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State Disability News Highlights

By Diane McComb posted 12-18-2015 05:56 PM


State Disability News Highlights for Period ending 12/18/2015


There will be no State Disability News published during the next two weeks.  It will resume on Friday, January 8, 2016.  Have a great holiday season!


Lead Story:  Minnesota

Sheltered workshops that employ thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities, often for just pennies an hour, would be forced to make drastic changes under a state proposal to eliminate a share of their public subsidies. This week the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is expected to approve a plan that would phase out nearly $2 million in annual subsidies and replace them with incentives to move employees into the general workforce. “It’s time to say, ‘No more,’ to this assumption that people with disabilities can’t work” in the community, said Kim Peck, director of vocational rehabilitation services at the department. “Let’s throw that out and say, everyone needs to contribute and can contribute and how can we … make that happen.” A recent Star Tribune investigation found that many of these workshops segregate people in cloistered work environments at low pay and with little hope for advancement into the competitive workplace. While the proposal would be phased in over five years and affects just a small part of the state’s total spending on sheltered workshops, it marks the first major step in decades to reform facilities that have long been a mainstay of Minnesota’s system of support for people with disabilities. To read more -



Approximately 3,000 people with disabilities have been sitting on a waiting list for more than a decade to receive state-funded care. These families are asking for Medicaid funding to provide at-home community services, care and support. Families with disabled children are working with the advocacy group "Disability Rights of Arkansas." This group drafted a letter to law makers Monday asking for a concrete plan before the year is up. So far though, still no response. "He can't bathe himself, he cannot prepare his own meals, he can't dress himself independently," said Teresa Dodson, a mother a two boys. One of her son's, Nathan, is 15 years old and developmentally disabled.  "It wears on me mentally and physically," said Dodson. Nathan has been on the developmentally disabled waiting list for eight years, forcing Dodson to quit her full-time job to take care of her son. "It's frustrating, and the older my son gets the more frustrating it becomes," said Dodson. The Dodson's are waiting for the state to provide them at-home care, giving them more help and more freedom. To read more -



Last week, some California Republican lawmakers joined advocates across the state in calling for additional funding for programs that support individuals with developmental disabilities, the Sacramento Bee reports (Walters, Sacramento Bee, 12/14). The Legislature during its ongoing special session on health care is supposed to be considering additional funding for such programs, but so far no progress has been made (California Healthline, 12/11). Meanwhile, a bill (SBX2-4), co-authored by state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), would enforce a 10% rate increase for providers who treat such individuals. However, Democrats have stalled the legislation. California Republicans typically criticize social services spending, the Bee reports. According to the Bee, they might be throwing support behind a funding increase for developmental disability programs to: Show support for the Lanterman Act, a series of legislation spearheaded by former Assembly member Frank Lanterman (R) during the 1960s and 1970s that defined the rights of individuals with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities; or Use the move as a bargaining piece in the ongoing debate over whether to raise taxes to support Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program (Sacramento Bee, 12/11). In a release, Nielsen said, "Increased access to care should be a budget priority," adding, "Nearly 50 years ago, the state made a promise through the Lanterman Act that children and adults with developmental disabilities would be cared for. This promise should be kept." Meanwhile, state Senate Republican Leader Jean Fuller (Bakersfield) said, "Helping Californians with developmental disabilities must be the first item discussed in this year's budget before anything else" (Nielsen release, 12/10). To read more -



The nonprofit that serves Denver residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities misused millions of dollars from taxpayers with few inquiries by the city, an audit released Thursday indicated. Denver's new city auditor, Tim O'Brien, called Rocky Mountain Human Services' treatment of public dollars "shameful."  Among the findings: Between January 2014 and June, RMHS overcharged the city $650,000 for administrative expenses above its 15 percent cap. RMHS spent $48,000 on meetings in 2014, with most of that money going to meals for staff members, including, for example, a going-away party for an employee at a bar and restaurant in Lone Tree.  RMHS reimbursed its 250-member staff for home Internet services and provided them annual Costco memberships for their personal use. RMHS sought to expand its services outside of Denver and used city tax money for fundraising, rent and aid to non-Denver residents as far away as the Pacific Northwest. RMHS continued to collect $1.34 million annually from the city to be used for state matching funds, although the state program has not issued Denver a match since 2007. "RMHS does not know how this money was spent," according to the audit findings. Former RMHS CEO Stephen Block, who was put on leave this year and eventually fired, received $478,974 in pay and benefits in 2014, more than double the next-highest executive of a comparable taxpayer-funded service nonprofit in Colorado. RMHS has had Denver's contract since city voters passed a property tax levy in 2003 to support services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. To read more -



