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Federal deinstitutionalization bill would lower human services care standards

May 31, 2019 5 comments

Unfortunately, the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation has signed onto a newly filed bill in Washington, which, as currently written, would encourage further unchecked privatization of human services, diminished oversight, and reduced standards of care across the country.

In Massachusetts, the bill, known as the federal Disability Integration Act of 2019 (HR.555 and S.117), would threaten the Wrentham Developmental and Hogan Regional centers, the state’s only two remaining residential facilities for the developmentally disabled that meet federal Intermediate Care Facility (ICF) standards.

Moreover, we think the bill does not comply with the law under the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C., which recognized the value and legitimacy of institutional or congregate care for those who want and need it.

HR.555 (and the Senate version, S.117) calls explicitly for the the “transition of individuals with all types of disabilities at all ages out of institutions and into the most integrated setting…” (emphasis added).  The legislation specifies that the federal government would provide funding for technical assistance to states “to prevent or eliminate institutionalization” of persons with developmental disabilities.

This language does not comport with Olmstead, which held that that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not condone or require removing individuals from institutional settings when they are unable to benefit from a community-based setting. In addition, the ADA does not require the imposition of community-based treatment on patients who do not desire it.

At the very least, the language in this bill should be changed to respect the choice of individuals, families, and guardians, either to apply to get into, or to remain in congregate-level care facilities.

So far, we have made our concerns known to the office of Senator Elizabeth Warren, and have requested that Warren reconsider her co-sponsorship of the bill. A staff member said the office will look into our concerns and will convey them to the office of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, the lead sponsor of the bill.

We plan to contact the office of Senator Edward Markey and other members of the Massachusetts delegation as well.

Failure to acknowledge problems with deinstitutionalization

HR.555 perpetuates the myth of institutions as providing “segregated” care. It fails to acknowledge the relentless pursuit of deinstitutionalization in recent decades, which has caused “human harm, including death and financial and emotional hardship.”

What the bill particularly fails to take into account are the major upgrades in care and standards in congregate-care facilities since the 1970s, largely as a result of federal lawsuits brought in Massachusetts and other states.

The irony is that while those lawsuits also led to the introduction and growth of privatized, community-based care throughout the country, poor oversight and low pay and training of staff in the privatized group-home system has recreated many of the warehouse-like characteristics of large institutions prior to the 1980s.

The bill falsely purports to encourage choice

HR.555 states that its purpose is “to clarify that every individual who is eligible for long-term (human) services and supports has a federally protected right to be meaningfully integrated into that individual’s community…” in order to receive those services and supports.

But the bill states that a group home or other facility can only be considered community-based if it has four or fewer unrelated residents. That is an unworkable and actually choice-limiting proposition that is almost as radical as the position of the National Council on Disability that an institution is a facility with four or more people who did not choose to live together.

So, while the bill purports to be in favor of choice, the only choice it recognizes as valid is a community-based setting; and that means a residential setting with four or fewer residents.

But the Supreme Court held in Olmstead that congregate care is appropriate for some persons with developmental disabilities. In Massachusetts, we have repeatedly heard from families and guardians who are satisfied with the high level of care delivered in the Wrentham and Hogan centers.

The people remaining at Wrentham and Hogan are more profoundly disabled and have more serious medical issues on average than in other DDS settings. These people need the intensive care that is regulated by ICF-level standards. HR.555 does not recognize the distinctions or the different levels of care needed by different individuals.

In fact, the real purpose of the bill, in our view, is to eliminate the choice of ICF-level care, which is based on strict federal standards for staffing, in particular.

The political impetus to close all remaining congregate care settings comes, as it has for years, from state-funded, corporate human services providers, who have a conflict of interest because they stand to gain additional state contracts as state-run facilities are closed and their functions are privatized.

Massachusetts, as do most states, allows the providers to operate under a waiver of the ICF regulations, which permits lower standards of care for community-based services. Even so, the cost of that care is oustripping the ability of states to pay for it.

The cost is not identified

HR.555 would require states to offer community-based services immediately to all persons needing such services, and those jurisdictions would not be allowed to impose cost caps or use waiting lists. The bill, however, does not identify what the cost of such a requirement would be or where the funding would come from.

