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Lawmakers hope to make changes after St. Francis Ministries debacle: 'There’s still more to be done'

Posted at 6:36 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 19:36:41-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Practically everybody in the Nebraska state government, and even Saint Francis Ministries, say the original deal for Saint Francis to provide child welfare services in the Omaha area was a mistake. Now, the Nebraska Legislature is determining the next steps.

Around this time last year, the State of Nebraska signed a second contract with child welfare case manager Saint Francis Ministries.

SEE MORE: Embattled Saint Francis Ministries, NDHHS in "mutual agreement" to cease case management contract

This came as Saint Francis was in dire straits and feared going bankrupt from the first deal. Now, the state has largely cut ties with Saint Francis.

In a briefing to the legislature, head of the Saint Francis investigative committee John Arch went over their lengthy report. They’re still trying to determine if this was a standalone issue with Saint Francis or part of a larger problem with the state’s procurement process, which is how the state evaluates and rewards contracts.

Arch pointed to other past failed, low-bid contracts from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“And we have a pattern, a pattern of procurement issues, particularly as it relates to these large contracts from DHHS,” said Arch.

Suggesting the problem may be partly due to the way the state rewards contracts, focusing on the lowest cost.

“What the committee saw was, we have a series of these where large contracts, low bidders unable to perform, need more money, provided more money, and still the outcome was not favorable,” said Arch.

Arch told the senators the state doesn’t have a great system in determining true cost; in this case, it's the true cost to provide child welfare to Douglas and Sarpy County.

While the committee continues to work on the issue, he said the legislation will be coming down the road to address some of these issues, which include picking a strategic vision and refining the process on how the state picks contractors.

“Directors change, directors come and go. We have to have a system to support it, so the director follows the system,” said Arch.

RELATED: Unicameral votes to investigate child welfare provider, Saint Francis Ministries

While Saint Francis acknowledges the five-year, $197 million contract was a bad idea, the report did not find deception on Saint Francis’s part or malfeasance by the state.

Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, who sponsored the bill to create the investigating committee, says the report was an excellent start.

“There’s still more to be done, we still can’t answer who is responsible, if a person is responsible or not, or if it is truly just a failure of the procurement process,” said Cavanaugh.

Arch also pointed to a separate report showing privatizing services like child welfare in the Omaha area has not saved the state money or improved services.

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