The Service Employees International Union Local 509 last week filed to reopen the landmark Ricci v. Okin court case, which brought about upgrades in care at Fernald and other state developmental centers in the 1970 and 1980s.
The case was closed after the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in 2008 dismissed claims brought by the Fernald plaintiffs that the administration was in violation of Fernald residents' Individual Service Plans.
The SEIU is alleging that rising caseloads for DDS service coordinators coupled with ongoing and planned layoffs of those workers have made it impossible to carry out ISPs of DDS clients. The result, the SEIU argues, is specifically a violation of U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro's 1993 disengagement order in Ricci v. Okin, which required adequate care for the Ricci plaintiffs.
At Fernald itself, layoffs are nothing new. All remaining nurses at the Center recieved layoff notices this week, telling them they will be gone in as little as 20 days. That is on top of continuing layoffs of direct-care workers and clinicians that have resulted in uneven care at best of the remaining residents.
Fernald is now down to about 70 residents (down from 300 in 2003 when it was first targeted for closure). There are reports that 15 of those residents will be moving out this week.
The Patrick administration has set a date of Wednesday for closing Fernald. But many guardians are exercising their appeal rights to the evictions, so it doesn't appear that the lights will be shut off quite yet. It's possible that the administration will continue to slowly bleed the Center to death for a few more months.
Meanwhile, in the empty rhetoric department, state Senator Susan Fargo held a meeting with Fernald constituents and advocates in Waltham last week in which she “reaffirmed her commitment to fight” to keep the Center open. Glad to hear it, Senator, but what exactly do you propose to do at this point?
In her meeting, Fargo said she had filed a number of state budget amendments “to slow down the closing or create a plan.”
Unfortunately, that same day Fargo made that statement, the Legislature's budget conference committee effectively washed its hands of Fernald for the final time. The committee excluded Fernald yet again from a last-ditch effort to undertake a cost-benefit analysis prior to the planned closing of four developmental centers targeted by the Patrick administration in Massachusetts.
It appears that no one in the administration or the Legislature really wants a cost analysis done in closing Fernald. A true cost analysis would highlight the extent of the staffing cutbacks that will be in store for the residents. (Remember the personal promise Governor Patrick made to a Fernald family member that he would see to it that a cost analysis was done? That promise has conveniently been forgotten.)
You just have to look at the service coordinators to understand why the administration doesn't want to publicly discuss budget numbers. In court documents, the SEIU states that DDS has informed the union that the Fiscal Year 2011 budget will result in cuts of at least 63 service coordinators, which would push caseloads from 55 to an average of 65 under a “best case” scenario. That is more than 50 percent higher than caseloads were in 1990, when the federal court last intervened to prevent service coordinator layoffs.
Based on that scenario, DDS has already notified at least 28 service coordinators throughout the system that they will be laid off as of July 3, the SEIU stated. The SEIU motion to reopen the Ricci case terms the rising service coordinator caseloads “the canary in the mine (that) can foretell impending systemic failure of the ISP (Individual Service Plan) process…”
Ironically, the service coordinators are funded from the DDS administrative line item, which is being cut by $5 million from the current fiscal year. So, in addition to cutting the service coordinators, DDS Commissioner Elin Howe announced in an update to staff last week that she is reorganizing the DDS central office. As part of that reorganization, Howe is reportedly laying off an assistant commissioner who was in charge of managing the closings of Fernald and three other developmental centers in Massachusetts.
(We understand that the assistant commissioner is actually taking the fall for the continuing drumbeat of negative online publicity that has accompanied the process of closing Fernald. The only satisfaction we can take from that is at least it shows the administration is paying a political price for the debacle of a process that the Fernald closure has been.)
In her staff update, Howe acknowledged the pending cuts of the service coordinators, and said those cuts “will have a profound effect on individuals and families who rely on us for support…”
We would note that the SEIU contends that while service coordinators working in several EOHHS agencies, it is only DDS that is cutting those coordinator positions.
Oh well, those DDS service coordinators should feel nothing but gratitude for the compassion Howe has shown for them. In her staff update, Howe calls the service coordinators “the heart and soul of our agency,” and asks the entire remaining DDS staff to:
Please join me in recognizing our colleagues who will soon be leaving us, either through retirement or the reduction in force. The short time that we have left with you does not equate to the gratitude that your colleagues have for you. We wish you well.
Ah, kind of brings a tear to your eye.