On World Water Day Advocates Applaud Bill to Make Water Service Safer and More Affordable

Source: Food & Water Watch, March 22, 2017
 
As the Trump administration pursues plans to gut federal regulations and encourage corporate exploitation of drinking water through privatization, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) reintroduced legislation today that would protect and bolster community water and sewer systems. The Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would make water service safer, more affordable and more accessible in the U.S. by providing $35 billion a year to improve drinking water and wastewater services. … “Our members work tirelessly to provide access to clean, affordable water to the communities that need it most. Decades of disinvestment and deferred maintenance in low-income communities that rely on public water now requires action from this Congress. This plan invests in publicly-owned and operated water services, creates good jobs and provides relief to working families facing rising water costs,” said Steve Kreisberg, Director of Research and Collective Bargaining at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. … “From Flint to Pittsburgh, the private water industry has consistently put its profits over the needs of communities. The WATER Act dispels the myth that we must turn to private corporations to fund our water infrastructure. It would provide Americans with a path forward to the best solution—robust federal funding for our public water systems,” said Lauren DeRusha, Associate Campaign Director of Challenge Corporate Control of Water at Corporate Accountability International. … The bill would ensure that all funds would go to publicly owned water systems, rather than for-profit providers, and would create an estimated 700,000 to 945,000 new middle-class jobs. …

New York’s largest for-profit SNF operator kept nurses in ‘indentured servitude,’ lawsuit claims

Source: Emily Mongan, McKnight’s March 14, 2017

New York’s largest for-profit nursing home group allegedly kept more than 350 Filipino nurses in “indentured servitude” and sued those who tried to quit, according to a class action complaint filed last week. The complaint was filed against SentosaCare by former employee and registered nurse Rose Ann Paguirigan. She said she was recruited from the Philippines to work for SentosaCare and eventually signed a contract to work for a Staten Island facility operated by the provider. The contract stated that Paguirigan would be employed full time as a registered nurse and paid a base salary; instead, she was employed as an RN manager, given 35 hours of work each week and paid less than the wage stated in the contract. Similar contracts were signed by hundreds of other foreign nurses recruited by the company, although SentosaCare and its recruiter, Prompt Nursing Recruitment Agency, have “policies and practices” to not give foreign nurses full time work or pay them the prevailing wage, Paguirigan’s complaint states. The filing also claims that the provider maintains a “deliberate scheme, pattern and plan” meant to convince foreign nurses that they would “suffer serious harm” if they quit the company or tried to find work elsewhere. This scheme included a reported $25,000 penalty placed in the nurses’ contracts that they must pay if they left SentosaCare before the end of their contract term. …

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How N.Y.’s Biggest For-Profit Nursing Home Group Flourishes Despite a Record of Patient Harm
Source: Allegra Abramo and Jennifer Lehman, ProPublica, October 27, 2015

Charlie Stewart was looking forward to getting out of the nursing home in time for his 60th birthday. On his planned release day, in late 2012, the Long Island facility instead called Stewart’s wife to say he was being sent to the hospital with a fever. When his wife, Jeanne, met him there, the stench of rotting flesh made it difficult to sit near her husband. The small wounds on his right foot that had been healing when Stewart entered the nursing home now blackened his entire shin. … Doctors told Stewart the infection in his leg was poisoning his body. To save his life, they would have to amputate above the knee. Stewart had spent about six weeks recovering from a diabetic emergency at Avalon Gardens Rehabilitation & Health Care Center on Long Island. The nursing home is one of several in a group of for-profit homes affiliated with SentosaCare, LLC, that have a record of repeat fines, violations and complaints for deficient care in recent years.

