2016-04-07 / Opinion


Disabilities Service System in Need of Repair

To the Editor:

We have an autistic daughter and want her to live a full and very rewarding life. One part of this life fulfillment would be working in a community setting, no matter how limited, when she comes of age. Such a career would provide her with self-esteem and as with us, a reason for getting up in the morning.

After some initial concern about what I have been reading in the papers about the future impact on limitations of such opportunities resulting from the mandates of the new consent decree, I did some investigating and found a very enlightening report entitled “A Profile of the Rhode Island Development Service System.” Please email me at chrissemo@aol.com if you would like a copy.

I discovered that while Rhode Island's system at one time was not only the model for Rhode Island, but the world, there have been significant reductions in funding over the years, and that it has radically deteriorated.

Such examples of this degradation are:

1. Rhode Island has experienced a greater decrease in developmental difficulties funding than neighboring states. The change in total inflation-adjusted spending from 2006-2011 has been a decrease of 20 percent.

2. The state is lagging in employment outcomes for individuals with developmental disabilities. On a national level, integrated employment has emerged as a policy priority. Among the 50 states, Rhode Island ranks No. 25 compared with Connecticut’s No. 3 rank.

3. Rhode Island needs to improve support services to families help keep them together and living in community settings. Nationwide, the state ranks No. 37.

4. Rhode Island needs to address the stabilization of the direct support professional workforce. Funding in the current fee-for-service model is estimated to be 21 percent less than actual cost of a full time employee with benefits. The state’s average entry wage reported in a national survey was $10 per hour, compared to $10.38 in Massachusetts, and $12.27 in Connecticut.

The national poverty level for a family of four is $11.08 per hour. It is critical to have a stable workforce to ensure the quality and continuity of support. (Honestly: We should be spreading rose peddles at the feet of these unbelievably dedicated workers.)

5. The state is using a fee-for-service model (which tends to focus on delivery of service in allowable billing units) while the trend for the future is comprehensive managed care. A managed care model requires a focus on outcomes.

I would ask that our public servants going forward develop platforms that restore the program to its previous level of worldwide acclaim. I would like to help provide a voice for those with disabilities, advocating for the system that needs to be improved and radically changed. I feel that this is not just a casual responsibility, but an obligation of all Rhode Islanders - not just our esteemed public servants - and will make every effort to improve this system going forward.

Chris Semonelli

Vow for Better Branding

To the Editor:

Since October, I have been chairing a House commission studying the potential for growing tourism through a coordinated marketing effort. I sponsored the bill creating this commission because I firmly believe Rhode Island needs an ad campaign that effectively conveys our state’s unique identity to tourists. The Assembly agreed, and concurrently appropriated $5 million to the Commerce Corporation to create that campaign.

The mismanagement of this effort has jarred Rhode Island as well as members of our commission. From the start, the commission has been concerned about the branding and design process. We were unsure about the selection of out of state consultants chosen to design the plan, but we were assured that the best of the best were chosen. We were assured that an inclusive process would involve Rhode Island stakeholders from the tourism and hospitality community. We were assured that the branding and marketing plan would be exciting and launched in January 2016, in time to market the state for the critical summer season.

We are sorely disappointed that these goals were not achieved.

The House recently voted to extend our commission through December, and we will use this time to demand accountability and results. The commission will seek regular updates from Commerce at our meetings through the end of the year, and will call upon its leaders to expedite the messaging to promote Rhode Island so that we may all see the purpose and function of the logo. We will solicit and review the responses of the regional tourism boards so their voices are heard clearly as this plan unfolds. We will measure the impact of the branding and marketing programs and we will make a full inquiry as to how such a traditional marketing exercise and product became such a fiasco.

Our commission plans to produce two interim reports before our final report in 2017, outlining our efforts to require better coordination and communication in the implementation of the state branding program. I hope and expect Commerce will fix this flawed effort before then, because our state wants and needs a tourism marketing effort that works.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson
D-Dist. 75, Newport

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