The Department of Development Services will reduce its workforce by 605 employees after Jan. 1, 2017 and privatize most of its remaining group home services, the agency’s commissioner said Tuesday.
In a letter to Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, Developmental Services Commissioner Morna Murray said reducing public services in favor of privatization is consistent with national trends.
“More than a fifth of states operate no large public institutional settings and some, such as Vermont, operate no public residential settings at all,” Murray said.
Under the plan Murray submitted Tuesday to Barnes, 30 group homes will be converted to private operation by Jan. 1, 2017. In March, it announced the closure of two regional centers in Meriden and Stratford. Those facilities will close by October and several other day programs will also be transitioned to the private sector.
Murray said Connecticut already had reduced its public services for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities living in group homes from 15 percent in 2009 to 10 percent this year.
Regardless of the statistics, reducing services for a population that relies on routine and stability is not going to be easy.
“To mitigate the adverse impacts on these public employees, the state is requesting that private provider agencies give hiring preference when possible to state employees who are displaced by the transitions,“ Murray said. “DDS may extend conversion transition periods at the discretion of the Commissioner and new providers when it is in the best interest of the individuals living in the impacted home.”
The administration has already laid off 113 DDS employees since April and the remaining staff will be laid off in two waves. An estimated 76 employees will be laid off after Sept. 1. Then another 416 employees will be laid off after Jan. 1, 2017. The plan is expected to save the agency $42 million in 2017.
The remaining DDS employees will function as case managers and engage in quality assurance in both the public and private systems.
A spokeswoman for SEIU 1199, the union representing some of the workers at DDS, said the proposal would “decimate our state’s ability to provide services for the disabled.”
Jennifer Schneider, a spokeswoman for SEIU 1199, said the services DDS provides for the intellectually and developmentally should be considered a core function of state government.
“If the state can find $22 million to give to the world’s largest hedge fund than surely they can find the money to keep the disabled in the only home many of them have ever known,” Schneider said. “We urge the governor to find a better way than balancing the budget on the backs of the disabled.”
But Barnes said this is the “new economic reality and we must continue to adapt.”
“As the world changes, we must change with it and state government must provide high-level services more efficiently,” Barnes said. “As we work to transform state government, these transitions will undoubtedly be difficult for the families and the employees, but they are nevertheless necessary to move government into the future.”
Gian-Carl Casa, who is now CEO of the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance that represents private providers who will be taking over these services, said they want to be part of the conversation during the transition.
“The Alliance appreciates that the Department of Developmental Services recognizes community providers are the most cost-effective way to deliver high quality, life-sustaining services,” Casa said. “We ask, however, for providers to be part of the discussion on how best to do that, to ensure adequate resources are available, while still delivering significant savings for taxpayers.”