It’s that time of week again. As always, use your heart for circulating blood and your brain for everything else.
As was rumored earlier in the week, the state is moving ahead with handing over the management of the Alaska Psychiatric Institute to a for-profit company with—surprise!—ties to the private prison group that “temporary” Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin used to lobby for. The contract was issued outside of the normal competitive bidding process and without public review to Wellpath Recovery Solutions thanks to a state rule that allows such contracting in emergency situations.
It’s clear that the Alaska Psychiatric Institute is in an emergency situation after the damning report that revealed dozens of serious failings and concerns that raised immediate threats to patient and employee safety. Will it improve conditions? Who knows, but it will cost the state more.
Wellpath Recovery Solutions, according to the Anchorage Daily News, is the product of a merger between Correct Care Solutions and Correctional Medical Group Companies. Correct Care Solutions is the group that provides the tie to the infamous private prison company GEO Group, where Arduin used to work as a lobbyist and served on the corporate board.
Correct Care Solutions has a less than spotless track record when it comes to providing mental and physical health care. The company had its contract with a Georgia county terminated in 2017 after five inmates died in its care during a 75-day period.
Officials accused the company of “failure to meet minimum staffing levels,” “inadequate supervision” and revealed that it’d have weekends without provider coverage, “placing both inmates and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office at risk.”
The no-bid contract also doesn’t appear the first time the Correct Care/Wellpath Recovery got some help from public officials in winning a contract. Here’s a line from the Atlanta Journal Constitution on how it was selected to oversee the Fulton County’s contract.
Another company, NaphCare, scored higher than Correct Care in the first round of scoring. But the county then changed its criteria and Correct Care’s score rose. NaphCare, based in Birmingham, Ala., will take over the medical care at the jail Jan. 1 if commissioners approve the move to terminate the existing contract.
The Daily Beast reported in late 2017 that Correct Care was facing more than 140 lawsuits since 2005 over wrongful deaths and other cases, including a case where an inmate’s request to see a doctor for a cough was denied by the company and he later died from pneumonia. The only care, according to the lawsuit, he received was from cough drops he personally bought at the prison’s commissary.
Here’s this stellar assessment of the company’s track record by the attorney representing the man who died from pneumonia.
Cole believes that Correct Care Solutions is incentivized to deny medical treatment because the company must cover costs of hospital treatment and other care given outside the prison, as stated in the lawsuit.
“It cuts into their bottom line,” said Cole. “If you can get away with putting a Band-Aid on something versus surgery, you’re going to opt for the Band-Aid.”
Of course, the discussion over API could likely just be an opener for a larger effort to privatize Alaska’s corrections system. The Department of Corrections has already put privatization on the table as part of an overall “everything’s on the table” approach.
Cost-cutting will be high on the administration’s mind because it’s also pushing for reshaping Alaska’s sentencing laws that will put more people behind bars for longer to the tune of a $41 million increase to corrections’ annual operating budget. Tougher sentences frequently go hand-in-hand with prison privatization, as it helps fill cells and pad bottom lines.
It also comes as the state turned down $1 million for recidivism programs.
A 2011 report by The Center for Media and Democracy outlines Arduin’s uncanny knack for being in the right place and the right time to push for prison privatization. The Washington Post summarizes the report as detailing “how legislation favorable to GEO Group has shadowed Arduin’s presence in government from California to Florida.”
Now, it appears, you can count Alaska among those states.
No, really, do you understand?
Sure, the members of the House’s informal “Finance Committee” weren’t particularly kind to “temporary” OMB Director Donna Arduin when she appeared in front of the committee on Thursday, repeatedly badgering her on whether or not she understood the impact of cutting $20 million in education funding from the already-underway school year.
“You do understand that these monies—the $20 million—were planned for by each of the individual districts. You do understand that?”
“I wanna hear that y’all understand that, actually, this money was appropriated.”
“You expect us to go back and say ‘Hey, we want you to plan and budget, but we were just kidding. We’re not going to give you this money after all.’ That’s kinda what I’m hearing, and I’m in disbelief frankly.”
There were plenty of similar questions directed at the budget director, who eventually had enough and told the committee that such questions were “pejorative.”
She didn’t, however, say whether she understood the impacts the cuts would have on school districts. Arduin, who is making $196,000 a year, said it’s not her job.
The final thing we’ll say about Arduin this week is that we’ve heard that all administrative services directors, the folks responsible for implementing budgets for the districts, will be physically moved into the state office building lovingly known as the “Spam Can” with or without desks available.
The move would complete the process of severing pretty much any ties these folks have to their departments. In a secretive move early in his administration, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy signed an order making it so all these positions reported directly to Arduin, a move that we’ve heard has seriously snarled the workflow for many departments.
This particular move, we’re told, is in order to prevent the leaks.
Landfield has arrived in Juneau
Perhaps that explains the timing.
Stedman on vetting
Senate Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Bert Stedman to Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson during the Feb. 6 confirmation to be successor to the lieutenant governor: Have you embellished your resume or misstated anything in your resume sitting before the committee?
Johnson: Not that I’m aware of, sir, no.
Stedman: I wouldn’t want the public to take those questions out of context. There doesn’t appear to be any reason other than an historical interview here unrelated to Dr. Johnson at all. We want to make sure the information is clean and straight. We have looked into those issues and we have found nothing, which is what we like to find: Nothing.
Another member out
Chief Information Officer Peter Zuyus is the latest member of the Dunleavy administration to call it quits this week. There doesn’t seem to be any publicly stated reason for his departure, but one source said his first meeting in front of legislators would have immediately raised questions about his qualifications.
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy is in the process of trying to give the boot to Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission chair Hollis French, who’s accused of “neglect of duty and misconduct.” The whole thing is laid out in a report by Alaska’s Energy Desk reporters Elizabeth Harball and Nat Herz.
As one observer pointed out, perhaps the Dunleavy administration needs to make room for yet another political appointee to land a cushy $145,000 per year job.
A new Mike Shower
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, had a pretty low profile during his first year in the Legislature when he arrived at the end of a contentious and politically messy appointment process. He kept his head down, didn’t join the Republican majority and got a bill passed.
Watchers have noted that after winning an election, Shower is no longer much of a wallflower and is one of the chattier members of the Legislature.
And while we appreciate his thinking in getting it right on criminal justice rollbacks, perhaps he should brush up on the legislative process.
“As we do this, if we need to slow down and throw on amendments, if we need to have a longer debate and need to work on it, I believe we need to do that because I believe it goes from here to finance and then it goes to the governor’s desk to be signed,” he said.