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PromiseShip challenges plan to award child welfare contract to Kansas agency

PromiseShip challenges plan to award child welfare contract to Kansas agency

LINCOLN — An Omaha agency that currently manages child welfare cases in Douglas and Sarpy Counties is challenging state plans to award the new management contract to a Kansas nonprofit.

Ron Zychowski, president and chief executive officer of PromiseShip, confirmed Wednesday that his agency has filed a formal protest with the state purchasing bureau.

“We are confident that our protest will clearly indicate that PromiseShip submitted the superior proposal that will best serve the children and families in our community and best serve the interest of the state,” he said.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services announced June 3 that they intended to award a five-year case management contract to St. Francis Ministries, formerly known as St. Francis Community Services.

St. Francis, which is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, has subsidiaries in Nebraska and six other states, plus two Central American countries.

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The agency, based in Salina, Kansas, offered to do the Nebraska case management job over five years for $197 million, less than 60% of the $341 million bid from PromiseShip. The two were the only bidders for the contract.

But PromiseShip, in its protest, argued that the St. Francis proposal should have been disqualified for failing to meet the terms of the request for proposals or comply with state law. The protest said the costs of the St. Francis proposal would have been far greater if the proposal had complied.

HHS officials declined to comment on the protest Wednesday.

HHS has contracted with PromiseShip, formerly known as the Nebraska Families Collaborative, to oversee the care of abused and neglected children in the Omaha area for nearly a decade.

The state agency sought bids earlier this year for a five-year case management contract with the option of two single-year extensions. The winning bidder will be in charge of about 40% of the state’s total child welfare cases.

The next step was to be negotiating the actual contract, with the contract to be signed by July 1 and the transition of new and existing cases expected to be complete by Jan. 1. State purchasing officials have until June 28 to consider the PromiseShip protest.

A protest derailed a previous attempt to put the case management contract out to bid.

HHS sought bids in October 2016, and officials announced in March 2017 that they had chosen to award the contract to the existing contract holder, the collaborative that later became PromiseShip. The other bidder, Magellan Choices for Families, filed a protest.

Officials responded by rejecting both bids and, in May 2017, extended the PromiseShip contract. The contract expires at the end of this year.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

Related to this story

St. Francis' bid to do the job was less than 60% of the amount now being spent to care for children and families, a difference that troubles key state lawmakers and child advocates. The request for more money added to worries about the contract's feasibility. Tom Blythe, president and chief executive officer for St. Francis, said the nonprofit is "fully prepared" to satisfy the conditions laid out in the contract

St. Francis Ministries, which last fall took over as the Omaha-area child welfare contractor, left abused and neglected children overnight in a waiting area meant for short visits at least 44 times over three months. The overnights are among concerns that arose during the transition of child welfare case management from the previous contractor to St. Francis. Other aspects of the transition have reportedly gone well.

A new leader has been chosen for Nebraska's Foster Care Review Office. Monika Gross, an attorney with more than 15 years of experience in Nebraska’s child welfare system, is the office's new executive director. Gross previously spent nine years working for PromiseShip, an Omaha-based nonprofit that contracted with the state to manage Omaha-area child welfare cases.

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