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Posts Tagged ‘intellectual disability’

Where is our money going?

April 8, 2011 11 comments

How accurately is the state tracking salaries earned by human services contractors in Massachusetts?

We looked at state fiscal reports, known as  Uniform Financial Reports (UFR’s), which were filed by three of the largest contractors to the Department of Developmental Services, and we think these records raise that question.

In each case — the May Institute, Vinfen, and Seven Hills — the UFRs for the Fiscal Year 2009 listed lower salaries and other compensation for the same executives than did 2009 IRS tax filings for the same firms (Form 990s available on GuideStar).  The UFR’s also listed a lower number of executives earning high levels of compensation than were listed on the Form 990s for the same firms.

Why might this be a problem?  Because the state Operational Services Division (OSD) depends on the information in the UFRs to determine how much in state funds to apply to that compensation.  By regulation, state funds going towards an indivdual contractor executive’s compensation are capped at $143,986 a year, according to OSD. 

Take the May Institute, for instance.   According to its UFR, the nonprofit contractor took in roughly $105 million in revenues in 2009, of which about 66 percent came from the Department of Developmental Services and a variety of other government agencies in Massachusetts.  About 79 percent of the total revenues came from all government sources.

As of April 8, 2011, the online UFR states that Walter Christian, the May Institute CEO, made $509,798 in salary and other compensation in the year ending June 30, 2009.  Based on that number and on information from OSD, we calculate that OSD would have been required to “disallow” about $366,000 of that total compensation, meaning that amount would have to come from other sources than the State of Massachusetts.

However, the IRS Form 990 for the May Institute for the same 2009 fiscal year lists Christian’s total compensation as $1.087 million.  That’s a difference of more than half a million dollars between Christian’s compensation as listed on the state’s UFR and on the IRS 990 form.   If Christian really earned $1.087 million in compensation, we calculate that the state should have disallowed more than $940,000 of it, not just $366,000 of it.

All of this suggests that based on the 2009 UFR, the commonwealth may mistakenly think that more than half a million dollars in potential state funds went into direct care or other operations at the May Institute, when it really went toward Christian’s compensation.

I would note that the UFR website stated as of April 8, 2011, that the latest online version of the May Institute 2009 UFR  had been submitted by the contractor on March 22, 2010, more than a year ago, and still hadn’t been reviewed by OSD.  A previous version of the UFR had been submitted in December 2009.  The website stated that there were “no issues pending” regarding that version.

On March 21, I submitted a written question to OSD about the discrepancy in the listing of Christian’s compensation on the UFR and Form 990, and followed up with a phone call and an email on April 5, saying I was preparing a blog post about the issue.  I still haven’t received a response.

An OSD official told me in the April 5 phone conversation that he had been too busy to get an answer to my question (and a few related questions about the UFR) and was going on vacation the following week.  He said he didn’t know when he would be able to get the answers.

It’s not just with Christian’s compensation that there are discrepancies between the UFRs and the Form 990s, however.  The May Institute UFR lists only Christian and one other executive as making over the $143,986 compensation threshold, above which compensation must come from sources other than the state.  The Form 990 lists a total of 13 employees of the May Institute as making over that threshold amount.  The discrepancy in listed compensation between the two forms was $3.4 million.

For Vinfen, the 2009 Form 990 listed a total of 10 employees as making over the threshold compensation for a total of $2.2 million, whereas the UFR lists a total of only  four employees making only $997,000 — a difference of $1.2 million.

The UFR website stated as of April 8, 2011, that the latest online version of the Vinfen 2009 UFR  had been submitted by the contractor on December 10, 2010, and was found by OSD to be “deficient.”  No further information was provided. 

For Seven Hills, the 2009 Form 990 lists four employees making over the threshold, for a total of $1.2 million in compensation, compared with the UFR, which lists only two employees making a total of $816,000.  That’s a difference of $385,000.

The latest online version of the Seven Hills 2009 UFR was submitted to OSD on April 21, 2010.  The OSD website stated that there were “no issues pending.”

