to “shared decision making to permit these treatment plans.”

Eckel said she has seen “no harm or risks” to Valerie’s son caused by the use of the alternative medicines. She described Valerie as “a tremendous advocate for (Valerie’s son’s) needs, and I believe she has always had his best interests in mind.”

Valerie says she was not interviewed by guardian ad litem

Valerie contends she is being “railroaded” by Cartwright’s motion and by the report alleging that she has a conflict of interest in providing the natural medicines to her son. The report was writtten by Christopher Lebherz, who was appointed by the court in the case as a guardian ad litem (GAL). In Massachusetts, a GAL is an independent investigative official, often an attorney, who assists the court in guardianship cases.

Valerie said she was neither interviewed by Lebherz for his report, nor was she provided with a copy of the report either before the hearing or since. She was allowed by the judge in the case, Susan Sard Tierney, only to view the report and take notes on it in the courthouse, following the hearing. She was not allowed to make a copy of it.

The GAL’s report has been made available, however, to both Cartwright and to Carol Coyne, a DDS attorney in the case, according to an April 19 order issued by Tierney.

Valerie said the GAL’s report indicates support for the motion by Cartwright to limit her co-guardianship. Due to the GAL report’s confidential nature, COFAR has not been able to obtain a copy of it.

Valerie termed “caring and concerned mother”

In an email in response to a query I sent, Lebherz said he was “concerned about a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest (on Valerie’s part) regarding rep payee.”

Lebherz also said he “spoke with Valerie and all other interested parties” in the case.  He said he “asked her (Valerie) and others to summarize all of their positions and send it all along to me.”

Lebherz also said he did not recommend that Valerie lose her medical decision making authority. He added that he “reviewed the case history and all filings,” and that he visited the May institute.

Lebherz declined to respond to my follow-up question whether he had found or presented any evidence in his report that Valerie had derived any material financial benefit from providing natural medicines to her son.

He also declined to respond to my follow-up question whether “speaking” with Valerie and asking her to “summarize her positions” constituted an interview, or whether he had specifically asked her about the alleged conflict of interest.

Lebherz, nevertheless, said, “All parties agree Valerie is a caring concerned mother. These are difficult issues and situations and we all try to do our best.”

While Lebherz said he didn’t recommend that Valerie lose her medical decision making authority, Valerie said that Lebherz stated in his report that he agreed with Cartwright’s motion that her medical decision making be limited to consenting to medical treatments directed by others.

“I raised (her son) completely alone,” Valerie said. “I worked where I could, managed his money and medical appointments, all of it for 18 years, below the poverty line. Now they’re trying to take everything away. What have I done?  I’ve never heard of anyone doing everything right and being treated so badly.”

Guardian ad litem standards require an interview and detailed fact finding

Under Massachusetts standards for guardians ad litem, the GAL must “provide each party with a separate interview so that each party may speak with candor.” (Section 4.4)

The GAL must also “conduct  the investigation in a fair and balanced manner”(6), and the GAL’s report “should provide accurate, detailed and balanced information about the parties and their children.”(8)

In addition, the GAL report should include “all relevant facts collected from all sources, including facts that are consistent and inconsistent with other reported facts.”(8.2). Further, the report must “set forth the connection between the facts and the conclusions or recommendations.”(8.5)

If Lebherz’s report concluded that Valerie has a conflict of interest, the GAL standards would appear to require that the report include relevant facts that support that conclusion, such as the extent of any financial benefit that Valerie received as a result of the alleged conflict.

No material benefit from providing natural medicines to son

Valerie said the GAL’s report alleged that she has a conflict of interest because she has provided natural medicines and other products to her son, and that she has a business in which she sells those products. She said that appears to be the primary reason that Lebherz recommended that she be removed as rep payee and that all medical decisions be made solely by Cartwright.

In fact, Valerie said, she has not derived a material financial benefit from her son’s use of the medicines. She said her son purchases the products directly from the company with his own money. She and her son both have accounts with the company and receive points for their purchases.

Valerie said she receives an average of $5 a month in “commissions” from her son’s purchases. “I set it up so that when I died whoever handles his account could continue ordering his supplies for him,” she said.

It doesn’t appear that the fact that Valerie sells natural medicines and has established an account for her son for those products would be a conflict unless she received a material financial benefit from that. As a user and seller of natural medicines, she might naturally be inclined to encourage her son to use them.

Valerie says Cartwright, the DDS co-guardian, has long opposed her efforts to provide natural medicines and essential oils to her son.

In her April 27 letter in support of Valerie, Eckel, the certified physician assistant, said Valerie’s son has been her primary care patient since 2014, and that she last examined him on April 27.

Eckel said Valerie raised her son since birth, and raised him independently since the age of three when his biological father left them. She said that since Valerie was appointed as her son’s co-guardian in 2016, Valerie has attended most of his medical visits “with the exception of a very few visits” when he was attended by staff of the May Institute.

Eckel added that “Valerie has opted for natural treatment options when available and safe for (Valerie’s son’s) ailments over the years, and we have used shared decision making to permit these treatment plans as I have seen no harm or risks to these strategies.”

