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.