Last month, The Globe published a letter I wrote on behalf of COFAR, suggesting that Governor Patrick scrutinize the salaries of human services contractors as part of an overall crackdown he had announced on salaries in the state’s independent agencies.

In response, Michael Weekes, president of the Providers’ Council, accused me  of  attempting to “smear the leaders” of the human services sector and of “making scurrilous attacks that distort the facts and mislead taxpayers.”   Weekes said my concern over executive compensation was “moot” because state law caps the amount of state funds that can be applied to executive compensation.  He added that my “real concern” should be over the low pay of direct-care workers in the human services contract system, many of whom only make $12 an hour and have gone three years with no increase.

I agree with Weekes that we should be concerned over the low pay to those direct care workers.  That’s exactly why we’re asking these questions about the salaries of executives making as much as $1 million or more a year, and whether those executives’ salaries may be soaking up state funds that should be going to the direct care workers.

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The fight goes on to save the Glavin Center

March 30, 2011 6 comments

At a breakfast on Tuesday at the Glavin Regional Center in Shrewsbury, state lawmakers heard from family members and guardians trying to save this critically important facility from closure.

And the families heard from the lawmakers, who said they will have a tough battle on their hands to get their message heard among the well-organized forces on Beacon Hill calling for the shutdown of all remaining developmental centers in the state for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Meanwhile, lawmakers will file an amendment to the state budget bill coming up for debate in the House, requiring an independent cost analysis before Glavin and two other centers can be closed.

State Senator Michael Moore of Milbury made the comment during the Glavin breakfast, saying the amendment will specify that the study be done by the state auditor, inspector general, or another independent entity selected by a competitive bidding process.

COFAR has criticized a cost analysis submitted to the Legislature last summer by the Patrick administration, which claims that closing the Glavin, Monson, and Templeton developmental centers will save the state $20 million a year.  No analysis was submitted at all for the Fernald Developmental Center, which is the first on the administration’s closure list.

Because we believe there are numerous flaws in the administration’s cost analysis, we at COFAR have urged that an independent study be submitted to the Legislature. 

Rep. Anne Gobi (left), Rep. Vincent Pedone (center), and Senator Michael Moore (right) at Glavin breakfast. Moore said lawmakers will file a budget amendment calling for an independent analysis of the costs of closing three developmental centers.

At Tuesday’s breakfast, Al Bacotti, a former director of the Glavin Center, made the case to the lawmakers that Glavin is both cost-effective to operate and functions as a “safety net” for a group of severely intellectually disabled people who have been unable to live successfully in community-based settings.

Bacotti maintained that he saw a number of instances in which costs tripled for Glavin residents needing intensive care, after they were transferred to community residences.  Those residents no longer had the benefit of centralized clinical, therapeutic, and medical services, which had been available at Glavin, he said.

Bacotti also disputed the argument made by facility closure advocates that Glavin and the other developmental centers are segregated from the surrounding community and restrict residents’ freedom.

Former Glavin Director Al Bacotti (standing) speaks at breakfast. Seated to his left is Roland Charpentier, president of Friends of Glavin. Bacotti termed Glavin "cost effective" and a "safety net."

“There are actually more freedoms here (at Glavin) than for many people in community settings,” Bacotti said.  “To the argument that everyone should be in the community, my answer is it didn’t work for the people here.”

Rep. Vincent Pedone of Worcester replied at that point that he needs more data on those cost issues because “people (on Beacon Hill) are telling us the opposite is true.”  COFAR delivered a set of facts and figures on developmental center and community costs directly to Rep. Pedone today (Wednesday).

During the Tuesday breakfast meeting, Wilfred Dumont told the lawmakers about his son, Stephen, 26, who has been a Glavin resident for the past four years.  Stephen is intellectually disabled and is deaf and has cerebral palsy and other medical conditions.  Prior to coming to Glavin,  he lived in a community-based facility where he began banging his head so severely that even a helmet didn’t help.

