People with intellectual disabilities, their relatives and caretakers, Tuesday implored Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to rethink a decision to privatize group homes as part of a plan that would save the state money and lay off Department of Developmental Services employees.
Manchester resident Bobby Osborne, who has been a client of multiple group home services and locations since 1980, said “I want them (DDS) workers to stay. I need these people. I trust them.’’
Osborne made his remarks at a press conference organized by SEIU 1199, which represents some of the state employees.
Lindsay Mathews of New Haven, whose son is a client of the Brook Street Group Home in Hamden, said: “My son George can’t talk, can’t put toothpaste on a brush, can’t shower. The staff there keeps him alive. These (state workers) are more important to him than I am.”
Mathews said she found it appalling that the state, in her words, was “going after’’ a population of people “who can’t speak for themselves.”
“It is discriminatory,’’ continued Mathews. “Some of those impacted here can’t even ask for an aspirin when they have a headache.”
In a letter to Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, released last week, Department of Development Services Commissioner Morna Murray said the department will reduce its workforce by 605 employees by Jan. 1, 2017 and privatize most of its remaining group home services.
In the letter, 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 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.
The administration has 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 and nearly $70 million in 2018.
“While we know these changes are extremely difficult for individuals, families and staff, they are necessary for us to maintain critical supports,” Murray said Tuesday in a statement. “We are committed to carrying out these transitions in the most effective and compassionate manner possible, and to maintain the highest quality of care to the largest number of individuals we can support.”
Mathews said she didn’t believe private sector workers could take care of her son like the state workers she called “family.”
“This is their calling,’’ Mathews said. “I don’t want to see some stranger taking care of my son.”
State officials have asked agencies that run the private group homes to hire the laid-off state workers, so they can maintain their relationship with their clients.
One of the state workers, Deborah Albers, who works at Manchester Supported Living, said she’s been taking care of some of her clients for 29 years.
“The people who replace us will do half the job that we do,” continued Albers. “I am very disappointed with Governor Malloy.”
Malloy spokesman Chris McClure said there will be no service level reductions.
“We deeply value all the work of our employees, and while we know this transition will be difficult, we are doing everything we can to make the state operate more efficiently than ever before,’’ McClure said.