Five members of the state House have asked Alaska’s chief procurement officer to rethink a long-term contract with private contractor Wellpath Recovery Solutions, which currently manages the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Lawmakers overseeing the House's State Affairs, Judiciary and Health and Social Services committees sent the letter late Thursday to Jason Soza.

Signing the letter were Democratic Reps. Zach Fields, Matt Claman and Ivy Spohnholz of Anchorage, Tiffany Zulkosky of Bethel, and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka.

In the letter, they say the state Department of Health and Social Services failed to inform Soza of “Wellpath’s record of lawsuits and patient deaths resulting in negligence and in adequate staffing. Department leadership should have provided that information to you when they requested a no-bid contract.”

The representatives also say the department failed to consider Providence Health & Services Alaska, which has repeatedly expressed interest in managing API.

“I believe that the Health and Social Services department did not undertake a very rigorous due-diligence process in determining whether or not this was the best provider, and that they may not have fully informed our state’s chief procurement officer,” Spohnholz said.

API has been under scrutiny, most recently when the state’s ombudsman released an 85-page report affirming concerns about API ranging from use of force in dealing with resistant patients to alleged ignorance of a patient's rape by another patient. The investigation began last summer.

In February, DHSS announced that it hired Wellpath in a no-bid contract. The agency will begin reviewing Wellpath’s performance in July. The second phase – a long-term contract – is scheduled to begin in September.

The House lawmakers want the state to put the second phase of the contract out for bid.

In a written emailed statement, DHSS spokesman Clinton Bennett said the agency stands by its selection of Wellpath, saying the company is putting API on the right track.

“The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services believes that the process that took place in late January and early February was fully compliant with the procurement code and allowed us to contract with Wellpath to come in and help DHSS turn around a failing Alaska Psychiatric Institute,” Bennett wrote.

“DHSS followed the law during this process and we will follow the law should the Chief Procurement Officer, Mr. Soza, decide that this matter should be re-bid.  We do not think that this is necessary but the decision rests with Mr. Soza. DHSS will be compliant with whatever decision he makes. Until we are told otherwise, we will continue to work with Wellpath to improve the operations of API for both its staff and its patients.”

Earlier, a Senate Finance subcommittee heard a brief presentation from Health and Social Services on Dunleavy’s $43 million request for API. It’s $10 million more than his original request when he rolled out the budget on Feb. 13.

Senate Finance co-chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, led the meeting. She oversees the Senate's Health and Social Services subcommittee and said she will complete her funding recommendation to the full committee the week of April 15.

“One of our goals is to obtain a realistic budget and one that is not short-funded where we would be seeing a supplemental [appropriation] next session,” she said. “So I asked whether they thought that they felt the $43 million included all administrative costs by Health and Social Services, and they assured me that it did.”

Von Imhof said she is satisfied with progress that Wellpath has made with API so far. Wellpath announced this week the hiring of three psychiatrists, including Anthony Blanford, who was fired by the Dunleavy administration.

Blanford is one of three former state employees suing the administration, through the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, for what they consider to be unlawful firings amid a wave of resignation requests after Dunleavy's election. The state Department of Law said Wellpath's hiring of Blanford does not mean the case has been resolved.

Also hired were psychiatrist Mark McClung and chief executive is Matt Dammeyer, formerly with Central Peninsula Hospital.

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