The VOR, which advocates nationally for persons with developmental disabilities, calls the bill “clearly unaffordable.” Simply encouraging, funding, or requiring the transfers of more people out of institutions into community-based care will only exacerbate problems in the latter system.

To the extent that the bill recognizes the cost of care, it attempts wrongly to place the blame on institutions. It refers to “billions of dollars in unnecessary spending related to perpetuating dependency and unnecessary confinement.”

This statement, however, does not recognize the high cost of executive salaries and of mismanagement in the community-based system. In Massachusetts, the cost of institutional care is less than 10% of the cost of privatized, community-based care.

The bill, however, does appear at least to recognize that there are costs in providing community-based care because the bill would require states and providers to review their funding sources and analyze “how those funding sources could be organized into a fair, coherent system that affords individuals reasonable and timely access to community-based long-term services and supports.”

Such a review sounds reasonable, and we think it should be done before legislation is enacted that would encourage further deinstitutionalization. As noted, the deinstitutionalization required by this bill would place a significant financial strain on the community-based care system for which no additional funding has been identified.

We would suggest that people contact the members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, whose contact information can be found at this site: https://lwvma.org/your-government/federal/.

We hope all of the members of the delegation will reconsider their support of HR.555 and S.117.

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COFAR asks state attorney general to take a more active role in protecting the developmentally disabled

May 21, 2019 1 comment

COFAR members met last week with officials in the state Attorney General’s Office to raise concerns about an apparent lack of focus by the state’s chief law enforcement agency on abuse and neglect of persons with developmental and other disabilities.

While Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has lately taken an active role in scrutinizing and penalizing operators of nursing homes that provide substandard care to elderly residents of those facilities, the same cannot be said of her office when it comes to investigating corporate providers of group homes for the developmentally disabled.

In March, Healey announced a series of settlements totaling $540,000 with seven nursing home operators for violations of standards of care and conditions in those facilities. In light of the attorney general’s actions and the substantial media coverage that resulted from them, COFAR asked Healey’s office for records of similar fines, settlements or penalties levied against Department of Developmental Services providers from Fiscal 2015 to the present.

In response, the AG provided records of just two cases in which penalties were imposed on DDS providers. In one case in 2017, a provider, the Cooperative for Human Services, Inc., was required by the AG to pay $19,000 in restitution to employees who had been denied overtime payments, and to pay a $4,000 fine to the state.

In the second case in 2018, Triangle, Inc. was required to donate $123,500 to charities for having paid less than the minimum wage to participants in a former sheltered workshop, without having a proper minimum wage waiver. The provider was also required to pay $6,500 to the AG’s Office to cover administrative costs.

So, that’s seven actions taken by the AG totaling more than half a million dollars against nursing home providers in just one month, versus two actions totaling $153,000 taken against DDS providers in the past five years.

Moreover, the larger of the two actions against the DDS providers was for paying subminimum wages to sheltered workshop participants — something that is seen as a problem only by opponents of sheltered workshops themselves.

As we’ve said many times, we see the real wage problem as the failure to pay adequate compensation to direct-care workers in the DDS system. That is an issue that the AG should be investigating, along with the excessive salaries paid in many cases to provider executives.

Investigating abuse and neglect

As for investigating abuse and neglect in the DDS system, the AG appears to have done nothing at least since Fiscal 2015. (We had originally asked for a list of penalties and other actions taken against DDS and its providers going back to Fiscal 2000. The AG responded that that request was overly broad in time and scope. As a result, we narrowed the request to DDS providers since Fiscal 2015.)

Certainly, the AG’s Office doesn’t present the only option for oversight of the DDS system. The Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) might be viewed as the most logical state agency to investigate abuse and neglect. That agency received more than 11,800 calls alleging abuse in Fiscal 2018 — a 74% increase from Fiscal 2010.

But with only four investigators on its staff, the DPPC is unable to investigate more than a tiny fraction of those calls, and must refer the vast majority of them to the Departments of Developmental Services and Mental Health, and the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. As we have noted, those agencies face a conflict of interest in investigating abuse and neglect within their own systems.

The state Legislature should also be exercising investigative oversight of the DDS system; but the last major report from a legislative committee on abuse and neglect in facilities run by DDS and its providers was done in the 1990s.

