An anonymous telephone tip today said mass layoffs had begun at the statewide mental health organizations owned by Ted Suhl’s Maxus Corp.
This would not be unexpected following a federal judge’s refusal to stop the Arkansas Human Services Department decision to stop Medicaid payments to Trinity Behavioral Health Care, the former Lord’s Ranch inpatient facility for youth at Warm Springs, and Arkansas Counseling Associates, with offices serving outpatients statewide. Trinity Behavioral housed about 80 youths. The counseling organization served about 2,500.
The suspension of Medicaid followed a guilty plea by a former DHS official to taking bribes allegedly channeled by Suhl to intermediaries. The official, Steven Jones, remains the only person charged in the case. He has not been sentenced.
My calls to DHS about its efforts to ensure transitional services for youth served by those agencies have not been returned. My call to the main Suhl office was referred to Suhl’s attorney, Mike Scotti, who has not returned calls. Some phones of Arkansas Counseling Associates offices were not answered, others referred calls to the main office.
Our tip came from a caller unhappy because officials of the company had repeatedly assured employees that a way would be found to keep them on the payroll. Some questions exist about payment for hours already worked but not yet compensated for. Questions exist, too, about the ability of workers paid on a contract basis to receive unemployment benefits.
UPDATE: Amy Webb at DHS said Suhl’s companies have given notice that they will drop their appeal of their suspension from Medicaid. They gave notice in a letter today to both state officials and federal court. It stated no reason. She said DHS had been working to find other places for youths in treatment. She said most have been taken care of. If the Arkansas Counseling Associates has closed its doors, she said, “we will transition them to another provider.”
As a practical matter, the loss of Medicaid money would make it virtually impossible for the companies to operate. Most of the patients are covered by the government program, to the tune of $10 million or so a year.
UPDATE II: Webb provided this rundown on handling youths who’ve been under the care of Suhl organizations:
* 50 beneficiaries have discharged from Trinity
* 10 transferred to another Residential Treatment Center (RTC)
* 40 discharged home
* 35 beneficiaries still remain at Trinity
* 8 of those are currently in the process of moving to another RTC
* We are working to contact the remaining parents, have left messages to assist, 13 of the remaining we have had no contact with at this time due to leaving messages or invalid phone numbers. (Note: this information came from Medicaid, but Trinity attorneys told us there were 12 people. I have no information on where the one patient went).
Maxus/Arkansas Counseling Associates:
* We have been assisting with providing information on other providers in their area when we receive phone calls. We have received several calls this week from providers who are getting an influx of referrals. I do not have specific numbers.
UPDATE III: I spoke with Ron Hope, one of the attorneys for Suhl. He said the appeals had been dropped at both the state and federal level after careful analysis of the federal judge’s order. He said they still disagreed with the suspension, but felt the chance of reversal or a supportive finding in the state administrative hearing was likely under current circumstances.
With Medicaid temporarily suspended, the company has no option but to react accordingly in a business with more than 90 patients paid by Medicaid money. Suhl hopes that when the federal investigation is concluded the suspension of participation in Medicaid will end and he can return to business. “We believe our client is not guilty of anything,” Hope said. “We believe that’s the reasons charges have not been brought.”
Hope said he wasn’t familiar with operational details, but believed Suhl employees were working to assist in the movement of patients to other providers and that he anticipated employees would be treated fairly.