Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

From Pittsburgh to Flint, the Dire Consequences of Giving Private Companies Responsibility for Ailing Public Water Systems

Source: Sharon Lerner and Leana Hosea, The Intercept, May 20, 2018
 
The lead crises in Flint and Pittsburgh have many unfortunate parallels. Residents of both cities unknowingly drank water with high levels of the potent neurotoxin, which has long-term health consequences. The rise in lead levels was preceded in both cases by a miscalculation related to chemicals used to control corrosion in water pipes. And in both places, officials have faced criticism for their inaction and failure to alert the public. The two lead crises have another important thing in common: a private water company named Veolia. The world’s largest supplier of water services, Veolia had contracts with both Flint and Pittsburgh around the time that lead levels rose in their drinking water. And in both places, Veolia wound up in legal disputes over its role in the crises. …

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Pittsburgh’s Water System Is Why We Shouldn’t Run America Like a Business
Source: Jordana Rosenfeld, The Nation, November 30, 2017

Pittsburgh, in an attempt to deal with entrenched infrastructure problems, turned to the private sector in 2012 when it partnered with the French management firm Veolia North America, the same water-management company that would fail to disclose Flint’s lead-contamination problem in 2015. … The organization lauded Veolia for identifying $2.3 million in new PWSA revenue and $3 million more in operating savings, a move incentivized by their contract that stipulated the company could keep 40 percent of every dollar it saved the city. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a glowing account of PWSA’s partnership with Veolia, despite reports that it laid off 23 employees, many of whom were longtime employees with critical institutional knowledge. … But this August, a consulting group hired to assess the organization’s current state announced in a public meeting that PWSA was “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure” with “an aging system in demonstrably worse condition than any water utility of its size in the country.” Not only that, water tests showed that since the partnership began, Pittsburgh’s water had been tainted with dangerously high levels of lead. …

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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South Py. holds first public talk on police dept.

Source: Quinn Schwartz, The Herald, March 16, 2018
 
Township supervisors remained mostly silent at the first public hearing to discuss the future of their community’s law enforcement. Supervisors approved a motion in February to advertise for proposals to outsource the municipality’s police services. … Aside from outsourcing police services, other options regarding the future of the township’s police department are to disband the department altogether and rely solely on state police coverage, negotiate a new contract with AFSCME, which represents the township police, or extend the existing contract, which expires at the end of 2018. Acker said that he has been contacted by AFSCME, and that the parties hope to schedule a meeting for later in the week to discuss contract negotiations. He added that if the township does decide on a contract with an outside entity, or to continue without local police, a public meeting will be held before a final decision is made. …

Even discussing selling a nursing home leads to staff turnover, lower quality of care

Source: Rick Lee, York Daily Record, February 28, 2018
 
From Sweden to Taiwan to the United States, decades of international research has established that privatizing nursing homes results in increased staff turnover and decreased quality of care. Even discussing taking a nursing home out of government hands and putting it into the private sector causes staff turnover to begin, according to sociologist Steven Lopez, now an associate professor at Ohio State University. Twenty years ago, Lopez examined three Pennsylvania nursing homes – one that considered privatization; one that was taken over by a for-profit management company; and a privately owned nursing home documented as having low wages, high employee turnover and poor quality of care. Currently, the York County commissioners are exploring the possibility of selling the county-owned nursing home – Pleasant Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. …

… Russ McDaid, the president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, an advocacy organization for many of the commonwealth’s nursing homes, said that is a problem facing many county-owned homes. … There are some people, McDaid said, who believe they can make a nursing home profitable through enhancing revenues and/or decreasing costs. The obvious places to cut costs is with staff numbers and wages, he said. … Both Adams and Lancaster counties sold their county nursing homes for similar financial reasons that are facing York County. …

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Results mixed for other counties that sold nursing homes
Source: David Weissman, York Dispatch, February 28, 2018

As York County Commissioners consider selling the Pleasant Acres Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, they can look for guidance from plenty of other Pennsylvania counties that have recently sold their nursing homes. A York Dispatch review of state Department of Health records and local news reports from across the state found that at least 18 counties have sold their nursing homes, primarily to for-profit companies, since 2005. York County is one of 18 counties that still owns their own nursing homes, according to the review. … Selling Pleasant Acres, which taxpayers have subsidized to the tune of about $75 million during the past 10 years, has been discussed for many years because of its rising costs. The county has contracted the assistance of Susquehanna Group Advisors to solicit bids for Pleasant Acres, though commissioners insist they haven’t made a final determination to sell the 375-bed facility. Andrisano said she has seen counties reverse course after expressing an interest in selling their nursing homes because of constituent feedback, though it’s rare and she couldn’t recall any specific example. York County administrator Mark Derr said he’s been told 15 companies have expressed some form of interest in the nursing home, and final bid submissions are due March 15. …