“He opened up his head at least 30 times,” Dumont said.  That behavior has ceased since he’s been at Glavin.  “Now he’s smiling for the first time and he comes home on weekends,” Dumont added.  He said Stephen still has some behavioral episodes, but they no longer go on for a month at at a time. “To move him to another facility won’t work.  You might as well put him in a cage,” he said.

Stephen Dumont (center) with his mother, Rose, and father, Wilfred. The staff at Glavin got Stephen to stop banging his head and injuring himself.

We will tell more about Stephen’s case and about other Glavin family members’ stories in our upcoming, May issue of The COFAR Voice.

Other lawmakers attending Tuesday’s legislative breakfast included Reps. Anne Gobi of Spencer, Kimberly Ferguson of Holden, Paul Frost of Auburn, and Matthew Beaton of Shrewsbury.

Justice elusive in assaults of the intellectually disabled

March 14, 2011 14 comments

When Sheila Paquette found out her intellectually disabled brother had apparently been viciously assaulted while on an outing from his group home last June, she had no idea of the long road she would be traveling to seek justice in the case.

What she — and we at COFAR as well — have learned is that there often isn’t a lot of interest among law enforcement authorities in prosecuting cases of abuse of the disabled, or in the mainstream media in reporting on it.  Paquette is a COFAR member and president of the Advocacy Network, a COFAR affiliate, which advocates on behalf of persons with intellectual disabilities in Massachusetts. 

Paquette’s brother, John Burns, was allegedly assaulted by John Saunders,  a group home staff worker, who allegedly poked his fingers in both of Burns’ eyes while he was toileting Burns.  The alleged incident occurred in the late morning at a vacation house on Cape Cod that was rented by the Center for Human Development, a state contractor operating Burns’ West Springfield-based group home. 

Burns was not examined by a doctor until the following day, when he was taken, at Paquette’s insistence, to Noble Hospital in Westfield.  Paquette said she was told by the medical staff there that Burns’ black eyes “were consistent with somebody taking their fingers and shoving them right into his eyes with sufficient force to cause blood to pool.” 

In an article in the Advocacy Network’s Fall 2010 newsletter, Paquette  wrote that she took the unusual step some three weeks after the alleged assault of personally filing a felony charge against Saunders of Assault and Battery on a Disabled Person.  “Until I filed the charge myself, the situation wasn’t taken seriously by the law enforcement authorities,” Paquette contends.

Photo taken of injuries to John Burns' eyes

Paquette isn’t alone in questioning our society’s commitment to ensuring justice or safety for persons with intellectual disabilities.   The New York Times reported yesterday that an inquiry by the paper found that New York State’s group home system of care “operates with scant oversight and few consequences for employees who abuse the vulnerable population.”

 An investigation by The Cincinnati Enquirer described “a statewide law enforcement system (in Ohio) that routinely fails to investigate and punish those who abuse and neglect mentally retarded citizens.”   There’s not much reason to assume the situation is any different in Massachusetts.

Paquette said the alleged assault of her brother was witnessed by his  roommate, who said the incident was entirely unprovoked.   Later in the day, Burns and his roommate were driven back to West Springfield by another staff member of the group home.   Paquette said her brother  had to sit in the back seat with Saunders, the alleged perpetrator, the whole way. 

Paquette wrote that she was later told informally by an investigator that her brother spent the night in his group home moaning and crying.   But it wasn’t until he was sent the following day to his regular day program that someone from the program called Paquette’s other brother, Jim, who shares guardianship with her.  The caller said John Burns had two black eyes and was being sent back to his residence.

That was the first Paquette had heard about the injury to her brother.  She said she gathered her camera and a notebook and went to the group home to find her brother indeed with two big black eyes.  It was then that she began to experience the  first of many frustrations with the state’s system for responding to reports of abuse of the intellectually disabled.

