Call for review of Santa Clara County consultant contract

SAN JOSE – Santa Clara County members attended a special Board of Supervisors meeting April 18, 2011 and expressed concerns that a county’s multi-million dollar contract with consultant A&M has been rushed through without adequate evaluation, setting of benchmarks, or competitive bidding.

“It seems like you’ve put all your eggs in one basket,” said Brian O’Neill, SEIU 521 Political Chair. “Sinking millions of dollars into A&M, without even looking around to see if someone else may have better qualifications to work with us.”

At the urging of community leaders, the Board held the special study session that day to review its contract with the healthcare consultant firm Alvarez & Marsal.

“We need more transparency and accountability,” said SEIU 521 Chief Steward Emma Davis. “Part of the problem has been we feel excluded from the process. When you stick $1 million into a consent calendar item, as you did last month, it sends a signal that you don’t value public input.”

While the public study session is a step in the right direction, community coalition leaders and county workers were present to make sure the right questions were asked relating to the A&M contract:

How did a $100,000 contract grow to $5.5 million with no competitive bidding? What are the benchmarks for A&M’s work? What steps will the county take to be more transparent and inclusive in the future during the process of choosing consultants whose work has direct impact on county programs and patient care?

“The public and the taxpayers need and deserve an answer,” said wRen Bradley, Santa Clara County Chapter Chair. “If you cannot answer today, please launch a review into the county’s process of contract selection.”

What’s at stake is whether Santa Clara County will succeed or fail in implementing the new health care law that could bring millions in new revenues to the county. What’s also at stake is access to healthcare for thousands of residents – many of them people with disabilities and immigrant groups.

“Homecare workers like myself take care of the most vulnerable population in the county,” said Ellen Rollins, Vice President of SEIU 521 Homecare. “Reforms to the Santa Clara County health system are needed, but how this is done will determine whether residents, and especially seniors and people with disabilities will, receive the high quality and coordinated care they need, or whether they will be denied access and fall through the cracks.”

In the News:

SOURCE: Bay City News, April 19, 2011

SAN JOSE (BCN) – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors today held a special study session to address concerns about a consultant group hired to remodel the county’s hospital system after receiving criticism last month from some who claimed that the county was not being transparent.

A number of members from the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union appeared at a meeting on March 29 to voice their concerns about the county’s $6 million contract with Alvarez and Marsal, a consultant group county Executive Jeff Smith hired last year to prepare the county’s hospitals for health care reform.

They claimed the contract had been rushed through without adequate evaluation, setting of benchmarks or a competitive bidding process.

At that meeting, the board approved the appropriation of $500,000 to the firm, but decided to defer payment on the rest of the original proposal of $1 million to a later date following a public study session to review the contract.

That session was held today, with a presentation by representatives from Alvarez and Marsal on how the firm is evaluating the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s core information technology system to find cost-saving measures and to prepare for health care reform.

As part of their work, they found that the hospital had an “unusually” high number of one-day stays and helped decrease the number by rearranging the priority of patients in the emergency department, sending those with maladies that do not require immediate attention to see a primary care or urgent care doctor the following day.

Representatives said among the firm’s accomplishments were reopening and sustaining access to adult medicine primary care physicians so that patients who needed care could get it on an ongoing basis.

Prior to the presentation, Smith gave an overview of the financial history of the county’s health care system, focusing especially on factors that have impacted the county’s general fund, the most significant being property tax revenues, which he said will not likely return to a “reasonable level” for another four to five years.

Smith said his aim is to reduce the cost of services by controlling the hospital’s operations and to empower mid-level management, citing that they would know what needs to change and how to make those changes.

“We need to change the operations to be ready for a new world,” Smith said.

Wren Bradley, a county social worker, was one of five people who addressed the board, saying the public study session was a step in the right direction.

“I’m pleased that they had this forum,” she said.

Bradley said the presentation made her come to a number of realizations, among them that the county is not prepared for health care reform, that the contract should have undergone a competitive bidding process, and that county workers and community organizations should be a part of the process.

“We are the people that hold up the hospital,” she said. “We have to be a part of the solution.”

SEIU Vice President Ellen Rollins said while she appreciated the detailed presentation, she is still unhappy with the hiring of Alvarez and Marsal, saying that for the money they are being paid, they should have built upon the work of Deloitte and Touche, a consulting firm the county hired for $20 million prior to Alvarez and Marsal.

“They just re-did an analysis that was done two times before,” Rollins said.

Smith has said the work that Deloitte had done was different from that of Alvarez and Marsal and Supervisor Liz Kniss has said Deloitte was replaced because they did not have a strategic plan even after two years.

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