This comment from Patrick Ouimet was placed under the reply from a friend of McHenry County Blog that was published yesterday:
To: The Anonymous Friend Of The McHenry County Blog:
Thank you for your response. In fairness to the many readers who may not have had time to review this story’s full history, I have taken the liberty of briefly summarizing the facts giving rise to the question asked, the response provided, and this reply. Again, if any of the facts set forth below are incorrect, please feel free to let me know.
The Advantage Group Foundation (TAG or Agency) is a not-for-profit agency that provides chemical dependency treatment services to adolescents and young adults in McHenry County and elsewhere. http://www.advantage.org
According to news reports, TAG receives “about 30% of its funding from the McHenry County Health Board, 30% from the Illinois Department of Human Services Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, and the remaining 40% comes from contracts, private insurance and Medicaid payments.” http://www.nwherald.com/2013/04/23/judge-tosses-treatment-center-lawsuit..
The McHenry County Health Board (MCH) is a community mental health board established by the County of McHenry pursuant to the Illinois Community Mental Health Act, 405 ILCS 20/1 et seq. See http://www.abisoft.org/opinions/2013/3_12-cv-50374_20130423.pdf; The Advantage Group Foundation vs. McHenry County Mental Health Board, Cause No. 12 C 50374, Memorandum and Opinion (J. Reinhard, April 23, 2013). The MCH levies a tax for the purpose of providing community mental health services and facilities. In the year 2012, the MCH received approximately $13 million in tax revenues to fulfill its mission. Id.
In or about August – September 2013, TAG requested $49,000.00 dollars from the MCH. Paula Yensen, Democrat County Board member from District 5, and a member of the MCH, initially supported TAG’s funding request. http:// http://www.mchenrydems.org./stop_the_smear_of_paul_yensen However, after an exhaustive review of TAG’s billing practices, its financial condition, board supervision, and political activities, Ms. Yensen’s initial confidence in TAG and its management led her to conclude that providing TAG with additional taxpayer funds was not in the best interests the taxpayers of McHenry County. Id.
TAG withdrew its request for additional funding and subsequently closed its doors. http://www.nwherald.com/2013/09/25/officials-hopeful-for-advantage-groups-future-after-setback . Shortly thereafter, in an article appearing on this Blog entitled “The Advantage Group (TAG) Sunsets” (http://mchenrycountyblog.com/2013/10/10/the-advantage-group-tag-sunsets), Republican County Board members, Michael Walkup and Donna Kurtz, decided to place all blame for TAG’s closing on Paula Yensen while omitting to inform the public of the very real concerns that the MCH and other members of the McHenry County Board had with TAG’s financial mismanagement, investigations over billing irregularities, board supervision, and improper political campaign activities. Id.
In response to Messrs. Kurtz’s and Walkup’s criticisms, I asked each to respond to the following question:
“Is it wise for an elected public official to give $49,000.00 in taxpayer monies to an Agency”:
1. Under investigation for improper billing irregularities by the Office of the Inspector General of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services;
2. An Agency that was audited by MCH which discovered, upon review of 16 randomly selected patient files from 2008 through 2011, that improper billing documentation time was noted in all sixteen files examined, including but not limited to, multiple funders were billed and paid for the same hours of service, that the agency collected more than its stated charges for services rendered with no evidence that any of the payers were reimbursed, and that service recipients were covered by Medicaid and those services were billed to both Medicaid and MCH with no evidence that the agency refunded the overpayments or reported the billing errors to Medicaid or MCH. See http://www.abisoft.org/opinions/2013/3_12-cv-50374_20130423.pdf, The Advantage Group Foundation vs. McHenry County Mental Health Board, et al., Cause No. 12 C 50374; United States District Court Memorandum Opinion dated April 23, 2013, J. Reinhard, Judge Presiding; see also “Judge tosses treatment center lawsuit”, http://www.nwherald.com/2013/04/23/judge-tosses-treatment-center-lawsuit.
3. An Agency that was subject to a request by MCH seeking reimbursement of over $1 million dollars in taxpayer monies because the audit concluded “that since 100% of the files reviewed were found not to have had coordination of benefits applied and to have had documentation time improperly billed, using extrapolation, the MCH found all fee for service billings submitted by the agency to MCH to be subject to recoupment for the years 2009, 2010, and 2011 in the amount of $1,083,817.65.” Id.;
4. An agency, that when asked to respond to the findings and conclusions contained in the MCH audit, chose instead to file a federal lawsuit against MCH and others which was summarily dismissed by the Court. Id.; and
5. An agency that violated IRS rules prohibiting 501(c)(3) not-for-profits from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective office when the agency hosted a complimentary luncheon at its headquarters for a candidate seeking political office and allowed numerous postings on its corporate Facebook page in support of political candidates. See http://www.mchenrydems.org/stop_the_smear_of_paula_yensen (IRS Rules & Exemplars of Political Activity Conducted By TAG).
While Messrs. Kurtz and Walkup have chosen not respond to the question asked, you have done so. Accordingly, I take this opportunity and invitation to submit this reply for your review and consideration.
