OMAHA, Neb. — In July of this year, Saint Francis Ministries won a bid to take over the child welfare system in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. Saint Francis promised to do the job for 60% less money than the previous contractor, PromiseShip.
"So I worry that the way that you cut corners and the way that you save money is by having the worker take on more cases than a human being can feasibly manage," Senator Sara Howard said.
We spoke with PromiseShip's CEO and President Ron Zychowski last month. Zychowski stated that he had a hard time believing Saint Francis could do an adequate job with $144 million dollars less in the budget than PromiseShip.
"The only way you make this happen and the only way you don't run a huge deficit is that you're going to have to reduce services to kids and families," Zychowski said.
Saint Francis continuously assures their work will be up to par.
Regardless, PromiseShip is legally challenging the state's decision to switch contractors. In the midst of the legal battle and the transitional period, Saint Francis is set to start the transition of child welfare cases three months early. Senator Sara Howard says even though it's better to transition as smooth as possible, to her this decision does not make sense.
"When they're transitioning child welfare management to a new contractor, so from PromiseShip to Saint Francis, part of their statutory obligations is to create a readiness assessment," she said.
Senator Howard says that this readiness assessment has not yet been completed.
"What doesn't make sense to me is starting that transition before the readiness assessment is complete," she said.
In a statement from DHHS Chief Executive Officer Dannette Smith, she says,
"The readiness review has begun. The DHHS transition team is collecting deliverables and testing for case manager readiness. There are pieces of the readiness review that are based on safety. These elements will be completed prior to Saint Francis assuming case management. Case transfer will not begin until the safety measures of the readiness review are met. Other items within the readiness review will be collected over the next three months, prior to January 1."
If the cases are transferred early that doesn't necessarily mean the previous employees that worked on those cases will transition over as well.
"What we're not seeing is Saint Francis being able to hire PromiseShip workers. So what you hear from PromiseShip is that 33 of their workers have left, not one of them has moved over to Saint Francis," Howard said.
Saint Francis has stated they are currently interviewing positions and are hopeful PromiseShip employees will come and work for them. PromiseShip has also stated they will be fully cooperating with DHHS to implement their transition plan.