Despite that record, SentosaCare founder Benjamin Landa, partner Bent Philipson and family members have been able to expand their nursing home ownerships in New York, easily clearing regulatory reviews meant to be a check on repeat offenders. SentosaCare is now the state’s largest nursing home network, with at least 25 facilities and nearly 5,400 beds. …

The decision maker in these deals is the state’s Public Health and Health Planning Council, a body of appointed officials, many from inside the health care industry. The council has substantial leverage to press nursing home applicants to improve quality, but an examination of dozens of transactions in recent years show that power is seldom used. Moreover, records show that the council hasn’t always had complete information about all the violations and fines at nursing homes owned by or affiliated with applicants it reviewed. That’s because the Department of Health, which prepares character-and-competence recommendations for the council, doesn’t report them all. … Thirteen of SentosaCare’s homes (though not Avalon Gardens) have Medicare’s bottom score for nurse staffing. Inspection reports also show that at least seven residents have wandered away from the SentosaCare affiliated facilities in recent years — including one who froze to death in 2011. Inspectors and prosecutors have found that staff falsified records in some cases. Dozens of patients at SentosaCare homes have experienced long delays before receiving necessary care; some ended up in hospitals.

$2M savings may result in $42M loss for La. Medicaid

Source: David Hammer, WWL, March 8, 2017

When former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration ended a $2 million debt-collection contract in 2014, nobody batted an eye. After all, the state faced a mind-blowing $1.6 billion budget deficit and welcomed any bit of spending that could be cut. But that small savings may have actually created a $42 million loss for the state’s federally funded Medicaid program over the last two years. That’s more than the $40 million the Legislature recently had to slash from the Health Department to cover yet another budget shortfall. By letting a contract with New York-based HMS expire in December 2014, the state went more than 14 months without anyone identifying and recovering money for Medicaid bills that should have been paid by third parties – like an auto insurance company on the hook for a Medicaid recipient’s health expenses after a crash, or a private health insurance plan that should have covered an illness but didn’t, instead leaving Medicaid, the taxpayer-funded payer-of-last-resort, holding the bag.

.. When Gov. John Bel Edwards took over last year, his Department of Health was facing $29 million in these uncollected third-party liabilities. And the former contractor responsible for collecting third-party liabilities, HMS, was embroiled in a trade-secret lawsuit with a competitor, Public Consulting Group Inc., which was also seeking the collection contract in Louisiana. Finally, Public Consulting Group settled the lawsuit last year and agreed to not compete with HMS for contracts for seven years. Louisiana rehired HMS under a $2.1 million emergency contract last summer. According to a state legislative audit, HMS estimated the uncollected amount of third-party liabilities at $42 million by the end of 2016, but because of the large gaps in collections work, the Department of Health couldn’t be sure of that figure. … But the audit also identified $18 million in receivables the state may never be able to recover. … There was some hope that by shifting to what’s called a managed-care payment system, the state’s Medicaid program wouldn’t need to pay a company like HMS to collect third-party liabilities; the private managed care organizations hired by the state to make Medicaid payments would take care of that duty. But a significant portion of Medicaid costs in Louisiana are still paid under the old fee-for-service model, without a private managed care organization acting as a middle man. …

Lawmakers request info on NCDOT outsourcing after WBTV investigation

Source: Nick Ochsner, WBTV, March 9, 2017

State lawmakers have requested information from the North Carolina Department of Transportation on the comparative cost to hire private contractors versus using state employees for design and engineering services. The request comes just weeks after a WBTV investigation exposed questions about the increased use of private contractors at NCDOT. Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick) made the request during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transportation Appropriations in the House of Representatives held Tuesday morning. … In response to the question from Iler, NCDOT Chief Engineer Mike Holder said the department was working on trying to quantify the cost of using state personnel versus outside contractors. … Holder told lawmakers NCDOT has agreed to pay a consulting company to study how much money NCDOT pays in overhead costs for its employees. The focus on overhead comes after WBTV’s investigation published line-item cost estimates from private consulting firms that showed the state was paying between 140% and 200% overhead, in addition to the cost of man-hours and other actual expenses. …

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Senator steers millions in NCDOT contracts while taking campaign cash
Source: Nick Ochsner, WBTV, February 20, 2017

A powerful state lawmaker has pushed to increase the outsourcing of services within the North Carolina Department of Transportation while collecting campaign contributions from private firms that do business with the state agency. NCDOT has increasingly been required to rely on private firms for engineering and design services since 2011. Since then lawmakers have required NCDOT to shed hundreds of workers and pay hundreds-of-millions of dollars to private firms instead. Ten of the largest engineering firms collectively billed taxpayers more than $111 million for services in 2016 alone. That sum does not include dozens of other private companies who were also awarded contracts. Internal documents obtained by WBTV Investigates show the private firms being hired by NCDOT are building in inflated overhead costs and a built-in profit margin into their bottom line. But some lawmakers continue to advocate for the outsourcing of more state highway jobs as a way to save money and build state roads more efficiently.