A. In your response, you do not dispute that the agency is being investigated for billing irregularities by the Office of the Inspector General. You argue that the investigation was commenced by MCH staff and counsel in retribution for TAG’s filing of a federal lawsuit and that the investigation is simply “part of an ongoing comprehensive witch-hunt”. Irrespective of motive, the fact remains clear: The agency is being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General for improper billing irregularities.
B. You also do not dispute the fact that the scope of the OIG investigation includes improper billing to Medicaid, private health insurers and MCH for the same services performed for the same client. Rather, you argue that the Agency’s billing practices are lawful and MCH has it wrong. Whether you or MCH has it right or wrong does not call into question the accuracy of the statement that TAG is under investigation by the OIG for improper billing practices.
C. You do not dispute the fact that MCH conducted an audit of 16 randomly selected patient files from your Agency and found billing errors in each file. Instead, you argue that improper billings amounting to 1% of all clients served is deminimis and that the audit was improperly conducted. Again, whether improper billings in the amount 1% of taxpayers dollars is deminimis as suggested, or that the audit was not properly conducted, in no way detracts from the fact that MCH conducted an audit on 16 randomly selected patients files and found billing irregularities in 100% of those files. Surely, 1% of taxpayers’ dollars, or improperly billing 1% of your clients is not an acceptable business practice. This is all the more true when the money at issue is taxpayer money.
D. You do not dispute the fact that a federal lawsuit was filed to block MCH’s attempt to recoup over $1 million dollars in taxpayer funds improperly billed. Rather, you argue that it was the agency that filed the lawsuit not MCH. However, you omit to tell the readers that that lawsuit was dismissed by the Court. The point is that MCH is seeking over $1 million dollars on behalf of the taxpayers of McHenry County due to what it believes are improper billing irregularities by your Agency. The argument that it was the Agency that filed the lawsuit is irrelevant.
E. You do not dispute the fact that the Agency engaged in political activity prohibited by IRS Rules regulating 501(c)(3)’s. You argue that since the IRS has not reprimanded or taken legal action against the Agency at this time, the Agency committed no wrong. Again, whether the IRS decides to take any action against Agency is irrelevant. The fact remains that your agency, a not-for-profit entity, engaged in political campaign activity as evidenced by the documents posted at http://www.mchenrydems.org/stop_the_smear_of_paula_yensen.
F. Finally, you do not dispute that the Agency advised the public that it could survive without additional taxpayer funding. Instead, you argue that “due to unfounded allegations and ongoing assault of TAG by MHB staff and attorney, TAG was not funded by the MHB for over 2 ½ years … “, and that the MHB … “refused to insure that TAG received the necessary funding to continue to serve McHenry County.” The question is whether the Agency could have survived without MCH funding. On the one hand, the Agency states that it could, and other it claims that its demise was due to lack of funding by the MHB. If the Agency’s statement that it could survive without MHB funding is true, then why would the Agency have asked the taxpayers of McHenry County for $49,000.00 dollars in additional public funds to keep it afloat. If, however, that statement is not true, why would the taxpayers of McHenry County provide additional funding to an Agency under investigation for improper billing activities and financial mismanagement. Would you give your neighbor $50,000.00 dollars of your money if he/she was being investigated for financial mismanagement and told you he/she really didn’t need it? If you wouldn’t, why would expect anything less from an elected official like Paula Yensen.
Again, the only issue presented is whether it is proper for elected pubic officials to give taxpayer monies to entities such as TAG where the evidence reveals substantial mismanagement, lack of board oversight, billing irregularities, and where the Agency itself says it doesn’t need the money. As an elected County Board member, Paula Yensen is entrusted with a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that taxpayer monies are spent wisely and not wasted. That is exactly what she did in this case.
Here, a taxpayer funded agency requested $49,000.00 dollars in public monies to fund its operations. Ms. Yensen carefully reviewed the facts and noted that (i) the Agency’s own CEO publicly stated that the Agency did not need the money, (ii) the Agency requesting the taxpayer funds was currently under investigation for improper billing irregularities, (iii) the County itself was seeking recoupment of over $1 million dollars in taxpayer funds due to billing irregularities by the Agency, (iv) the Agency filed a federal lawsuit against the MCH blocking its attempt to recoup the $1million dollars in taxpayer monies and lost, and (v) the Agency engaged in improper political campaign activities prohibited under IRS Rules governing 501(c)(3)’s.
Based on the above facts, Paula Yensen correctly decided that giving this Agency $49,000.00 dollars in additional taxpayer’s funds, was not in the best interest of the taxpayers of McHenry County or her fiduciary duties to the taxpayers of the County. In my opinion, Paula Yensen was right and should be thanked for her good stewardship and protection of taxpayer funds. Despite the hue and cry, Ms. Yensen’s decision was not about politics, it was about good governance and good stewardship of public funds.
Patrick Martin Ouimet
Former Chairman of the McHenry
County Democratic Central Committee