Assembly, hospital board to discuss Rainforest

City officials say they are looking into complaints about recovery center

Posted: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Juneau Assembly is scheduling a joint meeting with the Bartlett Hospital Board of Directors, and though the timing of the meeting was inspired by complaints about Rainforest Recovery Center, Assembly member and hospital liaison David Stone said the two entities meet annually and "the sky is the limit" for topics they might discuss.

At a work session on Monday, City Manager Rod Swope said that during his "very cursory" inquiry into complaints about Rainforest he spoke with five people, and several others more informally.

"Without exception, everyone indicated there have been significant operational problems with RRC and they are continuing," he said in a Feb. 12 e-mail to the Assembly, which he copied into his memorandum Monday. "The main concerns expressed were inadequate funding, lack of qualified and experienced personnel, ineffectiveness and a poorly managed program and facility."

Swope said these concerns are the same expressed in a September operational assessment update of the clinic by Diamond Healthcare Corp. Hospital officials have said this assessment is what prompted them to hire the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence to manage the center. Bartlett CEO Shawn Morrow said Tuesday that Rainforest has made "drastic improvement" in several problem areas under NCADD Executive Director Matt Felix's management.

The two-year, $240,000-per-year contract, which began in the beginning of the year, was not bid publicly, but Swope said the city's law department and purchasing department reviewed the contract and determined it was legal.

"The only comment I would offer is - given the amount of the contract (nearly $500,000) - I believe it should have initially been put out for competitive bid and not issued as a sole source contract," Swope said.

Howard Scaman, one of the two residents who originally brought complaints against Rainforest to the city, contends the contract was unconstitutional, citing article one, section one of the state constitution, which says that "all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the rewards of their own industry; that all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law." Scaman said there are numerous people and more than one organization in Juneau that could run Rainforest better for less money, and that are interested.

City Attorney John Hartle said the constitutionality argument is "a novel theory" about which he is skeptical.

Morrow said the hospital followed the city's guidelines for awarding the contract. "We're pretty stringent about that," he said.

Felix, who was the original director of Rainforest Recovery Center years ago, spoke in a January interview about the center, its problems and steps the center is taking to address them.

"There's no major problems here. There's a lot of little problems, and most of those are the result of lack of staffing and close oversight," Felix said.

One of the biggest complaints was that there were empty beds and a waiting list simultaneously. "We just didn't have the staff to judge who was a priority set by the state. We didn't have the staff to do the screenings and evaluations prior to coming in, and those kinds of things, and we're getting those in place. These problems go away real quick when you get something in place like that," Felix said.

He also said many of the higher charges on patient bills - one of the complaints brought the Assembly in January - aren't from Rainforest. They're from detoxification and treatment of withdrawal symptoms at the hospital and in the emergency room.

Morrow said admissions have gone up and the center is working on its staffing. He also said they might add more beds or expand the "silver bullet" van patrol, which picks up people incapacitated from substances. Currently there are 12 beds, with the capacity for four more, Felix said.

"I don't think we've really come to a conclusion," Stone said of the Assembly's inquiry. "We typically don't get that far down into these sorts of details. We don't feel we have the expertise. That's why we have these empowered boards. ... We're very cautious about what our role is and just how far down we can go."

The Assembly and the hospital board will likely meet sometime in April.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.



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