Archive for March, 2018

Alleged union bashing by CEO of DDS provider confirms the plan is keep direct-care wages low

March 20, 2018 Leave a comment

We hope a federal investigation of Triangle, Inc., a corporate provider to the Department of Developmental Services for alleged anti-union activity brings public attention to the potential for privatization of DDS programs to result in low pay for provider staff and poor care.

In our view, the alleged efforts by Malden-based Triangle’s management to block staff from unionizing imply an implicit acknowledgement by the management that it wants to keep direct-care wages low. Low wages, in turn, result in lower-quality care.

In preventing their workers from organizing, providers like Triangle appear to be pitting themselves against the growing movement in Massachusetts for a $15 living wage for workers.

The Boston Globe reported earlier this month that the National Labor Relations Board has issued a formal complaint against Triangle after at least three former employees of the provider were allegedly fired for helping organize the agency’s staff to unionize with SEIU Local 509.  The union represents both state workers and staff of state-funded providers to agencies such as DDS.

Triangle’s chief executive, Coleman Nee, allegedly stated that anyone in the agency who even voiced support for the union could be fired. Nee is a former Cabinet secretary under then Governor Deval Patrick.

The relatively low level of pay and benefits to direct-care staff in human services has been a long-standing issue in Massachusetts and elsewhere around the country.

“Nonprofit DDS providers do not want to pay a living wage to their direct care workers because their CEOs are keeping the money for themselves,” COFAR Executive Director Colleen Lutkevich wrote in a comment on the Globe site. “It can only benefit people with developmental disabilities if unions help these workers to earn more money. The management is a disgrace and it’s not the people they serve that benefit, it is their own pocketbooks.”

COFAR and SEIU Local 509 have tracked both corporate provider executive and direct-care compensation in recent years. Last May, the SEIU released a report charging that major increases in state funding to corporate human services providers during the previous six years had boosted the providers’ CEO pay to an average of $239,500, but that direct-care workers were not getting a proportionate share of that additional funding.

As of Fiscal 2016, direct-care workers employed by the providers were paid an average of only $13.60 an hour, according to the SEIU report.

The SEIU further noted that the increases in funding to the providers, known as “Chapter 257” rate setting reforms, had actually allowed the providers to earn  $51.8 million in net or surplus revenues (over expenses) in Fiscal 2016.  As the report stated, those surplus revenues would have more than covered the estimated $34 million cost of boosting all direct-care workers’ wages to $15 per hour.

Based on that report, state Senator Jamie Eldridge filed a budget amendment last year to require human services providers in Massachusetts to spend some of their surplus revenues on raising direct-care wages to $15 per hour. The measure was rejected, however, by a House-Senate conference committee on the budget.

It was not clear whether Eldridge intends to refile his amendment this spring. The SEIU as well has turned its attention away from that proposal and toward proposed legislation and a proposed ballot question in November that would raise the minimum wage for all workers in Massachusetts to $15 per hour.

While we support the legislation and ballot question aimed at all workers, we would also hope that Eldridge’s amendment would be reintroduced given that the funding apparently already exists to fully fund a $15 per hour living wage for human services workers.

Privatized human services reflect larger inequities

The privatized human services system in Massachusetts, in fact, reflects income inequities and other problems with privatized services in other areas of the economy.

As state funding has been boosted to corporate providers serving DDS and other human services departments, a bureaucracy of executive-level personnel has arisen in those provider agencies. That executive bureaucracy appears to be suppressing wages of front-line, direct-care workers and is at least partly responsible for the rapidly rising cost of the human services budget.

Ironically, a key reason for a continuing effort by the administration and Legislature to privatize human services has been to save money. However, we think that privatization is actually having the opposite effect.

Triangle executives are lavishly compensated

Triangle Inc. appears to be a microcosm of the human services system in Massachusetts, and to reflect many of its problems.

The Globe reported that Triangle had some 3,900 people enrolled in various programs and services during Fiscal 2017. The agency received $10.2 million in revenue in Fiscal 2017, including $6.9 million in funding from DDS, according to the state’s online UFR database.

Coleman Nee, the Triangle CEO, is listed on the UFR database as having received $223,570 in total compensation in Fiscal 2017. That may not cover an entire year with the agency.

It appears Nee started with Triangle sometime in 2016. Prior to him, the CEO was Michael Rodrigues, who made $257,442, according to IRS Form 990 for Fiscal 2016. That year’s Form 990 lists six executives, including Rodrigues, as making over $100,000 at Triangle.

