Committee to schedule one or more oversight hearings on DDS system

December 12, 2017 Leave a comment

In the wake of findings by the state of negligence by the staff of a human services provider that almost resulted in the death of a developmentally disabled man, a legislative committee plans to hold one or more hearings on the Department of Developmental Services system, starting next month.

A press release issued by the state Legislature’s joint Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities Committee referred to a single hearing and said it will concern “current  DDS policies, procedures, and responses to reported incidents.” The press release did not specify a date for the hearing, but said it will be held “in the New Year.”

A staff member of the committee said last week (on December 7) that a specific date had not yet been set for the hearing, but that it would be held sometime in January. Previously, another staff member had stated that more details about the scope of the committee’s review, including whether the committee would focus on the privatized system of DDS care and whether there might be more than one hearing still needed to be ironed out.

COFAR is inviting people with information about abuse or neglect in DDS-funded group homes in Massachusetts to testify before the committee. If you have information you would like to share, please contact us.

In the case that apparently sparked the committee’s interest, a DDS investigation concluded in September that seven employees of Bass River, Inc., a DDS provider, were at fault after Ioannis “Yianni” Baglaneas, a 29-year-old man with Down Syndrome, contracted severe pneumonia in his group home after aspirating on the cake.

The DDS cited the staff for failing to ensure that Yianni regularly used required breathing equipment that could have prevented the pneumonia; and the report stated that a high-level Bass River employee removed key records from the home and instructed the staff not to cooperate with the DDS investigation.

COFAR has urged legislators for several years to hold oversight hearings as part of a comprehensive legislative investigation of the DDS group home system.  To date, no such investigation has been undertaken by the Legislature since the late 1990’s when the House Post Audit and Oversight Committee examined the group home system and found systemic problems with abuse, neglect, and financial irregularities.

The Post Audit report stated that DDS’s oversight of the privatized system raised “grave doubts about (DDS’s) commitment to the basic health and safety issues and ensuring that community placements provide equal or better care for (DDS) clients.”

Now, 20 years later, it does not appear that much has changed in the system. The association of increased privatization with poor oversight and abuse and neglect is still the case, and inadequate care and conditions remain all too common in group homes in Massachusetts and around the country.

AFSCME Council 93, a union representing state, county and municipal workers in Massachusetts, recently endorsed COFAR’s call for hearings, sharing COFAR’s previous post on the subject on the union’s Facebook page on November 28.

COFAR is continuing to urge people to call Representative Kay Khan, the House chair of the Children and Families committee (617-722-1230), or Senator Joan Lovely, the Senate chair ( 617-722-2011), to express support for  multiple and comprehensive hearings. We are also, as stated, are urging people to contact us about testifying before the committee.

“We certainly hope that the committee will thoroughly investigate this very critical issue,” said Colleen M. Lutkevich, COFAR’s executive director. “We hope they will zero in on the key problems that have resulted from runaway privatization of services with inadequate oversight.”


It’s time for the Legislature to investigate the privatized DDS system

November 13, 2017 1 comment

Although seven employees of a corporate provider have been found to be at fault in a case in which a developmentally disabled client nearly died in a group home after aspirating on a piece of cake, we hope the Baker administration, the Legislature, and the media will not treat this as an isolated case.

We understand that the Department of Developmental Services has issued an “action plan” in response to this incident, and the Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee is reviewing documents regarding the matter.

The Essex County District Attorney has opened an investigation that could result in the lodging of criminal charges against one or more of the employees of the Beverly-based provider, Bass River, Inc.

Both The Boston Globe and The Salem News have reported (here and here) on the DDS investigation of the case, which found that inadequate care by the staff of the group home caused the 29-year-old man, Yianni Baglaneas, to contract severe pneumonia nearly a week after he reportedly aspirated on the piece of birthday cake on April 9.

The DDS report also alleged that a high-level Bass River employee attempted to obstruct the investigation by instructing group home staff not to cooperate with the investigation and by removing records from the residence.

On April 15, Yianni was admitted to Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester in critical condition, six days after aspirating on the cake, and then spent 11 days on a ventilator and a week in the Intensive Care Unit at Mass. General Hospital.

Despite the relatively quick response to the DDS report by the legislative committee and others, what we haven’t yet seen is evidence that those in administrative and other positions of authority understand or are concerned that Yianni’s case is a symptom of a larger problem. He is the victim of a dysfunctional system overseen and managed by the DDS that is rife with abuse and neglect and a disregard for the rights of developmentally disabled individuals and their families. It is also a system that has been subject to extensive and ongoing privatization.

On October 25, we emailed the chairs of the Children and Families Committee, urging them to hold hearings on those larger issues. Two days later, the chief of staff to Representative Kay Khan, the committee’s House chair, emailed back saying the committee chairs were taking “immediate action” and were requesting documentation from “a number of agencies in order to obtain more details about this serious incident.”

The email from Khan’s chief of staff said that as soon as Khan’s office had reviewed the documents, the chairs would “make a determination about pursuing next steps regarding the DDS group home system.”

We are glad that the committee chairs recognize the seriousness of Yianni’s case and that they are considering next steps regarding the group home system. At the same time, the chief of staff’s email doesn’t make clear that the chairs are cognizant that there is a system-wide problem involved here.

The chief of staff’s email states only that the committee chairs have requested documentation about Yianni’s particular case. I’m not sure how they get from there to being able to make a determination about next steps regarding the entire group home system.

It would seem that the committee should request a much broader set of documentation than the documents relating to just this one case. In our October 25 email, we offered to assist the committee in gathering information on the problems affecting the system as a whole. To date, the committee has not sought any further information or help from us.

Meanwhile, the Globe’s editorial page rejected an op-ed we submitted in which we similarly tried to place Yianni’s case in the context of the wider group home issues. It’s concerning that the most powerful media outlet in the state does not seem to be interested that there is a wider problem that potentially affects thousands of people in the DDS system.

As a nonprofit advocacy organization for persons with developmental disabilities and their families, we have followed this situation for many years. The association of increased privatization with poor oversight and abuse and neglect is not coincidental. The inadequate care and conditions in Yianni’s group home that led to his near-fatal pneumonia are all too common in group homes around the country.

In 2013, after The New York Times and The Hartford Courant both ran separate investigative series on abuse and neglect in group homes in their respective states, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut called for a federal investigation of deaths and injuries in privatized care. Unfortunately, such a comprehensive federal investigation has still not been undertaken.

It is important to place the present-day state of affairs within the DDS system in an historical context. Until the early 1990s, the system was dominated in Massachusetts and other states by large, poorly run institutions. Those facilities were grossly unsanitary and were essentially warehouses of abuse and neglect.

