Goshen nursing home’s troubles reflect larger for-profit trend

Source: Daniel Axelrod, Times Herald-Record, August 12, 2018

Nurses picketed, state Department of Health inspectors swarmed, and complaints streamed to local elected leaders and the Times Herald-Record in the months after for-profit owners bought the former Elant nursing home in Goshen. Now, nearly a year after the home became Sapphire Nursing and Rehab at Goshen, a Westchester law firm has filed a scathing lawsuit against the business, and the attorneys are seeking class-action status. The plaintiffs, a current resident of the home and the estate of a deceased resident, accuse the owners of slashing staff so deeply that residents often sat in their own waste, begging visitors for bathroom help, meals and care.

… Sapphire’s troubles under its new leadership reflect a larger trend, according to nursing home experts. Facing challenges like inadequate government reimbursements and a lack of self-funded patients, New York’s nonprofit nursing home companies are increasingly selling to commercial operators that cut staff to boost revenue. Trouble began in Goshen when Brooklyn investors Richard Aryeh Platschek, Esther Farkovits, Machla Abramczyk and Robert Schuck acquired the nursing home and three others in Beacon, Newburgh and Wappingers Falls from nonprofit Elant Inc. in September. They immediately began shedding staff in Goshen, which led to a “failure to maintain a safe, clean, comfortable and homelike environment,” according to the state DOH and a state-ordered corrective action plan. As a result, residents were left unattended for hours, medication errors occurred and patients were not kept hydrated, properly nourished and infection-free, according to the DOH. …

The Problem of Private Ambulance Services

Source: David Anderson, Current Affairs, August 13, 2018

Nationwide, there is one massive monopoly, American Medical Response, which is kind of like the McDonald’s of EMS, since they have branches all over that are fairly decentralized but still linked to the same capital distribution system. … The private ownership model for ambulances is fundamentally at odds with its own purpose. In the beginning they were useful insofar as they were an ad-hoc option in a society that gave no thought to whether or not speed was important in treating an illness or injury. However, this jumble of organizations across the nation creates big problems beyond figuring out billing logs. A key problem is the cost of doing business. A single ambulance can cost somewhere in the $500,000 to $1 million range, so any ambulance company’s first priority is to reduce overhead as much as possible. … They want to get the cheapest gear, the cheapest ambulances, and the cheapest workers. You will see EMS personnel make fast-food level wages, for what is ostensibly an extremely important job.

… For all the cost-cutting and neglect, you might at least expect ambulance services to be affordable. Yet as anyone who has taken one knows, consumers pay fat stacks of cash to keep this system running. … The usual justifications for free markets fail completely when it comes to ambulances, since there’s no practical way for “consumer choice” to improve services. When you’re bleeding to death, it’s hard to comparison shop—not that you’re even offered a choice. … Given the poor employment conditions, EMT culture should be fertile territory for left organizing. Unfortunately, the poor pay of EMTs has often been used as an argument against the improvement of other workers’ lives. … Capitalism struggles to fit emergency services into its overall structure. .. Good emergency medical services are going to be expensive and unprofitable. …

Michigan’s Failed Effort to Privatize Prison Kitchens and the Future of Institutional Food

Source: Tom Perkins, Civil Eats, August 20, 2018
 
The stated purpose of Michigan’s privatization plan was to save the state money on operating costs—replacing union workers earning $15-$25 per hour with low-wage Aramark workers earning $11-$13. But critics point out that disabling the union positions in prison kitchens served as an added benefit. In 2013, the MDOC signed a three-year, $145 million contract with Aramark despite the fact that a union—the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 25—offered to match that price. The union-busting point was driven home in 2015, when the department dumped Aramark and switched to Tampa-based Trinity Food Services, with which it signed a three-year, $158 million contract—a more expensive contract than what AFSCME had offered. …

Related:

Despite problems, Michigan is hiring Trinity employees to work in its prison kitchens
Source: Tom Perkins, Detroit Metro Times, June 19, 2018

