RI Gov Appoints Wallack HHS Secretary; Wood To Continue to Lead DD Effort; UHIP Woes Continue

By Gina Macris

The Rhode Island Department of Human Services has begun re-hiring - months after it laid off about 70 workers in conjunction with the roll-out of a dysfunctional automated benefits system – to help Rhode Islanders who face hardships from delays and denials caused by the broken computer system.

That is but one step going forward that Governor Raimondo announced at a media briefing Wednesday, Feb. 15, when she released a scathing report on the Unified Healthcare Infrastructure Project, or UHIP, compiled by Eric Beane, the acting director of the DHS and her chief operating officer.

Blaming the vendor, Deloitte, for delivering a “defective system,” Raimondo also warned that it will take 60 to 70 days to stop the backlog in applications from growing and about a year to fix the system.  Beane’s report, completed over the last thirty days, showed the problem was much worse than she had previously believed, the Governor said. 

She apologized to Rhode Islanders for a situation she said was “unacceptable, inexcusable, and intolerable.”  

She introduced Anya Radar Wallack as the new Secretary of Health and Human Services  (HHS). Wallack formerly served as Medicaid director and the director of the state’s health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

Elizabeth Roberts, who had made a career of health care reform as a state senator, lieutenant governor and HHS secretary, submitted her resignation Wednesday. Raimondo accepted it, she said, because she agreed with Roberts that the problem needed a “fresh set of eyes.”

 Roberts had taken the stance that the system could be fixed quickly, despite the glitches, but Beane’sunvarnished analysis showed that not to be the case, Raimondo said. 

As Roberts’ long-time deputy, Jennifer Wood had been heavily involved in trying to fix the troubled UHIP rollout. Wood, who has served both as Deputy Secretary and General Counsel of HHS, will continue as General Counsel and will remain in charge of the state’s efforts to comply with the 2014 federal consent decree mandating integration of daytime services for adults with developmental disabilities, according to Beane.

Among thousands who have suffered hardships from the UHIP fiasco are individuals with developmental disabilities applying for adult services from the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).

Last September, just as BHDDH solved an eligibility backlog in applications, many of them from young adults leaving high school, the introduction of UHIP caused months-long delays in the release of the money necessary to actually pay for approved services. In December, there were an estimated 100 young adults who had services delayed or expected services to be delayed as a result of the UHIP snafu, according to one informal report from the Rhode Island Parent Information Network.

Timely service is an issue of concern to an independent court monitor in the enforcement of a 2014 federal consent decree requiring community-based developmental disability services.

At the press conference, Beane said the backlog in all types of applications will continue to grow unless there is a “staffing surge to address the timelines.”

Beane’s report said Deloitte assured the state the computer system was ready to go live when it was not.

Raimondo said the state continues to withhold tens of millions of dollars (about $68 million of a $364 million project)  and is re-negotiating its contract with Deloitte. “It’s tense,” she said.  But she emphasized that UHIP can be fixed.

Raimondo said she has come to realize that the state needs to have more high-level officials with the technical expertise to analyze a vendor's claims and call out mistakes. In general, the public sector has been lacking in that regard, she said.

There had been warnings from federal officials that the computer system was not ready for a state-wide roll out, but human services officials decided against a try-out period.

Former DHS director Melba Depena Affigne and her chief digital officer Thom Guertin resigned in January under pressure from Raimondo. 

Click here to read Beane's report