That all changed starting in the 1970s when federal courts around the country issued consent decrees in response to class-action lawsuits, and required substantial upgrades in care and conditions in the existing institutions. At that same time, a new system of smaller, privately run but state-funded group homes began to appear as residential options for many of the former residents of the larger institutions. A network of state-run group homes was created as well in Massachusetts.

During the past 20 years, the privatized group home system has overtaken and surpassed both the state-run group home network and the large facilities both in terms of state funding and number of residents. All but two of the large facilities have been closed in Massachusetts.

But the new system of thousands of dispersed group homes has its own set of structural problems. This system that replaced the large, centralized facilities has been much harder for the state to monitor with regard to care and conditions and with respect to the finances of the nonprofit agencies that directly operate the residences. In addition, the group home system operates today under a waiver of stringent federal Medicaid regulations that still govern the remaining large facilities.

The growth of the corporate provider system has also resulted in the creation of a largely hidden bureaucracy of highly paid executives of those nonprofit agencies. These executives have seen their own levels of compensation rise as the wages of direct-care staff have remained stagnant or failed to keep pace with inflation.

Due to the combination of poor oversight and and relatively low pay and training of direct-care staff, the privatized group-home system has for some time exhibited many of the warehouse-like characteristics of the former institutions prior to the 1980s. In addition to failing to address problems of abuse and neglect, the group-home system has not been able to provide promised openness and community integration. We hear about stories like Yianni’s all the time.

Yet, in Massachusetts, the private providers have established themselves as a powerful lobbying force on Beacon Hill and have essentially captured the system’s managerial and regulatory agency, DDS, which has continued to press for more and more privatization of services. The result today is a growing imbalance in state funding of DDS services. A priority has been placed by successive administrations and by the Legislature in Massachusetts on privatized care at the expense of state-run care.

In addition to worsening the problems of abuse and neglect, the funding imbalance has reduced the availability of state-run services as a choice to a growing number of people waiting for residential care and placements.

These issues need to be examined in a comprehensive way. That’s why we are calling for hearings by the Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee on problems with privatized care and what needs to be done to address them.

We’re urging people to call Rep. Khan (617-722-2011) or Senator Joan Lovely (617-722-1230), Senate chair of the Children and Families Committee, to ask the committee to schedule hearings on the privatized DDS group home system in Massachusetts.

New Yorker article on guardianship abuses has familiar ring

November 8, 2017 Leave a comment

An article last month in The New Yorker magazine on abuses in the guardianship system in Nevada is beyond disturbing, and its findings echo many of the concerns we have raised about the dysfunction of the Department of Developmental Services and probate court systems in Massachusetts.

The New Yorker article is primarily about abuses by guardians of the elderly, and it gets into an issue we haven’t fully explored, which is the financial exploitation of people who are represented by professional guardians. But we think many of the article’s points are relevant to the system involving DDS-paid guardians in Massachusetts.

As we have seen in several cases in Massachusetts, the DDS-probate guardianship system has trampled over the rights of family members of developmentally disabled persons, including sharply limiting or even eliminating their right in some cases to contact or visit their loved ones. That is also apparently a feature of the system described in the New Yorker piece.

As is the case in Massachusetts, the primary problems with the system exposed by the New Yorker article appear to lie with abuses by attorneys or other professionals who are appointed as guardians of incapacitated individuals. In many of these cases, family members, who would be better suited to be the guardians, are passed over by the courts and excluded from consideration for that role.

The article and previous reporting by The Las Vegas Review-Journal disclose how two professional guardians named April Parks and Jared Shafer used the probate system in Nevada to become court-appointed guardians of hundreds of people who were mostly elderly, and then took control of their bank accounts, estates,and property.

It isn’t clear whether that type of financial abuse has happened to developmentally disabled persons in Massachusetts, but there appears to be a potential for it. In 2008, an investigative article in The Boston Globe found that some 900 DDS clients in Massachusetts received little or no benefit from trust funds containing some $30 million.

Instead, the money was largely siphoned out of the accounts to pay bank management charges, legal bills, and fees charged by the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court system, “which has long neglected its obligation to ensure the funds are expended for the benefit of some of the state’s most helpless citizens.”

In July, COFAR reported that the state’s system of paying attorneys and corporate providers to serve as guardians of DDS clients is poorly overseen and that the system appears to give professional guardians an incentive to do little work representing individual clients while taking on as many clients as possible.

Families have also been victimized financially by the Massachusetts system. As one family member of a DDS client in Massachusetts described the attitude of the various guardians and clinical and court professionals that she dealt with in the DDS-probate system, “it was just a given that our checkbook was theirs.”

The New Yorker reported that without their families even knowing it, in many instances,  elderly people were removed from their homes by Parks and Shafer who then sold their property and pocketed the money. Parks was indicted last spring on theft and other charges after the local media finally ran stories on the issue.

The New Yorker article further stated that when family members tried to contest the guardianships or become guardians themselves, “they were dismissed as unsuitable, and disparaged in court records as being neglectful, or as drug addicts, gamblers, and exploiters.”  That sounds familiar to us because it is what we’ve seen in a number of cases in Massachusetts.

Another revelation in the article that sounded familiar to us was that the professional guardians often would not inform families about the care and conditions of their loved ones, and often prevented family members from being able to visit them. The director of an assisted-living facility into which many of the wards were placed, is quoted as saying that families were “devastated that they couldn’t know if the residents were in surgery or hear anything about their health. They didn’t understand why they’d been taken out of the picture. They’d ask, ‘Can you just tell me if she’s alive?’ ”

In one case, an elderly couple was moved with little notice by April Parks to a new assisted-living facility. When their daughter tried to visit them there, Parks refused to let her see her parents. According to the article, Parks later wrote that she had told the woman that “she was too distraught to see her parents, and that she needed to leave.” When the woman refused to leave the facility, Parks had the police called who then cited the woman for trespassing.

This sounds very similar to the reasoning given for keeping David and Ashley Barr from visiting David’s daughter, a developmentally disabled woman who has been ordered kept from their contact by a DDS-paid guardian since November 2015. The Barrs were supposedly too emotional when visiting her even though they said the reason they were emotional was because they often found her to be in a heavily drugged state during the visits.

Another family was prevented from talking to their daughter on the phone for a similar reason.

Another revelation in the New Yorker article that had a familiar ring was a description of the longstanding inaction of investigative authorities when presented with evidence of abuses in the guardianship system.