For several years, private food service employees in Michigan’s prison kitchens have been a consistent problem. … Despite that, the Michigan Department of Corrections is now hiring some of Trinity’s employees, and they will be unionized state workers within the next several months. … The employees will be a part of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union. Nick Ciaramitaro, legislative director for AFSCME Council 25, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. …

Michigan’s $56.8B budget tackles prisons, potholes and pot
Source: Emily Lawler, MLive, June 12, 2018

The House and Senate on Tuesday voted to approve a $56.8 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2019, putting more money toward things like roads and regulating medical marijuana facilities while saving $19.2 million by closing a prison. … In his budget proposal earlier this year, Snyder moved to get rid of the contractor altogether and go back to state workers. The legislature followed suit, putting an extra $13.2 million into food services and authorized 352 new full-time equivalent employee positions.    Overall the Department of Corrections gets $2 billion in the budget. …

Continue reading

Children poisoned by lead on U.S. Army bases as hazards go ignored

Source: Reuters, August 16, 2018

Like most family housing on U.S. bases today, the home wasn’t owned and operated by the military. It was managed by Villages of Benning, a partnership between two private companies and the U.S. Army, whose website beckons families to “enjoy the luxuries of on-post living.” … The results: At least 113 spots in the home had lead paint, including several peeling or crumbling patches, requiring $26,150 in lead abatement. Villages of Benning moved the Browns into another old house next door. The heavy metal had stunted JC’s brain, medical records reviewed by Reuters show. At age two, he was diagnosed with a developmental disorder caused by lead. Now eight, JC has undergone years of costly therapy. … The Browns’ story and others, told publicly for the first time here, reveal a toxic scourge inside homes on military bases. Previously undisclosed military and state health records, and testing by Reuters for lead in soldiers’ homes, show problems at some of America’s largest military installations.

… Reuters tested five homes at Benning, using a methodology designed with a Columbia University geochemist. All five contained hazardous levels of deteriorating lead paint within reach of children, in one case exceeding the federal threshold by a factor of 58. Testing turned up problems elsewhere as well. At West Point, New York, home of the United States Military Academy, paint chips falling from a family’s front door contained lead at 19 times the federal threshold. At Kentucky’s Fort Knox, whose vaults hold much of America’s gold reserves, Reuters found paint peeling from a covered porch where small kids play. It contained 50 percent lead by weight, or 100 times the threshold. … These homes put military kids at risk. Reuters obtained medical data from the Army showing that at least 31 small children tested high for lead at a Fort Benning hospital over a recent six-year period. …

JobsOhio will likely survive the election

Source: Jay Miller, Crain’s Cleveland Business, August 19, 2018
 
It looks likely that JobsOhio,, the private-sector economic development nonprofit created by outgoing Gov. John Kasich, will survive in 2019, regardless of whether Democrat Richard Cordray or Republican Mike DeWine becomes the next governor. Both candidates issued statements indicating that they intend to keep the state’s principal business attraction organization outside of state government. The only question may be who will get to choose the nonprofit’s next leader: the current, nine-member board, all named by Kasich, or the board that will lead the organization after the new governor fills five seats that have four-year terms that expire in July 2019? …

Related:

Despite 34 making six figures, true amounts of JobsOhio salaries still lowballed
Source: Randy Ludlow, Columbus Dispatch, March 12, 2018
 
JobsOhio continues to under report the amounts it pays employees — including 34 workers who make at least six-figure annual salaries — in a move that could run contrary to state law. In its 2017 filings with the state, Gov. John Kasich’s privatized economic development agency again reported employees’ taxable income — which does not include salary diverted to non-taxable retirement contributions and health insurance costs — instead of their gross income. State law requires the nonprofit to report “total compensation.” But its practice of reporting only taxable income serves to understate employee earnings by thousands of dollars each. …

Justices again rule JobsOhio can’t be challenged
Source: Randy Ludlow, Columbus Dispatch, August 31, 2016