Handpicked Cedar Haven owner lost control within months, to county’s surprise

Source: Daniel Walmer, Lebanon Daily News, January 26, 2018

The Lebanon County commissioners took great efforts in 2014 to ensure they sold the county-owned nursing home into good hands – but within months, those hands had been forced out of any involvement with Cedar Haven. Now, the union representing Cedar Haven nurses is involved in a bitter, three-month-old strike with current owner Stone Barn Holdings and its managing partner Chas Blalack. Union leadership says the county commissioners deserve some of the blame for not sufficiently scrutinizing the financial situation of the purchaser when it sold the home. …

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Lebanon County Commissioners letter to Stone Barn Holdings, the group that owns Cedar Haven
Source: Lebanon Daily News, January 26, 2018

The following is a letter from the Lebanon County Commissioners sent Jan. 18 to the owner of Cedar Haven nursing home, Chas B. Blalack with Stone Barn Holdings. …

Two months in: When will the Cedar Haven strike end?
Source: Daniel Walmer, WITF, December 21, 2017

The Cedar Haven Healthcare Center nurses’ strike reached its two-month point this week with little fanfare from the union – but behind the scenes, there have been nurses crossing the picket line, an aborted attempt at a negotiation and business dealings by Cedar Haven’s owner. … Here are the basics: There is still no contract agreement on the horizon. The parties met for a mediated negotiation session on Dec. 4, but Cedar Haven owner Stone Barn Holdings rejected it despite “movement” on the part of the union, said AFSCME Council Director Steve Mullen.

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Charter Schools Are Reshaping America’s Education System for the Worse

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation, January 4, 2018
 
Charter schools have been hailed as the antidote to public-school dysfunction by everyone from tech entrepreneurs to Wall Street philanthropists. But a critical autopsy by the advocacy group Network for Public Education (NPE) reveals just how disruptive the charter industry has become—for both students and their communities.  Charter schools are technically considered public schools but are run by private companies or organizations, and can receive private financing—as such, they are generally able to circumvent standard public-school regulations, including unions. This funding system enables maximum deregulation, operating like private businesses and free of the constraints of public oversight, while also ensuring maximum public funding. …

… The Los Angeles Unified School District has seen dramatic effects from the expansion of charter schools as it wrestles with budget crises. … NPE’s investigation found a similar pattern at a BASIS charter school in Arizona, part of a nationwide charter network. … Examining the broader social impact of charters, NPE tracked financial manipulation and fraud at various schools. … Another subsurface problem at many schools is harder to measure: Charters are known for high faculty-turnover rates. … Charters may offer a different relationship to communities, but their brand of “free market” schooling carries costs. Who accounts for the lost social opportunities when education becomes just another market investment?

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Pennsylvania lurches from one software boondoggle to another

Source: Joseph N. Distefano, Philly.com, December 1, 2017

The phones stopped working again at Pennsylvania’s unemployment-compensation offices Tuesday. “Due to vendor-related technical issues,” the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The same department has had to rely on what state auditors in May called “antiquated” software, written in the COBOL language used by punch-card programmers in the 1970s, since spending more than $160 million on a replacement system that failed. Elsewhere in Harrisburg, the Department of Human Services paid benefits to a couple of thousand dead people after computer systems failed to flag them as ineligible, auditors found last year. At the Department of Environmental Protection, the last full audit found water-quality reviews used “decades-old” data updated by hand. And after contractors were paid $800 million over the years, more than four times its projected cost since the 1990s, the Pennsylvania Statewide Radio Network still doesn’t work as designed.

… So Mr. Grove is sponsoring House Bill 1704, which would combine most state departmental IT offices and their short- and long-term planning, procurement, and cyber-security protection into a single Office of Technology. It would be part of the governor’s Office of Administration, under a director with the power to kill or suspend projects that run over budget or below standards. Pennsylvania IT contracts need “better controls” and “stronger clawback mechanisms” (performance bonds), so taxpayers can get their money back when the systems they buy don’t work, elected Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat like Gov. Tom Wolf, said at a Nov. 14 hearing on the bill. … But Mr. Wolf’s appointees worry that the new office could “duplicate” and “conflict with” current procurement rules, Curt Topper, Mr. Wolf’s Department of General Services chief, told Mr. Grove at the hearing before Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s Government Affairs Committee. …

