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MASSACHUSETTS Disabilities Commissioner Howe retiring from state

The MetroWest Daily News - 5/15/2017

BOSTON - Elin Howe, who has led the Department of Developmental Services for a decade, will retire from state service this summer, she announced in an email to colleagues Friday.

Howe was appointed commissioner of the former Department of Mental Retardation in 2007 by Gov. Deval Patrick, after having served as New York’s commissioner of mental retardation and developmental disabilities. She was reappointed commissioner in 2015 by Gov. Charlie Baker.

She said serving as commissioner for 10 years has been a “privilege.” Her final day of work will be July 14.

“The greatest privilege and honor of all, however, has been the opportunity to serve and support individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (ID/DD) throughout my tenure and, in the last three years, to support individuals with Autism, Prader-Willi Syndrome who do not have an Intellectual Disability and those with Smith-Magenis Syndrome,” Howe wrote to her colleagues and in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders. “Likewise, I have been honored to work with and support families, the largest provider of services to individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in the Commonwealth and absolutely the very best advocates not only for their own family members but for everyone in the system.”

Howe’s retirement was met with sadness from advocates for people with disabilities.

Gary Blumenthal, CEO of the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, told the News Service that Howe’s leadership, her willingness to listen to people outside the administration and her determination made her a respected national leader in the disability field.

“She has been an extraordinary commissioner. She is extraordinarily talented, I think her time has really been the golden era of disability services here,” Blumenthal said. “During her leadership, we closed state institutions, we expanded the community, we established self-determination programs and family support programs. I think she has one of the best records in the nation and I think it is a terrible loss for her to leave during this time.”

Blumenthal said Howe took a lot of personal risks to represent the people served by DDS and their families. “There are very few leaders in state government who are willing to take those personal risks,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said Sudders on Friday shared a letter from Howe with HHS staff and “encouraged them to take a moment to read the many accomplishments she and the entire DDS team have achieved on behalf of individuals with intellectual disabilities and with autism spectrum disorders and their loved ones.”

Sudders and Howe are “working together on a transition plan” and Sudders is “actively searching” for Howe’s successor, the spokeswoman said.

Blumenthal said he hopes Baker will play an active role in finding the next commissioner “to ensure that voices are heard outside of the administration.”

As one commissioner announces plans to depart, another is just getting to work. Toni Wolf, executive director of Employment Options, Inc. in Marlborough, has been named commissioner of Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, effective mid-July.

The MRC assists individuals with disabilities to live and work independently and also handles disability claims on behalf of the Social Security Administration. Former MRC Commissioner Nicky Osborne retired earlier this year.

As director since 1986 of the Marlborough-based organization that serves individuals and families in mental health recovery, Wolf “collaborated with renowned national and international research partners in addressing a service gap for families living with parental mental illness,” the administration said.

“Toni Wolf is a strong and impactful leader with deep experience creating innovative workforce development programs particularly for individuals with mental illness,” Sudders said in a statement. “Her leadership will enable MRC to advance their mission of providing comprehensive services to all people with disabilities. Her experience as a successful executive will bring new knowledge and business acumen in promoting economic self-sufficiency and opening greater doors of opportunity in the community.”

 
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