As we’ve said many times, a first step in reforming the DDS-probate system in Massachusetts would be for the Legislature to enact H.887,  a bill which would establish a presumption that parents of a developmentally disabled person are suitable guardians for that person.

The bill would thus make it harder for parents to be bypassed by probate judges who tend to side with DDS, which often favors the appointment of professional guardians in the place of families.

H.887, however, has been stuck in the Judiciary Committee since last January despite the fact that there appears to be no public opposition to the measure. It has been re-filed by Representative David Linsky in every Legislative session since 1999, but has never gotten out of the Judiciary Committee to our knowledge.

We’re hoping, as usual, that this year will be different. But despite a supportive statement last spring from Representative Claire Cronin, House chair of the Committee, that the bill was her “top priority,” the measure hasn’t moved forward in the current legislative session.

It’s time for the Judiciary Committee to finally act on H.887.  The numbers to call there are:

(617) 722-2396 for the office of Rep. Cronin, House chair; and/or

(617) 722-1280 for the office of Senator William Brownsberger, Senate chair.

As noted, this bill is only a first step. We are continuing to urge others in the Legislature as well to step forward to address the underlying systemic problems in the DDS and probate court systems.

DDS report faults provider and charges cover-up in near-fatal, group home food aspiration case

October 25, 2017 5 comments

(Update: The Essex County District Attorney’s Office confirmed this morning (October 26) that they have opened a criminal investigation into this matter.)

As The Salem News reported this morning (October 25), an investigation by the Department of Developmental Services of the near death of a developmentally disabled man who aspirated on a piece of cake in his group home concluded that seven employees of the private provider that operated the residence were at fault in the matter.

The scathing report, which is dated September 8, also stated that a high-level employee of the Beverly-based provider, Bass River, Inc., removed key records from the facility concerning the matter and instructed staff not to cooperate with the DDS investigation. The findings have reportedly led to a criminal investigation by the Essex County District Attorney’s Office.

The report was released by the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, an independent agency, which investigates abuse and neglect of disabled individuals, and which had referred the case to DDS to investigate.

In August, we first reported that the staff of the group home had failed to react for nearly a week after the 29-year-old man, Yianni Baglaneas, reportedly aspirated on a piece of birthday cake in the residence on April 9. He was admitted to Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester in critical condition on April 15, and spent 11 days on a ventilator and a week in the Intensive Care Unit at Mass. General Hospital.

Aspirating or inhaling food into the lungs is a particularly serious danger among people with intellectual disabilities.

The DDS report did not identify the Bass River staff and other employees by name, but one of the individuals cited for abuse and neglect is believed to be the group home director, and another is the provider’s residential director who had authority over all of the agency’s group homes.

According to the report, the residential director acknowledged instructing staff of  Yianni’s residence not to cooperate with the DDS investigation. The director also acknowledged removing records from the facility.  The DDS investigator was subsequently unable to locate key records relating to Yianni’s care.

The DDS report stated that charges of abuse and mistreatment were substantiated in the case because the group home staff was negligent in failing to ensure that Yianni, who has Down Syndrome, regularly used a portable breathing mask at night called a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. Based on the input of a medical expert, the report concluded that the failure to use the machine was the cause of the aspiration that led to Yianni’s near-fatal respiratory failure.

A group home staff member did bring Yianni to a nurse practitioner  at Cape Ann Medical Center in Gloucester on April 13, four days after he aspirated on the cake. The nurse practitioner diagnosed Yianni’s condition as bronchitis and an upper-respiratory infection. She performed a nebulizer treatment on him and prescribed cough syrup and Mucinex and Robitussin, which are over-the-counter decongestants.

According to the DDS report, the nurse practitioner stated to the staff member that Yianni should be brought back if his condition worsened, but that Yianni was never brought back to the medical center.

The DDS report charged that the group home staff, including the house director, committed mistreatment for failing to ensure that Yianni received the prescribed decongestant medications. And the report charged that the house director committed mistreatment in failing to follow up on recommendations of Yianni’s day program staff on April 14 that the staff seek medical attention for him because he appeared to be very ill.

Yianni’s mother, Anna Eves, said she believes criminal charges should be filed in the case in light of the DDS report. “It’s easy for them (the provider and key staff) to abuse and neglect people in the shadows, and this needs to be brought out into the light of day,” she wrote in an email. “I have felt physically ill since reading this report and reading the absolute disregard for my son’s well being. I cannot believe I ever trusted them at all.”

The DDS report did not address the issue of possible criminal charges, but did recommend that DDS re-evaluate the group home’s license to continue to operate.

Yianni was actually taken to Addison Gilbert Hospital on April 15 by his mother, who had not seen him during the previous week. She met him at a Special Olympics track practice in Gloucester to which he had been brought by a staff member of his group home.

According to the DDS report, Yianni’s Special Olympics track coach stated that Yianni appeared to be extremely lethargic, coughing and having difficulty breathing. Yet no one from the group home informed either the coach or Yianni’s mother that Yianni was seriously ill.

That group home staff member told the investigator that Yianni had been taken to the track practice because the group home was closing for the weekend, and it did not matter how sick he was.

We do not think Yianni’s case is unique in Massachusetts. This morning, I sent an email to the House chair and Senate vice chair of the Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee, renewing a call we have made for a hearing into issues surrounding oversight of privatized human services. We have called for such hearings by the committee in the past, to no avail.

Alleged obstruction of the investigation

The DDS report described a number of instances of apparent obstruction of the DDS investigation of Yianni’s case.

According to the report, the Bass River residential director acknowledged to the investigator that she removed documents from the group home before the investigator could see them. She also acknowledged to the investigator in an initial statement that she had directed staff in the group home not to cooperate with the investigation. She later changed that statement, according to the report.

One witness told the investigator that he heard the residential director say to a staff member  that “there will be consequences” if he cooperated with the investigation.

The report stated that records that could not be found or obtained by the investigator included daily and after-hours shift reports, emails from the time-frame in question, medication-related documents, Yianni’s ISP or care plan reports, and staffing schedules.

Failure to use the CPAP machine

According to the DDS report, Yianni has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, a potentially dangerous condition that is characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep.

The report concluded that seven employees of Bass River were negligent in failing to administer prescribed medication and to ensure that Yianni used his doctor-ordered CPAP machine, and that this failure directly contributed to his “serious, life-threatening medical condition.”  That failure “more likely than not caused Yianni to aspirate while eating or sleeping, directly causing the aspiration pneumonia,” the report stated.

In a 180-day period between October 2016 and April, Yianni only used the CPAP mask on 36 days, or 20 percent of the time, according to the report.

