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Maine DHHS Withdraws Heavily Criticized Proposal for Disabled Services

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has withdrawn a controversial proposal to use a single assessment tool to determine services for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

That didn’t stop dozens of Mainers from testifying at a public hearing Monday to denounce the idea, and what they consider DHHS’s lack of transparency.

At the hearing before the Health and Human Services Committee, parents like Lisa Wesel expressed relief that DHHS pulled back from its plan to use the Supports Intensity Scale, or SIS, test as the sole indicator for the state services her daughter can receive.

“The question now is what will you put in its place?” she says.

Wesel says no matter how good a tool the SIS test is, it can’t identify the complex needs of people with disabilities. She says her 19-year-old daughter has the judgment of a 6-year-old.

“And if I as a mother left a 6-year-old alone in a house for 6, 8, or 10 hours at a time, I would be arrested, and for good reason,” Wesel says. “Yet the state, using SIS as the measurement, was planning to do exactly that to adults having Lydia’s profile.”

The Health and Human Services Committee scheduled Monday’s hearing after more than 200 people signed a petition asking for a formal review of DHHS’s proposed rule change. The petitioners want DHHS to create rules that emphasize person-centered planning. It’s a method that takes a comprehensive evaluation of individuals to determine the supports that will best address their unique needs.

DHHS’s Nick Adolphsen assured those at Monday’s hearing that the department has individuals’ best interests at heart.

“Still committed to an individualized, independent assessment process,” he says. “The specific tool that we were using, we feel we need to pull away from due to some transparency challenges.”

Transparency is top of mind for advocates, many of whom feel DHHS didn’t consult with those affected when it proposed switching to the SIS test.

Jennifer Putnam of western Maine’s Progress Center, which serves adults and children with developmental disabilities, asked that stakeholders be involved in future plans to revamp the assessment process.

“The withdrawal of the SIS is an opportunity to rebuild trust and create a truly collaborative process,” she says.

DHHS is expected to develop new assessment rules within the next several months.