By G. Wayne Miller Journal Staff Writer
Posted Mar 28, 2019 at 6:04 PM
Updated Mar 28, 2019 at 6:26 PM
Members of the legislative commission charged with improving the system serving people living with developmental and intellectual disabilities brought a multitude of goals and recommendations to a hearing Thursday — and most involved ways to allow individuals to take greater control of their lives.
PROVIDENCE — Members of the legislative commission charged with improving the system serving people living with developmental and intellectual disabilities brought a multitude of goals and recommendations to a hearing Thursday — and most involved ways to allow individuals to take greater control of their lives.
The system must be one “designed and implemented in such a way as to support [an individual’s] unique needs, desires and goals,” Rebecca Boss, director of the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, said in a written statement. “Services will provide opportunities for community inclusion and integration to the degree desired by the individual.”
Sen. Louis P. DiPalma, who chairs the General Assembly’s Project Sustainability Commission, agreed with that objective, as did other members of the commission. But reform, DiPalma said, will require an investment in people who work with the approximately 4,000 people with development and intellectual disabilities involved in the state system.
“At the end of the day, resources are needed, and that’s people,” DiPalma said. “And that means money.” DiPalma is leading a related effort to increase the pay of direct-care employees.
In spoken comments and written statements submitted Thursday, other commission members made the same point — that state government can and should do more. In the current fiscal year, $279 million has been budgeted through BHDDH for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget for next year requests $281 million.
“Governor needs to increase, and General Assembly needs to approve” the state budget “to appropriately fund service system,” wrote Regina L. Hayes, head of Spurwink RI, which describes its mission as assisting “children and adults with disabilities in pursuing social, educational, vocational and other life-enhancing opportunities.”
Like others, Hayes stressed the importance of measures to “support a stable work force of well-trained, fairly compensated support staff.” Low wages have contributed to a substantial turnover in staff, as the Journal found in an investigation three years ago. The situation has not changed substantially since, DiPalma and others say.
Tina Spears, coordinator of the 2014 federal Department of Justice consent decree requiring the state to better integrate individuals into the community, said that more steps must be taken so that people will “receive high-quality services that enable an individual to lead a self-determined life, in all aspects and on an equal basis as all Rhode Islanders.”
But money alone will not suffice to give individuals more control of their lives, commission members agreed. Spears supports a “cross-agency public awareness campaign” involving BHDDH and several other state agencies. Public awareness was a key factor in building a community system and closing the Ladd Center 25 years ago. That system, however, has become outdated with the passage of time.
Also important, Boss said, is input from the people who serve and are served.
“We need to hear from our stakeholders,” she said. “We need to hear from the people we’re serving.”
DiPalma said the 20-member commission will meet once again at least before issuing final recommendations later in the spring. To be achieved, some of the recommendations will require legislation.