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Union says layoffs hurt the disabled

It tries to reopen US case against state

Christopher Jordan (left) and and Alex Arcuri are two human service coordinators expecting to be laid off this week. Christopher Jordan (left) and and Alex Arcuri are two human service coordinators expecting to be laid off this week.
(John Blanding/Globe Staff)
By David Abel
Globe Staff / July 1, 2010

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Advocates for the developmentally disabled, who argue that proposed budget cuts to state social workers for the new fiscal year will create a spike in caseloads, are seeking to reopen a federal court decree of two decades ago that mandated improvements in care.

In trying to reverse the cuts, a branch of the Service Employees International Union that represents the social workers has filed a motion in federal court, arguing that the layoff of at least 63 human service coordinators in the Department of Developmental Services would violate a 1993 federal judge’s ruling requiring the state to provide adequate care to the developmentally disabled.

“This is important, because hundreds of people with developmental disabilities are going to lose services if these layoffs take effect,’’ said Cliff Cohn, a spokesman for SEIU Local 509.

Cohn said the number of people relying on the service coordinators for care has grown over the years and is projected to increase another 3 percent to 24,354 in 2011.

He added the cuts would boost the average caseload from 55 to at least 65 clients per social worker, which, he said, was more than 50 percent higher than caseloads were two decades ago, when the court last intervened to prevent layoffs.

One of the coordinators, Alex Arcuri, 61, who has worked for the department for the past three years and has 61 clients, learned last week that his final day would be tomorrow.

“This is really disruptive on my clients,’’ he said. “I have established some good relationships with people with complex problems, and this is really going to hurt them in terms of making progress.’’

The union’s motion seeks to press the state to comply with the 1972 landmark Ricci vs. Okin case, in which a federal judge required the state to spend millions of additional dollars and create lifetime individual treatment plans for thousands of state residents with mental disabilities, many of whom had lived in wretched conditions at state facilities.

In 1993, a federal judge ruled that the state must provide “sufficient adequately trained personnel,’’ as determined by what is now called the Department of Developmental Services, to meet the needs of state residents with such disabilities.

State officials say that despite the cuts, they are still abiding by that decision.

“As we have all along, DDS will fully meet its obligations under Ricci, by assuring that the staffing and services required to meet the equal or better requirements are in place,’’ Jean McGuire, an assistant secretary in the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said in a statement.

Cohn said the department has already notified 28 service coordinators they will be laid off by Saturday.

He said another 12 coordinators have already accepted voluntary layoffs.

He added that the number of coordinators forced into layoffs could rise to more than 100 if Congress does not approve additional federal aid to the state.

“If that happens, the caseloads would be unsustainable, and there will be drastic cuts in services,’’ he said.

Social worker Christopher Jordan, 27, has 64 clients after two years on the job. Over that time, he has taken clients to medical appointments, helped them read, found them housing, and monitored their care.

“One of my clients, after I told him, was crying,’’ said Jordan, whose last day is tomorrow. “I feel cheated by this. I feel like I was robbed of something. This is affecting me, but it’s affecting a lot of other people.’’

Like many of those who are about to lose their jobs, Glen Duarte, 32, a coordinator for the past two years who has 61 clients, said the disabled are going to suffer.

“It’s going to be devastating for many of them,’’ he said.

And Duarte, a recent new father wonders how his own family will cope with his unemployment. “It’s just a horrible situation,’’ he said. “It’s mind-boggling that this would happen.’’

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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