Friday, July 19, 2019

The Georgetown Contract is a Local Issue

I’ve been writing a lot lately about two issues:  the DDA Health Initiative contract with Georgetown and the upcoming hearing in the House of Representatives (now postponed until September) on the D.C. statehood bill.  Little did I know that these would begin to converge.

I had wanted to write today about my dismay over the results of a Gallup survey showing weak support across the country for D.C. statehood:  Mostly this reflects a profound lack of understanding across the nation that there are real people, some with very deep roots, in the District of Columbia.  As those of us living here are painfully aware, D.C.’s lack of voting representation ensures that Congress in general, national politicians more generally, and sometimes other well intentioned people looking through a national lens, tend to lose perspective on what is national D.C. business and what is local business affecting residents of the District and our decision makers.

The DDA Health Initiative and the Georgetown contract under which it has been implemented are local business.   The roundtable planned by the D.C. council on Tuesday ( is a completely appropriate response to the attention that has been brought to the abrupt closeout of the Georgetown contract by local advocates and by Theresa Vargas in the local section of the Washington Post.  I will be at the Tuesday roundtable and will make a statement on the part of the D.C. Developmental Disabilities Council, which I currently chair.  I feel strongly that Andy Reese owed it to the people served by the Department on Disability Services to engage far earlier with the disability community about DDS intentions with respect to this contract and the services it provides, and to engage very substantively in ensuring everyone understood well how those services would continue to be provided and, if appropriate after those consultations, transitioned from Georgetown.  The email Andy sent out a week ago was too little and too late to constitute meaningful consultation or inspire confidence.

That said,  I was taken aback by the comments made in the second Vargas article ( by former DDS director Laura Nuss, Andy’s predecessor at DDS, since she is no longer engaged in D.C. disability issues and is now working for Virginia’s behavioral health department.  I have even greater misgivings about the letter sent to Mayor Bowser yesterday by a group of former directors of DD services of other states, including Nancy Thaler who used to chair the national association of DD directors.  Nothing in their letter would be objectionable coming from local advocates, but there is something intrusive to me in their assumption that they should weigh in on a matter such as this, especially when they invoke the Evans case in a way which seems to imply its resolution by the courts was premature.

Governance in the District is tricky, precisely because the whole country sometimes thinks it has the right to look over your shoulder on local matters.  That’s even more reason, if he needed one, why Andy Reese needed to be consulting with, explaining, and – above all – listening and talking with – people who were going to be affected to make sure stakeholders had been heard and had their say about the direction things are taking.  In this post-Evans era it is essential – as I’ve written in these pages over the past several months – for DDS to be engaging people on the broad strategy it wants to pursue, not surprising folks by rolling out one policy after another or, in this case, withdrawing a trusted provider without ample prior discussion and appropriate transition planning. 

It’s a lot harder to clean up a mess than it is not to create one, and this is a mess of DDS' making.  However, while some may feel that any firepower, from wherever, against DDS is the right way to go, I am always concerned about what happens when our local prerogatives are upended by people with national agendas.  Local voices – even those of the 2000 or so people who actually receive the services in question  – can get drowned out in these circumstances.   I hope local families, advocates and professionals will all keep our eyes firmly on the ball and make sure we are amplifying the local voices who most need to be heard on this matter. 

See you on Tuesday -

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