Three years ago, it looked like the Florida agency that oversees care for children and adults with disabilities had finally had enough. It filed a legal complaint that outlined horrific abuse at Carlton Palms, a rambling campus of group homes and classrooms near the small town of Mount Dora. A man called “R.G.” was punched in the stomach, kicked and told “shut your f-ing mouth,” the complaint said. “R.T.” was left with a face full of bruises after a worker hit him with a belt wrapped around his fist. A child, “D.K.,” who refused to lie face down so he could be restrained, was kicked in the face and choked until, eyes bulging, he nearly passed out. State officials wanted to bar Carlton Palms from accepting new residents for a year. “[A] moratorium on admissions,” wrote a lawyer with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, “is necessary to protect the public interest and to prevent the continuance of conditions that threaten the health, safety and welfare of Carlton Palm’s (sic) residents.” Two months later, the state backed down. Carlton Palms’ owner, the for-profit company AdvoServ, had deployed a Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist who counted a former governor among his clients. The company admitted no wrongdoing and paid no fines when it settled with the state. It did agree to install more cameras to monitor workers. The state of Florida — and its public schools — then went right back to sending Carlton Palms new clients. To read more -



A federal judge on Thursday told state officials and the U.S. Department of Justice to speed up their efforts to improve Georgia’s system for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities. The hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pannell came in the wake of a September report describing Georgia’s lack of progress in moving people with developmental disabilities out of state hospitals. Independent reviewer Elizabeth Jones, who filed that critical report, told Pannell on Thursday that while Georgia has made great progress in improving services for people with serious mental illnesses, significant gaps remain for those with developmental disabilities. By contrast, 14 states have closed all institutions for people with those disabilities, Jones testified. Georgia, under a five-year settlement agreement reached with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010, agreed to end all admissions of people with developmental disabilities to state psychiatric hospitals. Georgia also promised that patients with developmental disabilities already in those hospitals would be moved to more appropriate settings by July of this year — the deadline for the agreement’s provisions to be met.  The settlement agreement also sought to improve care for Georgians with mental illness. Georgia agreed to establish community services and housing for about 9,000 people with mental illness, and to create community support and crisis intervention teams to help people with developmental disabilities and mental illness avoid hospitalization. “There has been tremendous progress, particularly on the mental health side,’’ said Mary Bohan, a Justice Department attorney. But Bohan said Georgia lags in transferring people with developmental disabilities from hospitals to community living situations. At the current pace, Bohan said, “it will take more than 10 years to allow everyone to be placed in a more integrated setting.” To read more -



Like most of the severely disabled residents at the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in southern Illinois, Todd Clementz stuck to a routine: Deaf, blind and requiring constant supervision, he passed his days with meals, therapy and an evening bath. But in late March, Clementz's routine was disrupted when a worker at the state institution gave him an unscheduled shower, during which the 46-year-old man choked to death. A jury in a coroner's inquest last month ruled his death a homicide. Clinton County State's Attorney John Hudspeth told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he expects to decide soon whether to file criminal charges. The AP is not naming the former employee of the facility in Centralia. He was initially placed on administrative leave but later was fired for seeking work at another state agency during an internal investigation, according to Veronica Vera, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Human Services, which oversees the developmental center. Tom Hatley, a state police investigator, testified at the coroner's inquest that the mental health technician who gave Clementz the shower told him that Clementz had missed his regularly scheduled bath "because he was exhibiting a behavior." Other workers testified that the forced shower was meant to help keep Clementz from going to sleep earlier than scheduled. Within minutes, Clementz began choking on the cold water being sprayed from a hand-held shower wand, the trooper testified. His lips turned blue as he became unconscious and went into cardiac arrest. An autopsy determined Clementz died from choking on cold water as well as regurgitated food. "This gentleman was waterboarded," said Tony Pauluski, executive director of The ARC of Illinois, an advocacy group that wants the state to close all of its developmental centers by 2020. Hatley said several co-workers of the technician — who is at least 6 feet tall and about 250 pounds — said he had previously given forced showers to discipline uncooperative residents. The trooper said he wasn't able to independently corroborate those accounts. To read more -



