With a potentially costly legal dispute settled between the state of Rhode Island and a group of nursing homes, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said Tuesday that he remains concerned about management issues in the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
“I think we have systemic problems and I think we need to get some managers into these positions that have significant managerial skills to work on straightening out these departments,” Mattiello told reporters after a budget briefing for lawmakers in the House Lounge.
The comments by the Democratic speaker come in an election year when Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo faces a group of rivals that includes Republicans, Democrats, and independents.
Mattiello said his concern was sparked by ongoing problems with UHIP, the state's IT system for administering human-service benefits, and the handling of the state's legal dispute with the nursing homes. The latter issue came to light last week after news reports that a former state lawyer, who had fallen off a state Supreme Court list of lawyers, missed a May 23 deadline for filing a timely appeal in the nursing home dispute.
Four state agencies -- the departments of Health; Human Services; Children, Youth and Families; and Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals -- make up the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, representing services that consume about 40 percent of the state budget.
"From everything that I've observed in the last couple of years, these agencies need some reorganization," Mattiello said.
RIPR asked Gov. Gina Raimondo's office for comment on Mattiello's remarks. The governor's communications director, Mike Raia responded with this:
"Governor Raimondo inherited health and human services agencies that had struggled for decades. She’s hired strong managers with varied experience, and we’ve seen progress. DCYF is placing fewer kids in group homes and more kids with loving foster families. BHDDH is giving more Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities the opportunity to live independently in the community. Ninety-six percent of Rhode Islanders have health insurance and our ACA premiums are the lowest in America. We’ve saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in Medicaid without cutting eligibility or reducing benefits. We’ve made progress, and Governor Raimondo is ready to work with anyone to help tackle the challenges that remain."
Mattiello said it remains the governor's responsibility to oversee Health and Human Services, although he said he expects lawmakers will offer oversight through meetings of the House Oversight Committee.
"I believe you have to hire some folks with managerial skills -- maybe go to some of our private sector companies and hire some people that manage big companies to straighten it out," the speaker said. "Maybe go to another state and get some assistance from someone in those departments. But our departments need to be restructured, reorganized and we have to get the right people in place. The citizens of the state deserve to have services provided in an efficient and timely manner."
Mattiello said his comments were aimed at "the people running the departments," not HHS Secretary Eric Beane.
Beane and Raimondo blamed the problems revealed last week on former HHS lawyer Gregory Hazian, who quit his job, and a supervisor, who, they said, did not share information about the pending legal dispute with the nursing homes.
On the nursing home dispute, Mattiello said he expects a court filing Wednesday to formally end a lawsuit brought against the state by a group of 59 nursing homes. They charged the state shortchanged them on Medicaid reimbursement by $16 million over the last two fiscal years.
Now, with the case settled, the nursing homes will get an 1.5 percent increase in reimbursement starting July 1, and an additional 1 percent in October, Mattiello said, rather than an 8.5 percent cut envisioned in the budget passed last Friday by the House Finance Committee. An amendment will address the issue during a House budget vote on Friday, the speaker said.
In related news:
-- House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi is taking the lead in addressing legislative details on Rhode Island's plan to implement sports betting. Shekarchi said he's working on "the formula, the responsible party and who's doing what." IGT was the only company to bid to operate sports betting at Twin River's sites in Lincoln and Tiverton.
-- Mattiello said the PawSox sent information for a reworked bill Friday, but that he's not yet examined it due to a focos on the budget. "Time is running short, but that will certainly get attention," he said, referring to the limited weeks left in the legislative session.
This report has been updated.