Tag Archives: Michigan

Opinion: Maggots, food shortages and contraband — this week in Michigan prison scandals

Source: Nancy Kaffer, Detroit Free Press, November 6, 2017
 
Maggots in the prison food. Again.  You know, I’m starting to think that a state government can’t outsource a service for $11 million less than it paid for in-house work and expect to deliver a quality product.   In three separate recent incidents, inmates at the G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility near Jackson, found moldy food, crunchy dirt in mashed potatoes, and maggots or other foreign substances in or near food, provided by outside contractor Trinity Services Group of Florida per incident reports obtained by a state worker through the Freedom of Information Act and reported in Monday’s Detroit Free Press. That’s on top of reported food shortages, inadequate staffing, unapproved substitutions, a change to the way the company gets paid (from number of prisoners eating to just the number of prisoners) and 176 Trinity workers barred from prison premises for transgressions like smuggling drugs, contraband or overfamiliarity with prisoners. …

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Michigan’s prison food contract: A motive to serve yucky meals?
Source: Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press, October 31, 2017
 
Michigan’s prison food contractor — already hit with millions of dollars in fines for performance issues and facing controversy over employees smuggling drugs and having sex with inmates — may now have a financial incentive to serve lousy food.  That’s because Florida-based Trinity Services Group merged last summer with another big out-of-state company that sells packaged food to Michigan prisoners who can afford to stay away from the chow hall and buy food to eat in their cells.  A few months after that merger, the state agreed to change its prison food contract and start paying Trinity based on the total number of prisoners incarcerated, instead of the number who show up for meals, which was the previous basis for payment.  That’s bad news for Michigan prisoners, because Florida-based Trinity Services Group no longer has an incentive — and in fact has a disincentive — to serve food that prisoners want to eat, critics say. …

Michigan prison food woes drag on
Source: Michael Gerstein, Detroit News, May 10, 2017
 
Food problems continue to plague Michigan prisons in 2017 after Gov. Rick Snyder replaced a previous private vendor over similar issues, state documents show.  Inmates at the Upper Peninsula Kinross Correctional Facility picked through “maggot infested potatoes” to find still-intact spuds for prison meals, according to documents the Lansing-based liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan obtained from the Michigan Department of Corrections through an open records request. … The report shows that the potatoes were discovered less than two months before a costly riot broke out amid prisoners’ complaints about food quality.  “We have had food issues or prisoner complaints at a variety of our prisons. Kinross doesn’t stand out to me as being particularly worse off than any other facilities that have food service there,” said Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections. …

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Veolia’s US growth hopes run into trouble

Source: Luc Olinga, AFP, September 23, 2017

Veolia’s hopes of taking advantage of municipal privatizations and promised Trump administration public works projects to expand its US presence, are being strained by its role in water crises in Flint, Michigan and other cities. … A push by more US local governments to privatize water systems and promises by President Donald Trump of a $1 trillion public infrastructure investment are seen as opportunities to Veolia to expand. … But Veolia’s operations have not been without controversy, especially in Flint, where a lead contaminated water system became a notorious symbol of American social injustice. Veolia issued a study of the city’s water quality before the scandal erupted but did not flag any issues with lead, an issue it says it was told to exclude from the report since city and federal authorities already were looking into it. … Veolia continues to face numerous investigations and class-action lawsuits connected to the crisis. … Veolia also has run into controversy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which also suffered from elevated levels of lead in its water system. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has accused the French company of mismanaging the infrastructure system, including botching a shift in chemicals used in corrosion control. The Pittsburgh authority is in mediation with Veolia, according to two people familiar with the matter, but if that process fails it could result in another protracted court battle. …

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Pittsburgh Tries to Avoid Becoming the Next Flint
Source: Kris Maher, Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2017

As its soot-filled skies cleared, this city built on the steel industry gained a reputation as one of the nation’s most livable places. But it now has another environmental issue to contend with: It is one of several major American cities with lead levels in drinking water above the federal limit.  A total of seven U.S. water systems, which each serve more than 100,000 people, had lead concentrations above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in recent months, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. They include Portland, Ore., and Providence, R.I., which both exceeded the limit at least one other time in the past five years.  Since the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., cities have been under greater scrutiny from regulators and pressure from residents to reduce lead in drinking water. In most cases, there is no easy fix, and more cities are looking at the costly prospect of replacing vast networks of pipes buried under streets and private property. …

