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Regional Centers Ranked by Number of Fair Hearings
On Calendar per Thousand Consumers
Matthew Guglielmo, ELARC Board member and past Board chairman, frequently states that the ELARC is "one of the best Regional Centers..." More than once we've watched as a parent addressed the Board, complaining about ELARC services, or failure to provide services, only to be told by Mr. Guglielmo, that he is "shocked" and "surprised" because "this is one of the best Regional Centers..." Sometimes the parent slinks away, believing that he or she must just be the exception, and not wanting to "make waves," drops the issue. And sometimes the parent contacts us.
So, is the ELARC "one of the best Regional Centers?" It's hard to refute Mr. Guglielmo's statement. After all, how does he define "best?" As parents, we believe that "best" is easy to define: consumers are satisfied with the services they receive from the ELARC and its vendors.
Does anyone measure consumer satisfaction? Each Regional Center is supposed to survey its clients to establish "consumer satisfaction." However, there's no standard methodology for doing this and there's no independent entity overseeing the process.
The closest thing we have to a consumer satisfaction survey is the Life Quality Assessment (LQA) performed by the Area Boards. The LQA's however are not scored and they're not available to anyone except the consumer and service coordinator.
Considering that the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has a multi-billion dollar annual budget, we'd think that they would be acutely interested in how effectively that money is being used. Incredibly, that doesn't seem to be the case. We have been unable to find any independent assessments of how effective are Regional Centers in meeting the needs of their clients.
We've devised our own approach to measure consumer satisfaction. Our approach is based on the assumption that happy consumers don't file for Fair Hearings; we decided to look at the number of Fair Hearings, on calendar, for all of the Regional Centers, over a specific period of time. We can then compare Regional Centers by normalizing those data per thousand consumers.
The information necessary to do this analysis is readily available from independent, presumed reliable sources. First, Fair Hearing calendars are available on the Internet directly from the Office of Administrative Hearings. Regional Center census data are available directly from DDS. (You may download our data files to check our results.)
The result of our study, shown in Figure 1, is stunning: The ELARC outranks, by a wide margin, all other Regional Centers in number of Fair Hearings on calendar per thousand consumers.
What Does This Mean?
Well, for one thing this means that there are a lot of unhappy consumers at the ELARC; it's hard to explain these results any other way.
To better understand this situation, we examined what happens after a consumer files for Fair Hearing.
Again using the resources available on the Internet, we created Table 1. This Table shows cases filed by ELARC consumers from 1999 to 2001 for which decisions have been rendered. When we first observed that there were only twenty-five cases in Table 1, we thought that this must be a mistake. After all, we thought, there are twenty-three ELARC hearings alone on the current calendar; the number of decided cases must be much larger. We spoke with a representative of OAH (Sacramento). We were stunned to learn that the vast majority of Fair Hearings requested (and therefore scheduled on calendar) don't result in decisions. In fact, most of the time, the cases are withdrawn or dismissed. As explained to us, there are a number of reasons for this: sometimes the OAH does not have jurisdiction, or the consumer must exhaust other remedies before proceeding to hearing. However, the primary reason, we're told, that filed cases don't go to hearing, is that consumers, and their families, simply don't have the resources to present their case. It may be something as simple as not having respite care so that a parent can attend the hearing.
When parents file for hearing they believe that advocacy resources will be available to help them; this is almost never the case. When parents realize how much effort is required to prepare for hearing themselves: subpoena witnesses, exchange exhibits, etc., not to mention presenting their case in a reasonably "legalistic" manner, they often choose to drop the whole matter.
Our OAH representative tells us that there's only about a 20% chance that a filed hearing will eventually result in a decision.
So there you have it. Four out of five times that a parent files for Fair Hearing, the Regional Center has won by default.
What Happens if You Complete a Hearing?
Okay, so your case falls into that 20% minority that goes to hearing, presents a case, and gets a judicial decision. That doesn't mean that you've won; only that you've survived the process. What are your chances of actually winning?
Looking at Table 1 can be very revealing. It turns out that your best chance of winning at hearing is if our Clients' Rights Advocate, Matt Pope, represents you. And that's hardly a sure thing, your chances of winning are only 50-50. Your least chance of winning is if you represent yourself (then you have only a 10% chance of winning).
