An Op-Ed by State Reps. T.R. Rowe and Tony Hwang
With the State of Connecticut facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis, it is clear that the current approach to government is no longer viable. We must change the way the state does business and restructure government in 2009.
One key area where we can implement meaningful change involves the services provided by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), which is responsible for the care and supervision of mentally disabled residents. Connecticut is one of few states that developed two networks to meet this responsibility. The first is the public network and is staffed by state employees. The second, private network, is largely comprised of such facilities as group homes, day programs and community support and is staffed by private sector employees. These private, generally non-profit companies provide significantly less expensive care than the public providers. Increasing their contracts to include additional services would result in meaningful savings for the state.
One shining example of non-profit providers is The Kennedy Center. Anyone familiar with their work can attest to the magnificent job its staff perform. This includes everyone from the president Martin D. Schwartz down to the volunteers who selflessly donate their time to assist some of the most needy among us.
An analysis released by the Legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee in September 2008 compared the cost of public versus private for a number of DDS services. Committee researchers estimated private per diem costs were about half the cost of public facilities. The cost of publicly operated group homes is more than two times the cost of private Community Living Arrangements. The report calculated that public day services are two-and-one half times the cost of private day services ($165/ $64).
If the state phased in a transition to an all-private provider network, the non-partisan state Office of Fiscal Analysis projects savings of between $52 million and $81 million annually if such a transition was fully completed.
The dual system, which clearly favors public providers, also continues to make it increasingly difficult for private providers to exist. In our region, many of these private sector employees cannot afford to live in Fairfield County and their annual turnover rate negatively impacts the level of care provided. Just as the state could save up to $81 million a year by allowing private providers to provide a larger share of DDS services, were the non-profit providers to go out of business, the cost to the state to provide these services through only public employees would be unsustainable.
The system also has resulted in lengthy waiting lists for services. More than 600 people are currently on the DDS waiting list. We simply can no longer afford to maintain this system.
Throughout the days leading to the Legislature’s June 3 adjournment, there will be many proposals to streamline state government to make it more responsive and affordable. Allowing private companies to provide additional DDS services is a viable way to help bring about that change. It is a win/win scenario because the taxpayers will realize significant savings while the clients receive more readily available services.
T.R Rowe serves as state representative for the 123rd Assembly District of Trumbull in the state House of Representatives. Tony Hwang serves as state representative for the 134th Assembly District of Fairfield and Trumbull in the House of Representatives.