Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A fair hearing for fair hearings

So, there seem to be vendors in LA County who know that I recently made the executive director of a local regional center angry with a needlessly hostile description of regional center habits vis-a-vis the termination or reduction of services without the prescribed ID team meeting or notification of fair hearing rights. Regarding the degree I exaggerated (I might have said service coordinators never follow the regulations in this situation,) I feel comfortable that I was within the statistical margin of error. Regarding the degree to which my tone was needlessly hostile amid a very strained effort to pull the community together in the best interest of all, I do repent (and did apologize.)

But, while running your mouth foolishly is a terrible pedagogical technique, I mights use the event to talk about the difference between how I, as a vendor, view the fair hearing (and aid pending) laws, which I believe is sharply different from the way regional center personnel hear vendors talk about those laws. Consider this my effort to follow the aforementioned executive director's lead and deepen the partnership between two segments of the community that often don't collaborate or communicate well in good times and have particular need of each other now.

In my experience, by far the commonest way that our services are terminated or reduced begins with a phone call from the service coordinator to the vendor agency. Friends who run agencies throughout the state assure me this is their experience, as well. The client is often left out of the process entirely, even though state be provided a team meeting in which they are to be the leader. At that meeting, if the client does not agree to service termination or reduction of reduction of services both state and federal (for Medical waiver enrollees) law require that they are to be provided notice of their right to appeal, their right to support for the appeal, and their right to continue their service as currently provided until the appeal is resolved, if they choose to appeal. I won't say again that this protocol is never followed, but I will say again that this protocol is rarely followed unless a vendor insists that it be followed.

However, the law is clear, plain and theoretically binding. When someone calls the office or an ¡Arriba! supervisor to say that "I am cutting" or "I have to cut" or "these new regulations require that I cut" services, we are all trained to remind them of the regulations which apply to that process. The result is almost always an ID team meeting at which the SC explains to the client the reason for the cut, the staff make sure the client understands what is being done and, most importantly, the client has the opportunity to review what is proposed, consider what the price will be and then the ID team can work together to look for solutions if the transition will create important problems.

The value of the hearing rights is not necessarily in the hearings themselves. More often, the value comes from the ID team everybody felt too busy to sit in on until it was required. ¡Arriba! staff are forbidden from encouraging clients to appeal, unless the client first states that they are uncomfortable with the change. I have been director of this agency for nine years and to the best of my recollection, our clients have had informal hearings maybe three or four times and formal hearings zero times. But many times, clients have had productive ID team meetings as a consequence of the threat of an appeal. While we are all looking to thoughtfully make the best solutions for our budget problems, I would argue that the ID team meetings will be crucial.

As long as the best way to get a thoughtful, collaborative meeting remains the threat of an appeal, vendors should remain vigilant about insisting on those rights. (Plus, they are, you know, rights.) While a regional center employee might receive reminders of the regulations as antagonistic, from this vendor's perspective, we insist on them for collaborative purposes.