Flint And Pittsburgh Have More In Common Than Lead In Their Water
Source: Donald Cohen, The Huffington Post, March 10, 2017

… Around the same time, the city’s water utility was laying off employees in an effort to cut costs. By the end of the year, half of the staff responsible for testing water throughout the 100,000-customer system was let go. The cuts would prove to be catastrophic. Six months later, lead levels in tap water in thousands of homes soared. The professor who had helped expose Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis took notice, “The levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint.” The cities also share something else, involvement by the same for-profit water corporation. Pittsburgh’s layoffs happened under the watch of French corporation Veolia, who was hired to help the city’s utility save money. Veolia also oversaw a change to a cheaper chemical additive that likely caused the eventual spike in lead levels. In Flint, Veolia served a similar consulting role and failed to detect high levels of lead in the city’s water, deeming it safe. … On Wednesday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the city would provide filters for drinking water, which is the right thing to do. But he’s also considering partnering with another for-profit water company to clean up Veolia’s mess. … For-profit water corporations will always have a financial incentive to cut service, shrug off maintenance, and fire employees. When they’re in charge, the high costs of doing business are passed on to residents: privately owned water systems charge 59 percent more than those that are publicly owned. …

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Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools. Its Children Lost.

Source: Mark Binelli, New York Times, September 5, 2017

… A major victim of the city’s borderline insolvency was its public-school system, which had been under state control since 2012. (Six different state-appointed emergency managers have run the district since then.) Plummeting enrollment, legacy costs and financial mismanagement had left the school system with a projected deficit of $10 million. The state’s solution that year was to “charterize” the entire district: void the teacher’s union contract, fire all employees and turn over control of the schools to a private, for-profit charter operator. But enrollment at Highland Park High continued to decline, so the state closed the school in 2015. Highland Park now has no high school, either public or charter. Families send their children to high schools in Detroit or the suburbs, where they have no electoral influence over local officials or school boards.

… Michigan’s aggressively free-market approach to schools has resulted in one of the most deregulated educational environments in the country, a laboratory in which consumer choice and a shifting landscape of supply and demand (and profit motive, in the case of many charters) were pitched as ways to improve life in the classroom for the state’s 1.5 million public-school students. … The story of Carver is the story of Michigan’s grand educational experiment writ small. It spans more than two decades, three governors and, now, the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose relentless advocacy for unchecked “school choice” in her home state might soon, her critics fear, be going national. But it’s important to understand that what happened to Michigan’s schools isn’t solely, or even primarily, an education story: It’s a business story. Today in Michigan, hundreds of nonprofit public charters have become potential financial assets to outside entities, inevitably complicating their broader social missions. …

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Michigan Emergency Managers Outsource Education
Source: Dylan Scott, Governing, August 2, 2012

Can contracting out education services save a school district money and improve student performance? Highland Park Public Schools in Michigan are about to find out. It’s an innovative idea, one enabled by Michigan’s emergency manager law, which gives one public official almost autonomous authority to oversee a city or school district’s finances and operations, as Governing detailed in its June issue. Last week, Highland Park Public Schools Emergency Manager Joyce Parker announced that she planned to hire The Leona Group, a charter school operator, to take over the school’s curriculum and instruction. Parker and her office will continue to oversee financial matters. …

Highland Park district seeks to charter all of its schools
Source: Jennifer Chambers, Detroit News, June 18, 2012

The emergency manager of Highland Park Schools says turning the entire district over to a charter operator is the only way to make it financially viable for students to return this fall…. The Muskegon Heights school district also has sought proposals to place all of its schools under a charter operator. Parker, who has the sole authority to hire a charter operator in Highland Park, said she expects an operator to be selected by mid-July.

