[tabi] Re: Fw: article in the Tampa Bay Times on DBS

  • From: wendy.hoss@xxxxxxxxxxx
  • To: tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2012 23:04:52 +0000 (UTC)

It was an okay article but it should have had more bite to it. There is so much 
wrong with Blind Services and the CRPs, it should have been written in a way to 
make the public cry out against the abuse of their taxes and the abuse of state 

----- Original Message -----
From: "Allison and Chip Orange" <acorange@xxxxxxxxxxx> 
To: tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
Sent: Monday, November 12, 2012 5:43:50 PM 
Subject: [tabi] Re: Fw: article in the Tampa Bay Times on DBS 

What a great article Robert! Thank you so much for posting it here. You 
know that many of us aren't really involved in the advocacy groups, and so 
having you and others post things here is sometimes the only way we have of 
following important issues. 

As long as Florida allows this type of service, being provided by dozens of 
separate organizations (each of which has its own hiring procedures and 
operating standards), we're never going to be able to control it; we're 
never going to be able to assure any sort of standardization of service 
quality across the state. It's an open door to nepotism and self-enrichment 
at what are obviously staggering rates of compensation. And all of it is 
hidden behind the moral shield of "non-profit corporations", a term which 
immediately calms the public and reassures them; causing them to believe 
that this is all being done by people who are just volunteering their time 
to help the poor blind people in any way that they can. 

Someone may ask "aren't there CRPs who are providing the tax payers with 
quality service at an economical price"? Who don't just have any hiring 
procedures and any salaries they like (because they aren't subject to the 
standards developed for those who take the public monies)? 

I think the answer is "how would we know"? Every single case is different, 
and it appears that none of them are being watched closely enough for us to 
know. Some of them seem to be practicing what I've just heard called 
"vulture capitalism": enriching themselves (and their friends) by billing 
the state, and also collecting from gifts and donations from the public, for 
the same services (of often dubious quality). 

Government may not be perfect, but one thing it's concentrated on is laws 
and policies against these very abuses: salaries aren't allowed to go to 
stratospheric levels, and hiring practices are always open to examination by 
the public. Service quality levels, if not sufficient, can usually be 
brought to the attention of those hire in government, who often can do 
something about it (unlike the current situation). 

I'm not sure what we can do about the current situation; but this article is 
a great aid in helping take the first important step: convincing the blind 
consumers of Florida that there really is a significant problem which needs 

Chip Orange 

From: tabi-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:tabi-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf 
Of Easy Talk 
Sent: Monday, November 12, 2012 4:21 PM 
To: tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
Subject: [tabi] Fw: article in the Tampa Bay Times on DBS 

----- Original Message ----- 

From: <mailto:Easytalk@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> Easy Talk 

