Families whose children have intellectual or developmental disabilities gathered Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building with a variety of messages for the state Department of Developmental Services.
Many like Judy Klemba, whose 54-year-old son, Mark, is in a state-run group home, are opposed to the state’s efforts to turn about 40 group homes over to private, nonprofit companies.
Klemba credits state workers for turning her son into “a great human being.” She said private, nonprofits don’t pay their workers enough money to care for her son.
“I don’t want someone to come in who is making $10 or $11 an hour to replace these professional people he has in charge of him now. These people are his family,” Klemba said.
Klemba’s story was similar to stories told by dozens of other families Tuesday.
But there’s also the story of Tom Fiorentino, president of ARC’s board of directors, whose 26-year-old son currently lives at home.
“There’s no mention of the residential waiting list,” Fiorentino said. “It’s not in their five year plan.”
There are more than 2,000 individuals on a waiting list seeking to get into a group home in an effort to live independently.
Fiorentino said that if the state would make a decision to close Southbury Training School — an institutional setting serving about 260 people — then it would free up the funding necessary to get a lot of people on the waiting list into community settings.
“Every longitudinal study ever done of people who leave institutions like Southbury is that their functioning increases when they leave,” Fiorentino said.
He said DDS seems to have compassion about the impact their move toward privatization will have on the families and the clients, but here’s “2,000 people on a waiting list — their compassion doesn’t seem to extend to them.”
He said the people waiting for services deserve as much compassion as those currently receiving services. For years, parents have complained that they need to die in order to get their children the care they need.
Both Fiorentino and Klemba were commenting on the department’s five year plan, which its been required to submit every five years since 1991.
DDS Commissioner Morna Murray, who announced her resignation last week, said she’s unable to comment on the public testimony heard during the 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. period. There is another 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. public comment period and Murray said it wouldn’t be fair to comment on the five year plan before hearing all the families.
Murray announced in August that the state was moving forward with a plan to convert what is now 40 group homes to private operation by Jan. 1, 2017. The agency also closed two regional centers in Meriden and Stratford. The plan is expected to save the agency $42 million in 2017 and $70 million in 2018.
Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said most of the DDS clients live in private living arrangements where the quality of the services they receive is top notch. He said the state can either “keep the status quo and provide services to fewer people or they can partner with the nonprofits to serve more people.”
Some of the state’s labor unions see the issue differently.
The Connecticut State Employees Association, SEIU Local 2001 and New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199 sought an injunction in Hartford Superior Court in October to stop the privatization from moving forward until negotiations are completed.
Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina postponed a hearing in the case that was scheduled for tomorrow.
David Pickus, president of SEIU 1199 New England, said the state told the court it wasn’t doing “anything at the moment” so the court agreed to reschedule arguments for Feb. 23, 2017.
Many who testified said their state-run homes had yet to be turned over to private, nonprofit providers.
Pickus, who believes the state still has to negotiate with the unions if it wants to go forward with privatization, said what DDS put forward for public comment Tuesday was not a plan. He described it as a “nice, fluffy document.” He said they need to sit down with the stakeholders in both the public and private sector and figure out their roles.
He said it doesn’t make sense that the private sector is pay $11 an hour to employees to be caregivers.
The 30-page, five year plan from the Department of Developmental Services, says the agency is dedicated to “moving away from traditional legacy systems, in favor of innovation and ever-increasing community integration in all areas of supports for individuals with intellectual disability.”
In moving in that direction “DDS is seeking sustainability, as the state continues to face the need to do more with less,” and “will continue to support self-advocacy efforts,helping the individuals we support to engage, organize, and communicate.”
Murray warned reporters not to confuse the budget proposal with the draft five-year plan being offered Tuesday for public discussion, but declined to comment further.
“The Five Year Plan is intended to provide an overarching, long-term vision for the agency,” Chris McClure, a spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management, said. “It will necessarily straddle multiple changes, both in policy and leadership, at the state and federal levels.”
It’s unclear at the moment how quickly the state will transition the publicly run group homes to private operators.
“The agency will also continue to work through established processes for other plans, such as budget options and calls for reports to the legislature, which will help to direct the strategic execution of the ideas presented in the Five Year Plan,” McClure said.
Editor’s note: The number of group homes proposed for conversion to private operation was updated from 30 to 40 after the story was first published.