It is unconsionable that executives of nonprofit agencies who are making six-figure incomes paid for with state funds are engaging in efforts to supress the pay of their direct-care employees. The fig leaf offered by a nonprofit moniker does not protect those executives from either charges or the appearance of profiting inappropriately off the taxpayers.

Its’s time for the Legislature to take steps to reform the DDS system, starting with a concrete action to raise direct-care wages.


Wrentham Center supporters want you to to know: ‘It’s a community’

March 8, 2018 4 comments

As is the case with many of the staff at the Wrentham Developmental Center, John Maxell, supervisor of adapted physical education, sees his job as serving both the center’s residents and the surrounding community.

Maxell noted, for example, that he has been working at WDC with a man from the community who originally weighed more than 500 pounds and came to him for help in losing weight.

That man’s weight is now close to 300 pounds, Maxell said, and it is continuing to drop. Maxell made the comments to state legislators and others who were on a tour of WDC following a legislative breakfast there this past Tuesday.

The breakfast was hosted by State Senator Richard Ross of Wrentham and was co-sponsored by the WDC Board of Trustees and by a range of family-based groups including the Friends of Wrentham, COFAR, the WDC Family Association, and the SpeakEasy Advocacy Group at WDC.

“I invite you to look at WDC with new eyes,” Colleen Lutkevich, COFAR executive director, told the lawmakers, staff of the Department of Developmental Services, and family members who attended the legislative breakfast. “WDC is a true community.”

Lutkevich noted that she was speaking on behalf of her sister, Jean Sullivan, who has been a WDC resident for more than half a century.

In addition to Ross, legislators who attended the breakfast included Senator Paul Feeney of Attleboro; and Representatives Shawn Dooley of Medfield, Elizabeth Poirier of Attleboro, and Jeffrey Roy of Franklin.

Senator Ross speaks at WDC2

State Senator Richard Ross (at podium) speaks during legislative breakfast at WDC.

Maxell pointed out that other people and groups from the surrounding community also use the fitness center at WDC, including members of local high school and community basketball, volleyball, and badminton teams. In return, those groups provide the center with monetary donations, which are used to buy exercise equipment for use by the center’s residents.

Similarly, community-based groups and individuals, including senior citizens, regularly use the therapeutic swimming pool at WDC, according to Peter Cutting, the lifeguard there.

Peter Cutting at WDC pool

Peter Cutting, lifeguard at the WDC therapeutic pool. The pool is used regularly by members of the surrounding community.

Joanne Cummings, a member of the WDC Board of Trustees, who spoke at the breakfast, listed the services that are provided to the 263 residents at WDC, including clinical, medical services, nursing care, occupational and physical therapy, speech and language therapy, recreation therapy, and psychological counseling. The center also houses an acute care medical facility and a dental clinic.

Yet, while that array of centrally located services cannot be found in any community-based group homes in the commonwealth, WDC doesn’t necessarily have an institutional feel to it. The campus has a mix of larger buildings housing apartments and smaller, multi-bedroom homes.

As Cummings noted, “The facility of today is not the institution of the past.”

And yet, WDC and its community-based orientation are a “well-kept secret” by DDS, Lutkevich pointed out. Many family members and guardians have waited for residential placements from DDS for years without being informed that places like WDC, the Hogan Regional Center, and a network of state-operated group homes exist.

Lutkevich discussed the case of Alexa Horn, who was admitted to WDC only after the Marquardt skilled nursing facility on the grounds of the former Fernald Developmental Center, in which she had been living, closed. Prior to being admitted to the nursing facility, Alexa had suffered an unexplained broken leg and arm in a corporate-run group home funded by DDS.

Lutkevich recounted how Alexa’s parents, Pat and Michael Horn, told DDS while Alexa was at Marquardt that they did not want her sent back to the group home. But instead of promising to address and rectify the situation, a DDS official threatened the Horns with removing their daughter from DDS care and sending her back home. Luckily, that never happened. Pat Horn has described the care Alexa has received at WDC as “exquisite.”

Other parents have been able to get family members into WDC or into state-operated group homes only after hiring attorneys and engaging in legal action, Lutkevich said.

Since 2008, four of six remaining developmental centers in Massachusetts have been closed, leaving only WDC and the Hogan Regional Center in Danvers operating. A number of current WDC residents were transferred there from the closed centers, including Tom Doherty, who was on hand for Tuesday’s breakfast.

Doherty, who is 67, moved to WDC from the former Templeton Developmental Center in 2011. He now lives with four other men in a group home on the WDC campus.

