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Audit on Special Commitment Center medical costs disputed

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Nov. 15, 2011 at 12:20 pm with No Comments »
November 15, 2011 12:02 pm

State agencies don’t typically put out press releases alerting reporters to unfavorable audits.

The Department of Social and Health Services did today. Apparently that’s how strongly it disputes a conclusion by State Auditor Brian Sonntag’s office that it’s wasting money on medical services to the violent sex offenders housed on McNeil Island.

The audit, prompted by a whistle-blower, says DSHS should sign contracts with medical providers that frequently treat Special Commitment Center residents on the mainland. Auditors looked at 16 providers of off-island treatment and could find only one with a contract.

DSHS spends more than $2 million a year on emergency care and other off-island treatment. Not seeking the lowest bids costs the state, auditors said. So they tried to put a number on it. They looked at 10 percent of spending in one period and compared it to what Western State Hospital would have spent on similar procedures: $213,746 less, they found.

DSHS says when all medical spending is considered on and off the island, it contracts for most of it — about $4 million out of $7 million.

The agency said it might be able to increase that share but the nearly 300 sex offenders on the island are a special group that requires security on the mainland and isn’t always welcome at local medical practices. DSHS says it wouldn’t be able to get the same rates it gets for on-island treatment, or for Western State’s psychiatric patients whose care is often paid for by federal Medicare or Medicaid.

Special Commitment Center CEO Kelly Cunningham said the center “will contract with off-island providers for medical services only if it will save state tax dollars.”

Read the audit and DSHS’s official response here, as well as the auditors’ response to the response:

… we believe contracts with medical providers for off-island medical services will result in cost-savings.  We do not assert that the Center could get identical discounts as the Hospital, nor do we assert that the Center’s and Hospital’s clientele are similar.  Our comparison was done only to illustrate that contract negotiations likely would yield more competitive rates. Regarding the Center’s statement that it has attempted to enter into contracts for these services, it could provide no evidence this occurred.

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