The medical expert told the DDS investigator that without the nightly use of the CPAP machine, Yianni’s breathing would stop while he was sleeping, his heart rate would rise, and his red blood cell count would drop to levels that could be life threatening. In addition, this situation would have affected Yianni’s brain function negatively during his waking hours, causing him to have difficulty chewing and swallowing food and to aspirate on it.

The medical expert determined that Yianni could have either aspirated on food or fluids built up in his throat due to not using the CPAP machine.  According to the expert, there is a direct link between sleep apnea and aspiration pneumonia when the apnea is not treated with a CPAP mask.

At least two Bass River employees stated that they were aware the staff were not making sure Yianni used the CPAP machine, but failed to do anything about it.

One staff member stated that on the night of April 9, when Yianni reportedly aspirated on the piece of cake, she had heard him wandering through the house, but she did not direct him back to bed. She also did not see to it that he was wearing the CPAP mask because she knew he would remove it, and therefore, she said, “‘I don’t bother.'”

The report stated that Yianni’s mother became aware that the CPAP machine was not being used based on an internal reporting chip in the machine. As a result, she emailed the Bass River residential director in March, requesting that the group staff make sure to use the machine each night.

The residential director at first told the DDS investigator that she was not aware that Yianni was not using the CPAP machine, but she did not deny that she received his mother’s email and acknowledged that she apparently neglected to follow up on the issue with the group home staff.

The house director acknowledged that she was contacted by an unidentified group home staff member that Yianni was not feeling well and was also told on April 14 by Yianni’s job coach that he appeared to be very ill that day, but she did not follow up with either of these notifications.

The house director also admitted that she falsely told Yianni’s mother on April 13 that Yianni was not ill, but only had allergies. She said that she misled Yianni’s mother about that because she had confused Yianni with another resident.

The report also stated that, according to the staff, the house director, was rarely present in the group home. She told the investigator that she was frequently out at the Bass River office and at meetings, but she was unable to list meetings that would have taken up that much of her time, according to the report.

The report stated that other troubling characteristics of the group home include the fact that none of the staff were scheduled to be awake at night even though Yianni, in particular, was known to wander around at night and to take food from the refrigerator.

In addition, staff who were trained in administering medications, stated that they were only part time and that it was not their responsibility to do so.

Today’s Salem News article noted that Yianni grew up in Rockport and “appeared to thrive and was well-known in the community.” The article stated that a 2005 story in The Gloucester Times described how he had obtained his first job, at Smith’s Hardware, “where he greeted customers with a firm handshake or high-five and sometimes, a hug.” He was later voted king of his high school prom.

As noted, Yianni’s case is not unique. Poor quality care is a serious problem throughout the DDS system, and Yianni’s case is further evidence of that. The Children and Families Committee needs to take the first step in bringing official scrutiny to this system and beginning to suggest needed improvements to it.


State auditor has proposed regs that could weaken the Pacheco Law

October 3, 2017 Leave a comment

The Pacheco Law has over the years been one of the more effective available checks on the runaway privatization of state services.

But the law, which has been the target of continual attacks from privatization proponents, is facing a new challenge, and this time it’s from an unlikely source — the office of State Auditor Suzanne Bump herself.

Bump’s office is charged with overseeing the law, which requires that state agencies seeking to privatize services must first make the case to the auditor that doing so will both save the taxpayers’ money and maintain or improve the quality of the services. Given the prominent role her office plays, it isn’t surprising that Bump has been one of the law’s most effective and vocal defenders.

But COFAR is now joining with state employee unions in opposing a number of provisions in a set of regulations, which Bump’s office has recently proposed to govern the continued implementation of the law. Although the Pacheco Law, also known as the Taxpayer Protection Act, has been in effect since 1993, it is only now that the auditor’s office has proposed regulations regarding the law. The comment period on the regulations ends October 31.

We are in agreement with the unions that a number of provisions in the proposed regulations, as they are currently drafted, would appear to make the Pacheco Law less effective in ensuring that when agencies privatize services, they do so for the right reasons.

In recent years, the Pacheco Law has been embroiled in political battles over the privatization of services and functions at the MBTA. The law has also played a more limited, but still contentious, role in the ongoing privatization of human services in Massachusetts.

Last year, Bump’s office approved a proposal under the Pacheco Law to privatize mental health services in southeastern Massachusetts after the for-profit Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership (MBHP) claimed it could save $7 million in doing so.

Prior to the auditor’s decision in the MBHP case, we joined the SEIU Local 509 and the AFSCME Council 93 state employee unions in raising concerns about that privatization proposal. We saw some potentially troubling aspects of the proposal that we thought might be realized due to existing loopholes and ambiguities in the Pacheco Law. But we think the solution to that situation should be to strengthen the law, not weaken it.

The first and fourth objections below to the proposed Pacheco Law regulations have been raised by us in written comments sent last week to the state auditor. The second and third objections were raised in preliminary testimony submitted to the auditor last month by SEIU Local 509, and the fifth objection was raised in testimony submitted by AFSCME Council 93:

1.   A provision in the proposed regulations would appear to give state agencies an incentive to boost the actual cost of their in-house services if a Pacheco Law review determined that those services should not be privatized.

As part of the review process under the Pacheco law, a state agency seeking to privatize services must demonstrate to the auditor that contracted services would cost less than an In-House Cost Estimate, which is described as “a comprehensive written estimate of the costs of regular agency employees’ providing the subject services in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.”

That requirement lies at the heart of the Pacheco Law because it is meant to ensure that if services are privatized, taxpayers will indeed save money.

The proposed regulations appear at first glance to bolster that cost-saving purpose in stating that if the work is retained in-house after a Pacheco Law review, the state agency is expected make sure the actual work stays within the In-House Cost Estimate.

But the regulations then go on to state that if the agency fails to keep the actual in-house costs down, the agency may issue another request for bids or reopen negotiations with the contractor that would have been the successful bidder under the earlier request for bids.

This provision in the regulations is not in the language of the Pacheco Law itself. And rather than ensuring that costs of in-house services would stay below the In-house Cost Estimate, we think the provision might actually have the opposite effect.

That is because the penalty on the agency for failing to keep the in-house costs down is actually something that the agency would consider to be beneficial to it, i.e. the agency would now be free to privatize the service. It could either issue another request for bids or reopen negotiations with the contractor that lost out to the state employees in the previous review by the auditor.

The regulations do not state that a subsequent review by the auditor would be required under the Pacheco Law if the agency decided to reopen negotiations with the contractor.

In any event, the same state agency that filed under the Pacheco Law to privatize a service would be allowed to keep getting further bites of the privatization apple if it failed to keep in-house costs under control. Thus, this provision would appear to give the agency an incentive to allow in-house costs to rise or even to actively boost those costs in order to do what it wanted in the first place – privatize the service.