State Senator Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) said it was a pretty easy decision to start outsourcing some services at NCDOT when he and other Republicans took the majority in the state legislature in 2011. … But a review of cost estimates for projects completed by private engineering firms suggests taxpayers may be paying a premium for outsourced services. WBTV Investigates obtained detailed cost estimates for several projects submitted to NCDOT by private firms. … It is not clear if projects completed by private firms—with a built-in profit margin and line items for overhead at up to twice the cost of labor—are more efficient than projects completed by state employees who work for NCDOT. … Campaign finance records show Rabon has collected campaign money from employees of private engineering firms and other companies involved in building roads and bridges, their political action committees and industry-related special interest groups. Records show Rabon’s campaign has taken more than $124,000 since 2012, the first year in which NCDOT was required to hit a specific outsourcing target. It is impossible to know for sure, though, exactly how much campaign money Rabon took from individuals connected to private engineering firms because occupation and employer information is incomplete for a large number of donors. … In his interview with WBTV Investigates, Rabon said he did not keep track of who donated to his campaign and insisted his push to privatize NCDOT services was not connected in any way to contributions made to his campaign. … Legislative records show Rabon continued to advocate for aggressive outsourcing at NCDOT during the 2015 and 2016 budget discussions. …

Coalition continues to oppose private prison in western Minn.

Source: Tom Cherveny, Echo Press, March 22, 2017
 
A coalition of religious and civil rights organizations will continue to oppose legislation that calls for the State of Minnesota to lease or purchase the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.  “Locking up people for profit has nothing to do with justice and has everything to do with making millions from human misery,” said Rick Neyssen, a corrections sergeant at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud and president of Local 599 with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees during a teleconference with reporters on Tuesday, March 21. …

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Bid to re-open private prison in western Minn. gets new look at Capitol
Source:Andy Mannix, Star Tribune, March 21, 2017
 
Republicans who want the state to start using a privately owned prison in western Minnesota pitched it Tuesday as a common-sense solution for overcrowding in state-owned correctional facilities.  A proposal under consideration at the Legislature would direct the state to buy or lease Prairie Correctional Facility, a 1,600-bed prison in Appleton that’s been sitting empty since losing contracts in 2010. … Rick Neyseen, a local AFSCME representative and sergeant at Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud, warned legislators to “beware of the bait and switch” — voicing suspicions that a lease this year could lead to a price hike or full-on CoreCivic takeover down the road.   “Doing business with CoreCivic is like doing business with the devil,” Neyseen said. “The company cuts corners to make a buck and they profit from human misery.” …

Minn. GOP lawmakers look to reopen, lease private prison
Source: Andy Mannix, Star Tribune, January 12, 2017

Republican legislators say they will resurrect an effort to reopen and run a privately owned 1,600-bed prison in Swift County as a way to ease chronic overcrowding in Minnesota’s 10 state prisons. A proposal to lease the facility from its owner, Nashville, Tenn.-based CoreCivic, previously known as Corrections Corporation of America, flopped last year following an onslaught of criticism from the public, worker unions and mostly DFL lawmakers pushing to reduce the prison population. But proponents like Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, say legislators should reconsider this year, downplaying the many criticisms as over-politicized “fluff.” … Last year, Gov. Mark Dayton said he would veto a bill to lease the private facility, instead favoring a plan to reduce the number of people who go to prison. Corrections top official, Commissioner Tom Roy — who could oversee the site if such a bill passed — denounced for-profit prisons as the “antithesis of America.” … In his new bonding proposal, Dayton is asking the Legislature for $53 million for corrections, some of which could help put a dent in overcrowding. Of that, $5 million would go toward a renovation at the Lino Lakes prison, which is projected to free up to 60 beds. Some $3.5 million more would help expand early release programs for qualifying inmates at facilities in Togo and Willow River. Yet Dayton and other opponents have yet to offer a comprehensive alternative plan to significantly reduce the prison population. … The Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton — a small farming town near the South Dakota-Minnesota border — has been vacant since 2010. Last year, legislators from the region introduced a bill that would direct the state to lease the prison. It was met with harsh criticism, including from those who objected to the state doing business with the prison’s controversial owner, citing the for-profit prison company’s long history of lawsuits and allegations of unsafe and unsanitary conditions. In one particularly contentious moment, legislators in the House temporarily shut down a standing-room-only committee hearing due to disruptive protests. …