Partly under prodding from COFAR, the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee did hold two informational hearings last year on abuse and neglect of DDS clients. But it is unclear that the Committee intends to follow up on those hearings or even whether the hearings were, or are, part of a larger review.

The Children and Families Committee has never responded to questions from COFAR about the scope of its review, if any, of DDS. On Monday, I sent yet another email to the chief of staff of Representative Kay Khan, the House chair of the committee, asking what the status currently is of the committee’s review, and whether any additional hearings are planned. I haven’t yet received a response to that message.

AG officials acknowledge they could do more 

In last week’s meeting with the AG officials, COFAR President Tom Frain, who called in; Vice President Anna Eves, and I raised concerns about the general lack of oversight of the privatization of care of the developmentally disabled in the state, and the high level of abuse and neglect as well as financial mismanagement in the system.

The three officials from Healey’s office — Jonathan Miller, chief of public protection and advocacy; Mary Beckman, chief of healthcare and fair competition; and Abigail Taylor, assistant attorney general for child and youth protection — acknowledged that the AG hasn’t done much in recent years in terms of oversight of the DDS system; but they said there may be opportunities for them to do more. Beckman said DDS clients fit within the AG’s purview, which is to protect vulnerable populations.

While none of the three officials were specific about what the AG could or might do, Miller talked about looking at “potential tools in our toolkit.”

The AG’s dual role

Beckman acknowledged that the AG’s Office is hampered in its oversight efforts by its dual roles as both a law enforcement and investigative agency, and as the state’s lawyer.

In fact, as the state’s defense attorney, the AG has consistently taken the state’s side in disputes since 1990’s over the closures of DDS state-run developmental centers and the expansion of the privatized group home system.

Nevertheless, the AG has penalized DDS providers, at least in the two instances cited above, so it clearly has the authority to do so. The key will be whether there is any follow-up by the AG’s Office to the general statements made in last week’s meeting with us.

It is unfortunate that despite the many state agencies with the authority and responsibility to investigate the care and conditions of people with developmental and other disabilities in Massachusetts, those persons appear to have fallen through the cracks in that system.

Somehow that large collection of institutional resources has not been enough to get the job done. In the case of the AG’s Office, we think the resources have so far been misdirected. We hope the Office will correct that.

State auditor finds direct-care workers were bypassed in funding boost for providers

May 17, 2019 1 comment

The State Auditor has reported that a major boost in state funding in recent years resulted in surplus revenues for human services providers in Massachusetts, but that those additional revenues have led to only minimal increases in wages for direct-care workers.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Massachusetts House of Representatives quashed a state budget amendment last month that would have raised direct-care wages to $20 an hour. That amendment had been co-sponsored by more than a majority of the House membership.

In a May 8 report, State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office reported that so called 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 state auditor examined financial records of 89 human services providers, most of them under contract with the Department of Developmental Services. Among those surveyed providers, Chapter 257 funding helped boost their surplus of revenues over expenses on average from roughly $120,000 in Fiscal Year 2010 to $404,000 in Fiscal 2017, the audit stated. That is an increase of 237%, or an increase of almost 30% a year, in surplus revenues.

However, the audit stated that during that time, the average hourly rates paid direct-care workers increased by only 24% in total, or about 3.1% per year, on average. The audit pointed out that the yearly increase in average direct-care wages only exceeded inflation by about 1% per year.

The audit found that the average hourly direct-care wage was $11.92 in Fiscal 2010, and rose to $14.76 as of Fiscal 2017.

Under Chapter 257, which was enacted in 2008, state funding rates for social-service programs are set by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS). Before Chapter 257 rates were implemented, state agencies typically negotiated multiyear contracts with human-service providers and established individual reimbursement rates for each contract.

As of Fiscal 2017, DDS contracts accounted for $1.3 billion, or more than 55% of total Chapter 257 funding in Massachusetts, the audit stated.

House leadership kills wage increase for direct-care workers

Last month, the House leadership killed an amendment to the proposed Fiscal 2020 state budget that would have required that additional state funding to the providers be used to boost direct-care wages to $20 an hour. The amendment had been sought by SEIU Local 509, a state employee union that also represents human service provider workers.

An SEIU official said that even the Baker administration had supported the amendment, but that the providers opposed it.