Further, there is no provision in the proposed regulations that would require the agency to restore the in-house provision of the service if the service were privatized and the agency was unable to keep the contracted service costs from rising. Thus, our concern is that this provision in the proposed regulations may actually encourage higher costs of both contracted and in-house services rather than serving, as the Pacheco Law intended, to keep those costs low.

2. The proposed regulations appear to weaken provisions in the Pacheco Law that are meant to ensure continuing quality of services.

The Pacheco law, as noted, requires that in addition to demonstrating a cost savings, a state agency seeking to privatize services must demonstrate to the auditor that the quality of the services provided by the private bidder will equal or exceed the quality of services done by state employees.

The proposed regulations state that the agency’s privatization proposal must include a Written Scope of Services that relies on one or more of six performance measures including quality, timeliness, quantity, effectiveness, cost and/or revenue.

Those enumerated performance measures are not in the actual language of the Pacheco Law. But that’s not the problem. The problem lies in the “one or more” statement regarding the performance measures.

As SEIU Local 509 notes, the regulatory provision implies that an agency could choose just one of the performance measures listed in the Written Statement of Services and ignore the rest, and still potentially be certified by the auditor as having satisfied the requirements of the statement.

For instance, a company might provide services that are provided in just as timely a manner as they are provided by state employees, but that does not mean that the private company will provide the services as effectively as state employees or provide the same quantity of services as the state employees provide.

We agree with Local 509 that the regulations should be reworded to require the vendor to demonstrate that it will either equal or exceed all six of the performance measures in the Written Statement of Services.

3. The proposed regulations fail to ensure that contractors will not cut wage rates or health benefits of staff after the contract is renewed.

Under the Pacheco Law review, an outside contractor’s proposed bid to privatize a service must specify a minimum level for wages and health care benefits for its employees.

However, the Pacheco Law does not require a new review by the auditor when a privatization contract expires after five years, and is renewed.  As a result, the SEIU and COFAR have raised the concern that a contractor that wins a contract under the Pacheco Law could cut its wage rates and health benefits once the contract was renewed at the end of its minimum five-year term.

According to the SEIU, the Pacheco Law, however, is written in such a way that regulations could be drafted that would require the contractor to maintain existing wage levels and health care benefits when the contract is renewed. The regulations, as drafted, however, do not address that potential outcome.

As the SEIU noted, the language in the regulations related to minimum wages and health insurance benefits of a successful bidder for privatized services avoids stating that these requirements continue on after the expiration of the original privatization contract.

We raised a concern along with the SEIU last year in the mental health service privatization case that the Baker administration was interpreting the Pacheco Law to allow MBHP, the for-profit company, to cut its proposed wage rates within roughly a year after starting to provide those services and potentially to pocket the extra profits. Citing that and other issues, the SEIU ultimately appealed auditor’s approval of the privatization case to the state Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld the auditor’s position.

The SEIU later noted that neither the auditor nor the SJC addressed the concern about potential cuts in wages and benefits under renewed contracts. We believe the regulations should state that a contractor cannot attempt to evade the intent of the Pacheco Law by reducing wages and benefits of employees when the contract expires or is renewed.

4. The proposed regulations require the In-house Cost Estimate to include equipment depreciation, which inappropriately reflects a sunk cost

The proposed regulations state that in determining the in-House Cost Estimate as part of a privatization submission to the auditor, the state agency must consider equipment depreciation, among other things, as a direct cost of in-house services.

The regulations state that depreciation is a calculated cost based on the acquisition cost of equipment or other assets plus transportation and installation costs.

It would seem that requiring depreciation to be included in the In-house Cost Estimate would make it easier for the contractor to beat that cost estimate. At the same time, an­­­­­­ acquisition cost is a sunk cost. As such, we do not believe it is relevant in any price comparison going forward.

As Investopedia notes in an article on sunk costs, a sunk cost is:

… a cost that cannot be recovered or changed and is independent of any future costs a business [or public agency] may incur. Since decision-making only affects the future course of business, sunk costs should be irrelevant in the decision-making process. Instead, a decision maker should base her strategy on how to proceed with business or investment activities on future costs.

It seems to us that the acquisition cost of a piece of equipment is a cost that cannot be recovered or changed and is independent of any future costs the agency may incur. More importantly, the depreciation expense associated with an asset cannot be avoided in the future through the privatization of a service.

Say an agency buys a van to transport clients as part of a service that it wants to privatize. Once the van is purchased, it’s a sunk cost even if that cost is depreciated for accounting purposes over the useful life if the vehicle.

As we understand it, the purpose of the Pacheco Law is to compare contractor bids with in-house costs that are considered likely to be avoided in the future if a service is privatized. As the auditor’s Guidelines for Implementing the Commonwealth’s Privatization Law (June 2012) state:

When determining the potential cost savings associated with the contracting out of a service, the appropriate in-house costs to use in the comparison are the avoidable costs (P. 13). (my emphasis)

Even if the agency privatizes the service for which the van is used, the sunk cost incurred in purchasing that van cannot be avoided even if the agency might avoid the cost of directly paying the driver, for instance.

The Pacheco Law itself does not specify which costs must be considered in calculating the in-house cost of providing services other than stating that those costs should include, but not be limited to, pension, insurance, and other employee benefit costs. For that reason, we believe that equipment depreciation costs should not be included in developing the In-House Cost Estimate.

5. The proposed regulations fail to define “permanent employee,” and therefore provide a loophole for circumventing the Pacheco Law 

Both the Pacheco Law and the proposed regulations define a “Privatization Contract” that is subject to the law as an agreement “…by which a non-governmental person or entity” provides services that are “substantially similar to” services provided by “regular employees” of the agency.

The problem here is that the law itself doesn’t define the term “regular employee,” and the regulations do not make things much clearer. In fact, the regulations simply state that a “regular employee” is a “permanent employee.” The regulations do not offer any further definition of “permanent employee.”

AFSCME Council 93 notes that the definition of “regular employee” as simply a “permanent employee” creates a potential loophole that could allow agencies to privatize services without a Pacheco Law review.

In fact, it appears that is exactly what happened earlier this year. AFSCME claims the lack in the Pacheco Law of a clear definition of a “regular employee” allowed the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to privatize parking fee collections at state beaches without a Pacheco Law review because the work supposedly involved short-term seasonal workers and not permanent employees.

AFSCME points out, however, that the DCR’s short-term workers are hired on a regular schedule each year in the same way as the department’s long-term seasonal employees who are covered by a collective bargaining contract.

