If any more evidence was needed that the human services providers and the Patrick administration are attempting to tarnish the Fernald Developmental Center’s families in order to discredit the highly successful model of state-run care for the intellectually disabled in Massachusetts, today’s Boston Herald story provides it.
“16M to care for 14 people,” is the headline; and in the story, Gary Blumenthal, president of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, calls the cost “excessive” and blames it on the guardians of the remaining Fernald residents because they are delaying the Center’s closure. Those guardians have simply exercised their statutory right to file administrative and Superior Court appeals of the transfers of their wards out of Fernald.
Moreover, we’ve just learned that DDS stated in Superior Court earlier this month that the cost of operating Fernald may actually be $9.8 million, not $16 million (more about that below). Secondly, if, in fact, 95 staff do remain at Fernald for the remaining residents, as the Herald story and DDS say, that is an indication of mismanagement on the part of DDS; it’s not the fault of the guardians.
Meanwhile, in a comment on our previous post on Blue Mass Group about the use of Fernald as a political football, Blumenthal (under the user name, Garyof Sudbury), chides COFAR for encouraging “endless appeals and endless studies” in an effort to keep the developmental centers open. This is a mischaracterization of COFAR’s role in advocating for adequate care for DDS clients.
Here, to the best of our knowledge, is what is really happening regarding Fernald and the other developmental center closures:
1. Earlier this month, the administration provided numbers on the cost of operating Fernald that are nearly 40 percent lower than what it is publicly citing to the Herald. In a comment posted on the COFAR blogsite, Stephen Sheehy, the attorney representing the remaining Fernald residents, states that on May 6, DDS submitted an affidavit in Middlesex Superior Court that the cost of keeping Fernald open is approximately $9.8 million per year.
DDS Commissioner Elin Howe stated in a conference call last week that the cost of operating Fernald this year was $15.6 million. The Herald is saying $16 million (and stating, by the way, that was the cost last year when there were far more than 14 people left at Fernald). So, who knows what the real figure is.
2. The administration and the ADDP are ignoring COFAR’s longstanding proposals to rightsize the remaining developmental centers in Massachusetts or otherwise operate them more efficiently.
COFAR and other affiliated organizations have long called for “postage-stamp” arrangements at the developmental campuses that would enable current residents to remain there and receive the same level of care while the rest of the campuses were developed for other uses. No one is advocating the preservation of large, outdated buildings on these campuses. What we do want to preserve is the model of care that currently exists there in the most cost-effective way possible.
The administration has never even wanted to discuss the postage-stamp approach. They have always viewed the issue in purely binary terms: either we continue to operate all the facilities as they are today, or we close them all and evict all their remaining residents. There have been no other options even worth considering for them.
3. The ADDP is deliberately mischaracterizing the history of litigation over Fernald in order to paint COFAR as somehow responsible for the cost of delay in closing Fernald.
Here’s a brief history of that litigation (reprised from my response to GaryofSudbury):
From 1974 to 1993, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro presided over the landmark Ricci v. Okin consent decree case, which brought about significant improvements in care and services at Fernald and other developmental centers in Massachusetts.
In 2004, the Fernald plaintiffs in the Ricci case (some of whom are COFAR members) urged Tauro to reopen the case, not to delay Fernald’s closure, which Tauro said he would not do, but to investigate apparent violations of Tauro’s order that transfers out of Fernald must result in equal or better care. It was the Patrick administration — not COFAR or the Fernald plaintiffs — who then went to court to appeal Tauro’s 2007 ruling in which he found that DDS had engaged in a systemic violation of his order.
In 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Tauro’s 2007 ruling. The Fernald plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the Appeals Court had not given Tauro due deference in their decision. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Since that time, some of the Fernald guardians have exercised their statutory and regulatory rights to file administrative appeals of the transfers of their wards from Fernald, on the grounds that these transfers would not result in improved services. COFAR has not publicly or privately encouraged or discouraged those appeals. We fully support the personal decisions that any guardian chooses to make in these cases.
It’s perhaps ironic that if the administration had agreed years ago to consider our proposal to develop cost-effective group homes delivering the current level of care on the current campuses, we could have avoided all the delays and litigation that the providers and the administration are now decrying.
In summary, as we pointed out in our previous post, what we’re now seeing is a campaign by the administration and the providers to use Fernald to discredit a proposed budget amendment that would require an independent cost study before the Templeton, Monson, and Glavin developmental centers could be closed. The argument being made by the administration and the provders is that this budget amendment would cause delays in the closures of those three facilities, and that soon we will be paying the same high costs to keep those centers open that we’re allegedly paying for Fernald.
This is nonsense. An independent cost study will simply help us determine whether we’re on the right track fiscally in closing these facilities. As I hope we’ve shown, we can’t leave it solely up to this administration to provide credible numbers or other information about this matter.