The Alaska Psychiatric Institute, which was on the verge of losing its federal certification last year, has been cleared by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and will maintain its accreditation and federal funding.
The number of patients has increased from 25 in December to 42, with increasing capacity expected, the Dunleavy Administration announced today. The waiting time for criminal evaluations has gone from six months to two weeks, and there has been an increased of staffing levels, with additional nurses hired and all physicians positions filled, at least on a temporary basis.
API was subject to emergency decisions by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, which took over management of the troubled facility shortly after the Dunleavy Administration came into office. The institution had been the subject of an ongoing federal investigation that had found dozens of substantial deficiencies that put patients in “immediate jeopardy,” according to the federal findings. It fell out of compliance in 2017, under the Walker Administration, when Valerie Davidson was the commissioner of DHSS.
API had been operating under a corrective action plan when Michael Dunleavy became governor, and was known as the worst-run psychiatric facility in the nation. It had failed repeatedly to address legal requirements. Since last August, it had been under heightened scrutiny by the federal oversight agency.
By February, Commissioner Adam Crum of the Department of Health and Social Services contracted with a private company, Wellpath Recovery Solutions, to work in an advisory and administrative capacity, “due to the considerable problems that continued to put patients and staff in jeopardy and in light of ongoing investigations by state and federal regulatory authorities.”
The company, based in Tennessee, operates many facilities around the country and was given an emergency sole-source contract to help stabilize API.
UNION UPSET ABOUT PRIVATE CONTRACTOR
ASEA, the public employee union that represents many of the workers at API, objected to the new management plan, saying it should have been put out to competitive bid, but the department said there was an immediate danger to patients that required an urgent solution.
The public employee union continued its objection to Wellpath being able to continue management through the end of this year. In response, the department put the second phase of the stabilization process into a “request for proposal.”
Still, the Alaska State Employees Association in April filed a lawsuit challenging the privatization of API, saying it violated the Alaska Constitution, state law, and its collective bargaining agreement. ASEA asked for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.
“The Dunleavy plan to outsource this hospital goes beyond bad policy,” ASEA Executive DirectorJake Metcalfe said in April. “It violates the Constitutional mandate that Alaska provide for the mental health of its residents, it violates procurement law through the award of a sole-source contract, and it harms the Union and API employees by ignoring ASEA Contract language requiring a feasibility study before anysteps are taken to outsource services.”
ASEA said immediate action would be necessary to prevent WellPath from causing irreparable harm to the union and more than 200 members at API. The lawsuit is on hold while the union has awaited the posting of the actual request for proposal for the management of the facility.
STATE WELCOMES SAFER PATIENT AND STAFF CONDITIONS
Today, the State welcomed the news that CMS had withdrawn its termination action.
“There’s been a lot of positive changes at API due to the actions taken by Commissioner Crum and his team,” said Gov. Dunleavy. “It’s gone from a state of emergency to a psychiatric facility in good standing with federal and state agencies. I applaud the leadership from API and DHSS for making the safety of patients and staff a top priority. All Alaskans will benefit from having this critical piece of our behavioral health system functioning safety and effectively.”
Commissioner Crum called it a significant achievement in the department’s efforts to improve conditions.
“It shows we are making substantial progress in ensuring our patients are receiving high-quality care in a therapeutic environement. I thank everyone working at API for their hard work time and effort they’ve put in to making the changes needed to return it to a place of healing for our patients,” he said.
The institution was recognized by the federal agency for its tremendous improvement in safety and treatment over the last six months. It received its accreditation from the Joint Commission in April, has received its full state license, after having been removed from provisional status, and is working closely with the State Ombudsman to continue to monitor the facility over the next 12-24 months.