Thursday, July 27, 2006

Decision months away on call center sanctions

Despite performance, state says it doesn't plan to drop privatization
08:49 AM CDT on Thursday, July 27, 2006
By ROBERT T. GARRETT / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – The state has to gather so much evidence before it penalizes the private vendor running social services call centers that any decision about sanctions could be many months away, officials suggested Wednesday.

**By the time the state gets around to sanctioning Accenture, it will probably already be in the process of being sanctioned by the Feds......because we ALL know that's coming.

The state's top social services officials told lawmakers that they are still in the early stages of assessing possible damages for poor performance, which they can seek under a five-year, $899 million contract with a group led by Accenture Ltd., a consulting and outsourcing company.
But Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins said he isn't retreating from privatization of social program signups, despite calls by 60 House members and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell for him to cancel the contract.

*But of course, why in the world would Albert Hawkins listen to House Members? I mean, who are they to him, right? Albert Hawkins only does as he pleases- studies be damned- workers in the field who DO this work everyday be damned- clients be damned.

"The concept of the new model provides many more benefits to our clients, to our workers and to our state taxpayers," Mr. Hawkins said. "And that's why the goals of the initiative are the right goals to pursue."

Both Mr. Hawkins, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, and Accenture executive Randy Willis acknowledged that the outsourcing effort has had some failures, especially last winter.

But they told the House Government Reform Committee that abandoned calls, wait times and errors are down (maybe that's the case because the State was given back the work and now instead of clients calling 2-1-1 they come in the local office for service- if they DO call 2-1-1, guess what they are told? To go to the local office), while service is improving for Texans seeking to apply for social services. Staffing is up at the vendor's four call centers, they said; a fourth opened this month in Athens.

Still, Mr. Hawkins wouldn't say when the state would resume rolling out the new system, which will close many state eligibility field offices as more aid seekers apply by Internet, phone or fax, not an office visit. (Once again- clients have ALWAYS been able to apply by fax. The internet? I mean, let's be real- they go to the website and download the application which then has to be faxed or mailed into the local offices. And, let's not leave out the fact that if the client is applying for FOOD STAMPS they must SIGN the application before it is accepted- so they cannot apply by PHONE. They can give basic info, then must wait for the application to be sent to them, so they can sign, and return. No one has EVER had to make an 'office visit' to apply).

Poorly trained call center operators, technological problems and state rule changes threatened to overwhelm the vendor earlier this year.

Mr. Hawkins said the state has spent more than it expected to help train the private employees. He said that he doesn't know how much that cost but that the money can be recouped in a "fairly simple and straightforward" adjustment to Accenture's future bills.

The state has paid the vendor $103 million.

Mr. Hawkins said the contract was tightly written to protect taxpayers, though some provisions also protect Accenture. The state has to document any allegations of failure to perform and let Accenture respond, he said. He declined to say when he might rule on sanctions.

"The payment structure, the key performance requirements, all of it comes in to make a very complex contract structure," Mr. Hawkins said.

Celia Hagert, a nutrition expert with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank that has criticized the state for rushing the privatization without adequate testing, said a decision on sanctions could take years, not months.

"It would require an incredible amount of work ... by state staff in order to make the case just for a simple penalty," she said.

While people all over the state can apply electronically or by phone for children's health insurance, that can be done for adult aid only in the Austin-San Marcos area.

Even there, the state is still not confident enough of the vendor's capability to let private workers handle new applications. The private workers have focused on reducing a backlog, while state workers process new applications.

Accenture's Mr. Willis said a subcontractor running its Midland call center has had to raise operators' wages to reduce turnover. They are now paid $8.75 an hour, up from $8. (Where is my Accenture commentor from before? The one that said the employees made WAY more than $8? I do believe this quote came from someone FROM Accenture- they've raised what they are paying their employees- to $8.75! That doesn't exactly match that $40,000 year quote that was left in comments on this blog, does it?)



Anonymous said...