Although to a lesser extent, your chances of winning depend on the judge. Some judges, like Carolyn Magnuson, make every effort to assure that both parties are treated fairly; you have about a 50-50 chance of winning if she hears your case. Other judges, like Richard Lopez, have apparently never ruled in favor of a client (not just in ELARC cases).
We believe that our study shows how the management of the ELARC has, in our opinion, twisted and corrupted the Fair Hearing process and turned this process into a mechanism for denying services.
Here's how we believe this works:
What we now realize is that step (4), above, is for all practical purposes a dead end. If the consumer decides not to file for Fair Hearing, then he or she lives with the services the Regional Center has decided it will provide.
If the consumer files for Fair Hearing then, based on what we've learned, the consumer has at best only about a 2% chance of completing the entire process and getting the needed services. What's not shown in Table 1 is how long it takes to complete the process; it can take years. And in the mean time, the Regional Center is not spending the money that it would have to spend should it provide the services that the consumer needs.
Unfortunately for the Regional Center, there is a loophole in this process: mediation.
When a consumer files for Fair Hearing he or she may request mediation. This is a service provided by an outside, independent, professional mediator. This option provides a fast and effective means for resolving disputes. Because, in virtually all cases, the consumer is entitled to the services that he or she requests, the consumer has a very good chance of negotiating a favorable mediation settlement.
Unfortunately, mediation is an option only if both the consumer and the Regional Center agree. If, as we believe, the ELARC were using the Fair Hearing process as a means for denying services, then the ELARC would avoid the mediation option.
There is ample proof that the ELARC rarely, if ever, participates in mediation.
When challenged on this issue, ELARC Executive Director Gloria Wong gives the same canned response: "...well, when we feel that our position is firm, then there's no need for mediation..."
What Ms. Wong actually means is that, by declining mediation, the Regional Center can assure that the consumer has virtually no chance of ever obtaining the services he or she seeks.
We think that in some perverse way Matthew Guglielmo is right; the ELARC is one of the best Regional Centers. In fact, the ELARC is probably the best Regional Center when it comes to denying services and thwarting clients' rights.
Your experiences and opinions may differ from ours. We encourage you to post your comments on the elarc.net Message Board.
|OAH Case||Won||Judge||ELARC Representative||Claimant Representative|
|L1999060130||ELARC||Joe||De La Torre||Pope|
|L2000100200||CLAIMANT||Dash||De La Torre||Pope|
Regional Centers Ranked by Number of Fair Hearings
On Calendar per Thousand Consumers per Year
(Jan 2002 and July 2003)
In our original article ELARC Tops the Chart! we revealed how the Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center uses the administrative hearing process to deny services and thwart the IPP process. Our analysis was based on data available to the public (we used data available 1/28/2002). We decided to redo our analysis to see how the situation might have changed over the past year-and-a-half. (You may download our data files to check our results.)
In 2002 the ELARC clearly outranked all other regional centers in number of fair hearings per thousand consumers (Figure 2, green bars). That situation has very dramatically changed since January 2002 (Figure2, red bars). Spurred by the deepening California budget crisis, a number of other regional centers seem to be utilizing the same tactics as the ELARC; those regional centers have very significantly increased their utilization of the fair hearing process. By contrast, the ELARC, although still utilizing the hearing process more than most regional centers, is doing so less often than they did in 2002.
Insiders at ELARC tell us that Felipe Hernandez' disastrous experience with the fair hearing process (see Judge Scathes ELARC) has caused the Executive Board to put the brakes on spending tax payer funds for lawyers to go up against clients and parents. Of necessity, this has forced the ELARC to rely on their own staff to attend hearings. This additional administrative burden has resulted in fewer cases going to hearing. It should be noted however that the ELARC is still not utilizing mediation as a means to resolve cases.
More troubling, however, is a notice that the ELARC recently sent to parents. That notice advises parents of reductions in service and then adds: "No right to appeal the proposed changes in services". This is not correct, but that statement may have discouraged some families from pursuing the fair hearing process. This may account for some of the reductions in ELARC hearings seen in Figure 2.