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Biggest-Ever Iowa
Political Action Day

DES MOINES, Iowa

UE-Iowa Political Action DayLot of people here today," commented a guard on Feb. 4, as he surveyed the bustle in the State Capitol lobby. "There must be two or three groups here," he said to Dan Kelley.

"No, they’re all with my union," proudly replied Kelley, the president of UE Local 893. The fifth UE Iowa Political Action Day had the best-ever attendance.

More than 70 UE members from across Iowa, representing Locals 893/IUP and 896/COGS, took to the Capitol to oppose privatization and attacks on the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

iowaloby.gif (44515 bytes)
Iowa Speaker of the House Ron
Corbett (left), touted as a future
governor, shares a lighter moment
with Local 893 President Dan Kelley
and UE members John Phoenix, Judy
Bentley and Maggie O'Connor.

UE delegations spoke personally to some 60 of the 150-member Iowa legislature. Legislators, who expressed surprise there were so many UE members in the Capitol, offered no support for the "Iowa Plan for Integrated Access," which would have handed child-welfare services and millions of taxpayers’ dollars over to private, for-profit agencies. UE helped derail the plan last fall.

Nor did the UE members find any legislators interested in pursuing further attacks on Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code, the state’s public sector collective bargaining law. A year ago, UE members and other public employees faced a major effort by Gov. Terry Branstad to gut Chapter 20 — while UE locals were in negotiations.

UE members were accompanied to the Capitol by Pat and John Campbell, whose 13-year-old son’s death is attributable to privatized social services. (See the following story.) The couple lobbied with UE members, took part in a rally on the Capitol steps, and were interviewed by CBS, NBC, National Public Radio and newspapers.

The Campbells also addressed the UE delegates at a conference in the Botanical Center prior to the Capitol activities. "There wasn’t a dry eye in the house," Kelley said later.

‘FIGHT OR SURRENDER’

Addressing the threats of further privatization and attacks on collective bargaining rights, Kelley told the delegates, "We can fight or surrender, those are our choices. I don’t choose surrender, I don’t think you will either."

UE Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley exulted in the good news that UE is "in better shape in Iowa than ever before;" the union represented 1,800 workers at the time of the first Political Action Day in 1994 and now represents more than 6,000.

UE Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend gave delegates a detailed report on Merit Behavioral Care (see the story on this page) and urged continued pressure on lawmakers to get serious about the corruption and inefficiency associated with privatization. "Let’s get busy!" he exhorted the conferees.

District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen, attending his first Political Action Day since the Iowa locals became part of his district last year, complimented the Local 893 and 896 delegates on their vigor. The conference also heard from UE member and State Rep. Rick Larsen, Rep. Steve Falck and Rep. Ro Foege.


Privatization, Profits — and Death

iowa_sad.gif (10647 bytes)

Thirteen-year-old Chris Campbell received treatment at the Mental Health Institute for psychiatric problems, including uncontrolled rages — until the state’s private managed-care provider intervened. Merit Behavioral Care Corp. refused to pay for Campbell’s care at the Mental Health Institute, claiming it was unnecessary and too expensive. Instead, the youth was forced into an institution for juvenile delinquents.

On Nov. 2, 1997, while in the Iowa Juvenile Home, young Campbell went into a rage. While under restraint, he died. The teenager had a long history of heart trouble as well as mental illness.

Campbell’s parents say the youngster would not have died if Merit Behavioral Care Corp. had not refused to pay for his care in a psychiatric setting. They joined with UE members on Feb. 4 to demand an investigation of Merit as well as a broader probe of privatization in Iowa.

"Something has got to be done when children are turned away from the help they need," said mother Ellen "Pat" Campbell. "We want people to be aware about what Merit is putting our children through."

Together with the UE members, many of whom are employed in state social services, Pat and John Campbell declared that the state should not provide mental health services through an outside provider that depends on the bottom line.

And Merit’s corporate officers, declared UE Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend, are "Wall Street squeeze artists."

‘SQUEEZE ARTISTS’

Merit’s history is a story of squeezing profits out of health care.

In 1992, Medco Containment Services, a prescription drug cost containment outfit, acquired two specialty behavioral healthcare companies and created the Medco Behavioral Care Corp. (MBC) as the parent firm for the two companies. The following year, Medco Containment was purchased by Merck & Co., one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

In 1994, MBC formed Continuum Behavioral Healthcare, a managed care provider company, which bought out Choate Health Management, a provider of behavioral healthcare services throughout New England and the Eastern U.S.

In 1995, MBC management and the notorious Wall Street investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) acquired a controlling interest in MBC from Merck, making MBC an independent company. MBC became Merit Behavioral Care. With KKR still holding a majority of shares in Merit, the company was bought last October by a competitor, Magellan Health Services.

CORRUPTION

Although a Wall Street success, Merit is a failure in providing mental health services, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. The patient advocacy group gives Merit a failing grade in treatment guidelines, inpatient treatment, outcomes measurement, rehabilitation and housing, and an "incomplete" in consumer and family involvement.

Merit has featured prominently in corruption scandals in Maryland involving the governor and a high-ranking state senator. And Merit is one of nine mental healthcare companies facing charges of price-fixing in a suit filed by mental health professionals.

Meanwhile, Merit has held a $45 million annual contract from the state of Iowa for delivery of mental health services since 1995; Merit is Iowa’s largest mental health provider.

Local 893 Pres. Dan Kelley notes that Merit cuts 22 percent off the top for administration. "$10 million could have provided a lot of services," Kelley says.

Asked by the news media why UE had invited the Campbells to its Political Action Day, Kelley replied: "These are our clients, these are our programs and we want them to run the way they are supposed to, to help kids, not to kill them."

UE News - 02/98


Home -> UE News -> 1998 Archives -> Article

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