The Ohio Supreme Court stood on identical ground Wednesday to reject another attempt to declare JobsOhio unconstitutional. In a 6-1 vote, the court ruled that Victoria Ullmann, a Columbus lawyer, lacked the legal right — or standing — to pursue her action seeking to declare Gov. John Kasich’s privatized economic development agency as illegal. … The court threw out another challenge to JobsOhio in 2014 on grounds the parties lacked proper standing, leaving some to question then if the legality of the nonprofit could ever be questioned in the courts. Ullmann argued she had standing to sue since she, and other Ohioans, support JobsOhio through their purchase of liquor, the profits from which support the entity under its long-term lease of state’s liquor sales enterprise. … Ullmann sued Kasich, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Auditor Dave Yost, asking that the court order the Republicans to take steps to dissolve JobsOhio. A spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine, who defended the officeholders, said his office was pleased with the ruling. … JobsOhio reported earlier this year it attracted a record 23,602 new jobs and $6.7 billion in corporate investment in 2015. The agency reported revenue of slightly more than $1 billion last year, largely from the state’s liquor-sales operation, which racked up record sales last year to produce net income of $235.2 million. …

Continue reading

State orders $293,000 in refunds for Sea Cliff water customers

Source: Mark Harrington, Newsday, August 9, 2018

A state agency on Thursday ordered New York American Water to refund nearly $293,000 to Sea Cliff customers, as a Nassau County probe revealed that water bills issued by the company had spiked at two county parks. The developments come as American Water customers on Nassau’s North and South shores call for public takeover of their water supply after complaints of high bills and the Department of Public Service probe. There also are separate reviews of customer complaints by the Nassau district attorney’s office and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The state Public Service Commission said it ordered the company to refund $292,804 to Sea Cliff district customers as a result of the company’s “gross mishandling” of its property tax filings. A state probe earlier this year found a $2.3 million tax overpayment by New York American Water resulted in $281,421 in overpayments by customers in the Sea Cliff district. According to the PSC, although the company paid the $2.3 million, the vast majority was never billed to customers. A second stage of the investigation found that certain company employees intentionally deceived state regulators during rate-hike proceedings in 2016. …

Related:

Public Service Commission seeks court order against New York American Water
Source: Chau Lam, Newsday, July 12, 2018

The New York State Public Service Commission on Thursday asked its chief lawyer to get a court order directing New York American Water to follow all its regulations, including providing accurate information during rate-hike proceedings. The commission, which regulates the state’s utilities, called for judicial intervention to “help restore consumer confidence” after its report last month revealed that the water company’s employees intended to deceive state regulators in 2016 when the company requested — and regulators approved — its increase to customers’ water rates. The report said company employees were aware of “material errors” in tax calculations starting in 2013, but failed to disclose those errors to state regulators at the time the company was seeking approval for rate hikes. The errors led to customers in the Sea Cliff water district being overcharged, state officials found. … In December 2017, after state regulators had approved the company’s request to hike rates, the company’s senior management and legal counsel admitted the errors to the Department of Public Service, the investigative arm of the PSC. … Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head), who has called for criminal investigations into the water company, said that with a court order, New York American would face harsher penalties if it violated state regulations in the future. …

DeKalb ambulance provider will pay for poor service, county says

Source: Joshua Sharpe, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 7, 2018

DeKalb commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a settlement with the county’s ambulance provider after a long history of complaints. Under the agreement, American Medical Response will resolve $1.9 million in contract penalties for allegedly providing poor service — though only $600,000 will be paid in cash. The company, which has been subject to complaints of slow response time such as one in Dunwoody that took 58 minutes, previously declined to settle the fees but agreed to increase performance. Tuesday’s agreement gives $1.3 million credit to AMR for boosting staffing and adding ambulances at two DeKalb fire stations, one in Dunwoody, the other in Stonecrest. …

Contracting Models Shift Dynamics of Engineering and Construction

Source: Jean Pedley, Journal of the American Water Works Association, July 31, 2018

Whether it’s construction of a new treatment plant or a water main replacement project, successfully delivering capital projects in the water industry requires utilities, engineers, and construction experts to work together effectively. Faced with the need to address aging infrastructure and challenged by restrictive regulations, concerned citizens, and attention to budgets, the water industry needs to explore efficient and innovative models for engineering and construction now more than ever. … This article identifies some of the best practices and tools for alternative project delivery that have been tested in a variety of markets, including power generation and water. Successful alternative delivery projects always involve stakeholders who are adaptable and open to collaboration. In addition, the success of alternative project delivery often depends on integration of advanced tools and technology that create efficiencies in tracking and identifying opportunities to avoid project pitfalls. …

Read full report.