Ex Wayne Co. CFO’s ties to developers warrant probe, commissioners say

Source: Ross Jones, WXYZ, August 11, 2017

The sale of a Wayne County building to developers with ties to the county’s former CFO has prompted calls for an investigation by Wayne County’s prosecutor.  County Executive Warren Evans insists the CFO, Tony Saunders, played no role in the sale that and no rules were broken. … Also this week, Denis Martin, the president of AFSCME Local 1862, sent a letter to Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, asking that her office of Fraud and Corruption Investigation Unit dig into the deal.  While the deal was being vetted by the county commission, analysts noted several red flags even before they were aware of Saunders’ connection to the buyers. …

Daily understaffing persists at Grand Rapids Home for Veterans

Source: Amy Biolchini, MLive, August 10, 2017

Understaffing at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans continues to be a problem, according to an follow-up audit released by the state. That’s after the home entered into a new staffing contract in fall 2016. … However, most other major problems at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans identified in a blistering state audit in February 2016 have largely been resolved, the report found. …

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Blame for poor care at Grand Rapids veterans home sits at the top, Dems say
Source: Amy Biolchini, MLive, July 27, 2017
 
Democratic State Representatives Winnie Brinks and Tim Greimel say Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette hasn’t gone far enough to hold officials with the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans and the state accountable for the poor conditions at the facility.  “Why did it take so long to get some action? For years, our veterans were literally calling for help, pressing the help button beside their bed, and hearing silence,” Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, said at a Thursday, July 27, press conference in front of the home.  This week Schuette announced felony charges for falsifying medical records against 11 former nursing assistants who worked for the former contractor, J2S Group Healthforce. His investigation found there wasn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges over the five worst complaints about member treatment, in some of which veterans died. …

Did a 2011 lawsuit against Grand Rapids Home for Veterans predict the future?
Source: David Bailey, WZZM, July 25, 2017
 
The lawsuit was filed by veteran Anthony Spallone intending to stop the on-going privatization at the time.  Gov. Rick Snyder recommended taking state-employed care aides out the home and replace them with nurse aides hired by local contractor J2s.  It was a contentious environment at the time as state aides lost their jobs and were replaced by people they considered to be less-skilled, less-experienced and cheaper.  Union leaders did everything they could to stop the job losses including filing Spallone’s lawsuit.  It alleged the privatization would lead to substandard care and contended J2S had a quote “dangerous track record of care”.   Spallone’s attorney at the time was adamant veterans could be put in terrible situations with the privatization. …

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Michigan begins to design 4 pilot projects to test mental health integration

Source: Jay Greene, Crain’s Detroit Business, August 4, 2017

What is going on at the Michigan health department about designing four pilot programs to test a controversial plan to combine physical and behavioral Medicaid services among mental health agencies, providers and HMOs? So far, nothing, at least on the selection and design of the pilots. … Section 298 is a controversial budget section that, under Snyder’s original plan put forth in early 2016, would have allowed some of the state’s health plans to manage the $2.6 billion Medicaid behavioral health system. The Medicaid HMOs already manage a nearly $9 billion physical health system. Over the past two years, Michigan’s 11 Medicaid health plans have lobbied legislators and the public to try a semi-privatized approach under Snyder’s plan, which was finally approved in June. … Republicans in Michigan want to test the concept in four pilot projects that everyone believes will be Kent County, an urban area like metro Detroit, a northern Michigan rural area and in western Michigan, which could include Kalamazoo County, sources tell me. Lori said the state has not received any formal suggestions for where the four pilots would be located. …

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Plan to privatize Mich. mental health aid advances
Source: Karen Bouffard, Detroit News, June 20, 2017
 
The first step in a plan to turn control of Michigan’s $2.6 billion mental health budget over to privately owned insurance companies is poised for inclusion in next year’s state budget, despite a wall of opposition from mental health providers, patients and families across Michigan.  The contentious plan is embedded in two provisions of the state budget for the Department of Health and Human Services, part of the Omnibus Budget bill approved by the state House on Tuesday expected to be approved by the state Senate on Thursday. …

Lobbying ramp-up precedes mental health funding proposal
Source: Justin A. Hinkley, Lansing State Journal, April 27, 2017

