More complications apparently have arisen for Ascent Children’s Health Services, a group of behavioral health facilities for children whose chief executive office is state Rep. Dan Sullivan of Jonesboro. A review is underway of its Medicaid billings.
Ascent is the operator of a center in West Memphis where a child died Monday after being left in a hot van all day. Four employees have been charged with manslaughter. The center also closed Wednesday for sanitation at the direction of the state Health Department because of a growing outbreak of shigella bacteria that had affected almost 40 children and staff members. We learned through an FOI request that the Health Department wanted to close the center last week, but delayed the closure until Wednesday, two days after the child’s death, because Sullivan wanted time to notify parents for placement of children elsewhere.
Yesterday, I asked the state Department of Human Services about a tip I’d received that inquiries were being made into Ascent’s billing for Medicaid, which finances services for disabled children who use Ascent. Spokesman Brandi Hinkle responded:
DHS has referred Ascent to the Office of Medicaid Inspector General.
That office, headed by Elizabeth Smith, investigates potential Medicaid fraud. Hinkle provided no further detail to the message I received by e-mail late in the day Friday and I haven’t been able to get a response to followup questions as yet.
DHS is compiling for me the amount of government money paid to Ascent for various services. Those payments are not tied to headcount but to claims for services. Therapeutic daycare services have grown to a large and lucrative business in Arkansas.
Sullivan has not responded to multiple e-mails and a phone call to his cell phone.
Ascent is a subsidiary of the larger Acadia Health Care. Sullivan as a legislator has been an advocate for less regulation of child care facilities. He passed legislation in 2017 to strip the Arkansas Early Childhood Commission of regulatory authority over such facilities.
UPDATE: Hinkle tells me an outside review was requested because the child who died had been checked in for class, and thus eligible for reimbursement, when the child had clearly not reached the classroom. Because of poor practice in following procedure in that case, she said, the state thought a “broad and thorough” review was “good stewardship.”