PromiseShip to Expand Lawsuit to Include Saint Francis Ministries

By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

PromiseShip plans to expand its lawsuit against the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and Nebraska Department of Administrative Services to include the new child case management provider that intends to replace it beginning next year.

Saint Francis Ministries will be added as a defendant in the lawsuit following a court order, so that all affected parties are part of the litigation and subject to the court’s final order, PromiseShip said in a news release Tuesday.

“PromiseShip welcomes the opportunity to join Saint Francis to this litigation, which will make it available to answer important questions about what happened here,” said Ron Zychowski, president and CEO of PromiseShip. “We will comply with the Court’s order and join the relevant Saint Francis entities to the litigation. We remain confident in our position that the contract awarded to Saint Francis violates Nebraska law and that PromiseShip remains the best value contractor for the children, families and taxpayers of Nebraska.”

State officials signed a $196 million contract with Saint Francis on July 3, but PromsieShip challenged the decision. It claims the Kansas-based organization underbid the cost to provide adequate staffing and failed to provide information that was necessary for the state to review prior to making a decision.

The Omaha nonprofit announced July 15 that it filed a taxpayer lawsuit in conjunction with Kathy Bigsby Moore, the founding executive director of Voices for Children in Nebraska. She said Tuesday that she looked forward to including Saint Francis in the expanded lawsuit.

“This will give us the opportunity to add additional important information to our brief submitted to the court on July 22, 2019 and we look forward to the judge then ruling on an even more complete picture,” Bigsy Moore said.

Saint Francis Ministries told The Daily Record on Wednesday that it is unable to comment on issues that are in litigation.

Tom Blythe, COO and president of Saint Francis Ministries, said his agency is preparing to provide services and support to Nebraska children and families in Douglas and Sarpy counties.

“Saint Francis Ministries is working in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services to do the complex transition work, and we’re addressing the many moving parts that must be in place,” Blythe said. “It’s important to create a smooth and successful transition for children and families, and also for the employees who have been affected by the new contract.”

Saint Francis has hired Jodie Austin, to be regional vice president and oversee its efforts in Omaha, Blythe said. Austin is a Nebraska native who “brings significant child welfare experience and, more importantly, a genuine heart for seeking innovative, evidence-based services and solutions for children and families.”

Blythe said Saint Francis plans to have two offices, one in each county, and has narrowed down potential sites in Omaha. It is now accepting applications for many positions, and Saint Francis expects to hire about 300 people.

“We’re hoping many of those people will be current staff who already are working with the children and families we will serve, as that is helpful and important to creating a strong, supportive transition,” Blythe said.

Saint Francis is planning jobs fairs in early September, but times and locations are still forthcoming. The state plans to transition case management to Saint Francis by a targeted date of Jan. 1, 2020.

Video from a recent town hall meeting with the Department of Health and Human Services and Saint Francis is available online at dhhs.ne.gov/ESAtransition.

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