Following NYC, Philadelphia Pulls Pension Stock in Private Prisons

Source: David Gambacorta, Governing, October 27, 2017
 
The Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement voted Thursday to withdraw its investments in the for-profit prison industry, which has been dogged for years by health and safety problems.  Francis Bielli, the board’s executive director, said the board voted 6-1 in favor of liquidating the $1.2 million worth of stock it held in three companies: the GEO Group, CoreCivic, and G4S. The funds will be routed to other investments over several months.  In August, the Inquirer and Daily News published a report on the perils of the for-profit prison industry, which has been paid billions by the federal government since 1997 to house more than 34,000 inmates every year.  A multi-year study by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that for-profit prisons had higher rates of violence and lockdowns, and provided poorer access to medical care, than government-run prisons. …

Pa. House GOP criticizes liquor sales earnings as price gouging

Source: Katie Meyer, Newsworks, September 28, 2017
 
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has posted this year’s earnings, and they’re higher than ever.  Despite overhead cost increases, the PLCB said the revenues are a sign the industry is healthy.  But House Republicans — who have long wanted to privatize liquor sales — said it just amounts to price gouging.  As lawmakers search under couch cushions for money to balance a stalled state budget, the PLCB’s been chipping in more and more cash. A record-setting $216 million last fiscal year was more than double the previous year’s contribution.  It’s slated to pay a little less this year, but the number is still high. …

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House approves bill to sell state’s liquor wholesale system
Source: Mark Scolforo, Associated Press, April 25, 2017

House Republicans on Tuesday pushed ahead a set of changes to how alcohol is sold in the state, moving to privatize wholesale wine and spirits sales and expand the retail outlets where booze is available. Lawmakers voted 105-84 in favor of the wholesale divestment proposal, sending it with other proposals to the Senate for its consideration. The House voted to allow more grocery stores to seek permits to sell wine, no longer restricting the permits to stores with seating capacity, and retailers would be able to buy wine from brokers in the private sector. …

Pennsylvania Republicans Set Up Push For Liquor Privatization
Source: Katie Meyer, WSKG, April 19, 2017

State House Republicans are attempting to chart a new course for liquor sales in Pennsylvania, pushing a traditionally state-run system further and further toward privatization. The as-yet-unknown revenue from that change is also expected to play a key role in balancing the caucus’s proposed budget.  As of Monday, four different GOP-led proposals are awaiting votes on the House floor.  The House Liquor Control Committee just passed House Bills 975 and 1075. The former would stop Pennsylvania from wine wholesaling, and the latter–which is even broader–would take the commonwealth out of both wine and liquor sales entirely. …

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Possible sale of Berks County’s nursing home raises questions of quality

Source: Nicole C. Brambila and Karen Shuey, Reading Eagle, September 24, 2017
 
While the financial future of county-owned nursing homes might be uncertain, decades of research is fairly clear: a public sale likely means the number of health violations will go up as the quality of resident care goes down. Observed by researchers for roughly two decades, the phenomenon is often the result of the new for-profit owners cutting costs by reducing staff and slashing employee benefits. … These questions loom large as Berks County commissioners are mulling over whether to sell Berks Heim Nursing and Rehabilitation in Bern Township. No decision has been made but the county-owned nursing home faces a projected $3 million deficit. Citing questions of quality and safety, Berks Heim staff and some residents are speaking out against a sale.

… Berks County’s commissioners considered selling Berks Heim two decades ago but opted against it. But then, a public sale in the late 1990s would have been a first in the region. … research also shows that a sale becomes more likely when surrounding counties have divested. Among Berks County’s six contiguous counties, four counties – Lancaster, Lebanon, Montgomery and Schuylkill – have all sold county-owned nursing homes since 2005. Only officials in two – Chester and Lehigh counties – have held onto their county-owned facilities. … Talk of a potential sale has been met with sharp opposition from residents and staff. … Divesting a county-owned home then will likely disproportionately impact the poor. … And Harrington, a nationally respected expert on nursing home care, has repeatedly found that for-profit facilities receive more deficiencies than nonprofit or government-owned nursing homes. Comparing the 10 largest chains in the U.S. to government-owned facilities, Harrington found in a 2012 study that serious deficiencies in chains were 41 percent higher. A significant reason for the care discrepancy is staffing levels, typically reduced under new ownership to control costs. …

Pennsylvania municipalities and utilities benefit from privatization, says Moody’s

Source: Paul Burton, Bond Buyer, August 15, 2017 (subscription required)
 
Pennsylvania municipalities and regulated investor-owned utilities will benefit from legislation removing hurdles for local governments to sell water and wastewater systems, Moody’s Investors Service said.  Moody’s in a report Tuesday projected more privatizations. Municipalities within the commonwealth Pennsylvania see utility sales as a way to cope with financial distress and sidestep maintenance and compliance costs.  The report examined the $195 million sale of the Scranton wastewater system and the pending $162 million sale of the McKeesport wastewater system outside Pittsburgh to the Pennsylvania-American Water Company. Regulators must still approve the latter. …