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Mixed reactions to $9.6M restored funds to developmentally disabled

Last Monday, the Senate voted in favor of the state budget passed by the House last month. The budget, if signed by Governor Chafee, will restore $9.6 million to agencies that serve the developmentally disabled (DD), the same agencies that experienced three cuts last year totaling $24 million.

But leaders of DD agencies aren’t fully pleased with the outcome of the budget. Albeit thankful for the partial restoration, they feel that the $9.6 million falls short of repairing the damage caused by last year’s cuts.

Don Armstrong, the new president and CEO of the J. Arthur Trudeau Center, said he is grateful to the legislature for understanding the need to at least partially restore funding. Armstrong said the cuts in funding they faced last year were a serious issue that will likely leave them in the red for fiscal year 2012.

“We lost about $2 million in funding directly,” he said. “We made a number of changes. All our non-union employees accepted five percent reductions in salary.”

Armstrong expects to get back less than $1 million with the restored funds and hopes to make some progress.

“We’re going to take the money and restore what we can,” he said, noting that much of the money will be used to help Trudeau get back in the black.

Despite his beliefs that Trudeau will be operating at a loss for 2011, Armstrong said the agency would continue to provide high-quality services to their clients.

“I do think it’s a small victory – well, not a victory, a recognition on behalf of the legislation – that we all have to manage the care of citizens that aren’t able to take care of themselves,” he said.

John DiMarco, executive director of West Bay Residential Services, said he is also grateful to Senate President M. Theresa Paiva-Weed and House Speaker Gordon Fox for pushing the legislation to approve restored funding.

“They really campaigned to get us more money,” he said.

But DiMarco feels that the restoration fails to make any significant difference to his agency’s budget. Last year, $1.2 million was cut from West Bay’s funding.

On June 1, the day after the House Finance Committee approved the $8.1 billion budget, the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH) sent out a notice to all DD providers detailing rate increases for the month of July.

DiMarco outlined in an e-mail how the new rates will affect West Bay.

“Based on 10 months of FY12, and two months estimates at current rates, in FYE 6/2012 our state funding was cut by $1,273,000. The new rates increase our state funding by 1.48 percent as of July 1, 2012. Estimated BHDDH income for FY13 increases by $158,000.”

Instead of viewing it as a restoration, DiMarco sees it as a decrease in the cut. The new funds will reduce the sustained cut to just over $1.1 million.

DiMarco believes the legislation was misinformed about what DD agencies really needed.

“They were misinformed that $24 million wouldn’t have an impact and that $9.6 million was going to resolve some of that impact,” he said. “I don’t want to at all sound ungrateful. It’s wonderful to get, but for a $14 million business, it’s not going to sustain West Bay.”

Now DiMarco is wondering how $9.6 million translates to less than $200,000 for his company.

“Where is the money? Where is the rest of the $9.6 million?” he said. “I just don’t see it.”

In response to DiMarco’s question, Craig Stenning, BHDDH director, said the money is in the rates.

“As providers provide services, they bill the department,” he said.

The letter sent to DD providers on June 1 also noted that the restored funding would help BHDDH “make changes towards [their] original benchmarks.”

The changes fall under the umbrella of Project Sustainability, a movement that, according to the BHDDH website, bases rates and services on “not just what we have today but what we can envision having 10 years from now.”

Stenning said all $9.6 million would go directly to DD providers. He explained that the $9.6 million in restored funds allows them to maintain the increased rates that have been in effect since the last quarter of this fiscal year, or April 1.

“If the General Assembly had not restored the $9.6 million, there would have been that much less to bill,” said Steven Costantino, secretary of BHDDH. “It’s very critical.”

Stenning said from what he has heard providers are pleased with the General Assembly’s decision.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said.


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