Federal officials told the state on Thursday it doesn’t believe Iowa is ready to transition its $5 billion Medicaid program to managed care on Jan. 1 — delaying the move until March 1. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “expects that we will ultimately be able to approve Iowa’s managed-care waivers. However, we do not believe that Iowa is ready to make that transition on Jan. 1,” according to a letter addressed to Iowa Medicaid Director Mikki Stier. Gov. Terry Branstad announced plans to transition Iowa’s $5 billion Medicaid system to four out-of-state, private care companies earlier this year. In August, the state awarded contracts to Amerigroup Iowa, AmeriHealth Caritas Iowa, UnitedHealthcare Plan of the River Valley and WellCare of Iowa. Since then, many providers and Medicaid recipients have called the move rushed, with the Iowa Hospital Association even asking a Polk County district judge to delay the implementation of the managed-care plan until a legal conflict is addressed. CMS Director Vikki Wachino told Stier in the Dec. 17 letter that while the state has made progress in some areas, it identified “significant gaps” when it was in Iowa last week conducting readiness reviews. She added that a “transition on Jan. 1 would risk serious disruptions in care for Iowa Medicaid beneficiaries.”  The decision ultimately came down to provider networks, with CMS pointing out several gaps including managed care provider networks are not fully developed and “lack key providers; “significant areas” of the state did not have many provider types within a reasonable distance; overreliance on out-of-network providers. To read more -



Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly rejected efforts to expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program and provide government-funded health insurance to the working poor are showing much more interest in the idea. It’s hard to keep turning down the offer of billions of federal dollars for a cash-strapped state. But perhaps more importantly for the debate, the Republican governor who ran a failed presidential campaign that included strong opposition to the federal health care revamp is leaving office in January. With Gov. Bobby Jindal’s exit on the horizon, talk of a Medicaid expansion has gotten serious at the Louisiana Capitol. Democratic Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards has made expansion one of his top priorities for enacting after he takes office Jan. 11. Many lawmakers hadn’t bothered to learn the ins and outs of how an expansion would work before they voted down the legislation. Now, they’re getting a crash course. After a Senate Finance Committee briefing last week, senators instructed the Department of Health and Hospitals to draw up a Medicaid expansion proposal by Jan. 1. And the request was coming not just from the Democrats. To read more -



Minnesota has emerged as an economic powerhouse as shakier finances and slumping prices for oil and agricultural commodities jolt the budgets of neighboring states. Minnesota’s projected surplus of nearly $2 billion and a record rainy-day fund have left the state better poised to weather an economic downturn than the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin, experts said. This is a dramatic change from a couple of years ago, when Minnesota was envious of North Dakota and the then-soaring oil prices that poured money into that state.   “Minnesota is doing obviously much better from a budget perspective than the rest of the Midwest,” said Dan White, a senior economist for Moody’s Analytics. The state’s budgeting process and discipline has left Minnesota “really at the cutting edge of not just Midwestern states but also nationwide.” Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, whose agency prepared the recent budget report, highlighted Minnesota’s enviable fiscal position last week, saying, “There are a lot of states that would be really happy to have this kind of forecast.” To read more -


Strong advocates for a state institution for developmentally disabled Nebraskans and those who support community programs instead, spoke up at a second hearing before state senators Thursday.  Two legislative committees -- the Developmental Disabilities Special Investigative Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee -- are continuing their study of BSDC and the need for a plan. They had a first hearing in October.  The Beatrice facility has gone from a couple of thousand residents at its peak to 116 now, with three of those making a transition to community services. No new residents have been admitted since 2012.  And the state must address its future. "I believe strongly that every person can be served in the community," said special investigative committee Chairman Colby Coash. But in order to serve the people at BSDC now, the community providers are going to need to "tool up," he said.  Some of the residents tried the community and failed there, relatives testified.  To read more -