After examining her brother, she asked the house manager to report the injury to the police and the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.  But when a police officer arrived at the house, he said he couldn’t investigate the incident because it had occurred in another town, outside his jurisdiction.

The DPPC was called immediately to investigate.  But the chronically under-funded agency handed the investigation over to the Department of Developmental Services (which funds the contractor running the group home).  

Fortunately, Paquette said,  the management of the group home did take the situation seriously.  Both the house manager and his supervisor questioned Burns’ roommate on separate occasions about what he saw, and were convinced his description of the event was consistent and credible.  Burns’ roommate is intellectually disabled, but is able to communicate.  CHD fired Saunders immediately, based on the assault allegation.

Nevertheless, the system has been slow and inefficient in tracking Saunders down.  Saunders failed to show up in Falmouth District Court for a pre-trial hearing that had been scheduled in October.   He is currently free on bail and is currently scheduled to appear in court on March 28.

In the meantime, Paquette has gotten little information about the case, she says, from the investigating authorities.  The DPPC, for instance, will not release the report done on the incident by DDS even to her because the matter is under criminal investigation.

“I’ve gotten nothing in writing from DPPC and nothing from CHD,” Paquette says.  “The DPPC says they can’t release anything to me because it’s in criminal court, but it’s in court only because I happened to file the charges.

“What did the DDS find out about this case?” Paquette adds.  “What did CHD write up?  If everyone in those agencies has seen those reports, why not  the victim, or at least why not me, who is the victim’s voice?  It’s almost surreal.  It’s just like fog.  I’m trying to stay calm, but I find myself getting more and more irritated.”

At COFAR, we’ve also been frustrated in trying to get media coverage of this case.  Although we notified the media around the state prior to a pre-trial hearing for Saunders that was scheduled for March 3, no one showed up to cover the hearing, and nothing appeared in any media publication about it.

Paquette said her goal isn’t “to put someone in jail for 30 days,  it’s to have a jury hear this case, to let people know about this problem (of abuse of the intellectually disabled),  and to make sure agencies check on their employees and make sure they can fire them if they are causing these types of problems.”

We all know that the media is facing its own financial issues and is cutting back on its coverage of issues in all facets of society.  Yet, in New York and Ohio, newspapers have recognized the importance of the problem of abuse of the disabled.  

After we sent follow-up emails to some local newspapers in the Cape Cod (location of the pre-trial hearing) and Springfield areas (location of Burns’ group home), we heard back from the editors of The Cape Cod Times and The Daily Hampshire Gazette.  We were told by the Cape Cod paper’s editor that their news editor is “considering”  a story about the incident that would run around the time of the next court date.  The editor of The Gazette said somewhat apologetically that West Springfield is outside of that paper’s circulation area, but otherwise, “we would have covered this type of story.”

The Springfield Republican initially assigned a reporter to the story, but nothing has appeared in the paper, and neither the reporter nor the executive editor have responded to our follow-up emails about the matter. 

Paquette noted, by the way, that 15 years ago, her brother was badly injured by a house manager in a different residence in Westfield.  At that time, The Boston Globe sent a reporter all the way out to Westfield to interview her, and Geraldo Rivera sent a television reporter as well.  Times have apparently changed.

Among the issues Paquette would like to find out is why the firm running the day program, in particular, didn’t bring her brother to the hospital immediately, but rather just sent him home after observing his black eyes. 

She also wants to know whether a State Police unit attached to the DPPC is conducting its own investigation of the case, separate from the Falmouth District Attorney’s Office.   It was only after she filed the charge  that the DPPC sent a Massachusetts State Trooper to her home to interview her, Paquette says. 

Paquette believes her decision to personally file the charge took many people by surprise.  “I don’t think it occurred to anyone I would go and file charges myself,” she says.  “I believe everyone was waiting around for DPPC and DDS to go do whatever they do.”  She said she was told by a DDS investigator that had she left the matter entirely in that agency’s hands, “this more than likely would have taken two years for this to get to the criminal court.  I short circuited the process, she says.”