The $1.4 Billion Transit Fund the U.S. Government Won’t Release

Source: Laura Bliss, CityLab, August 15, 2018 

Like a nasty pothole, Trump’s unkept promises on road-and-rail dollars have given transportation fans a mild case of whiplash. But there may be worse harm in another infrastructure lapse on the part of this administration, this one more basic: $1.4 billion promised to transit projects across the U.S., still unallocated by the Federal Transit Administration for no clear reason. From New York to Los Angeles, El Paso to Minneapolis, 17 rail and rapid bus projects are awaiting grants promised by the federal appropriations bill signed into law by Trump in March 2018. But the funds have still not been delivered nearly five months later. Make that 144 days, 20 hours, and 15 minutes later, as of this writing, according to a splashy countdown clock built by Transportation For America, a progressive transportation policy organization. …

Related:

Shovels Down: White House Drives Dagger Into Infrastructure Bill
Source: John T. Bennett, Roll Call, May 25, 2018
 
The White House formally drove a dagger into the passage this year of the kind of massive infrastructure package called for by President Donald Trump. What is on the White House’s legislative agenda for the rest of the year includes another tax package, a farm bill, more federal judiciary nominations — and possibly immigration legislation. White House legislative affairs chief Marc Short told reporters Friday that infrastructure will slide into 2019. He blamed election-year politics, saying Democrats have signaled in recent conversations they are uninterested in handing Trump a victory ahead of the midterm elections. …

Opinion: Rebuilding Schools, Bridges—and Lives
Source: Richard Trumka and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2018

As unions, businesses, engineers and policy makers celebrate Infrastructure Week from May 14-21, we’re reflecting on the investments that add value to America. For every dollar a country spends on public infrastructure, it gets back nearly $3, according to a 2014 study from the International Monetary Fund. Keep this in mind when you hear that the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, has called for $2 trillion to repair, renovate or replace water lines, public schools, bridges and mass transit systems. On top of that, another $2 trillion could make America the global leader in the infrastructure technologies of the future, such as high-speed rail and smart utilities. … When you see that the ASCE’s infrastructure report card gives the nation overall a D+, don’t hang your head. The U.S. can get that grade up. But it won’t happen with a plan like President Trump’s , which would cut Washington’s contribution to infrastructure projects from 80% to 20%, quadrupling the burden on cash-strapped cities and states. The true way forward is to do the opposite: Put the federal government back in the business of building America’s future. …

Continue reading

State ending deals with pharmacy middlemen that cost taxpayers millions

Source: Catherine Candisky and Lucas Sullivan, The Columbus Dispatch, August 14, 2018

The Ohio Department of Medicaid is changing the way it pays for prescription drugs, booting all pharmacy middlemen because they are using a secretive pricing method that has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions. Medicaid officials directed the state’s five managed care plans Tuesday to terminate contracts with pharmacy benefit managers using a practice called “spread pricing” and move to a more transparent pass-through pricing model effective Jan. 1.

… The announcement comes after more than 40 stories by the Dispatch this year investigating the mysterious practices of little-known pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, that make nearly $400 billion a year as part of the country’s health care system. CareSource, Medicaid’s largest managed care plan, will soon seek bids on a new transparent contract to comply with the directive, said company vice president of pharmacy, James Gartner. The state’s leading PBM, CVS Caremark, “is working with our clients [the managed care plans] to update our contracts moving forward,” said company spokeswoman Christine Cramer. CVS uses pass-through pricing in several other state Medicaid programs. …