The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hardest the areas and populations that were already struggling, since they had the fewest resources for adaptation and safety. We’ve seen the outsized effects on the poor and on minorities. Another group that it has been disproportionately hurt is adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Here in Rhode Island, adults with I/DD have not been provided adequate resources for many years. Before the pandemic, a federal judge was already mulling the possibility of ordering further overhaul of our troubled system of services. And then the pandemic shut down most day programs and employment opportunities, leaving this very vulnerable population without critical supports. Residents and underpaid staff at group homes have been at risk for illness, and those living at home face isolation and a reduction or loss of in-home support services. Agencies that serve them, which have mostly operated on the financial brink for years, are in danger of going under permanently.
The challenges of the pandemic and recovery from it threaten the already sub-par progress the state has made toward fixing this system. A Senate task force led by my colleague and fellow Aquidneck Islander, Sen. Louis DiPalma, has been shedding light on the obstacles, which include a fee-for-service structure that discourages innovation and integration.
Rhode Island must do better for its residents with I/DD. Every individual served is a deserving person whose needs include meaningful activities that support their personal goals and a valued role in their communities.
I urge my colleagues in the House to get on board with the Senate, where Sen. DiPalma has long worked to call attention to the need for better funding and a more workable system of supports for adults with I/DD. We need to join him in fully recognizing and supporting the importance of the work that must be done to provide enriching and effective services to Rhode Islanders with I/DD. We may be deeply ashamed of our state’s history – from the not so distant past – of “dumping” people with I/DD at the notorious Ladd School, but have we really come very far if we are not providing them with the means they need to have a fulfilling life in the community?
Our hand may be forced if Chief Judge John J. McConnell Jr. of the U.S. District Court issues an order requiring drastic changes. But no matter what, we have to break out of the old way of funding services based on congregate care. Undoubtedly, it will initially take additional support to make the changes in the short term. But it may save money in the long term, enabling more people to leave congregate care settings and lead meaningful, productive lives within their community.
I look forward to ensuring that this need is given the attention it deserves in the House.
Rep. Terri Cortvriend is a Democrat who represents District 72 in Portsmouth and Middletown.