By Maureen Welch, Volunteer Activist and Parent of a participant at RMHS
www.changecoidd.com Self Published
Denver Human Services (DHS) has extended their contract 6 months, with City Council support, for 1/1/18- 6/30/2018 for a maximum of $7.5 Million.
This six month window is a ideal time for Denver to consider alternatives to move from a contract to a more participant directed process: allow Denver Residents with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to self direct funds to meet their unique needs. This paradigm shift is person centered, community focused and culturally sensitive. The most dire unmet needs for prioritization are services for those on the adult DD wait list. Mill levy should first fund those gaps in services for those needing but unable to receive 24/7 care through Medicaid Waivers. Use direct mill levy funds for services typically funded with the DD waiver: residential/housing, medical/dental care, community access, supported employment and transportation.
1. Read the Body Language- the disdain and contempt for varied viewpoints is clear.
• RMHS Chief Program Officer Ford Allison was in the audience chairs, curled up in the opposite corner seated on a chair, head down, taking notes. Tension was in the air.
• Chair of the CAC meeting, Pam Bisceglia, of Advocacy Denver immediately set ground rules stating guests could not speak until the very end. The agenda had no information about this nor did it list an agenda time for public comment.
• Despite offers from members to participate more actively, RMHS continues operate in isolation, making their own funding decisions. Then they proceed to inform the council after the fact. It is a rubber stamp.
• Several CAC members have expressed concern that they are not consulted for their expertise or input regarding program funding. Yet, RMHS uses their name and organization's reputation as members. One member shared that when she is out in the community, people rightfully assume she has real input into the millions in funding, when she in fact has little to none.
• When a CAC member commented on the process, the defensiveness from RMHS was noticeable. “I know you’ve said this before but I’m getting a different message and tone today” Shari Repinski, CEO.
• During public comment, RMHS Chief Financial Officer John Wetherington, sitting at the conference table, physically turned his body from the conference table, so his back faced guests. He avoided all eye contact. He countered comments in an aggressive, condescending tone. Several people commented at his overt hostility.
2. This Community Advisory Council at RMHS is the one body formed to “advise” RMHS regarding the $17 Million (2018 estimate) in Denver Tax Dollars.
• It is supposed to meet every other month.
• RMHS often cancels or reschedules these only with days notice.
• All meetings are held at RMHS offices on far East side of Denver at 3:30pm on a weekday, which excludes many with caregiving duties or transportation challenges.
• Meetings are not held in the communities most in need like Green Valley Ranch, Montbello and other underrepresented neighborhoods with great need for services.
• Awareness of the availability of mill levy funding is not high, in or out of the RMHS silo.
3. RMHS does not reflect the diverse community they serve.
• The council lacks the linguistic, ethnic, economic diversity of the community they serve.
• The RMHS leadership team also lacks this representative diversity.
• This is a major weakness for a non profit advising $14Million+ in local tax dollars, when the communities with most financial challenges are not represented.
• $17 Million in tax payer money is to benefit people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. However, only one person on the council is a participant in RMHS services.
4. This Community Advisory Committee is simply a rubber stamp for the decisions already made by RMHS CEO Shari Repinski.
• Members of the CAC are not called or consulted for their expertise before decisions are made.
• Participation in the Advisory council meeting is intentionally limited.
• Public participation is not allowed in real time during agenda time.
• Public comment is not on the agenda nor are expectations for guests.
• When a guest did attend, the Chair did allow add a comment time at the end of the December meeting.
• The community believes there needs to be more diverse and expert input.
• Treatment of guests is intentionally unpleasant, to discourage attendance and participation.
• The CAC agenda posted online does not list the phone call-in information or accommodation details for disability needs or translation service.
5. Conflict of Interest on Community Advisory Committee: Members can receive funding.
• Laradon, an organization with representation on the CAC, has received mill levy funding.
• The Board of DIrectors at Advocacy Denver, represented on the CAC, wisely had their decided against accepting mill levy funding.
• Laradon and Overture both have representatives on the CAC. Both service agencies are members of the Alliance, a membership organization which lobbies against the very system changes that both the federal government and families/participants demand.
6. Private meeting after the meeting with DHS and RMHS?
• After all participants had left, RMHS leadership and two DHS employees, Justin Sykes, IDD Mill Levy Program Manager and Cynthia Hinojosa, DHS' senior internal auditor remained in the RMHS building for fifteen private minutes.
• Both DHS employees are funded with the Mill Levy Tax dollars set aside for DHS administration. They work for the taxpayers of Denver.
• What was discussed in this private meeting?
• The optics on this "meeting after the meeting" are not good.
In conclusion, this meeting captures the smug contempt RMHS holds for true, open and participatory process.
It has been two years since the release of the Denver Auditor's Report citing major issues with these local public tax dollars. It is time to create something new. Now is the time.
Give the power to the participant. If the RMHS services are so amazing, people will queue up to choose them, with their self-directed dollars!
*RMHS Website info on CAC https://www.rmhumanservices.org/community-advisory-council
**Cultural competence, the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures, helps to ensure the needs of all community members are addressed. “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. (SAMSA http://bit.ly/2uLpGUW)