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Law Firm sues FEMA, seeks agency’s records on Sandy Claims Review program

Source: David Yates, SE Texas Record, March 7, 2017

In late February, the D.C. law firm Weisbrod Matteis & Copley filed a complaint for injunctive relief against FEMA, asserting the federal agency has withheld records related to the agency’s Sandy Claims Review program. WMC represents more than 1,200 Sandy claimants who purchased flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA administers the NFIP with the aid of private insurance companies participating in the Write Your Own program. According to the lawsuit, Sandy litigants uncovered significant evidence of misconduct by WYO insurers and others working on the agency’s behalf that led to the improper denial or underpayment of many Sandy flood insurance claims. … FEMA’s combination of “delay and deliberate underpayment” has resulted in aggregated payments of more than $500 million to federal contractors, while homeowners received less than $200 million during the same period, according to the suit. … WMC submitted Freedom of Information Act requests on Jan. 6, 2016 and Feb. 9, 2016 to unearth documents “concerning these troubling aspects of the SCR” but FEMA has apparently “failed to respond or even to acknowledge these requests for more than a year,” the suit states. …

Bristol School Board, Union Agree Labor Rift Is Over

Source: Don Stacom, Hartford Courant, March 22, 2017
 
The once-bitter relationship between the school board and its unionized cafeteria workers has improved enough in the past 16 months to yield a new contract along with words of praise from both sides.  “It’s a massive turnaround from the constant conflict of previous years,” according to Chad Lockhart, president of Local 2267 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Since the 2015 election changed control of the school board, Bristol has abandoned its controversial plan to replace the cafeteria workers with a private contractor. Both sides have dropped their labor board and court fight, and recently settled on a five-year wage and benefit agreement.  “Negotiations between our board and the AFSCME union have been handled with mutual respect and professionalism,” school board Chairman Christopher Wilson said in a statement. …

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Bristol’s New Board Likely To End School Cafeteria Battle
Source: Don Stacom, Hartford Courant, November 4, 2015

Even though the labor-endorsed candidate at the top of the ticket lost, unions enjoyed a victory Tuesday when voters turned Republican school board incumbents Larry Amara and Genard Dolan out of office. Democrats won a six-to-three majority on the board after being out of power since 2011. That virtually ensures the unpopular Republican-led drive to privatize school cafeterias is dead. Democrats have warned that hiring a contractor to run the cafeterias would ultimately prove more expensive, possibly degrade service and definitely lower the value of 53 food service jobs covered by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. … Democrats campaigned on a theme that privatizing the cafeterias might jeopardize the jobs of 53 union workers — mostly middle-class mothers who reside in Bristol. And even if a private contractor kept them on, it was certain to erode the insurance benefits that cover the workers and their families, Democrats said.

Bristol Taking Next Step To Privatize School Cafeterias
Source: Don Stacom, Hartford Courant, July 9, 2015

The new school year begins in less than two months, and there’s no apparent resolution near in the dispute between unionized cafeteria workers and the board of education. The board’s Republican caucus has been trying to hire a private contractor for more than two years to take over the school lunch program, but has been locked in court and labor board fights with the union representing the roughly 50 workers who run the cafeterias. Last year, the school board signed an agreement to retain Whitsons Culinary Group to take over the cafeteria operation, but changed course after a labor board ruling in favor of the union. The schools ultimately kept their own workers on the job. Next week, however, the board is scheduled to open a fresh round of bids from contractors that want to run the cafeterias for the 2015-16 school year. The school board had sought proposals this spring, but abruptly canceled that request and issued a new request that included detailed breakdowns of how many meals are served at each school….The school board intends to receive bids through July 17….