No similar amendment has been filed in the Senate, which is currently debating the Fiscal 2020 budget. The SEIU official said the union will instead push for passage of a bill in the current legislative session (H.1658) that would accomplish the same thing as the House amendment. That bill is currently in the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, which has yet to take action on it.

Although the providers reportedly opposed the SEIU amendment, the Arc of Massachusetts, a key provider lobbying organization, is supporting a related bill, HD.1130, which would set a minimum rate of $17 per hour for wages paid to entry-level direct-care workers.

But unlike H.1658, which would require that the funding for the direct-care wage increases come from Chapter 257 funds, HD.1130 does not specify a source of funding for raising direct-care workers’ wages. It appears the providers don’t want the money for higher direct-care wages to come from their Chapter 257 funding, even if that funding is providing many of them with surplus revenues.

In 2017, the SEIU issued a report asserting that Chapter 257 had enabled the providers to earn $51 million in surplus revenues. The state auditor’s report this month stopped short, however, of asserting, as the SEIU did in 2017, that the providers could and should have used surplus revenues garnered from Chapter 257 rates to boost direct-care wages.

Both the state auditor’s report and the SEIU’s 2017 report provide confirmation of a report by COFAR in 2012 that direct-care workers in the DDS contracted system had seen their wages stagnate and even decline in recent years while the executives running the corporate agencies employing those workers were getting double-digit increases in their compensation.

The SEIU’s 2017 report stated that during the previous six years, the providers it surveyed paid out a total of $2.4 million in CEO raises. The SEIU report concluded that:

This all suggests that the amount of state funding is not at issue in the failure to pay a living wage to direct care staff, but rather, that the root of the problem is the manner in which the providers have chosen to spend their increased revenues absent specific conditions attached to the funding. (my emphasis)

The Massachusetts Legislature needs to demonstrate that it is on the side of the human services caregivers who perform some of the most difficult and thankless work possible, and not strictly on the side of the corporate executives who wield virtually all of the political influence on Beacon Hill.

While we strongly support proposed reforms to the human services system such as establishing a registry of caregivers with substantiated abuse charges against them, a registry alone will not solve the abuse problem. The problem of abuse is very much the fault of poor management and a lack of training and supervision from top management. And it is a direct result of the underpayment of those caregivers.

The direct-care workers are on the front lines when it comes to making the system work. Yet, those people are easy to forget in the political power struggles at the State House; and to the extent they are remembered, it is often as the sole object of blame for the failures of the system as a whole.

The Legislature can begin to right those wrongs by supporting H.1658 and ensuring a living wage for direct-care workers.

 

DPPC’s public presentation of data on abuse is unclear

After a lengthy series of inquiries from COFAR, the state Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) has acknowledged that data in its annual reports on abuse in Massachusetts do not necessarily reflect the actual number of cases that it investigates or refers for investigation.

In letters in response to an April 12 order by the state’s public records supervisor to clarify to COFAR how the DPPC reports its data, a DPPC official said that the numbers listed in the DPPC’s annual reports of both “abuse reports” and “investigations” are not necessarily based on separate occurrences of alleged abuse. Those numbers are based instead on the number of calls or “intakes” that the DPPC receives from witnesses or other reporters.

As a result, the DPPC’s data “may be “inflated” because the agency’s “current method of data extraction can produce duplications when multiple intakes are received on the same incident,”  according to Andrew Levrault, the DPPC’s assistant general counsel. Levrault said the agency’s database was “undergoing a redesign process, and this is one of the features we are hoping to improve.”

Levrault also stated in an email that the DPPC’s data may be “deflated” in some other instances.

The DPPC undertakes investigations of alleged abuse and neglect of adults under 60 with disabilities in Massachusetts, and supervises additional cases that it refers for investigation to the Departments of Developmental Services (DDS) and Mental Health (DMH) and to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). As such, the DPPC’s data are relied on by policymakers, researchers, journalists, and others as important indicators of the quality of life of persons with disabilities.

In light of the critical role that the DPPC plays, it is vital that data and other information that the agency publicly provides about the care and conditions of persons with disabilities be accurate and presented in a clear and straightforward way.

Levrault said that in contrast to the DPPC, DDS, to which the DPPC refers most of its cases for investigation, does report data based on the actual number of cases it investigates.

