January 6

Commentary: Pennsylvania auditor explains qualms about welfare reviewer

He wants Maine taxpayers to avoid the troubles Gary Alexander caused while working in his state.

By Eugene DePasquale

HARRISBURG, Pa. — I recently came under fire from Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s staff for voicing my concerns about the hiring of Gary Alexander under a no-bid contract to review Maine’s welfare system. To set the record straight, I simply hope that Maine taxpayers can avoid the troublesome fate suffered by the people of Pennsylvania under Alexander’s “stewardship.”

about the author

Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, is the elected auditor general of Pennsylvania.

When I traveled across Pennsylvania campaigning to be elected the state’s top fiscal watchdog in 2012, Alexander was in charge of our state’s Department of Public Welfare, but he was the furthest thing from my mind. However, within a month of my taking office as auditor general, Republican and Democratic legislators alike were sounding alarms as the work of then-Secretary Alexander’s agency to consolidate a contract for home care workers was imploding, with terrible consequences for the home care workers and their patients.

I initiated an audit to determine how, under Alexander’s leadership, the consolidation effort could have gone so wrong that thousands of Pennsylvania home care workers went months without pay and some of our most vulnerable residents were forced to seek more expensive care.

Specifically, our audit report examined a 2012 decision by Alexander’s agency to cancel 36 state-based contracts to provide payroll services to those workers who provide long-term care for people with disabilities. Instead, Alexander’s agency awarded a single contract to Boston-based Public Partnerships Ltd. The mismanagement of the transition under Alexander’s leadership led to financial and emotional hardship for as many as 20,000 Pennsylvanians with disabilities and roughly an equal number of the health care workers who earn from $8 to $15 an hour to care for them.

It is from that experience, I can tell you firsthand how policies put in place under Alexander’s leadership cost our state millions of dollars and failed Pennsylvania’s children, seniors and people with disabilities.

I was shocked to hear the news that Gov. LePage had hired Alexander’s firm.

That’s why I’m urging the people of Maine to look at the Department of Public Welfare’s record while Alexander was in charge. I invite you to examine for yourself our independent audit of the consolidation contract his office mismanaged. The audit is available on my department’s website: www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.

Alexander served as secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare for just two years. He came to us from Rhode Island and was touted as an efficiency expert who would save our state millions in Medicaid dollars. Instead, we experienced just the opposite.

For example, under Alexander’s leadership, 89,000 children were removed from our health care programs, and his agency’s mismanagement of the contract to pay home care workers could cost taxpayers as much as $7 million per year.

In November 2013, my department released the full results of our independent audit of the mismanagement of the home care worker contract during Alexander’s tenure. What we found should serve as a warning to Maine taxpayers and policymakers. The so-called “efficiency solution” implemented during Alexander’s time in Pennsylvania led to mismanagement of the contract transition. His agency’s failed oversight of the contract and lack of accountability resulted in thousands of our most vulnerable recipients selecting more expensive care.

Alexander’s agency awarded the contract to Public Partnerships Ltd. after essentially excluding all of the former vendors from applying, leading some potential bidders to complain of the unfair procurement process.

The private out-of-state contractor selected by Alexander’s agency was mired in controversy from the start. Even when the state provided $18 million in upfront payments to this contractor, the firm was still unable to ensure workers caring for our most vulnerable residents would be paid on time. The contractor got paid, the health care workers it was supposed to be taking care of did not.

When Alexander left Pennsylvania just halfway through Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, Bev Mackereth, a well-respected Republican former state lawmaker, was appointed to take Alexander’s place in February 2013.

Following our audit of the botched contract consolidation during Alexander’s tenure, Mackereth said, “We recognize and apologize for the hardships that occurred as a result of this transition to some caregivers, participants and their families.”

The audit results are clear, but we looked into only one aspect of the Department of Public Welfare’s operation under Alexander’s management. Today, our new public welfare secretary and Gov. Corbett seem to be backtracking on some of the policies initiated when Alexander was in charge.

The initiatives implemented during Alexander’s tenure were wrong for Pennsylvania. I sincerely hope the people of Maine don’t get hurt by the same problems.

— Special to the Press Herald

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