LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — Leaders from troubled Saint Francis Ministries and heads of Nebraska state departments testified under oath Friday on how specifically St. Francis got the bid for child welfare services in the Omaha metro, considered the Eastern Service Area, in 2019.
Those testifying were subpoenaed by the committee last month.
Dannette Smith, who runs Nebraska's Health and Human Services, said Friday she would not recommend giving the five-year, $197 million contract to Saint Francis Ministries, if she could do it again.
“I do not believe that we would come to the same recommendation,” said Smith.
At the time, she thought they could do the job.
That contract, recommended by DHHS and approved by the state’s Administrative Services Department, was then rewritten earlier this year for 25 months and 75% more a month after Saint Francis said they were out of money.
“At the time there was no thought or belief that St. Francis could not do the job. That was the number that they put in the bid and we believed that they could do the work,” said Smith.
One reason she thought this when evaluating St. Francis and the other bidder, PromiseShip, who ran child welfare in the Eastern service area beforehand, St. Francis scored consistently higher.
“The decision we made was based on the score,” said Smith.
Later on in the hearing that was largely lead by Marnie Jensen, special counsel to the investigative committee. Jason Jackson, head of administrative services, who sealed the deal on the contract, was asked why he didn’t overrule the recommendation from DHHS.
“I don't believe policy makers should want a gubernatorial appointee in Administrative Services, reaching down and overruling subject matter experts,” said Jackson.
Then we heard from the interim President of St. Francis Ministries, William Clark.
“Simply put the bid was bad,” said Clark.
Clark says knowing what he knows now, he wouldn’t have signed the contract, but even at the time staff at St. Francis told the leaders not to finish the deal.
“There was recommendations by team members to not move forward,” said Clark.
He says while the bid was too low, it was not maliciously low and he says it won’t be repeated.
“The St. Francis Board of Directors has changed processes and procedures related to governance to ensure nothing like this happens again,” said Clark.
Still, St. Francis leaders moved forward, even though Clark says they thought they’d lose money in the agreement.
“Did St Francis expect a loss on the contract? The answer is yes,” he said.
St. Francis took over Douglas and Sarpy County about three months before their contract started.
DHHS said that allowed St. Francis to be set up for success. St. Francis said the opposite, that it was not in a position to take over at the time.
Last week, the State of Nebraska began taking all the new child welfare cases in Douglas and Sarpy county, which took job away from St. Francis after reports of very high caseloads for caseworkers.
Some workers held a strike at St. Francis in August, some of whom were later fired.