Tom Doherty and John Hastings

Tommy Doherty (left), who became a resident of WDC in 2011, with his cousin, John Hastings, at Tuesday’s legislative breakfast.

The developmental centers, which are also referred to in federal regulations as Intermediate Care Facilities (ICFs), are required to comply with more strict federal requirements for staffing and treatment than are community-based group homes.  As a result, WDC and Hogan tend to have residents who are older and have more severe developmental disabilities and medical conditions on average than those in the community-based system.

The average age of the residents at WDC is 66. More than 90 percent of the residents there are over 55. Eighty-five percent of the residents at WDC are listed as having either a severe or profound level of intellectual disability as compared with 15 percent who have either a moderate or mild level of disability.

Due to that relatively old residential population and the fact that new residents are not routinely admitted to WDC or Hogan, the residential census in those facilities is dropping. At WDC, the residential census dropped from a peak of 323 in Fiscal 2013 to 272 at the start of the current fiscal year last July. Since July, that number has dropped by an additional 9 residents to 263 as of this month.

As Lutkevich stated in a message to the legislators who attended the breakfast this week, the push is on to change attitudes within the Legislature and administration about the continuing need for WDC, Hogan, and the state-operated group homes as part of DDS’s overall continuum of care. “Ultimately, we hope to find a way to persuade DDS and other policy makers to make WDC and other state-run programs available once again as options for care for people waiting for DDS services,” Lutkevich said.

Our March issue of The COFAR Voice discusses a plea from DDS families: ‘please listen to us’

The theme running through our new March newsletter is the continuing struggle by families to be listened to by state policy makers, legislators, service providers, probate court judges, and the media as those families work to ensure the wellbeing and safety of their loved ones in the Department of Developmental Services system.

It is a struggle that families must engage in constantly. And as a number of the articles show, the system is often not willing to listen. Families frequently encounter significant pushback from DDS, the courts, the providers, and other quarters.

David and Ashley Barr have been subjected to an outright ban for more than two years on contact with David’s daughter who is being kept isolated in a group home in an undisclosed location. The prohibition seems to us to clearly violate DDS regulations that give clients the right to be visited.

When the Tillys filed complaints about abuse and neglect of their son in a corporate-run group home, both the provider and DDS turned against the parents instead of putting their focus on investigating and addressing their complaints. The Tillys, too, faced restrictions and then bans on visits to their son.

Buckley case David and Richard photo3

David (left) and Richard Buckley circa 1970

When Richard Buckley and his family tried to seek justice and get answers from DDS and the Essex County District Attorney’s Office after Richard’s brother, David, was scalded to death in a DDS group home in 2001, they got only silence. Richard is still waiting for someone to listen.

The state Legislature’s Children and Families Committee, recently held an oversight hearing to consider DDS’s responses to these types of incidents and issues. But it seemed the committee wasn’t really interested in hearing from the families either.

Verbal testimony was permitted at the committee’s January 17 hearing only from DDS commissioner Jane Ryder and from Nancy Alterio, executive director of the Disabled Persons Protection commission. To date, the co-chairs of the Children and Families Committee have not given any indication when, if ever, they will listen to the families.

But it’s not only the Children and Families Committee that does not appear to be listening. We report in the March issue on the continuing failure of the Judiciary Committee to act on a bill that would boost family rights in guardianship cases.

We believe there is a connection between these issues and the continuing priority the administration and Legislature have placed on privatizing the DDS system. The March newsletter also reports on the governor’s budget for the coming fiscal year and how it continues to short-change state-operated group homes and other state-run DDS programs.

And we have a report on our concerns about new regulations proposed by the state auditor that might weaken the Pacheco Law, a state statute that requires state agencies to demonstrate a cost savings and quality improvement prior to privatizing existing services.

We do appreciate that at least one legislator has been listening to a constituent about the problems her developmentally disabled son has had since his sheltered workshop was shut down in 2016. As we report, Representative Brian Ashe’s staff is drafting a bill that would bring back work opportunities to day programs for DDS clients who are not able to function in mainstream work environments.

Finally, we discuss the passing of two key figures in the history of care for the disabled in Massachusetts — Donald Vitkus and Edward Stefaniak. Donald was a survivor of the former Belchertown State School who went on to become a committed advocate for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Ed Stefaniak, who served as COFAR’s treasurer for many years, was instrumental in the Ricci v. Okin class action lawsuit, which resulted in major upgrades to developmental centers in the state and opened the way to community-based care.

You can find all of this and more in the newsletter, which you can access on the home page of our website at Your feedback and comments are much appreciated.