Political Action Day
DES MOINES, Iowa
Lot 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, theyre all with my union," proudly replied Kelley,
the president of UE Local 893. The fifth UE Iowa Political Action Day had the best-ever
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.
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 states 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 sons 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 wasnt 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 dont choose surrender, I dont 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. "Lets 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.
Thirteen-year-old Chris Campbell received treatment at the
Mental Health Institute for psychiatric problems, including uncontrolled rages
until the states private managed-care provider intervened. Merit Behavioral Care
Corp. refused to pay for Campbells care at the Mental Health Institute, claiming it
was unnecessary and too expensive. Instead, the youth was forced into an institution for
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.
Campbells 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 Merits corporate officers, declared UE Political Action Dir.
Chris Townsend, are "Wall Street squeeze artists."
Merits 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 worlds largest
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.
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
Meanwhile, Merit has held a $45 million annual contract from the state of
Iowa for delivery of mental health services since 1995; Merit is Iowas 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
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."