The differences between the DPPC and DDS in reporting abuse data make it difficult to compare that data, not only among agencies in Massachusetts, but potentially between Massachusetts and other states. COFAR has been attempting to analyze aggregate data on abuse and abuse investigations done by the DPPC, DDS, and other agencies.

The DPPC’s most recent online annual report for Fiscal Year 2017 states that the agency received 11,395 “abuse reports” that year, and that of that number, 2,571 “investigations” were assigned to investigators from the DPPC, DDS, DMH, and the MRC.

In his May 1 letter, Levrault stated that:

…the 2,571 investigations listed in the Fiscal Year 2017 Annual Report specifically refers to investigations of 2,571 intakes.

Levrault stated in the email that a single intake may refer to one or more occurrences of alleged abuse, or conversely, that “multiple intakes” may refer to a single occurrence of alleged abuse.

As a result, it appears that while the DPPC annual report listed 2,571 “investigations” in Fiscal 2017, it is unlikely that that number represents the number of investigations that were actually undertaken by the DPPC and by DDS, DMH, and the MRC. Similarly, the 11,395 abuse reports listed in the annual report for that year may or may not represent the actual number of alleged occurrences of abuse that were reported to the DPPC.

In a comparison of data from both the DPPC and DDS, COFAR found that the number of abuse intake calls referred by the DPPC to DDS for investigation each year from Fiscal Year 2010 to 2018 was, on average, 22.5% higher than the number of cases that DDS reported investigating. (See chart below created from data from both agencies.)

Chart on DPPC versus DDS numbers of abuse investigationsFY 10-18

Those differences appear to be due to the differences in the ways that the DPPC and DDS report the data.

The accuracy of the DPPC’s data reporting is certainly a problem that can be corrected if and when the agency redesigns its database. It raises a question, however, as to why the DPPC has not made it clear in its annual reports as to what the data reported in them actually represents.

Yet, we have already seen that the DPPC is highly resistant to public disclosure of its investigative reports, and is pushing for legislation that would wrap a tighter cloak of secrecy around its records.

In failing to be clear about the meaning of its published data, the DPPC has not been transparent or straightforward about the scope and nature of the problem of abuse and neglect in Massachusetts.

The DPPC is the only independent agency available when family members or others discover abuse and neglect in the DDS system. Without the DPPC, the best option for reporters of abuse would be to dial 911. Yet the DPPC is an agency that needs to place a higher value than it currently does on the public’s right to know.

 

Legislators and the media should be concerned about secrecy in investigations of abuse of persons with disabilities

A bill in the state Legislature, which would draw an ever-tighter cloak of secrecy around investigative reports on abuse and neglect of persons with disabilities in Massachusetts (H.117), appears to be going relatively unnoticed on Beacon Hill and by the media.

Section 17 of the bill would effectively exempt all investigative reports and records of the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) from public disclosure. Under the section, the DPPC’s records could be kept entirely secret even if all personal information in them were redacted.

At a certain point, laws and other initiatives that are ostensibly enacted or undertaken to protect privacy cross the line into secrecy and provide a curtain for agencies to hide behind. That is what we think is happening with Section 17 of this bill.

The DPPC is the state’s only independent agency charged with investigating allegations of abuse and neglect of adults under the age of 60 with developmental and other disabilities. Without access to the agency’s investigative reports, the public will have much less understanding, not only of the scope and nature of the problem of abuse and neglect, but what the DPPC and other agencies are doing about it.

Overall, H.117 and its counterpart in the Senate (S.53 ) propose making a number of changes to the DPPC’s  enabling statute that seem helpful, such as replacing the term “disabled person,” with “person with a disability.” That latter term avoids the stigma associated with describing an individual totally in terms of their disability.

Anna and Richard at 4.30.19 hearing

COFAR member Richard Buckley (left) and Vice President Anna Eves testify Tuesday at the State House about abuse and neglect of the developmentally disabled. At the hearing, COFAR offered testimony against proposed DPPC secrecy language in Section 17 of H.117.

However, Section 17 is not at all innocent, in our view. It would add language to the DPPC’s enabling statute stating that the agency’s records containing confidential or personal data “shall not be public records.” (my emphasis)

That proposed language is not needed to protect the personal privacy of victims of abuse and neglect or others involved in those investigations. The DPPC’s enabling statute currently states that the DPPC should disclose “as little personally identifiable information as possible.” That language gives the DPPC the discretion to protect the privacy of all parties involved.

