The Alaska State Capitol. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

The Alaska State Capitol. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Capitol Live: Private contractor to take over administration at psych institute

Live updates from inside the Alaska Capitol.

4:35 p.m.

Democratic Anchorage Reps. Ivy Sponholz and Matthew Claman issued written statements in repsonse to Wellpath Recovery Solutions recieving a no-bid contract to run the administration at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

“Clearly, something had to be done at API because staff and patients are in jeopardy. I am cautiously optimistic that the leadership transformation announced today will be successful in turning things around at API,” Spohnholz said. She is the most most recent Chair of the Health and Social Services Committee in the Alaska House. “Further, I look forward to continuing to work with other legislators to provide diligent oversight of API. I hope the Dunleavy administration will accept the necessity of additional funding for behavioral health treatment in Anchorage and throughout Alaska to address our growing safety crisis both at API and in communities across the state.”

Claman’s written statement said, “I look forward to a full briefing from the department on this decision. It seems like a reasonable first step to take to address the serious health and public safety concerns at API. Moving forward, my colleagues and I will insist on full transparency to ensure that there is real progress towards improving the daily operations at API. We will work closely with the Commissioner and his team to identify additional funding and resources to improve the situation at our only psychiatric hospital. Many Alaskans need urgent mental health care, and they deserve a facility and staff that can meet those needs safely and professionally.”

— Kevin Baird

4:23 p.m.

State Sen. David Wilson, a Wasilla Republican, released the following written statement, regarding the Department of Health and Social Services new contract with Wellpath Recovery Solutions to manage the beleaguered Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

“I appreciate the Dunleavy administration and (DHSS) Commissioner (Adam) Crum taking swift action to combat these important issues. DHSS quickly identified the limitations to the facility’s current capabilities and accessed the necessary tools and resources to keep patients, workers, and Alaskans safe.”

— Kevin Baird

4:10 p.m.

For those looking to provide public comment Saturday on the first of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s criminal justice bills, the governor’s Twitter account gives the correct numbers to call.

— Alex McCarthy

3:20 p.m.

Wellpath Recovery Solutions, a private contractor, is taking over administration at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, but Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, spoke out against the contract during an interview with the Empire earlier this afternoon. Alaska Psychiatric Institute, commonly referred to as API, is a facility where patients receive court-ordered mental health treatment.

According to the Department of Health and Social Services news release, Wellpath Recovery Solutions is, “a nationally recognized health care company with a proven record of success.”

“Well, Wellpath by that name has been in existence four months,” Wielechowski said. “It’s a combination of two other companies that have an extremely disturbing track record.” The companies Wielechowski is referring to are Correct Care Solutions and Correctional Medical Group, which merged in October 2018.

Wielechowski pointed to one Daily Beast article published in November 2017, which reported a lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

“A treatable case of pneumonia turned deadly after medical staff at the Varner state prison refused to treat Lawrence, according to a lawsuit filed last week against the Arkansas Department of Corrections,” the Daily Beast article reads, “and the prison’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions.”

In the same article it was reported that a county in Georgia, “ended their contract with Correct Care Solutions following the deaths of five inmates in 75 days.”

— Kevin Baird

1:50 p.m.

Wellpath Recovery Solutions, a private contractor, has taken over administrative duties at Alaska Psychiatric Institute. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services announced the contract in a news release today.

The Alaska Psychiatric Institute, commonly referred to as API, has struggled in recent years to provide adequate care for its patients. So DHSS Commissioner Designee Adam Crum “invoked his authority” to assume management of the beleaguered institute, according to the release.

“During the course of recent investigations at API, we determined immediate steps were needed to protect patients and staff and ensure complete compliance with federal regulations, which also allows the facility to continue to receive federal funds,” Crum said in the release.

Wellpath was born out a merger between the Correct Care and Correctional Medical Group companies.