Physical health insurers ramped up lobbying operations and far out-spent their behavioral health counterparts in the months before lawmakers pulled an about-face on who should manage billions of Medicaid dollars for mental health services. Community mental health groups and allied advocacy groups spent about $52,400 on lobbying in 2016, nearly $8,700 more than their average from the previous three years, state records show. That happened as they fought to maintain management of Medicaid money for behavioral health. However, lobbyists for the private insurers who currently manage Medicaid dollars for physical health spent a combined nearly $838,000 last year, about $21,000 more than their previous three years’ average as they seek to take over the mental health dollars. … That ramp-up happened as lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration changed positions on the Medicaid issue — to the benefit of the physical health insurers. In February 2016, Snyder called for the private health management organizations who oversee physical health spending to also take over mental health money by Oct. 1, 2016. Lawmakers denied that proposal and instead asked the administration to study the issue and make recommendations by spring 2017. The administration did that last month, changing its position from 2016 and calling for the two funds to remain under separate management. Last week, however, lawmakers in the Senate advanced a budget proposal that would give the mental health money to HMOs by 2020. …

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Towns sell their public water systems — and come to regret it

Source: Elizabeth Douglass, The Washington Post, July 8, 2017

Neglected water infrastructure is a national plague. By one estimate, U.S. water systems need to invest $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, federal funding for water infrastructure has fallen 74 percent in real terms since 1977, and low-interest government loans have not filled the gap. … The prospect of offloading these headaches to for-profit water companies — and fattening city budgets in the process — is enticing to elected officials who worry that rate hikes could cost them their jobs. Once a system has been sold, private operators, not public officials, take the blame for higher rates. But privatization will not magically relieve Americans of the financial burden of upgrading their water infrastructure. … One of the biggest inducements for water deals is the “fair market value” legislation that has been passed in six states — Indiana, California, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — and is being considered by others.  …

… Even as more cities consider selling their water infrastructure, others are trying to wrest control of their systems back from private operators, usually because of complaints about poor service or rate hikes. Since private owners are rarely willing to surrender these lucrative investments, cities usually end up pursuing eminent domain in court. That means proving that city ownership is in the public’s interest and then paying a price determined by the court. Those prices can be exorbitant. …

Michigan university following Ohio State’s lead with parking privatization

Source: Tom Knox, Columbus Business First, June 29, 2017

A public university in Michigan is considering privatizing its parking system – and using Ohio State University as an example. Eastern Michigan University regents on Tuesday authorized President James Smith to pursue an arrangement to lease out its parking apparatus in exchange for upfront money. … It’s a significant decision because it is one of the first universities to follow Ohio State’s lead after the school signed a first-of-its-kind arrangement in 2012. Ohio State leased its parking operations to Australian pension fund QIC Infrastructure in a 50-year, $483 million deal, framing it as raising money for academics. …

Prevailing wage foes prepare new petition drive

Source: Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News, May 15, 2017
 
A pro-business group pushing to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law has drafted new petition language and is seeking advance approval from the state to begin collecting signatures.  The Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to consider the form of a petition submitted Protecting Michigan Taxpayers that would lift a 1965 law that generally requires contractors to pay their workers union-rate wages and benefits on state-financed or state-sponsored projects. … The committee raised more than $1.7 million for a similar effort two years ago but failed to advance its initiated legislation after paid circulators gathered an estimated 161,781 invalid signatures, including many duplicates.  Republican state legislative leaders want to repeal the prevailing wage law, which they argue inflates the cost of taxpayer-funded construction projects. But GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has threatened to veto any legislation that reaches his desk, suggesting it could hurt his efforts to build interest in skilled trades careers. …

School bus company benched in Detroit because of insurance problem

Source: Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press, April 4, 2017

A company that provides school bus service to nearly 3,000 students in Detroit didn’t meet the proper insurance requirements, an issue that came to light Monday night and forced the Detroit Public Schools Community District to scramble to reassign the company’s bus routes. Safeway Transportation is one of four companies that provides transportation services to the district. Interim Superintendent Alycia Meriweather worked with the remaining companies to take over Safeway’s 67 routes, according to a statement from the district tonight. … Keith January, who heads the AFSCME Local 345, which represents bus attendants, said he wasn’t sure what prompted the change in bus service. He said he was notified yesterday that Safeway “would not be transporting the special-needs students for the district until further notice.” The bus attendants are assigned to buses that transport students who receive special-education services. While the change in bus routes affected all students transported by Safeway, January said he hadn’t heard about delays on the buses that his attendants are assigned to. …