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Prison healthcare negotiations move forward despite bribery claims

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

In righting the ship of state, Gov. Kay Ivey has demonstrated shrewd political instincts since taking office earlier this year, but her administration took a potentially disastrous turn this past week on a prison healthcare contract.

Several reports on companies bidding to provide federally mandated healthcare service to Alabama’s prison systems found Pennsylvania-based Wexford Health Sources, Inc., has routinely underperformed and is currently caught up in a major bribery scandal in Mississippi.

When the Department of Corrections announced late Thursday that it had selected Wexford Health Sources Inc. – it appears the administration also ignored the red flag warnings that have been reported about the company’s performance in Indiana and Illinois.

Reminiscent of past scandals where the state chooses to cut corners rather than consider the long-term ramification of its “cost savings measures,” Wexford looks to join the ranks of STARRS, CARES, eSTART and the costly VoIP ventures that have resulted in hundreds of millions in tax dollar squandered in the name of savings.

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Lawmakers who have looked at the various prison healthcare providers speaking on background said Wexford is the state’s top choice because it is the lowest bidder. “Here is another situation where the state will waste tens of millions to have a few hundred thousand,” said APR’s sources. “Wexford lobbying efforts are paying big dividends for someone other than the state,” one source said.

Wexford’s ties to a prison bribery scandal in Mississippi as reported by APR earlier this year is just one instance of the company’s worrisome history that also includes accusations of underperformance in Indiana and Illinois.

Prison healthcare contract attracts suitors: cheap date or a lasting relationship?

A court monitor found this past fall that the Illinois Department of Corrections under Wexford’s direction had failed to address the requirements of a federal court settlement involving mental health care.

Among other things, the monitor cited “grossly insufficient and extremely poor quality of psychiatric services.”

In Indiana, records obtained by Alabama Political Reporter show that Wexford is falling short of required staffing levels, particularly in the area of mental and behavioral healthcare, which is a big problem area in Alabama. Wexford’s staff shortfalls also have led to backlogs in providing care, especially with regard to prisoners with chronic medical conditions, including diabetes and HIV.

Report shows Wexford Health Services failing requirements in Indiana

Last week, Mary Sells reported about Wexford’s troubles the Decatur Daily. Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, told Sells he had only recently learned about Wexford’s troubling past. Ward also said,“the three other companies competing for the contract ‘also had knocks against them.’” Ward’s defense seems to leave out that Wexford is the only firm of the three that is currently the subject of a lawsuit claiming kickbacks to a prison commissioner to retain a lucrative contract.

Ward did concede that the prison oversight committee would be taking a closer look at Wexford in light these “new” revelations.

However, in a written statement to APR the Ivey Administration doubled down on Wexford saying, “A review committee comprised of state officials spent several months assessing proposals from four healthcare companies that specialize in correctional health care. The RFP review committee considered each company’s experience and qualifications, delivery of care, staffing requirements and compensation, among other factors.” A statement from ADOC also reinforced its committeemen to the scandal-tainted company adding “The ADOC will enter negotiations with Wexford, which is required by the state’s procurement process until an agreement to the contract is reached.”

Evaluating mental and general healthcare providers is a result of federal Judge Myron Thompson’s judgment that state-provided psychological healthcare services within the department of corrections were “horrendously inadequate.” Thompson’s ruling on prison mental health services is seen by many as an omen of what is coming when the Judge decides on general medical care in correctional facilities.

However, seeing that Ward who heads the prison oversight committee is just now learning about Wexford’s questionable past, and given that ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn has said ADOC is proceeding with contract negotiations with Wexford despite these concerns, should cast doubt over the entire process.

Sources close to this process have told APR the fear all along has been that Wexford would submit a “lowball” bid to get Alabama’s business – and then try to bump up the price later to meet minimum standards for care.

But even if that were not a possibility, the ethical concerns are something the Ivey administration should consider before committing hundreds of millions in taxpayer’s money to a company under investigation for allegedly paying out bribes.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s administration has so far avoided the types of scandals like STARRS and others that plagued the previous administration and led to an investigation by the public corruption unit of the attorney general’s office. However, given Dunn and the administration’s recent statements about Wexford, the honeymoon may be over.

Editor’s note: Corizon is an advertiser on APR, but all advertising sales are the domain of the advertising department and separate from the editorial staff.

 

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

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The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

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Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

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Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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Prison healthcare negotiations move forward despite bribery claims

by Bill Britt Read Time: 4 min
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