Moreover, even though the contractor chosen by DCR sweetened the privatization deal by offering the department an upfront payment of $1.2 million, AFSCME stated that the privatization deal was still projected by the department to cost taxpayers $500,000 more than keeping the service in-house.

We support AFSCME’s suggestion that at the very least, the regulations should define regular or permanent employees as including any state or public higher education worker covered under a collective bargaining agreement.

In sum, we support the auditor’s efforts to clarify the Pacheco Law as much as possible through the issuance of regulations. We would just urge the auditor to make the changes that we and the unions are suggesting in this case.



Things ‘sliding backwards’ for two men after closure of their sheltered workshops (an update)

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Makeshift solutions that were adopted in recent months to help two men cope with the closures last year of their sheltered workshops have not been successful, members of their families say.

“It’s sliding backwards,” Patty Garrity, the sister of Mark Garrity, said in an interview last week. She said a paper shredding experiment that was tried with Mark in March worked only temporarily. Mark soon lost interest in the activity and is bored in his day program, which replaced his sheltered workshop.

In a separate day program, Danny Morin’s temporary work came to an end a few months after it began. In addition, the clients in Danny’s program are now scheduled to be moved into smaller, separate day programs, and Danny’s mother is concerned he could be separated from his long-time girlfriend, another client in his program.  The director of the program said that clients’ preferences would be considered in the relocation decisions.

While sheltered workshops were operating for both Mark Garrity and Danny Morin, piecework was always available and both men were satisfied and fulfilled by it, their family members say.

Barbara Govoni, Danny Morin’s mother, is trying to interest state lawmakers in her idea to reintroduce steady piecework activities in day programs for those who desire it. Govoni has proposed legislative language that would require the state to provide a “supportive work environment” to disabled persons who “cannot be comfortably be mainstreamed into a vocational community setting.”

In May, we first reported on the impact of the closures of their sheltered workshops on Mark and Danny and their families.

We noted that paid piecework and assembly work that had been given to Mark and Danny to do in their sheltered workshops were taken away last year and replaced by day program activities that they couldn’t relate to. In each case, their provider agency managed to come up with a makeshift solution to the problem that allowed the men to continue doing work similar to what they had done before.

Now it appears that those makeshift solutions haven’t solved the underlying problems created by the workshop closures for the two men and potentially others.

Sheltered workshops may have closed prematurely in Massachusetts 

All sheltered workshop programs were closed in Massachusetts as of last summer as a result of requirements by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that developmentally disabled people work in “integrated employment” settings in which a majority of the workers are not disabled.

But while sheltered workshops have been deemed “segregated” settings because they are offered solely to groups of developmentally disabled persons, many clients and their families and guardians have argued that the programs provide fulfilling, skill-building activities and do not preclude community integration. Moreover, it is not clear that the CMS has necessarily required the shutdown of all sheltered workshops.

In Massachusetts, the Baker administration and former Patrick administration claimed they had no choice but to close all of the workshops in the state, or else the federal government would bring a lawsuit against them.  But many other states have apparently not acted in the haste that Massachusetts did in shutting the programs down. Last year, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe, who has since retired, stated that Massachusetts was one of the first states in the country to close all of its workshops.

Paper shredding activity for Mark Garrity didn’t last

At the Road to Responsibility (RTR) day program in Braintree, which Mark Garrity attends, Mark was frustrated for months after his sheltered workshop at the site was closed in September of 2016. Piecework activities that Mark enjoyed doing came to an end and were replaced by nature walks, cooking classes, and a money management class, none of which interested Mark.

After COFAR contacted DDS about Mark’s situation in early March of this year, RTR staff found a paper shredding activity for Mark to do. The activity received verbal approval from the DDS southeast regional director, who determined that it was in compliance with federal regulations.

The paper shredding seemed at first to be a good solution for Mark, and he even got paid for it. But Mark’s sister, Patty Garrity, said that Mark soon sensed a lack of structure and purpose in the activity.  Mark is also sometimes asked to use the copy machine and to take the copied documents to staff offices; but Patty says that activity usually occupies only a few minutes of his day.

“I think he’s bored,” Patty said. “Every day I would pick him up and ask how’s it going with the shredding. It didn’t hold his interest.”

Patty said that despite the fact that funding was earmarked to pay Mark for doing the paper shredding, he recently stopped doing it. “Now he’s unproductive, and it’s not fair to him,” she said.

RTR officials have said that they did recently offer Mark an employment opportunity at a company outside of his day program; but Patty did not approve that offer for Mark, contending that Mark is not a suitable candidate for outside or mainstream employment. She said he is not able to produce at a rate that employers require in paying a minimum wage.

While his sheltered workshop was operating, Mark was paid by the piece, so the rate at which he was able to produce was not an issue. Moreover, jobs at the sheltered workshop would rotate. Mark was constantly busy then, Patty said, but now he is chafing under the lack of structure.

In addition, Mark appears to fall outside of at least one work category that still exists at his day program for clients who have been determined to be unable or too high-risk to function in the community outside the program. While those clients have been given work to do each day folding t-shirts, Mark has not been offered that work because he has not been ruled unsuitable for community interaction.

“They’re (the RTR staff) trying to do the best they can,” Patty said, “but the people are bored.”

Work at Work Opportunity Center site is intermittent

 At the Work Opportunity Center day program in Agawam which Barbara Govoni’s son, Danny, attends, some piecework has been available intermittently from a company that is located in the same building in the center.

The company, Millennium Press, used to supply piecework activities to the Work Opportunity Center when the Center operated as a sheltered workshop. Now the company rents a portion of the Work Opportunity Center’s building.

The work offered by the Millennium Press to clients of the Work Opportunity Center since the closure of the sheltered workshop complies with federal regulations because non-disabled people also work for that company. Danny Morin and other clients of the Center signed an agreement to be paid a sub-minimum wage for doing the work.

However, Barbara said that the Millennium Press work is not steady. Danny and other clients in the Center were kept busy recently for three to four months putting stickers on envelopes and boxes for the company, but they finished ahead of schedule, she said, and the work came to an end.

Pushing for legislation to bring back workshop activities

Govoni has been trying to interest legislators and her congressman in filing legislation at either the federal or state level that would ensure the legality in Massachusetts and potentially other states of a steady supply of piecework activities for persons who desire them. She met last week with state Representative Brian Ashe, a Democratic legislator who represents her hometown of Hampden, to discuss her proposal.

Such legislation would be similar to language that was inserted in the state budget in Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 that stated that sheltered workshops would remain open for those who wanted to remain in them. Unfortunately, that language did not prevent the Baker administration from closing all remaining sheltered workshops last year.

