OP-ED | What Would A Reasonable Person Do?
My name is Patrick Johnson and I am the President of Oak Hill, a nonprofit community provider of services to people with disabilities. We have over 100 sites in 58 towns throughout Connecticut
My friends in the legal community tell me that there is, in law, a fundamental assumption called the “reasonable person” rule. To determine the prudence of an action, the question is asked: what would a reasonable person do?
If you hired someone to plow your snow seven years ago, would you, a reasonable person, expect that your snow plow person would continue to plow for the same price as seven years ago?
When you drive into a gas station, would you demand that they charge you no more than the cost of gasoline 7 years ago? The last time our state contracts had a net increase, gasoline was $1.87 per gallon. We have 184 vans on the road every day.
Would you go to the grocery store and expect to be charged the same price for bread, milk, cereal, and chicken as 7 years ago? Currently, food costs average $6.44 per day for the 400 people in our residences. That is $2.15 per meal.
The proposed budget currently under consideration expects that we can achieve increased efficiencies. We can’t. After over 20 years of chronic underfunding there are no more efficiencies to achieve. Every year with no net revenue increase results in a defacto cut equal to the Consumer Price Index. My direct care staff has not had an increase in wages in five years — now we have to cut wages and benefits or close programs.
We are at the tipping point. We are at the fiscal cliff. The most efficient providers are being driven out of business. We are grateful to Gov. Malloy for the 1 percent COLA which softens the blow, but we will have at least a half million dollar loss on top of a major deficit. We need a 4 percent increase in fiscal year 2014 and a 3 percent increase in fiscal year 2015 to simply stay where we are now and meet fixed cost increases. Every year at Oak Hill that we do not get at least a 2 percent increase, we have to absorb a $1,000,000 loss. How long could a reasonable person expect this to go on?
With more than 20 years of chronic underfunding, five years of no net increases, and now an additional two years of cuts and no net increase, how can a reasonable person assume we can continue to function?
After managing human services for 45 years, I am profoundly concerned that we are forgetting why we are here and who benefits. At Oak Hill we provide essential services 24 hours a day to approximately 400 people with significant disabilities. What would a reasonable person assume happens when private agencies under contract to the state are treated like suppliers to Walmart? It is actually worse because those suppliers can expect some margin. The majority of my colleague agencies are struggling with a deficit now. All I ask is that the legislature considers the facts and considers carefully the question: what would a reasonable person do? I urge our elected officials to do the right thing and protect the safety net by increasing funding for private nonprofit providers.
Patrick Johnson is the president of Oak Hill, a nonprofit community provider of services to people with disabilities.