March 5, 2008
Senator DeFronzo, Representative Guerrera, and members of the Transportation Committee. I am Peter O’Meara, Commissioner of Developmental Services (DDS), formerly DMR. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on HB 5735, An Act Concerning Individuals who transport Patients or Clients under the Care, Control or Custody of a State Agency, and the Vehicles used by such individuals to Provide Transportation Services.
The purpose of this bill is to “protect the health and safety of any patient or client under the care, custody or control of a state agency while such patient or client is being transported.”  Obviously, DDS supports the safe transport of all individuals in our service system.  We do have concerns with the way the bill is broadly written and across all agencies. We can only speak to the impact of this bill on the DDS Service System and what we have agreed to.
This legislation is related to a lawsuit involving a DDS consumer in 1999 that was recently settled by the State of Connecticut (Segall v. Connecticut).  DDS did agree in writing that once the lawsuit was withdrawn and accompanying releases were received, the department would seek funding to establish an annual driver’s license verification process for employees whose responsibilities include client transport.  However, this letter went out in the fall of 2007, after budget options had already been submitted.  DDS will follow up on this issue for the next biennium.  Currently, DDS requests a driver history for new employees only. The proposed bill would require this check every 6 months for all employees involved in client transport.  DMV currently waives the fee for DDS’s initial checks, however, this would be a significant increase in the number of checks requested and we would likely be charged. The associated cost is $20 per check.  A commitment of funding and staff resources to process and evaluate the DMV check will be required which is why it will have to go through the budget process. The way the bill is currently drafted it would impact other state agencies and our extensive private provider network. For DDS alone, it would likely require over 2,500 state employees to have driver’s license checks twice a year. 
In addition to the commitment to pursue funding for annual license checks, DDS agreed to issue an employee guideline that DDS employees who transport DDS clients “must be trained to properly inspect and secure seatbelts and other applicable safety restraints on clients, particularly for individuals who use wheelchairs, and report any seatbelt or safety restraint problems to maintenance personnel. The applicable procedure for inspection, securing, and reporting must be in writing and issued to relevant staff. All staff who transport clients must review the procedure(s).  DDS will commence a monitoring process, as part of quality assurance, to verify proper implementation of such procedure(s).”  We are committed to following through on this, however the proposed legislation appears to go well beyond what was agreed to by DDS.
The majority of direct care employees in our service system drive consumers, with 3rd shift being an exception.  In addition, case managers and many clinicians regularly drive consumers.  If the bill extends to private agency staff, which it appears to do, the impact would be larger as most consumers are driven by private provider agencies.  Also, it is not uncommon for DDS staff to transport consumers in their personal vehicles. An example of this would be a case manager, driving a consumer to an appointment when no state car is available.  Would a personal car be considered a “transport vehicle” under this proposal?  Would staff driving a “transport vehicle” as defined in the proposal require a special license?
DDS has done a number of things related to transportation safety issues.  The fleet has been substantially upgraded and replaced in the last two years and the vehicles custom designed for our needs. In addition, DDS fleet vehicles are on a regular service schedule and any safety issues with our vehicles or equipment are dealt with immediately at the garage. The fleet garages also keep maintenance records on all of our vehicles for reference.  The department focused on wheelchair transport safety in its 2005 “Safety Campaign.” In early 2007, DDS established a Vehicle Advisory Committee to discuss a variety of transportation topics that deal with the health, safety and comfort of both consumers and staff and to develop plans to ensure a consistent and comprehensive approach to vehicle usage.  The topics identified were the development of standardized training programs, a review of current vehicles and a review of adaptive/commercial equipment.  The Committee continues to meet and DDS is committed to following through with an agency-wide guideline. Our New Employee Training program, through the College of Direct Support, offers a module on motor vehicle safety within a lesson entitled “safety at home and in the community.”  There is information in this lesson requiring vehicles to have working seat belts and demonstrating how seatbelts should be worn.  In addition, there are slides on lifts and transfers of wheelchairs into vehicles and a video clip that shows how to secure a wheelchair into a van or chair lift.  
The proposed requirement that “individuals operating transport vehicles shall not have any moving violations or similar motor vehicle infractions during a one year period prior to the operation of any transport vehicle” appears to be a significantly stricter standard than what currently exists for formal licensure programs such as a commercial drivers license.  This would require a restriction of driving responsibilities on a regular basis and create a potential staffing issue based on that restriction.   If a person has a moving violation (ex: speeding ticket received when off duty) they would not be allowed to transport a client for a year according to this bill.  This could create significant labor contract issues.
Current DDS Work Rules specify “Employees who operate any motor vehicles while on state business or on state property must do so in accordance with all applicable laws, regulations, policies and procedures. This includes possessing a valid operator's license, obeying speed limits and other posted traffic and parking signs, using seat belts and driving in a safe manner.  Employees shall immediately notify the supervisor and the Human Resources Office of any change in their driver's license status. Employees will be personally responsible for paying any fines incurred and may be subject to disciplinary action for motor vehicle violations. Vehicles shall be parked only in designated areas. Vehicle drivers are responsible for keeping the keys secure at all times. Vehicle drivers will ensure that they turn off the motor, remove the keys from the ignition and take the keys when leaving the vehicle. Unauthorized passengers shall not be transported.”
There are over 7000 DDS consumers being transported to day programs in both the public and private sectors.  DDS clearly supports the safe transport of clients in our care and custody, however, we have some significant concerns about HB 5735 as currently drafted. We are committed to issuing an employee guideline on this issue, however, we believe this can be done administratively and that legislation is not required.  We welcome any opportunity to discuss this issue further with your committee.  Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before you today.