New York

A mentally disabled teenager who died while under state care in 2013 writhed in excruciating pain for months when a doctor ignored his rejection of a stomach feeding tube, according to a watchdog group that faulted the state's oversight agency for not substantiating neglect in the case. Disability Rights New York, which has the federal authority to oversee such care in the state, issued a highly critical report that was provided to The Associated Press before its release Monday. The report calls for a new investigation by the state's Justice Center, established two years ago to protect the 1 million disabled, addicted, mentally ill and young people in state care. The report underscores what other advocates for the disabled said of the Justice Center when the AP reported in October that its investigations have rarely resulted in criminal charges. The agency has received more than 25,000 allegations of abuse and neglect by caretakers since 2014, substantiated about 7,000 of them, with just 169 cases — or less than 2.5 percent — resulting in criminal charges. According to the Disability Rights report released Monday, the autistic, severely mentally disabled 18-year-old, identified as "M.H.," was being cared for at Dominican Hall in the Hudson Valley town of Goshen. It said the teen had been fed through a stomach tube that he became unable to tolerate in late 2012, leading to "consistent and excruciating pain" almost daily for about eight months. The facility's doctor, identified in the report only as "Dr. P," continued the same "ineffective" treatment and didn't assess him for three months before his death from peritonitis and sepsis at a hospital after a new tube attached to his intestine was inadvertently removed. To read more -


North Dakota

North Dakota’s budget director ordered a new revenue forecast Friday after state tax revenues fell $40 million short of projections in November, bringing them to $152 million below forecast since July and making it “very likely” state agencies will see across-the-board budget cuts. Gov. Jack Dalrymple attributed the weaker revenues to slumping crop and energy prices, and said the state “is going to have to do a little belt-tightening going into 2016.” “We have a process in place, which is prescribed in law, to deal with this kind of situation,” he said in a statement from spokesman Jeff Zent. “We expect this to have very little impact on the objectives we have set out to accomplish. The state remains fiscally very sound and this process is designed to help keep it that way.”  Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp said the new forecast by Moody’s Analytics will cost $12,000 and should be ready by mid- to late January. If it projects a revenue shortfall of $400 million to $500 million, the governor will likely have to tap the state’s $572 million Budget Stabilization Fund to cover appropriations, she said. But first, state agencies would face across-the-board budget cuts of up to 2.5 percent, or about $105 million, in what’s known as an allotment. To read more -



The hole in next year's Oklahoma budget is expected be about $900 million, and dwindling revenue collections this year will force mid-year cuts to current agency appropriations, state officials said Tuesday. Oklahoma's Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger released figures that show a state panel led by the governor will have nearly 13 percent less revenue to certify for the Legislature to spend than they did for the current fiscal year. The Oklahoma Board of Equalization is expected to approve the revenue estimates at its regular meeting next week. Doerflinger said the reductions each agency will receive have not been determined. The last time the state declared a revenue failure was during for Democratic Gov. Brad Henry's term in 2009 following the national recession. Oklahoma builds a 5 percent cushion into every state appropriated budget, but the revised projections from the Tax Commission show overall collections to the state's main operating fund will fall 7.7 percent, or $444 million, below its original estimate. Oklahoma also has a balance of about $385 million in its Rainy Day Fund, about $144 million of which could be accessed to help offset the amount of the revenue failure. The rest of the $240 million balance could be tapped by the Legislature next session. To read more -



Without a state budget, the Philadelphia School District could cancel classes for its 130,000 students as of Jan. 29, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. says. "After that date," Hite wrote in a letter to staff this week, "our ability to keep schools open, issue paychecks, and pay bills is uncertain. The prospect of running out of operating funds is dire." The School Reform Commission recently took out a short-term loan of $250 million to keep the lights on temporarily, but with struggling districts and state agencies around Pennsylvania in similar binds, it's not clear whether the system would be able to borrow more money if the budget impasse continues. Hite said the district was "exploring all our options for contingency planning," but could make no guarantees about what would happen. He urged employees to continue advocating for a budget "that provides the critical support all Pennsylvania students deserve" with the legislature and Gov. Wolf. Lawmakers on Wednesday appeared to grow closer to a budget deal. Leaders said that if they can muster enough support, a final budget could go to Wolf by the weekend. If that deal falls through, they said, a stopgap spending plan is a possibility. To read more -