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State social services group opposes giving contract to out-of-state business

The state Department of Human Services’ plan to contract with an out-of-state provider has the union representing social services employees crying foul.

At a recent town hall held via ZOOM, Steve Catanese, union local president, said the forum was prompted by the state’s plan to award a long-term contract to Maximus. The contract would be to handle assessments for the elderly applying for aging services. Currently Maximus handles the enrollment process for Area Agencies of Aging. The new contract would expand their role.

“For those not familiar with Maximus, it’s an out-of-state, privately run contractor based in Virginia,” Catanese said.

“It has a long-standing poor reputation, particularly on Medicaid-related contracts where they consistently produce poor outcomes and pursue profits over the best outcomes for the vulnerable citizens we’re expected to see,” he added.

Jean Sullivan, director of the local STEP Office of Aging, concurred with Catanese’s assessment of Maximus.

“Overall our experience with Maximus has been the same as other AAAs. Our consumers have faced the same robocalls and wait times. Lost or misplaced documents has always been one of the hurdles. We routinely make copies of all documents so we can quickly re-submit them when packets have been misplaced, lost, or ‘never received’ in the mailroom at Maximus,” she said.

One after one, the speakers at the town hall recounted what they claimed were Maximus’ deficiencies.

Howard MacIntosh who works in aging services in Lackawanna County claimed that Maximus creates “bottlenecks.”

“They provide no personal assistance. Basically they send out an application at the beginning of the process and look at the application at the end, like bookends. Those bookends have turned into bottlenecks. If anything, they obstruct more than they facilitate,” MacIntosh said. “I would say, before we consider expanding the role (of Maximus) we ought to really give serious consideration to eliminating it.”

For Julie Elliott, a caseworker in Montgomery County, one of the issues with Maximus is the lack of personal contact between the agency and the adult client.

“It’s a personal thing … they have formed a rapport with their clients. A lot of times a client will call me with concerns and they’re already stressed out trying to put their loved ones in a nursing home. I do my job, as far as in the process, to answer any questions that are asked to make them more comfortable,” Elliott said.

“This is a vulnerable population and it’s so sad that you’re going to give this to a company that’s been notorious for just not being that personal,” she said.

According to Sullivan, the assessment process that the state is considering contracting out to Maximus is designed to determine if the consumer’s level of care meets the criteria for services paid for by Medical Assistance.

“The assessment process is part of enrollment and the AAAs have been performing the assessment process since 1989,” she said.

“In our office, we receive a referral indicating that a consumer is looking for home and community-based services or nursing home care. We immediately enter the consumers demographic information into the assessment system. The referral is assigned to an assessor – and the assessor contacts the consumer. The assessment is completed face to face (or over the phone following COVID 19 precautions),” she said.

“The results are electronically sent to Maximus for those requesting home and community-based services, to be joined with the rest of the enrollment packet. We have a 10-day timeline to complete all assessments. We are meeting that ten-day timeline over 99% of the time,” Sullivan said.

Catanese urged the over 300 people who attended the virtual town hall to get in touch with the governor’s office to express their opposition to Maximus being awarded the contract.

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