Govoni’s proposed legislative language would require the state or states (if her language was enacted by Congress) “to provide a supportive work environment, separate from the mainstream community, to enhance productivity, safety and self-esteem.” The language states that the separate work environment is not meant to exclude “other forms of integration or inclusion.”

We emailed Ashe’s legislative aide last month with our support of Govoni’s proposed legislation, but have not heard back. Govoni said Ashe told her he would bring her idea to the attention of “the proper legislative committee” in the Massachusetts Legislature.

Clients at the Work Opportunity Center will be split into groups 

Govoni said the clients in her son’s day program will be split into three groups and that each group will be sent to a different day program location based on where they live. She was told at first that the decisions on the new locations would not be based on any existing preferences the clients had expressed such as preferences for maintaining relationships they may have formed in the Agawam center.

DDS regulations state that the Department must provide services that promote “self‑determination and freedom of choice to the individual’s fullest capability.” If clients are being moved to different locations without regard to their personal preferences, it would appear that they are not being allowed to exercise self-determination or freedom of choice in that respect.

Bob MacDonald, executive director of the Work Opportunity Center, said that after discussing the issue with DDS, he has received clarification that the relocations should take client preferences into account. MacDonald said each relocation decision will take into consideration 1) where the individual lives, 2) the “consumer’s preference,” and 3) the recommendation of the individual’s clinical care (ISP) team.

Without discussing specific people, MacDonald said that if two clients are known to have a relationship or a preference for staying together, that would or should be taken into consideration in the relocation decision.

We hope that Representative Ashe and others in the Legislature will make a sincere effort to promote legislation that will ensure the restoration of steady and meaningful work activities for those in DDS day programs that desire them.

Even if someone believes that DDS-centered work activities tend to segregate or exploit those individuals (and we don’t believe that to be the case), we think everyone should respect the wishes of those individuals and their families and guardians who want to engage in those activities. That is what self-direction and freedom of choice are all about.

Developmentally disabled man nearly dies after group home fails to respond to severe food aspiration symptoms 

August 23, 2017 4 comments

Yianni Baglaneas, who has Down syndrome, had a great time at a Special Olympics bowling tournament in Peabody on April 9, the day after his 29th birthday.

But later that night in his group home, he apparently aspirated on a piece of birthday cake and nearly died of pneumonia almost a week later because the staff in the residence allegedly did not react to his constant coughing.

“It was like Yianni was drowning while surrounded by people, and  no one gave him a hand,” his mother, Anna Eves, said.

Aspirating or inhaling food into the lungs is a particularly serious danger among people with intellectual disabilities, and caretakers are normally trained to take measures to prevent it from happening and to recognize the symptoms when it does happen.

However, the staff of the group home in Peabody run by Bass River, Inc., a Beverly-based provider to the Department of Developmental Services, allegedly failed to take Yianni to a doctor for three days while his coughing continually got worse. In addition, a nurse practitioner at the Cape Ann Medical Center, who finally saw Yianni, apparently misdiagnosed his condition as bronchitis.

Yianni getting bowling medal

Yianni Baglaneas (center) at his Special Olympics bowling tournament on April 9. Hours later, he aspirated on a piece of cake in his group home.

The nurse practitioner prescribed cough and cold medicine for Yianni and sent him back to his group home.  She did not do a chest x-ray even though his blood oxygen level was low and his white blood cell count was high, indicating the presence of an infection due to the aspiration.

It was two days after the doctor’s office visit that Anna, who had  no idea of the seriousness of her son’s condition, saw him for the first time since the bowling tournament. She was so concerned about how ill he looked that she took  him to Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester where he was immediately admitted in critical condition. That was on April 15, six days after he had apparently aspirated on the piece of cake.

No one from the group home had informed Anna or her husband of Yianni’s worsening condition during that week. The house director had only emailed Anna at one point that Yianni was being taken to the doctor with a cough and a runny nose, and later told her the doctor said her son was suffering from allergies.

“I will never forget the ICU doctor telling me he was in critical condition and asking me if I wanted him to do everything he could to save his life,” Anna said. A nurse told her that her son had been hours away from dying when he was admitted to the hospital.

COFAR emailed Larry Lusignan, executive director of Bass River, Inc., to ask whether he would comment on the case and whether his agency was taking steps to better train staff in how to recognize and react to symptoms of aspiration pneumonia and other illnesses among group home clients.

Lusignan declined to comment, stating in a reply email that “…issues of confidentiality prevent me from disclosing information of any kind regarding our service delivery to individuals, or even the identification of any individuals served.”

Anna said the episode has made her “distraught about the level of abuse and negligence that happens in group homes in Massachusetts.” She said she has begun looking for other parents “to join with to shine a spotlight on this and change things so that these things stop happening.”

COFAR has long sought a state investigation of group home conditions in Massachusetts – particularly in privatized group homes. Abuse and neglect in the DDS system is a topic that now and then appears on the political agenda, but rarely attracts sustained legislative attention.

In 2013, after The New York Times and The Hartford Courant both ran separate series on abuse and neglect in privatized group homes in their respective states, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut called for a federal investigation of deaths and injuries in privatized care. But Murphy later appeared to back off his call for a comprehensive federal review.

“The bottom fell out”

Anna Eves described her son as  a “sweetheart of a guy” and a beloved figure in his hometown of Rockport. He was so popular in high school that he was named the school’s prom king, and he attended graduation and received a standing ovation there even though he didn’t receive a diploma.

But the “bottom fell out” of his care after he turned 22, his mother says. That was when his eligibility for special education funding ended and he became eligible for DDS services.

For several years after turning 22, Yianni lived at home with his parents.  But even though he is nonverbal, he wanted independence and was lonely after most of his siblings moved away to start their lives, his mother said. He was excited when in June 2016, he moved into the DDS-funded group home operated by Bass River.

But after what happened in April, less than a year into his residence in the group home, his parents have taken him back home.

A timeline of inattention

Anna had to piece together what had happened to her son in April by talking to caregivers, doctors, and others. She filed a complaint with the Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC) on April 17, and was still waiting as of today (August 23) for the results of the investigation of the matter. That investigation was actually referred by the DPPC to DDS.

Based on Anna’s account, we have pieced together the following timeline of events involving her son before and after he developed symptoms of apparent aspiration:

Saturday, April 8: Yianni’s 29th birthday. He spent most of the day with his parents.

Sunday, April 9: Yanni’s parents took him to a Special Olympics bowling tournament in Peabody. He showed no sign of illness. 

