Denver Mill Levy It is too risky- $17 Million in Denver taxes for the disabled-all in hands of one non-profit? 

By Maureen Welch, Volunteer Activist

They take more than half for themselves!


News update -Denver City Council
                Denver City Council SAFE HOUSE committee members moved the six-month contract extension up to $7.5 Million (for January thru June 2018) with Rocky Mountain Human Services from the consent calendar onto the agenda for discussion at their December 13th committee meeting. The Denver Department of Human Services (DHS) is tasked with this property tax funding. The councilmembers' displeasure was clear regarding Denver Department of Human Services' handling of this contract with the Denver Community Centered Board, Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) They were not satisfied with RMHS’s third quarter report content and requested more information. 
            A top concern was RMHS’s lack of outreach and presence in the community, particularly in communities with more socioeconomic diversity and cultural needs. Councilwoman Gilmore shared that local neighborhood awareness and presence in her district  is sorely lacking. Many of her constituents could benefit from this funding, as the majority of residential host homes for IDD are in her district. Several  committee members requested additional and specific data, with breakdowns by demographics by council districts in the RMHS reports. The committee expressed frustration with lack of follow through on the promised items needs-assessment plan from DHS. The committee requested a timeline from Department of Human Services (DHS) for next steps and voted to move the agenda item forward to full City Council. It was heard at the December 18th City Council meeting.
            Denver Human Services (DHS) must end their contracting with Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) for the mill levy for residents with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). Residents can and should self-direct use of funds. Historically RMHS has had five-year contracts with DHS. However, there were enough concerns that on December 13, 2017 at the Denver SAFE House committee approved a six-month extension to the current contract, with a few minor changes. The Council members expressed concerns at the lack of detail in the third quarter report, in addition to a lack of community awareness across Denver. There were questions about using this funding for new services and companies,  while ignoring clients’ basic needs.
            Denver residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities know their needs, and should he able to self-direct the funds, and “vote with their dollars. It is best practice to respect the wants and needs of every individual. Much like a flexible spending account, categories and parameters of uses can be pre-approved for expenditure with less than half the administrative overhead at RMHS.
            Direct to the people in need, without the overhead. RMHS takes $2.5M off the top for their 15% overhead. And then the direct services subcontractor has overhead and marketing costs, reducing the amount one more time, with less reaching the person with IDD. A flex plan cost overhead runs under 7%, per an employee benefits company. Flex plans embrace best practice of individualized “person or patient centeredness”.

Solution: Contract with a company to use Flex Spending Plan
            Mill levy funds should prioritize meeting basic needs of this population first. Make funding available to individuals in need of appropriate housing and 24/7supports. Assist with medical and dental needs with premiums and copays. That was the intent of the initiative, to meet needs of the IDD, not to pad a local non-profit’s bottom line with $2.5 in overhead, and use almost half the mill levy for their programs.
             Best practices assume the competence of individuals with disabilities to self-identify their needs. A flex plan allows client control of funding.  Priority can be granted to have funding to those with greatest need, like those on the waitlist or those with extra-ordinary needs which exceed their service plans. It would have a one-time overhead cost for administration, at overall cost of less than 7%, per a flex plan administration company.

Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) lacks cultural competence
“Cultural competence is the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures. In practice, both individuals and organizations can be culturally competent. Culture must be considered at every step of the Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF). “Culture” is a term that goes beyond just race or ethnicity. It can also refer to such characteristics as age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion, income level, education, geographical location, or profession.”
Learn more about the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health’s National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care: A Blueprint for Advancing and Sustaining CLAS Policy and Practice.  
                RMHS claims their Community Advisory Council (CAC) has “advisory input” regarding mill levy funding. But the reality is that it is a rubber stamp. The council finds out everything after the fact. They are not informed of meetings at the city to participate. The council lacks the cultural diversity reflective of the Denver community and includes only one person who has an intellectual/developmental disability! The expenditures are made by a few RMHS staffers, primarily Shari Repinski, CEO and her staff in the Strategy and Innovation Department. Approximately half the annual funding, totaling $7 Million are expended through their organization, RMHS.
                Members of the public who desire to participate at the CAC have very little opportunity. The website agenda omits the call-in information and the chair now disallows non-voting members from participating in the meeting. For the December 2017 meeting, there was not a public comment time on the agenda. It was offered by the chair.  Ironically, Denver Human Services proposes paying a consultant to identify priorities with an expensive “needs assessment”, when community is right there at these meetings! There is no need for this costly, time consuming process. Let people access the funding and “vote with their dollars”.
                CAC meetings are held at 3:30pm on a weekday, at the RMHS offices and are often canceled days before they scheduled. Some guests are treated poorly when they do attend. On December 20, RMHS Chief Financial Officer John Wetherington physically turned his body away from guests, refusing to make eye contact and making in derogatory comments in a paternal tone, to guests when they contributed to the discussion. The optics of this experience perfectly represents the way RMHS views community input. They don't engage the public and they don't meet people where they are at, in the community. They feel they know better than the community

Ableism must be acknowledged and addressed
            Ableism is a form of discrimination or prejudice against individuals with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities that is characterized by the belief that these individuals need to be fixed or cannot function as full members of society (Castañeda & Peters, 2000). As a result of these assumptions, individuals with disabilities are commonly viewed as being abnormal rather than as members of a distinct minority community (Olkin & Pledger, 2003; Reid & Knight, 2006). Because disability status has been viewed as a defect rather than a dimension of difference, disability has not been widely recognized as a multicultural concern by the general public as well as by counselor educators and practitioners.
Laura Smith, Pamela F. Foley, and Michael P. Chaney, “Addressing Classism, Ableism, and Heterosexism in Counselor Education”, Journal of Counseling & Development, Summer 2008, Volume 86, pp 303-309.
            The current mechanism for this IDD mill levy funding has all decision making by Shari Repinski, CEO of RMHS and her Department of Strategy and Innovation. RMHS to determine programs and priority areas funded, because they believe they know needs better than the client themselves. That is ableism.  Individuals with IDD and their teams are fully capable self-directing to their needs, via supported decision making. The least dangerous assumption is to presume competence of individuals with disabilities.

Raising unnecessary fears
            RMHS alerted mill levy recipients this Fall that mill levy funds are in jeopardy and in turn, told the clients that “their program was in peril”. That is disingenuous and designed to promote dependence upon RMHS when the funds actually are public dollars and not theirs.
            $17Million of property tax will be collected by Denver in 2018, regardless of how the funds are contracted for disbursement.  It is right and good that leaders in Denver exercise caution and demand more accountability. Soon there will be Conflict Free Case Management for Medicaid HCBS waivers, coming down from the Federal Rule into the State and now local level. More management agencies will open in Denver. RMHS won’t have the present monopoly.  The flex plan fits in an environment of choice and person-centeredness.
            Denver voters passed Initiative 100 for the mill levy in 2003. The campaign focused on helping the “most vulnerable due to the waitlist”. At that time, there were three waitlists these waivers. Now, there is just one waitlist. Use funding to address basic needs and those whose extra-ordinary needs exceed their services plans. RMHS contract is vague on expenditure priorities and reporting requirements.

End archaic practices of Agencies and non-profits making decisions for the “most vulnerable”.

Get more money to the individuals, use automation for efficiency and real time data on utilization.

Implement individual Flexible Spending Plans with estimated costs less than 7% overhead.

Let individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities determine their own individual needs and self-direct the funding, which comes from Denver Property Taxes.