Christine Stuart photo
Sandy Astarita, the mother of Michael, a DDS client for the past six years (Christine Stuart photo)

As of July 1, 3,000 developmentally disabled individuals will no longer receive the services of a case manager to help them and their families coordinate medical, residential, respite, special education, or job training services.

At a Capitol press conference Wednesday, the mothers of Bella, Michael, and Amanda, who currently receive those services wondered “who will speak on behalf of those unable to speak for themselves?”

“Our lives are difficult with case management; without it—unsustainable,” Suzanne Brown, the mother of Amanda, a 20 year old with cerebral palsy, said.

Brown said it’s likely she would lose her full-time job without the help of a case manager.

Sandy Astarita of Branford said her case manager Cheryl Kim made it possible for her son Michael to meet and interact regularly with a group of his peers. “He now has friends whose company he would never have had, had it not been for his case manager,” she said.

Currently, Michael, 38, is on a waiting list for a job training program and Astarita wonders, “who will keep an eye on the waiting list to move things along—an automated voicemail system?”

While all touching stories the Department of Developmental Services said it was faced with some tough choices when about 40 case managers announced they would be taking advantage of the state’s early retirement package.

Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Peter O’Meara said in a May 12 letter that he was forced to re-evaluate the agency’s functions.

“This has been a difficult decision, however, the agency is required to continue essential support services to individuals for whom the state has a legal obligation, under state and federal law, to provide this support,” DDS Communications Director Joan Barnish said in an emailed statement. “Case managers must have manageable caseloads and have the time to support consumers while complying with all state and federal requirements.” 

Those on Medicaid and Title 19 will continue to receive case management services.

“The department is extremely cognizant of the effects any changes in supports to our consumers and especially to the case management system have on families,” Barnish said. “As the state moves through the budgetary process and the department has a better understanding of funding levels, we will reanalyze our services and determine the best way to serve as many individuals as possible.”

Christine Stuart photo
Cheryl Kim, a DDS case manager (Christine Stuart photo)

However, that didn’t sit well with Michael’s case manager Cheryl Kim.

“What was once so valuable is now disposable,” Kim said.

Based on this policy change Kim said she will effectively be losing 44 of her 85 clients.

“I implore you to stand up against Commissioner O’Meara’s policy which discriminates against taxpaying citizens of this state,” Kim said. “All children and adults with developmental disabilities should have equal access to social work and case management services, not just the ones who can recoup federal monies through their insurance.”

Kim said SEIU 1199, the largest healthcare workers union in the state, has proposed continuing coverage of all DDS clients with fewer case managers, if the state agreed to cut back on the paperwork until its able to re-fill the positions. Kim said all the paperwork does is satisfy a top-heavy administration.

Christine Stuart photo
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain (Christine Stuart photo)

Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, who is in favor of refilling these case manager positions, said if he had to cut something from the budget to pay for the positions then he would cut the state parks Gov. M. Jodi Rell had considered closing.

Rell had considered closing a handful of interior state parks this summer when she unveiled her second round of budget cuts, but less than 24-hours later she changed her mind. Keeping the parks open will cost about $2 million over the next two years.

“When she decided to keep those state parks open she was also deciding to continue these cuts. They are not separate decisions,” Tercyak said.

“We’re not talking about cuts. We have to change the conversation,” Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said. “We have to talk about revenue. We have to come up with more revenue in order to balance this budget. Trying to decide who lives, who dies, who has a home, and who has services is not the appropriate conversation.”

“We cannot pick and chose who are neighbors are but we can make sure our neighbors survive,” Walker said.