Back in his group home later that night, Yianni is believed to have aspirated on a piece of birthday cake, which he had gotten out of bed to eat. His roommate, who had made the cake, was concerned about him. 

Anna said her son has had a history of putting too much food in his mouth and not chewing it sufficiently before swallowing. She said the group home staff was aware of that. Yet, to his mother’s knowledge, no one in the group home was aware that he had gotten the cake out of the refrigerator that night.

Monday and Tuesday, April 10 and 11: Yianni was continually coughing in his group home. His roommate, who is verbal, was worried enough that he told his mother he thought Yianni was very sick and that it had been caused by the cake he had made. But no one from the group home apparently made that connection, took any action, or called Yianni’s parents.

Wednesday, April 12: Yianni was sent as usual to his day habilitation program in Beverly, run by EMARC, a DDS provider. He was coughing so much that the day program nurse sat with him at lunch because she was afraid he was going to choke on his food. The nurse reportedly later suggested to the Bass River group home staff that Yianni be taken to a doctor, but the nurse did not arrange for that herself.

Anna said the nurse later changed her story and told her Yianni had been coughing only moderately at his day program.

Thursday, April 13:  Anna received an email that morning from the group home director, stating that Yianni had woken up that morning not feeling well and that he was being taken to see a nurse practitioner at his doctor’s office that afternoon.

The email from the house director said that Yianni had congestion, a cough and “a bit of a runny nose,” so Anna was not overly concerned. The email did not indicate that Yianni’s coughing had been going on for days or that it was getting worse. It was the first time anyone in the group home had sent any message to Anna that week indicating that her son was not well.

The house director added that the medical appointment was at 1:30 p.m. and that she would update Anna with the results. A staff member did finally take Yianni to his primary care doctor’s office at the Cape Ann Medical Center in Gloucester.

Anna said she learned that the group home staff member told the nurse practitioner falsely that Yianni had started coughing only that day. The nurse practitioner took a blood sample, but did not do a chest x-ray.

According to Anna, the blood test showed a high white blood cell count consistent with an infection, and a potentially low blood oxygen level of 90. She said the blood oxygen level should be 99 or 100.

The nurse practitioner diagnosed Yianni’s condition as bronchitis and an upper-respiratory infection. She performed a nebulizer treatment on him and prescribed cough syrup and Mucinex and Robitussin, which are over-the-counter decongestants. Despite the results of the blood test and the low blood oxygen count, the nurse determined that Yianni could return to his residence.

Anna said she later learned that the group home staff had removed her name and phone number as her son’s primary medical contact and substituted the group home phone number without her permission even though she is her son’s legal guardian. As a result, no one at the medical center had any means of contacting her regarding her son.

That same afternoon, Anna said, the house director called her, but it was actually by accident. The director had meant to call Yianni’s roommate’s mother. But Anna pressed her during the phone call about her son’s doctor’s visit. The house director appeared to be rushed, she said, and told her only that her son had allergies.

Friday, April 14: The group home director took Yianni as usual to meet with his job training coach at Community Enterprises, Inc., a DDS provider, in Salem. The job coach later told Anna she was alarmed at how sick Yianni appeared. However, the job coach did not take any action or contact anyone about him at the time.

Saturday, April 15:  A group home staff member dropped Yianni off at a Special Olympics track practice in Gloucester. His parents were there to meet him, and it was the first time they had seen him since Sunday, April 9, the day after his birthday.

Anna said that when she first saw the group home staff member at the Special Olympics event, her son was in the bathroom. “She (the staff member) didn’t say anything,” Anna said. “She just handed my husband, James, his overnight bag and drove away.”  When her son emerged from the bathroom, Anna said, she and her husband were shocked at how ill he appeared. “He was coughing and his eyes were sunken,” she said. A Special Olympics coach approached her and said her son did not appear well enough to participate in the practice.

Anna took her son home and tried to give him lunch, but he wouldn’t eat. Then she looked into his overnight bag and saw the Mucinex for congestion. “I thought he just had allergies, but when I saw the Mucinex, I thought right away something was not right.”  At that point, Yianni appeared lethargic and didn’t want to move.

Anna thought about calling an ambulance, but then drove him to the emergency room at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester.  There, his blood oxygen was measured at 50, which is not compatible with long-term survival. His right lung was completely filled with fluid. He was admitted directly to the ICU in critical condition.

Monday, April 17: Yianni was placed on a ventilator on which he would remain for 11 days. Anna called the group home in the morning and left a voice message that Yianni was in the hospital ICU in critical condition on a ventilator with severe pneumonia.

Yianni in ICU

Yianni in the ICU at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester

Tuesday, April 18: The group home director returned Anna’s call from the previous day. “She said she heard Yianni was sick and was sorry to hear it,” Anna said.

Anna said she asked the house director why she had not informed her during the previous week that her son was sick and why she had told her falsely that he only had allergies. She said the director responded by saying she didn’t know why she had not told her the truth about the situation. She said the director then said to her, “’It’s all my fault.’”

Thursday April 20: Larry Lusignan, executive director of Bass River, Inc. called Anna “to ask what happened,” she said. She said she told him her son would not be returning to the group home and that she had made arrangements to pick up his belongings from the residence. She said Lusignan never acknowledged any wrongdoing.

Sunday, April 23: Yianni was moved from Addison Gilbert to the ICU at Mass General Hospital.

Sunday, April 30: Yianni was moved out of the ICU at Mass General and into the hospital’s Respiratory Acute Care Unit.

Anna said that Yianni spent about a week in the Respiratory Care Unit at Mass General and then spent about three weeks at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. 

Thursday, May 25: Yianni was released from Spaulding Rehab and went home to his parents’ house in Rockport.

The ordeal is not over for Yianni. Anna said she was told it could take six months to a year for him to fully recover. His parents are not sure, in fact, that he will ever completely recover. Since his hospitalization, he has continued to need an inhaler and gets out of breath from walking. He needs to sleep at night with supplemental oxygen.

Anna is not sure what is next for her son or what type of residential care would be appropriate for him. “He’ll be home with us until I am 100 percent confident in any placement,” she said.

We think Yianni might be a good candidate for a state-operated group home in which the staff  is more highly trained than is largely the case in privatized residences. As we have noted, however, the administration appears to be phasing out state-operated residential options for people.

We hope this case will demonstrate the continuing need for state-run residential programs and that it will lead to better training of staff in all DDS residential facilities. Unfortunately, however, incidents like this seem to continue to happen with regularity in the DDS system.

We would also hope this case will finally spark a hearing by the Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee into issues surrounding oversight of privatized human services.