A convergence of newspaper articles this morning provided some valuable insight on the influence of money in state government.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning did its annual tally on state employment and found the total payroll dipped a bit this year, much to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s pleasure. But catch this quote from the governor, with emphasis supplied by a careful reader who called it to my attention:
“Earlier this year, I loosened the restrictions on the hiring freeze to give my agency directors more discretion over their staffing needs. However, we continued to closely monitor the number of positions in state government in order to maintain our goal of doing less with more.”
OK, either the governor or the reporter got the quote garbled. Call it inadvertent truth. Arkansas government is spending more every year and doing less because of the imperative to cut taxes for the wealthy. UPDATE: The online article has now been corrected to say “more with less.” The original version has more truthiness.
Doing less with more would certainly seem the case with, say, the Department of Human Services lobbying office, tripled in size to a payroll of more than $300,000 with two ex-legislators and a former long-time gubernatorial staffer. Medicaid health coverage, transportation services and home health care all face cuts to the beneficiaries in this new era of transformation.
It is painfully true in the case of disabled people who depend on Medicaid funding for home health services.
The D-G reporting staff also uncovered details for today’s readers of the heavy hand the powerful nursing home industry played in drafting the proposal that will produce cuts in home health services. These services keep people at home and out of more expensive nursing homes (also paid by Medicaid) with help in bathing and other vital services. Andy Davis reports the nursing home industry was at work on drafting rules before the home health agencies knew anything about them.
This reporting couldn’t help but remind me of Michael Morton, the Fort Smith nursing home magnate whose political contributions to judicial candidates were at the root of the charge that sent former Judge Michael Maggio to federal prison for knocking $4.2 million off a unanimous jury verdict for the pain and death suffered on account of neglect of a resident at a Morton nursing home. (Morton has been accused of no crime.) Morton money also was at the root of campaigns to keep neglected nursing home patients out of court through either constitutional amendment or unconstitutional laws on court rules. He’s a big contributor to gubernatorial candidates.
But maybe I just don’t fully understand the goodness of Michael Morton and the nursing home industry. For that, you can turn to a cover story in the magazine Arkansas Money and Politics that details his business success and comments:
Despite his success in the industry — or possibly because of it — Morton works with a target on his back. And he knows it. If you’re making money, he says, you become a target, especially for lawsuits. But he’s not letting it get in the way of his mission to provide quality care to his residents, something that has gained him much respect among his peers.
The success is evident in some 31 nursing home ads accompanying the magazine’s warm article, many from Morton properties. The magazine coverage includes an article on Arkansas nursing homes — “…so many improvements in long-term care over the last 10 years,” says a pull-quote. One area of improvement is a marked jump in profitability thanks to reimbursement changes enacted by the legislature.
Here’s another worthwhile reporting assignment: Track state budget outlays year by year on long-term (nursing home) care and profitability of the individual corporations set up to own each facility, in part set up in a way designed to limit exposure to lawsuits for negligence, as Morton acknowledges in the AMP article.