Have our legislators forgotten about the most vulnerable people in our society?
Unfortunately, that’s the message we’ve taken away from last week’s actions by the House on the state budget.
First, we urged legislators to approve an amendment calling for a comprehensive, independent study of the Department of Developmental Services system, along the lines of a similar study that was approved last year of the Department of Mental Health system.
Among the questions we think need to be examined are whether the ongoing privatization of services to people with developmental disabilities is really resulting in improved care. Or is this trend simply padding the ample salaries of the executives of the hundreds of corporate providers that contract with DDS?
We also urged legislators to approve additional funding to prevent the layoffs of state service coordinators, who make sure that people in the DDS system are getting the services they need. And we asked for additional funding to prevent the possible closures of state-operated group homes, to which many former residents of state developmental centers are being sent as those centers are closed down.
The House rejected all of those amendments. But they did pass an amendment that provides all kinds of goodies to the corporate providers, including a state subsidy if residents of their group homes opt to leave those homes. That amendment will implement the so-called ‘Real Lives’ bill, without bothering with the need for a public hearing.
Could all this have anything to do with the fact that legislators nowdays seem to act solely in the interest of those who contribute the most to their political campaigns? Is there anyone out there who still doesn’t believe that’s the way our modern “representative” system of government works?
Apparently, lawmakers don’t feel under much of an obligation anymore even to fulfill promises made to those who don’t have political clout on Beacon Hill, or Capitol Hill for that matter.
What else are we to make of the virtual promise that state Representative Patricia Haddad, a leader in the House, who spearheaded last year’s legislation to study DMH, made to support the DDS study?
In a meeting with families of residents of the state-run Glavin Regional Center in September, Haddad had this to say about the proposed DDS study, which would have included a study of the closure of Glavin itself:
“Someone has to be the first to say we’re not afraid to have an outside study done to tell us what’s wrong and what’s right,” she said. That day, she also said a number of other things that the Glavin families desperately wanted to hear from her, including the statement that “there are more horror stories than good stories” in the privatized system of DDS care.
It initially came as a shock to us, therefore, when we found out just before the budget debate last week that Haddad had declined even to co-sponsor the amendment to undertake that outside study of DDS. Maybe she truly feels that someone has to be the first to say we’re not afraid to have the study, but it wasn’t going to be her.
Why won’t legislators like Haddad support these critically important initiatives for our most vulnerable residents when push comes to shove? Is there anyone who doubts that we need to re-examine the DDS system? It is a system in which, as Haddad herself said, there are often more horror stories than good stories.
As the state has increasingly come to rely on corporate-controlled care for people with developmental disabilities, the waiting list for services only appears to be growing longer. It’s a system in which the state does a mediocre job at best in monitoring the care provided in thousands of dispersed residences whose staff are largely poorly paid and do not receive adequate training.
It’s a system that is beginning to resemble the “warehouses” of yesteryear, when thousands of people with developmental disabilities were packed into institutions that did not have the staff or resources to care for them. Now, they’re simply packed into corporate-run group homes, which don’t have the staff or resources to care for them.
When will our elected leaders wake up to this and care enough to do something about it?