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Seeking a chance to speak truth to power

April 28, 2011 3 comments
No doubt, State Rep. Brian Dempsey, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has never talked with Joan Douty, the mother of a resident of the Glavin Regional Center in Shrewsbury.
 
Joan could tell Rep. Dempsey how the staff at the center saved her daughter’s life by getting her to stop repeatedly banging her head as she previously did in a community-based group home.  Anna Douty banged her head so violently and continuously — a behavior that the group home staff did nothing to stop —  that she eventually detached the retinas in both of her eyes and is now blind. 
 
Glavin provides high-level Intermediate-level Care, based on federal standards that do not apply to the community-based, group-home system in Massachusetts. 
 
Joan could also tell the Ways and Means chairman that she herself will probably no longer be able to visit her daughter if she is transferred to another Intermediate Care facility (ICF) once Glavin in closed.  Joan Douty, who is in the end stage of renal disease, undergoes dialysis treatments three days a week, and cannot drive for long periods in a car.
 
Glavin is close to where Joan and her husband Brad live.  It would be prohibitively long for her to drive to either the Wrentham Developmental Center or the Hogan Regional Center in Danvers, the only ICFs that will remain in the state after the Patrick administration completes its planned shutdowns of the Glavin, Fernald, Monson, and Templeton Centers.
 
Earlier this week, Rep. Dempsey refused to allow consideration by the full House of a budget amendment that would have required an independent cost analysis before Glavin, Monson, and Templeton could be closed.  (Fernald, the first ICF on the closure list, was not included in the amendment.)
 
The House budget amendment had been filed by Rep. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, who did listen to Joan Douty’s story last month at a legislative breakfast at the Glavin Center (see photo).
 

State Rep. Anne Gobi (right) listens to Joan Douty (center) talk about her daughter's experience at Glavin

 

The administration, which also has no time to listen to people like Joan Douty, claims Glavin and the other centers must be closed because they’re too expensive to operate.  But COFAR has maintained that the administration’s claimed cost savings in closing the centers appears to be based on an apples-to-oranges comparison of the average community-based resident and the average facility-based resident.  Developmental center residents are older, more medically involved and more intellectually disabled on average than community-based residents.

Moreover, as COFAR and other advocates have noted, the centralized services model of the developmental centers is highly cost-efficient when compared to the dispersed clinical, medical, and day services that characterize the community system. 

COFAR has called since last year for an independent study of the cost of closing or maintaining the developmental centers because previous budget amendments have resulted in flawed analyses done by the administration itself, concluding, of course, that the facilities should be closed.

But here’s the problem.  In the Massachusetts Legislature, a handful of people make all the decisions, and Rep. Dempsey is one of them.  There was no floor vote this week on Rep. Gobi’s amendment for the independent study.  In a closed-door meeting in his office, Dempsey simply ordered that Gobi’s amendment be scuttled.  It was not included in a catch-all budget amendment boosting human services line items that will be voted on this week.

Among those who Rep. Dempsey apparently has been listening to are the human service vendors in Massachusetts, who run most of the community-based group homes in the state and who are seeking more business when the developmental centers are closed.  In a letter sent to Dempsey and other legislators a day before Gobi’s amendment was thrown out, the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers continued to pump out misinformation about the developmental centers.

The ADDP letter called for rejection of Gobi’s amendment and repeated the dubious claim that the developmental centers are “expensive and inefficient to operate.”  So why not agree to an independent study which would settle the question as to which system is most efficient?  To that, the ADDP letter made the ridiculous assertion that “this issue has been the subject of study for 30 years.”

Among the other pieces of misinformation in the ADDP letter was the claim that the developmental centers aren’t needed because “families overwhelmingly choose community settings for their loved ones.”  The ADDP letter didn’t mention that that’s because admissions to the developmental centers have been effectively blocked since the 1980s. 

The fact is that families that are being transferred from the developmental centers targeted for closure have overwhelmingly chosen to be placed at other developmental centers or in state-operated group homes.  They are avoiding the vendor-run system because they know it is beset with problems of poorly paid and under-trained staff.

The Senate now remains the only real hope for this sorely needed independent cost study.  We believe the study should be done by a non-governmental entity selected by either the State Inspector General or State Auditor.  Once again, though, the question remains whether Senate leaders will allow such an amendment to be debated in the light of day or whether they will do what the House did and quietly kill it in the proverbial smoke-filled room.

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