June 13, 2013

Group home founder protests state rejection of renewed funding

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This is a revised and corrected version of a story that ran earlier today and contained some errors of fact and omission. It was updated at 6:17 p.m. with several additions and corrections.

By Christopher Goins

Chris@marylandreporter.com

Aunt Hattie's Place logoThe Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved 44 new contracts for child residential care services in locations throughout Maryland totaling over $364 million over five years.

But one Montgomery County provider did not win an award for a group home that the state and Montgomery County have previously invested in, virtually ensuring the foreclosure of the Sandy Spring group home, its founder said.

Hattie Washington of Aunt Hattie’s Place Inc. vociferously protested the lack of an award, and had already appealed the department’s rejection to State Board of Contract Appeals.

Serves at-risk male youth

Aunt Hattie’s Place started in 1997 to prepare at-risk male youth to reunite with their families or become independent and has received contracts every year since its inception, Washington said.

Ribbon cutting for Aunti Hattie's Place included a number of Montgomery County officials.

Ribbon cutting for Aunti Hattie’s Place included a number of Montgomery County officials, who continue support state funding, despite the department’s rejection of a new contract.

Montgomery County and the state of Maryland (through bond bills) gave a total of $1.4 million towards the construction of the Sandy Spring facility and Washington borrowed $1.8 million from the bank and used her house as collateral, she said. Construction lasted six years and the home opened up in 2010.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and State Treasurer Nancy Kopp sided with the request by the Department of Human Resources to approve the 44 contracts in spite of the protests. Kopp did not want to hold back the 44 awards. Comptroller Peter Franchot was absent.

“I do want to follow up with this one,” Kopp said.

Hattie’s Place also operates homes in Randallstown and Baltimore City, housing 24 male youth altogether. Those two homes will continue to receive state funds, the department said.

Founder says she might lose her home

If the money goes, Washington says she might lose her home, since she put her house up as collateral to build the group home. Department spokesman Brian Schleter said, “All children will be moved by the end of the month to a new home.”

Washington says that only three young men are left in the home and are all scheduled to be moved out before the end of the month.

Human Resources Secretary Ted Dallas told the Board of Public Works that he accepted the recommendations his board gave him to deny a contract renewal for the Sandy Spring group home.

“I didn’t see anything that could actually overturn that recommendation,” Dallas said.

He said the decision was based on an examination of financial proposals, technical proposals, and performance scores. He said that Aunt Hattie’s Place came in last on the technical side, and was outperformed by other vendors.

Hattie protests her evaluation

The methodology used to evaluate Aunt Hattie’s House was disputed by Washington, and her daughter, Cheryl Washington, former executive director of the home. Hattie’s Place should be re-evaluated, they said.

Dallas cited a “child maltreatment” incident – a fight between residents whose occurrence wasn’t discovered until the next day – as one of the reasons why the group lost points on its proposal.

But Hattie Washington said that was the only incident that occurred in 16 years, noting that Aunt Hattie’s Place, Inc. followed all proper necessary procedures when the incident became known. As for performance, she pointed to the fact that her company was ranked first in two regions and second in Montgomery County the last time she had to submit a proposal in 2009. She also pointed to two Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) awards she received in 2009 and 2012.

“How did we go from number one to the last place? We have the same program,” said Cheryl Washington.

Strong backing by Montgomery Co. officials

Aunt Hattie’s Place continues to have the strong backing of Montgomery County officials, who wrote to the board in support of the facility. They included Sen. Karen Montgomery, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, County Council President Nancy Navarro, and Council member George Leventhal.

“The motive and rationale for ‘Place Matters’ must be placing children in the ‘best’ place for the children, not saving money on the backs of those most in need,” wrote Montgomery in a June 5 letter to Secretary Dallas.

In other letters, Leventhal and Navarro complained that part of Montgomery County’s half of the agreement to fund the home was to make sure it would be in operation until at least July 2020.

Also, in a 2007 letter endorsing the then-proposed home in Sandy Spring, current Montgomery County Director of Health and Human Services Uma Ahluwalia praised Hattie’s Place’s “excellent track record of providing quality services.”

“AHP exemplifies the State’s “Place Matters” initiative,” she wrote.

The Place Matters program was created to place Maryland foster children with permanent families.