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JCPS contractor: Study still good despite error

Source: Allison Ross, Courier-Journal, March 22, 2017
 
The contractor that compiled a salary study for Jefferson County Public Schools admits its error made it seem the district was paying a lot more in “premium” salaries than it actually was, but said the error was limited to a supplemental report and does not negate the entire study. “There was one error in one report, and we took responsibility for that,” said Carolyn Long, vice president of Virginia-based Management Advisory Group International Inc., which conducted the salary study. Long said the roughly $40 million error was in some extra information her firm provided as a courtesy in an addition to the original report on salaries that JCPS had requested. … Stovall said the initial release of the salary study caused employees to feel undervalued and underappreciated for the work they do. He said that now, his members feel like the error is a “slap in the face.”  Ron Richmond, political director for the regional chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, agreed.  Richmond said more than 4,000 of his union’s members were “directly impacted by this miscalculation” and said he hopes JCPS will take action over the flawed results. …

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Management Performance Review of Certain Policies, Procedures, Controls, and Financial Activity of the Jefferson County Public School District
Source: Kentucky Auditor Of Public Accounts, May 2014

From the press release:
Auditor Adam Edelen on Wednesday unveiled a comprehensive examination of the Jefferson County Public Schools, exposing an unchecked bureaucracy that has become bloated and inefficient at the expense of the classroom. The largest review ever conducted by the Auditor’s office identified outdated and inefficient operations that cost taxpayers millions of dollars, a school board that doesn’t provide adequate oversight, an inconsistent contracting process, a toothless internal audit system and serious security and privacy concerns…

124 Illinois prison nurses get layoff notices

Source: John O’Connor, Associated Press, March 21, 2017
 
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration has told 124 prison nurses that their jobs are being privatized, a move their union blasted Tuesday as retaliation for its rejection of a contract offer last year.  Nurses stationed at 12 state prisons will be dismissed on June 15, two days after the contract nurses are hired, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press that the prison system’s labor chief sent this week to the Illinois Nurses Association. Alice Johnson, the association’s executive director, noted the notice came just days after the union filed an unfair labor practices complaint with state regulators, claiming the first-term Republican governor has reneged on his obligation to negotiate contract terms in good faith. She said members overwhelmingly rejected a tentative agreement last spring and Rauner is retaliating. … She said the move is particularly troublesome because of a nationwide shortage of nurses that forces Illinois prison nurses to sometimes work 80-hour weeks while vacant positions go unfilled. … Nicole Wilson, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said privatizing the posts would save $8 million a year and “streamline the delivery of medical services.” Medical care vendor Wexford Health Sources provides the rest of the prison network’s nurses. … Rauner, a private equity investor serving in public office for the first time, campaigned on cutting off union power in a solidly Democratic state and has clashed repeatedly with organized labor. He is engaged in a long court and public relations battle with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose 38,000 members have authorized a strike, if necessary, for the first time in its 40-year history. … Legislation requiring a cost comparison between public and contracted nurses be prepared before any contract employees are hired won General Assembly approval last spring. But Rauner used amendatory veto power to change the measure. It died when lawmakers took no further action.

Pennsylvania Just Sued IBM Over an Allegedly Botched $100 Million Project

Source: Jonathan Vanian, Fortune, March 10, 2017

The state of Pennsylvania is suing IBM. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration said this week that it filed a lawsuit against the business technology giant over allegations that IBM failed to live up to a contract to update the state’s unemployment claims system. The allegedly botched project dates back to 2006 when the state hired IBM to replace its old unemployment payment technology, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pennsylvania said that IBM was supposed to finish the $109.9 million project by Feb. 2010, but that the work stalled. Ultimately, Pennsylvania decided to let its contract with IBM expire in Sept. 2013. By that time, the project was “45 months behind schedule and $60 million over budget,” the statement says. … “All told, Pennsylvania taxpayers paid IBM nearly $170 million for what was supposed to be a comprehensive, integrated, and modern system that it never got,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement. He added that the Department of Labor and Industry has instead been forced to maintain its unemployment payment system “through a collection of aging, costly legacy systems, incurring tens of millions of dollars in server, support and maintenance costs.” … One reason for IBM’s alleged delay in completing the project is because of high employee turnover within the company during that time, reported the Post-Gazette. Additionally, Pennsylvania claims that IBM misrepresented several parts of the project that it said were complete at the time, even though the state alleged that software errors in the system remained. …