Home > Uncategorized > A pattern of denigrating Fernald

A pattern of denigrating Fernald

Opponents of Intermediate-Facility-Level care in Massachusetts have repeatedly denigrated the Fernald Developmental Center during the past two years as part of a campaign to encourage the shutdowns of that facility and three other state-run developmental centers in Massachusetts for people with severe intellectual disabilities.

Our review shows a pattern in the tactics used by the opponents, which have included repeatedly publicizing inflated figures on Fernald’s per-person cost and falsely characterizing the care at Fernald and other developmental centers as outmoded or obsolete.  The ironic purpose of the campaign has been to close the centers as fast as possible without conducting any meaningful cost studies.

The organizations most directly involved in the campaign against Fernald include the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers and the Arc of Massachusetts.  Joining them last year was the Governor’s Commission on Mental Retardation, which the Fernald League noted had previously been reconstituted  by the Patrick administration to lobby on behalf of the developmental center closures.

The record appears to show that the efforts to spread misinformation about Fernald have been effective in bottling up cost studies, which would have actually pertained to the three other developmental centers marked for closure.  The misinformation has also been damaging to the reputations of guardians and families of the Fernald residents.

Fernald and five other developmental centers are the only sources in Massachusetts of ICF-level care, which must meet federal standards for staffing and supervision.  The Patrick administration has targeted the Fernald, Monson, Templeton, and Glavin centers for closure, starting with Fernald, by Fiscal Year 2013.  Fernald, which was scheduled to be shut last July, has remained open pending the outcomes of administrative and court appeals filed by the guardians of 14 remaining residents.

For at least the past two years, the ADDP and the Arc have focused during state budget debates in the Legislature on the alleged cost of maintaining Fernald.   Our review shows that during this year’s budget debate in April and May, leaders of those organizations repeatedly made inaccurate claims about Fernald’s per-person cost of operation that were as much as 70 percent higher than the most recent projection by the Department of Developmental Services.

In public statements, the ADDP and the Arc also inaccurately blamed those alleged per-person costs on appeals filed by guardians of their wards’ transfers from Fernald.  The erroneous cost figures were provided to state legislators as the House and Senate were considering budget amendments in April and May that would have required an independent cost study prior to closing the separate Templeton, Monson, and Glavin centers. 
 
 On April 25, ADDP President Gary Blumenthal claimed to the State House News Service that the annual cost per person at Fernald had “nearly quadrupled” to $917,000.  The News Service said the cost was based on documents from DDS.  The News Service account was picked up by The Boston Globe.   However, DDS General Counsel Marianne Meacham told COFAR that to her knowledge DDS has never cited a cost as high as $917,000 per person at Fernald, and that she had no knowledge of any documents listing that amount. 
 
(We called the author of the State House News article to ask for a copy of the alleged DDS documents.  The reporter said he was unable to locate them.)  
 
In a May 25 letter to COFAR, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe stated that DDS had actually projected an annual cost of care of $635,414 per person at Fernald, based on the 14 remaining residents.  Moreover, Howe stated that overall costs at Fernald had dropped during the past year and a half as the residential population has dropped, but that the per-person cost had risen  to the $635,000 amount due to the declining population.  She termed the cost spike “a typical pattern in previous closures.” 

 
That per-person cost spikes occur when facilities are closed was not recognized by the ADDP or the Arc in their accounts of Fernald’s costs.  On April 25, the same day Blumenthal was citing the $917,000 figure to the State House News Service, a letter to legislators, signed by Blumenthal, Leo Sarkissian, president of the Arc of Massachusetts, and about a dozen human service providers, claimed that Fernald was costing “$1.3 million per month for 16 individuals due to administrative appeals.”   That would equate to an annual cost of $975,000 per resident.  Later that same day, as the ADDP/Arc letter had requested, the House leadership rejected an amendment to the House budget bill for the cost study for Templeton, Monson, and Glavin.
 
Whether it was the result of a cost spike due to a declining population or not, the $975,000 figure was wrong.  In her May 25 letter, Howe indicated that the $1.3 million cost at Fernald was an average monthly cost, based on a $15.6 million projection for the full current fiscal year.  At the start of the year, between 50 and 70 residents were still living at Fernald, not 16.  Thus, it would be inaccurate to claim that Fernald was costing $1.3 million per month for only 16 individuals, or that the $1.3 million figure could be annualized, “to understand the high cost of delay and obstruction,” as the ADDP/Arc letter claimed.
 
Nevertheless, a month later, on May 24, the Boston Herald ran a story  that similarly claimed erroneously that $16 million was being spent to care for a remaining 14 residents at Fernald.  That story inaccurately implied that the cost per resident was as high as $1.1 million.  Blumenthal was quoted in the Herald story as terming the cost cited by the Herald  “excessive” and “the cost of delay” in closing Fernald. 
 
A budget amendment requiring the independent cost analysis prior to closing the Monson, Glavin, and Templeton centers was rejected by the Senate leadership two days after the Herald story ran.
 
A similar pattern of unsupported or inaccurate information about Fernald was evident during the legislative budget debate a year previously.  In May 2010,  the ADDP claimed that delaying Fernald’s closure by undertaking a cost study of Fernald and the three other centers marked for closure would cost an additional $13 million a year.   There was no backup or explanation for that number.

That same month, the Governor’s Commission on Intellectual Disability cited a  $1.3 million cost per month at Fernald in calling for rejection of that same cost study.   This number was unsupported as well in the Commission’s letter.

(By the way, the only publication  listed on the Governor’s Commission publications page on its website is the administration’s 2009 developmental center closure plan, which the Commission didn’t even write — the document was written by DDS.)

Meanwhile, as the ADDP and the Governor’s Commission were citing those unsupported cost claims for Fernald in 2010, Sarkissian of the Arc of Massachusetts was claiming erroneously that Fernald and the other developmental centers were providing inferior care to community-based facilities.  In an op-ed article in The Waltham Tribune,  Sarkissian variously termed Fernald and the other developmental centers “decrepit,” “archaic,” “outdated,” “Dickensian,” and “inferior.”

In the op-ed piece, Sarkissian raised issues from the 1960s and earlier about sexual abuse, military experiments, and other issues at Fernald that have not been current for a half century or more.

Last week, I wrote to Blumenthal, asking him to publicly disavow the inflated cost figures for Fernald that he and his organization cited this year.  He declined to do so, saying the cost figures had been provided by DDS.  The question we still can’t answer  is whether DDS itself knowingly publicized inaccurate figures on Fernald’s cost.

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  1. Ed
    June 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    Trying to get an accurate assessment of the current cost of operations at Fernald appears to be as difficult as counting casualties in the fog of war. The stream of misinformation is remarkable. Figures are being manipulated by The ARC and ADDP to support a mission of ICF closures. Lost in all this is the very real pain and suffering that the parents and guardians are enduring, when all they want to hold onto is what they believe is the best care available for their loved ones. Requesting independent cost studies and filing appeals against unwanted transfers are not reasons for denigration or reputation smearing. Quite the contrary. They are indications of strength and caring.

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