""Mr. Hawkins said the state has spent more than it expected to help train the private employees. He said that he doesn't know how much that cost but that the money can be recouped in a "fairly simple and straightforward" adjustment to Accenture's future bills.""

Right, and what about all the overtime the state is having to pay to us to keep up because of the backlog AND the huge number of Texas Works employees who have left for other jobs? Can you imagine what all this 'money-saving' is costing the state? I don't think anyone in my office works less than 50 hours a week every week, and sometimes in excess of 60 hours. It's our only choice to be even close to caught up. Between our own caseload and what we are carrying for other offices that are understaffed, we are overwhelmed. And what do we get out of it? Maybe a little more money from the OT pay, but the cost to our families and our sanity is not worth it. But, week after week, more and more is piled on and I don't see any end in sight.

Anonymous said...

What I read, made this look like a CHIPS hearing. I didn't see any mention of Food Stamp problems. WTF?
I am about sick of it all. I want to leave so bad, but I can't. I couldn't sleep at night, knowing that I left it for the other workers in my unit. After all, I am all that's left in this office.

Anonymous said...

You know what I think would stop this madness by Hawkins?

The workers organize a state-wide walk-out and protest in Austin to get rid of Accenture!!!!!!!!

Workers do not go back until they fire ACCENTURE!

That would buckle the system and they would be at the mercy of the state workers.

Recruit the clients to go picket in Austin also.

Anonymous said...

We just got word on the other two programs...The "family planning for women" and the "paranatal medicaid" for unborn children. The family planning is on hold, as it is done through the tiers program. In my opinion, they are trying to get as many clients into the new system as they can, and this is the reason that they had started this program. If it is what I think it is, a program for counseling on family planning and a way for females to get birth control, what woman between the ages of 18 and 40 wouldn't sign up for it. Once signed up, the go into the new system, and vuala, they are TIERS, and so are all of the people in the associated cases once the review is due.....Luckily it has been placed on hold.
The other program is for mothers who wouldn't otherwise qualify for medicaid due to income or citizenship. They skirt the citizenship issue by promoting it as medicaid for the unborn child. This would be done throuogh the CHIP people, aka TAA. These programs are great ideas. Why can't they be initiated through the AREV program that we have now, so that the folks can be put on benefits now, not have to wait through all of the turmoil of TAA and TIERS?

Anonymous said...

Tread lightly. A walkout may be what they need to get teh go ahead to roll out. They have ARTS workers, and plenty of applications for more, If they don't have us, they may be forced to go ahead with what they have.

Anonymous said...

Sorry guys but a walkout is not available to us as State employees. The best you can do is stage a "sick-out" day - and getting EVERYONE to do it is virtually impossibile!

Anonymous said...

There aren't that many ART workers to work the whole state?

They couldn't hire enough people fast enough to handle the whole state.

Who cares what is available to state workers. You are all going to eventually lose your jobs anyway.

What I would do is get the union to start organizing a walk-out. They present this to Hawkins.....that if Accenture is not fired...that the walk-out would happen.
Get it out to the media what would happen.........and I guarantee you.....they would fire Accenture faster than quick!

Anonymous said...

If we organized a walkout, we'd likely be fired.

We do not have the option of "Striking".

Anonymous said...

They can't fire the union organizing the strike.

They aren't going to fire every state worker. Who would work the cases then? TAA? haha

Anonymous said...

Sounds good to me to "sick out".
We're all just about stressed to sickness anyway.
Something has got to give.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend that just started working in the local office as temporary employee.

So far the 4 others that started with her have only been trained for medicaid.

The office is 40 percent staffed.

They were informed that they may have them start doing food stamp cases because they are unable to keep up.

Workers are getting stressed out and leaving the agency. These are workers that have been there for years are leaving because it has gotten so bad.

Two people in their office had heart attacks due to stress related symptons.

These morons up at HHSC need to stop the plans to roll-out even further. The system is about to crack...... the workers and the clients are so stressed out that people are even resorting to violence.

Someone needs to do something.

Everyone needs to come up with some sort of plan.

Can't the union organize something and get the workers and clients together?!?!?!?!?!