The presumption of the state’s Public Records law is that all state governmental records are public documents unless they are explicitly exempted from disclosure by statute, or they fall under an exemption to the Public Records law itself.

At a legislative hearing this past Tuesday on H.117 and other bills concerning abuse of persons with disabilities, DPPC Executive Director Nancy Alterio touted the anti-stigmatizing aspects of H.117, but did not mention Section 17. Both Anna Eves, COFAR’s vice president, and I testified before the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee against the section.

The committee members didn’t ask us any questions about our objection. We may have caught them by surprise about it.

The House and Senate versions of the bill were filed by Representative Sean Garballey and Senator John Keenan.

In February, Garballey got back to me and said he wasn’t aware of the implications of the Section 17, and would ask the DPPC about it. He said he agreed with us that the enabling statute should not completely restrict the disclosure of the DPPC’s records.

The chief of staff for Sen. Keenan was more noncommittal about the bill, but also said she would look into and ask about our concerns.

The mainstream media don’t seem to be paying attention this year

On March 21, I emailed Boston Globe Editor Brian McGrory, laying out our concerns in detail and asking whether the Globe might take a position against the language in Section 17. To date, McGrory has not responded to that or to a subsequent email I sent about the bill on April 5 and again on April 8 to The Globe and other news organizations around the state.

The New England First Amendment Coalition published our email to mainstream media outlets on its blogsite on April 8. But we have gotten little or no response from the rest of the media either.

Our media list includes current editors and other staff on 24 newspapers, including the Globe and Herald; major chains such as the North of Boston Media Group;  the Associated Press, the State House News Service; CommonWealth Magazine; major Boston television news outlets; and NPR radio affiliates WBUR and WGBH.

The Globe in the past has taken strong stances in favor of the public disclosure of state records. In 2015, the paper organized coordinated editorials among several media outlets criticizing the state’s Public Records supervisor for rulings allowing the withholding of records from public disclosure by state agencies.

The Globe’s 2015 editorial maintained that the state’s criminal-records law, in particular, “was never intended to open up a memory hole to conceal unflattering information about the police.”

That is similar to the argument we have made in seeking to obtain investigative records from the DPPC. And now, Section 17 would make that cloak of secrecy even more opaque.

DPPC heading in the direction of the Elder Affairs office

Unfortunately, with the introduction of Section 17 in H.117, it appears that the DPPC is seeking to emulate the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA), which investigates abuse and neglect of persons 60 and older. The EOEA’s enabling statute does state that the agency’s records are not public.

On its website,the DPPC states that the reason for the non-public records provision in H.117 is to make the DPPC’s enabling statute conform to the EOEA’s statute in order to give persons with developmental disabilities “the same safeguards provided for the records of elders.” (Please note that the bill numbers on the DPPC website appear to be from the prior legislative session.)

But that only raises further concerns for us about the potential secrecy of the EOEA’s records.

As noted, the enabling statute of the EOEA, M.G.L. c. 19A, s. 23, explicitly states that departmental records containing confidential information are not public. The EOEA statute goes even further, giving the Elder Affairs Department the authority to actually destroy investigative records about abuse allegations if the department  finds that the allegations are unsubstantiated. This seems to us to be bad law and not one that the DPPC should be emulating.

The DPPC’s regulations go further than the enabling statute in exempting records from disclosure

While the DPPC’s regulations explicitly state that the DPPC’s records are not public , the agency’s enabling statute, as noted, says only that the DPPC should disclose “as little personally identifiable information as possible.”

The DPPC’s regulations go further in shielding the agency’s records from public disclosure than does the enabling statute, and we think the regulations should therefore be changed to conform to the enabling statute. H.117, however, would do the opposite by making the statute conform to the regulations.

We hope The Globe and other media outlets in Massachusetts wake up to the threat this bill poses to transparency in state government. The DPPC receives tens of thousands of allegations of abuse and neglect each year, and “screens in” several thousand of those for investigation.

It is already extremely difficult to obtain those records from the DPPC even in redacted form. H.117 would make it virtually impossible to obtain those records, and would move state government that much further away from operating with openness and transparency.