Valerie said natural or alternative medicines are considered complementary to, and not a replacement for, western or modern medicines. She said the natural supplements and treatments provided to her son are in addition to his modern medications, and that he is fully vaccinated for COVID and for childhood diseases.

“I had an informed conversation with Gretchen (Eckel) regarding the vaccinations and their effectiveness, side effects, etc., before giving consent to the May to proceed with their vaccination clinics,” she said. She added that “May staff also reports he’s doing great since these changes (use of natural medicines) have been made.”

This is one of several cases on which we’ve reported, which raise questions about the fairness of the DDS and probate court systems, particularly when it comes to family members who lack financial resources or attorneys to represent them.

Our justice system isn’t supposed to function differently for people who lack those resources; but we’ve seen a number of instances (see here and here) in which that has unfortunately been the case.

House leadership rejects budget amendment to raise direct care wages

April 28, 2022 1 comment

Despite support from well over a majority of the Massachusetts House of Representatives for a state budget amendment that would raise wages of direct care workers in the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) system, the amendment was rejected on Tuesday (April 26) by House leaders.

Debate concluded yesterday (April 27) in the House on a $49.7 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2023, which begins on July 1. The budget legislation now goes to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Amendment 788 to the House budget bill would have required that 75% of funding in a reserve account for state payments to corporate human services providers go toward boosting wages for their direct care workers.

As COFAR has recently reported, low pay has become a recognized cause of staffing shortages in the state’s human services system. COFAR has called for a minimum wage for direct care workers in the DDS system of $25 per hour. Right now, the average hourly rate for these workers appears to be $16 or possibly even less.

In January, Governor Baker had proposed placing $230 million in the provider reserve account, an amount almost three times the size of the account’s current-year funding. Amendment 788 would have required that 75% of the account, or some $173 million, be used to boost direct care wages.

It isn’t clear to us how much the 75% funding requirement would have raised those wages.  On Wednesday, I contacted the office of Representative John Mahoney, the chief sponsor of Amendment 788, for more information about the measure. I’m waiting to hear back from his office.

House leadership ignores legislative support 

In the absence of current legislation to raise direct care wages to $25 per hour, we had urged support for Mahoney’s amendment. As of April 22, the amendment had garnered 44 co-sponsors. Three days later, that number had jumped to 107 co-sponsors out of the 160 member House. That is more than two thirds of the total House membership.

However, the budget process in Massachusetts does not generally allow for votes in the House on individual amendments. Instead, legislative leaders, including the House speaker and the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, appear to make the decisions as to which amendments survive and which fail.

In a November 2021 paper, a working group of the Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts included the following statement from an observer of the legislative budget process in this state:

… during the House budget process, there are thousands of amendments. They’ll (legislative leaders) go into the backroom and then come back out with ten consolidated amendments and that’s all that’s on the record for a vote.

In other words, rank-and-file legislators are allowed to vote only on “consolidated amendments,” which are bundles of individually proposed amendments that have been deemed acceptable by the leadership. In this case, the language of Amendment 788 was not accepted into a consolidated amendment.

HHS secretary reportedly testified in support of 75% of funding for direct care wages

Despite the decision by the House leadership to scuttle Amendment 788, even state Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders reportedly implied her support for the idea of earmarking 75% of state funding to providers to be used for direct care wages.

At a March 7 legislative hearing, Sudders testified that, “it might be time for the state to consider mandating a percentage of rates paid to private providers be used for salary enhancements,” according to the State House News Service.

The News Service then quoted Sudders as saying, “Maybe we need to say 75 percent of our rates have to go to direct care salaries.”

On March 21, I sent an email query to EOHHS, asking whether Sudders was indeed supporting the idea. I also asked whether EOHHS had an estimate or projection of the amount to which such a requirement would raise direct care wages. To date, I haven’t received a reply to that query.

I also asked in that query whether Sudders would support legislation to require a minimum wage for direct care workers of $25 per hour.

Currently, the only legislation that appears to remain on Beacon Hill that addresses the issue of direct care wages is S.105. a bill that would require that the state provide funding to providers to close a “disparity” in wages between provider-based workers and state workers. That bill was filed more than a year ago and has remained since February in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

As we noted recently, the intent behind S.105 appears to be good in that it would potentially boost the wages specifically of direct care workers in provider-run group homes and other facilities in the human services system. But the bill doesn’t specify either a minimum wage for those workers or the amount of the wage disparity that the bill sponsors are seeking to close.

COFAR also seeking higher funding for state-operated group homes and developmental centers

COFAR has also pushed during the current budget process for higher funding for DDS developmental centers and state-operated group homes.

The House budget bill approved yesterday contains the governor’s proposed 6.2% increase for the state-operated homes and 5.1% increase for the Wrentham and Hogan Developmental Centers. However, since January, inflation in New England has climbed to 7.4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation site.

As a result, the nominal dollar increases approved by the House in the state-operated group home and developmental center line items amount to cuts when adjusted for inflation.

There is a need for action to address pressing problems within the DDS system, particularly with regard to direct care wages and to preserving state-run residential services. Those services are critical to maintaining adequate care for some of the most vulnerable among us. Unfortunately, we’re up against a political system in Massachusetts that is not fully responsive to its constituents.

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