Budget director’s history of cutting with ‘hatchet, not a scalpel’ sparks concern

According to Wellpath’s website, “We believe in transforming public health by delivering hope and healing to those who need it most. We treat our patients with the dignity and compassion they deserve, because we care about them as human beings.”

— Kevin Baird

11:58 a.m.

The vote fails. Talerico gets 20 votes. Twenty-one votes were needed. You can see the tally below. The “yeas” all came from Republicans. The “nays” came from mostly Democrats, with Republicans Gabrielle LeDoux and Louise Stutes voting nay along with unaffiliated Rep. Dan Ortiz. Democrats Zack Fields and Tiffany Zulkowsky were excused, and Republican Gary Knopp was absent.

The House will come back together 11 a.m. Monday. Time for representatives to run and catch that 1 p.m. flight to Anchorage.

— Alex McCarthy

Capitol Live: Private contractor to take over administration at psych institute

11:54 a.m.

We’re up and running. Rep. Sharon Jackson moves that Rep. Dave Talerico be named Speaker of the House. We’ll have a vote here in a minute, it seems.

— Alex McCarthy

11:45 a.m.

The House is reconvening here in a moment. Will today be the day?

— Alex McCarthy

10:35 a.m.

For the first time this session, a Juneau lawmaker is introducing legislation. Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, is introducing Senate Bill 46, which aims to help teachers, Alaska State Troopers, firefighters and other public employees get a chance to earn a pension. The bill shares the risk of rising health care costs between workers and employers, and past analysis of similar bills show that it could save the state about $70 million over 10 years, according to a press release from the Senate Democrats.

“Alaska teachers and public employees don’t earn the private sector’s defined benefit of Social Security. A lot of folks even lose Social Security benefits they earned in past jobs, making public service less attractive in Alaska,” Kiehl said in the release. “We need to recruit and retain the highest quality Troopers, firefighters, teachers, and other public employees. This bill will make Alaska competitive, and it’s fiscally prudent, especially in a time where we’re looking for government efficiencies.”

Senate Bill 46 is referred to the Community & Regional Affairs Committee and the Finance Committee.

— Alex McCarthy

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, receives a kiss from his daughter, Adara, before Kiehl is sworn in on the first day of the 31st Session of the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, receives a kiss from his daughter, Adara, before Kiehl is sworn in on the first day of the 31st Session of the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

10:30 a.m.

The House went into recess for an undetermined amount of time. Democratic Reps. Zack Fields, Anchorage, and Tiffany Zulkosky, Bethel, are absent.

— Kevin Baird

9:50 a.m.

It feels like Groundhog Day here at the Capitol with the only agenda items for the House of Representatives being “Elect the Speaker of the House” and “Notify the Governor that the House is organized.”

I’m in the hallway outside the House chamber and the scuttlebutt is a few representatives defected from the House Coalition caucus, and either Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, or Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, would be Speaker of the House.

However, there have been plenty of rumors and speculation about House organization in the 25 days since the 31st Legislative Session began on Jan. 15. So far it has all come to naught.

Of course, the House must elect a House speaker before it can conduct any further business. The House has been at a stalemate since the first week of session.

— Kevin Baird

9:40 a.m.

The biggest buzz in the building is from the Key Coalition of Alaska — an organization that advocates for Alaskans with disabilities — as they have representatives all over the building. According to today’s calendar, there’s a 1:30 p.m. meeting of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education.

There are a few familiar faces walking around the building, including FuBao Goldsberry, a disabled Juneau resident whom we wrote about for our 2018 Christmas issue.

Read that story here: Every donation counts: Bell ringer brings unmatched energy to volunteer work

— Alex McCarthy

9:20 a.m.

There are floor sessions at 10 a.m. (House) and 10:30 a.m. (Senate), but we’ll see how eventful those are. So far during session, these Friday sessions, and most floor sessions overall, have been brief and uneventful. There’s a little buzz around the building about possible caucuses, but with only a few days left until the budget is released, we’ll see if lawmakers are willing to take any risks today.

— Alex McCarthy

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