200 Workers Leave Arkansas Home Health Unit Before Sale

Arkansas is moving forward with a plan to sell its state-run home health service to a private provider, but some state lawmakers continue to protest the decision and have raised concerns about the number of caregivers already leaving the unit.

The deadline for private companies to submit proposals to buy the Department of Health’s in-home health services program was March 11. The timeline is to transition the organization into private hands this summer, according to ArkansasOnline.

But in some parts of Arkansas, the state provider is the only home health option, according to Joint Budget Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville. Characterizing the transition into private control as the state “quitting,” Teague said the plan will not serve his constituents well. Teague’s comments came at a recent hearing of the committee prior to the start of the legislative fiscal session, which begins April 13.

There are parts of the state where the Department of Health has scaled back its services, which has seen 200 of 500 full-time employees leave since the plan first was announced in August, ArkansasOnline reported. But patients affected by the scaled-back services have transferred to private providers, and there is no area where people have no access to home health, Department of Health Director Nathaniel Smith told the committee.

The decision to sell the state’s home health unit was based on increasing competition from the private sector, which includes more than 100 in-home health providers, Smith told the lawmakers. While the program serves about 13,000 people, it saw the number of participants drop 28% over the last five years.

“It made more sense to make this transition at a time when we still have something left to transfer and could negotiate the very best terms, not just for the people we serve, but also for our staff,” he said.

What those terms will be remains to be seen, and House Majority Leader Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, emphasized that the savings to the state will depend largely on the ultimate acquisition price.

At least one condition of the deal is set as a “minimum requirement,” according to Ann Purvis, deputy director of administration for the Department of Health: The buyer will have to retain the state employees for one year. The deal must also enable the state to pay a “retention bonus” from the proceeds of the sale, which will go to those employees who stay with the program until the transition.

Written by Tim Mullaney