The Bullock administration says it’s now planning to seek one statewide contract to manage services for more than 2,000 people with developmental disabilities – and still cut state funding by $2.5 million.
State health officials told MTN News this week that the single contract could create “operational savings” if it replaces contracts with four separate nonprofit firms that provide the services now.
Department of Public Health & Human Services spokesman Jon Ebelt said the agency will soon issue a “request for proposal” for the one contract.
Contracts with the four private, nonprofits expire March 31. The firms are based in Missoula, Helena, Anaconda and Lewistown.
The CEO of one of the companies – Opportunity Resources Inc. in Missoula – told MTN News Wednesday that it’s interested in putting in for the contract.
But CEO Joshua Kendrick said it could be a tight time line for any bidder to have a statewide organization in place, by the time the old contracts expire.
“I’m not sure if we would be able to set up that sort of infrastructure and hire that kind of staff in that time frame,” he said.
The state announced last December it planned to cancel the contracts with Opportunity Resources and three other firms, to meet budget-cutting targets passed by the Legislature in November.
The contracts are for “case management” of developmentally disabled adults, helping them live independently by helping them access other services, such as job training, Medicaid coverage and community involvement.
The Bullock administration said initially it planned to take over case-management duties itself, with state employees.
After objections from lawmakers and others, state officials said two weeks ago they would reconsider and try to arrange a new contract with the providers at a lower rate.
Ebelt said this week the companies declined to work at a much lower rate, and that the amount of funding available is “non-negotiable.” That development led to consider the new, single statewide contract, he said.
Jamee Barman, case-management coordinator for Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown, told MTN News Wednesday that a statewide contract might work if the contractor hired case managers familiar with the current clients.
But the case managers still would be asked to increase their caseload, meaning less time spent with each clients, she said.
Barman said Central Montana Medical Center wouldn’t be bidding on the contract, because it doesn’t have the resources to set up a statewide network of case managers.
She also said the current contractors are frustrated with how the state has handled the issue, citing a “lack of communication” and an unwillingness to consider other funding options.
“It seems they’re very indecisive, and that’s hard, because they should be having the case managers’ back, when all else fails,” Barman said. “We’ve all decided to stick this out, but it’s been really hard.”
Kendrick also noted that case managers working for Opportunity Resources have been “on a roller-coaster ride” in recent weeks, wondering if they’re going to still have a job.
“They went from thinking that they lost their jobs, to thinking they had a chance at keeping their jobs, to thinking that they lost it, and now, this newest (development),” he said.
Bullock administration officials have said their hands were tied by the budget cuts placed into law during a special session of the Legislature in November, to close a $227 million budget hole in the state treasury.
“It’s important to note that DPHHS did not want to cancel the contracts with the providers for (developmentally disabled) case management,” the Department of Public Health and Human Services said in a recent statement. “However, DPHHS was forced to make these cuts as a result of decisions made at the last legislative session.”