On Wednesday (January 17), the Legislature’s Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee will hold what may be the first oversight hearing in its history to examine problems with care of persons with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts.
The bad news is that those individuals and their families and guardians will not be allowed to speak during the hearing.
A news release issued by the committee states that “verbal testimony” will be taken only from representatives of DDS and the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC). (The DPPC is an independent but seriously understaffed agency that is charged with investigating allegations of abuse and neglect in the DDS system, but which refers the vast majority of those cases to DDS itself for investigation.)
I confirmed the details of the news release today with the committee and asked a staff member to convey our disappointment in it to Representative Kay Khan and Senator Joan Lovely, the committee co-chairs.
The news release notes that DDS clients, family members, guardians, and members of the public are “invited” to attend the hearing and listen to the testimony, and are even “encouraged” to submit written testimony to the committee. But the committee isn’t interested in hearing about their experiences directly.
This explains why the committee has devoted only half a day to this critically important issue of abuse and neglect in the DDS system. The hearing is scheduled to begin on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in Room A2 of the State house. It shouldn’t take long if the committee intends only to ask questions of selected officials from DDS and the DPPC.
What we are hoping is that people will submit written testimony and request in their testimony that the committee hold another hearing so that they can testify in person. That written testimony can be submitted via email to Kay.Khan@mahouse.gov, or mailed to: Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities c/o Representative Kay Khan, State House, Room 146, 24 Beacon Street, Boston MA, 02133.
The committee scheduled the hearing in the wake of a case last year in which a young man nearly died in a DDS-funded group home after aspirating on a piece of cake.
We have been calling for years for a comprehensive legislative review of the system of care for persons with developmental disabilities in Massachusetts. The last such review was done in the late 1990’s by the Post Audit and Oversight Committee, which found problems of abuse, neglect, and financial irregularities throughout the system.
The Post Audit report stated that DDS’s oversight of privatized care, in particular, raised “grave doubts about (DDS’s) commitment to basic health and safety issues and ensuring that community placements provide equal or better care for (DDS) clients.”
Some 20 years later, as we have previously noted, it does not appear that much has changed. The association of poor oversight with increased privatization and abuse and neglect is still the case, and inadequate care and conditions remain all too common in group homes and other state-funded facilities in Massachusetts and around the country.
Unfortunately, since the Post Audit Committee’s report was issued in 1997, it doesn’t appear as if the Legislature has committed itself to grappling with these problems in a serious way. Unless and until Representative Khan and Senator Lovely agree to listen directly to the families and guardians affected by the DDS system, we don’t see much to indicate that the Legislature has gotten serious about that.