Almost two and a half months ago, we asked for public documents from the administration to support its claim that the state will save money in closing four developmental centers in Massachusetts for persons with intellectual disabilities.
We're still waiting.
Our December 3 request was for specific documents backing up a cost analysis submitted by the administration to the state Legislature last summer. The cost analysis claims that the closures of the four developmental centers — Fernald, Templeton, Glavin, and Monson — will save the state $40 million a year.
Lest you think our request was overly broad, we offered last month to narrow it to a request for documents primarily supporting a specific projection in the administration's analysis that it would cost $150,000 per person to place residents in new community-based homes. That figure compares with $172,900 per resident that the analysis contends is the average cost of operating three of the developmental centers targeted for closure. The difference of $22,900 is part of the savings claimed by the administration in closing the centers.
So far, we've received no documents. In fact, the last I heard from the administration on this matter was a December 21 letter from the general counsel of the Department of Developmental Services, stating that the agency would have to search for the records we were requesting and that the cost of the search was likely to exceed $100. The letter stated that the general counsel would contact me as soon as she determined the precise cost of searching for and copying the documents.
It's interesting that DDS would have to search at all for documents used to back up a major cost analysis that was submitted to the Legislature only last summer. One would think DDS officials would know where these records are.
One would also think that by now, the general counsel would have at least determined the actual cost of such a search. After all, the state's Public Records Law [M.G.L. Chap. 66, Section 10 (b)] states that custodians of public records must comply with public records requests within 10 days. The regulations accompanying the law [950 CMR 32.05(2)] further state that requested public records should be provided “without unreasonable delay.” Nearly two and a half months since we first submitted our Public Records request, we haven't even been told what the cost of searching for those records might be.
On Feb. 4, not believing that DDS was in compliance with either the letter or spirit of the Public Records law or regulations, I contacted the state Supervisor of Records, who can ultimately refer these matters to the attorney general or a district attorney. As of Feb. 11, a staff person in the Supervisor's office told me that DDS had not responded to a fax she had sent to them, asking about our records request, and that she was going to send them a letter.
We asked for these documents for a number of reasons.
First of all, we believe the administration's methodology in comparing developmental and community-based costs is flawed. The cost analysis appears to be based on a comparison of the average cost per resident of community-based care and the average cost of care in the Tempton, Monson, and Glavin centers. The problem is that the residents of the developmental centers are older and have higher levels of intellectual disability and greater medical needs than the average community-based resident. The average age of residents in those three facilities is 57.5, according to the cost analysis itself. In other words, the administration appears to be making an apples-to-oranges comparison.
Secondly, we believe that the $150,000 community-based cost figure projected in the administration's analysis may not include at least some charges that have been shifted to the state's Medicaid budget. Day Habilitation services, for instance, which are a key element of the care of persons who have been transferred from the developmental centers to the community system, are paid from Medicaid. Similar services, which are provided in the developmental centers, come from the DDS budget. The administration appears to be comparing costs only within the DDS budget of developmental centers and community-based care.
We don't feel as though we're grasping at straws here in trying to demonstrate that the cost of community-based care is not necessarily less expensive than developmental-center care for comparable residents. As we've previously reported, the State of Connecticut has projected that closing that state's remaining developmental center would result in higher costs, not savings.
After we sent out a press release late last year expressing our concern about the apples-to-oranges comparison of costs, a spokesperson for the administration claimed to The Springfield Republican that the administration's projections “have been accurate so far.” If that's the case, then the administration should be eager to provide the documents we've requested, which would show what those projections are based on. The administration, however, seems to have shown a notable lack of eagerness to provide those documents