To: <mailto:fcb-l@xxxxxxx> fcb-l@xxxxxxx 

Sent: Monday, November 12, 2012 4:19 PM 

Subject: article in the Tampa Bay Times on DBS 

TALLAHASSEE - Looking for a lesson in how government outsourcing is working 
in Florida? 
Try this: Organizations that win business with the little-known state 
Division of 
Blind Services can bill taxpayers $58 an hour for travel time to meet with a 
person. The same organizations can charge taxpayers $2,000 or more to place 
one phone 
If the deal sounds good for the groups that win the no-bid state contracts, 
because it is. 
Why? Because the private third-party vendors largely dictate the terms and 
little oversight, former Division of Blind Services employees say. 
The state agency with a $52 million budget has largely privatized its 
support programs 
as a way to save money and better serve a group of 11,000 Floridians in 
need, state 
officials say. 
But the results are mixed, at best. 
Employee complaints about the Division of Blind Services have spawned at 
least three 
government investigations and four whistle-blower lawsuits, all alleging 
waste on 
some scale. 
Blind Services director Joyce Hildreth, who worked at a group that received 
contracts before joining the state agency in 2008, defends the division. 
Under her 
leadership, she says, the division has repaired fragmented relationships 
with vendors 
while implementing stricter penalties for nonperforming providers. Hildreth, 
earns $119,000. 
"My expectation of both (the vendors) and the division staff is that they 
will work 
together to the benefit of the client," she said. 
The record, however, isn't so clear-cut. 
* * * 
An annual summer meeting between the state and 16 Division of Blind Services 
offers a window into the uneven influence the groups have over an agency 
that is 
supposed to oversee them. 
Their joint mission is to line up ways to help blind Floridians manage their 
from infancy to old age. The division and its outsourced vendors train blind 
for everyday tasks from using a cane to pouring water without spilling. The 
also operates a program to help blind people find jobs. 
At the meeting, state workers and the vendors appear to be business 
partners, according 
to several current and former employees who have attended. But the vendors 
the performance criteria and penalties. 
"I tried to get (the vendors) to suggest how we could get a mechanism in 
place so 
we don't feed their coffers and have poor service," said Jerry Edwards, a 
contract manager who was fired in 2010 after he criticized the "lack of 
meat" in 
the contracts. "The attitude, from Joyce and from (the vendors) of not 
wanting to 
go there, was a real problem." 
Signs of waste are everywhere, former employees Edwards, Julius Kimmie, 
Robert Irons 
and Mary Ellen Ottman said in separate interviews. 
Although the law requires state workers to monitor all 16 providers through 
unscheduled visits, the state only visited one vendor last year, documents 
Hildreth said the agency monitors the vendors by phone. 
Loosely written contracts also allow vendors to make big money by taking 
of loopholes, the former employees say. 
A provider, for example, is paid from about $2,000 to $9,000 per month for 
each person 
it plans to serve. The state pays the money no matter how - or how many 
times - a 
provider helps a client. 
So whether a provider makes 10 in-house visits, or just one phone call, the 
comes in all the same. 
During the 2012 legislative session the division asked for and received more 
$540,000 in additional money to provide care for 201 blind babies on a state 
list. But the vendors already received funding from nonprofit groups to 
cover the 
expenses associated with 172 of the same babies, documents show. 
What's more, the state pays vendors based on their plans for service, 
only time spent and making no attempt to measure results. 
"The (vendors) call all the shots," said Ottman, a former employee who tried 
to raise 
red flags about the contracts to state officials. She quit in September. 
* * * 
Hildreth says the state actually underpays vendors, which have to raise 
money from 
outside sources to cover their costs. 
The biggest vendors, all nonprofits, include LightHouse of Central Florida, 
LightHouse for the Blind, LightHouse of Pinellas and Miami LightHouse for 
the Blind. 
Top employees make upward of $200,000 per year, according to Internal 
Revenue Service 
Representatives for the vendors say they're interested in helping blind 
people, not 
making money. 
"Everyone has to remember this is about providing services to people who 
need it," 
said Colleen Castille, a lobbyist for the vendor trade group, the Florida 
of Agencies Serving the Blind. 
Gov. Rick Scott, who has sought to privatize government services at an 
pace since taking office, has talked about strengthening contract 
transparency and 
But state officials have done little to address contracting complaints. 
The state's chief financial officer, Jeff Atwater, has audited three of the 
of Blind Services' contracts and found them deficient, said spokeswoman Anna 
citing "significant issues in the management." 
Yet Atwater, whose agency signs the contract checks, only has the authority 
to question 
the prices after the contracts are implemented. He can't void contracts, 
even if 
they are bad. 
"If state agencies opt not to make critical changes to contracts post-audit, 
will be on the losing end," Alexopoulos said. 
A May report for the agency's inspector general, which does independent 
investigations, criticized Hildreth for inappropriately managing contracts 
and punishing 
workers. Hildreth says those criticisms are unsubstantiated, both in 
interviews and 
with her staff. 
In the state's complicated management structure, the division is overseen by 
Department of Education. 
Former Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson, who resigned in August, said 
he spoke 
with Hildreth about complaints from employees, but not about the division's 
procedures. State officials know they need to address contracts, he said. 
The question 
is how. 
State contracts are "a problem across the board, this isn't just Blind 
Robinson said. 
Pam Stewart, the interim education commissioner who replaced Robinson, 
largely agreed. 
"We do take seriously the need to look at all of our contracts and make sure 
getting the best return on our investment," she said. "We are already moving 
in that 
Former state employees see it differently. 
"I contacted lawyers, my senator, the NAACP, Fox News and the FBI," Kimmie 
"But what I found out is ... nobody is listening." 
Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at (850) 323-0353 or bdavis@ 
[Last modified: Nov 12, 2012 07:06 AM] 
Copyright 2012 Tampa Bay Times 

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