Governor Dannel Malloy's administration has announced plans to privatize dozens of group homes for the developmentally disabled in Connecticut.
In a letter to the Office of Policy and Management sent in mid-August accompanying her 2017 budget plan, Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Morna Murray said the changes follow national trends and best practices by transitioning some individuals currently being served in state homes into the care of private non-profit providers. In most cases, Murray said, support will continue in the same location.
But families and guardians of those in the DDS system – and unions representing affected workers -- say the move essentially dismantles the way DDS has provided these services for decades. Families worry the changes will disrupt the lives of their loved ones. Unions for the care workers argue good middle-class positions will become low-wage jobs.
Lindsay Matthews, the parent and legal guardian of an adult with developmental disabilities, and Jennifer Schneider, spokesperson for SEIU 1199 New England, spoke recently with WNPR. Schneider said many guardians have been objecting the transfer of care:
Jennifer Schneider: They’ve been trying to reach out to the governor and legislators to really have them understand the impact this would really have on their loved ones.
WNPR's Diane Orson: Lindsay, could you tell us your story?
Lindsay Matthews: Yes. My son can’t talk. He has to have toothpaste put on a toothbrush. He has to have the water temperature in the shower adjusted for him. He has to have someone put a blanket on him when he’s cold. In our group home, we have five individuals who can’t talk. They don’t have the power to control the destiny of their life. Every budget cut to a group of people like this, who need seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day care -- it can be a matter of life and death.
How old is your son?
And how long has he been in care?
He’s been in this particular group home around 20 years, and the staff that has cared for him. Most of them have been there ten, 12 years. It’s a very stable workforce. This is the beauty of it. He gets nuanced care, because they know him.
What have you been told in terms of what his future may look like?
We’ve been told that the care that these non-profit organizations will provide is going to be the same; that they have workers there that do quality work, which I believe to be true. However, we’re talking about families. The people who care for my son are my family.
Two weeks ago, my son...I saw him at 6:00, took him out for a bite, brought him back to the group home -- and at 10:30, I got a call saying, "We have to take him to the hospital." And I said, "Why?" And they said, "Because he doesn’t look right. Something’s wrong."
They took him -- they had to have a surgeon, and because of their quick action and knowing him, and observing, even when I didn’t see it -- that he needed to be hospitalized. That could have saved his life. But you know what? It's not the first time. The people who work in the group home -- at least that my son’s in -- they do this every day.
Well the governor has said, he’s simply replicating best practices across the country.
Schneider: Well, with 1199 being a health care union, we feel like we are in a unique position to really have a voice on this, because we represent both workers in the state workforce that are working in DDS, as well as in the private agencies that they’re looking to shift this care to.
These are workers that are getting paid $10.00 to $11.00 an hour that we’re taking up to the Capitol every legislative session, speaking to the governor, speaking to legislators about their need for a higher wage -- both because it creates a large number of turnover for clients, as well as, these are people who can’t make ends meet for their own families. And they’re having to be on public assistance for food assistance, or heating, electric, HUSKY.
So, when we’re looking to shift this entire workforce, taking middle-class jobs -- which are the people that are currently caring for Lindsay’s son and shifting them to these private agency workers who aren’t able to make ends meet -- we’re just creating so many more lower-income jobs that are actually going to hurt our state economy even more, because these are jobs now that people need to go on public assistance to even care for their families.