City Council Members Criticize Providers

By Daniel LeDuc
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Two D.C. Council members, angry over continued reports of poor care for the city's developmentally disabled, called on caregivers to give an accounting yesterday and criticized the high salaries of some of the providers' top executives.

During a hearing, council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and David A. Catania (I-At Large) said they were tired of hearing rounds of excuses from the providers of group housing for the approximately 1,200 mentally disabled persons in the District's care. It was the first major council hearing on the developmentally disabled since Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) took office last year and marked a new, intensive scrutiny from the council.

"You either have to come up with a strategy to [improve] or get out of business, because you cannot provide substandard care," Wells told several of the providers who appeared at the hearing.

The District was sued more than three decades ago over its care of the developmentally disabled, and last year a federal judge found city officials had failed those residents. A court monitor reported in May that residents "remain at very serious risk."

Although many critics have focused on city officials' failure to improve the system, Wells and Catania yesterday directed their ire at the private companies and nonprofit groups the city pays for housing and care of the developmentally disabled.

"I want to know why our government has not forced the providers to do their jobs," Catania said. Facing a group of executives, he said, "I don't sense you all are accepting an appropriate sense of responsibility."

The system has been in turmoil in recent months, with more than 160 residents being relocated because their housing providers moved out of the District because, they said, the city's pay was insufficient.

Wells and Catania, whose staffs researched tax records, noted that top executives at some providers earn more than $200,000 a year and singled out David Wilmot, president of Individual Development, which operates 11 group homes in wards 7 and 8.

Wilmot, a well-known D.C. lawyer who has been active in politics, is paid $300,000 annually, the council members said. And they noted that Wilmot and another board member had received loans from the company.

"I think that's hard to justify, considering where we're at," Wells said, calling it "extraordinary compensation."

Wilmot defended his salary, saying he had rescued the company from bankruptcy in the mid-1990s and had worked for several years without salary. He noted that the council has the authority to enact salary standards for providers. "We'll abide by that" if they do, he said.

He and other providers said that their jobs are difficult not only because of the city's low rates but also because it is difficult to find qualified employees because of a nationwide nursing shortage and a poorly educated city workforce.

"Some have difficulty with basic reading," said Amy Brooks, chief executive of RCM of Washington, which has 160 employees.

She and other providers said it would help if the city worked with them to provide a certification process for caregivers, expanded high school training programs and helped in getting more medical professionals to work in the system.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company