Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Ohio reforms: Needed moves

Monitoring contracts

Two much needed reforms in the way Ohio does business were inserted in the budget bill passed by the state Senate last week. We urge the House to adopt them as well.

One measure deals with the scandalous way in which Ohio has allowed some of its most defenseless citizens to be treated. The other would keep Ohio agencies from doing business with companies that owe the state money. Both reforms were written by Sen. Jeff Jacobson, R-Dayton, in response to separate investigations published by The Enquirer during the past year.

"Ohio's Secret Shame" reported the abuse, neglect and inadequate oversight that are facts of life in many subsidized homes that provide care for the mentally retarded. The stories documented that 80 to 120 residents of such homes die each year because of lack of proper care. One of the most striking findings of the series was that Ohio's counties, which supervise the contracts in such homes, often don't know if the people hired to provide the care even show up for work.

Jacobson's proposal would require companies that contract to provide care for people in the clients' own homes to check in with company supervisors as soon as they arrive at the home each day. If a caregiver fails to show up or check in on time, the company must send a replacement worker to the home immediately. The caregiving company can then be held responsible for the condition of the client, Jacobson said.

This is a small improvement in accountability, but more may be needed. Jacobson had sought to require state audits of private companies that provide care under publicly funded contracts. He backed off that plan because State Auditor Betty Montgomery said she wasn't sure she had the authority to conduct such audits, and that if she did, her department did not have the budget to afford it. Nor could the State Department of Mental Retardation afford to conduct such audits.

Jacobson's other reform proposal follows an Enquirer story in May that found the state had done little to collect $346 million in tax money that had been misspent, according to state audits. In many cases the state continued to do business with companies against which the auditor had made findings for recovery.

Often those companies have contested the auditor's findings, and as such disputes drag on, millions of dollars in new contracts are awarded to the same firms. Some disputes may be legitimate, but many are not. Private foster care companies alone were cited for $16 million in improper expenditures that included such things as luxury cars, concert tickets and plastic surgery. The reform would require agencies hiring such companies to work out repayment schedules before new work could be awarded.

This strikes us as a straightforward way of doing business designed to keep the state from throwing good money after bad.

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