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The news release by last September said that former Gov. Bobby Jindal had been appointed to the board of directors of by Wellcare Health Plans, Inc., of Tampa, Florida.

Yawn. Ho-hum. Has LouisianaVoice become so desperate for stories that it resurrects a nine-month-old news release?

Well, things have been a little slow of late. Even the recently-adjourned legislative session failed to generate any surprises other than the usual parties, dinners at Baton Rouge’s most expensive restaurants and hobnobbing with lobbyists to the general detriment of constituents, i.e. Louisiana citizens.

But it has long been my contention that when one peels back a few layers from the cover story, one will usually find the real story. After all, a July 2016 LouisianaVoice STORY turned up a link between Jindal and a lucrative state contract for another company that had appointed him to its board.

Accordingly, I went looking a little deeper and YOWSER! Sha-ZAM!

It seems that appointment of Jindal, described in the news release as one “who has dedicated his career to public service and advancing innovative healthcare polices,” appears to have been payback for services rendered while he was governor.

Documents obtained from the Louisiana Department of Health show that CENTENE, a major U.S. health insurer, is the parent company of Louisiana Healthcare Connections, Inc., which was awarded a contract for nearly $1 billion with the Louisiana Department of Hospitals in September 2011, just a month before Jindal’s reelection to a second term.

LHCC Contract 2012

The contract called for Louisiana Healthcare Connections to perform “a broad range of services necessary for the delivery of health care services to Medicaid enrollees…”

That contract was to run from February 1, 2012, through January 31, 2015.

On January 19, 2015, the contract was renewed for another three years, to run through January 31, 2018. The contract amount was increased from the original $926 million to $1.9 billion.

LHCC Contract 2015

But just before Jindal left office, on December 1, 2015, that contract was amended from $1.9 billion to $3.9 billion, perhaps in anticipation that incoming Gov. John Bel Edwards would keep his promise to expand Medicaid under Obamacare—which he did.

In March of this year, USA Today published a STORY that Centene (Louisiana Healthcare Connections parent company, remember) would purchase WellCare Health Plans, Inc. for $17.3 billion.

It would be most interesting to see if Jindal netted a windfall from that transaction, coming as it did only six months after he was named to WellCare Health Plans’ board.

It’s unknown just how long negotiations had been ongoing between Centene and WellCare Health Plans, but the timing does open the door for speculation that the doubling of the Louisiana Healthcare Connections contract, Jindal’s appointment to the WellCare Health Plan board and Centene’s purchase of WellCare are more than coincidental.

To add a little spice to the recipe of Louisiana political gumbo, they’re also a few interesting campaign contributions.

  • On March 11, 2011, just six months before Louisiana Healthcare was awarded that initial contract for $926 million, WellCare of Louisiana, a subsidiary of WellCare Health Plans, contributed $5,000 to Jindal’s reelection campaign.
  • On January 17, 2012, only two weeks before its initial contract took effect, Louisiana Healthcare Connections gave Jindal $5,000.
  • Louisiana Healthcare’s parent company, Centene, gave Jindal $5,000 on January 17, 2012 (the same date as Louisiana Healthcare’s contribution). Centene gave him another $5,000 on November 19, 2012 and still another $5,000 back on August 14, 2008, eight months after Jindal first moved into the governor’s office.
  • Oh, and the New Orleans law firm of McGlinchey Stafford, the registered agent for Louisiana Healthcare, gave Jindal $1,000 on September 23, 2003; $5,000 on October 30, 2003; $5,000 on April 6, 2007, and $5,000 on March 2, 2011.
  • On April 23, 2009, Centene’s then Chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff kicked in $3,000 to Jindal.

It would seem that Bobby Jindal is perfectly willing to skirt a few ethical standards in order to ensure that life after politics can continue to benefit from life while in politics.

So, you see, even the most mundane news release can carry a wealth of information if one is willing to follow a convoluted path to the ultimate source of the money.

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When four Southern University professors filed suit against the school over the manner in which the school’s system-wide grievance committee handled their grievance hearing, it didn’t take long for the name of James H. Ammons, Ph.D., to surface as the prime antagonist in the decision to fire, demote or cut the pay for the professors.

A trial was held on Monday of this week after the three, along with yours truly, filed suit for what we are claiming to be an illegal executive session called by the committee to handle the professors’ claims.

At issue is the university’s handbook which gives the committee final say over whether the hearing would be open to the public or closed versus state law which gives the professors the right to request—and be granted—an open meeting.

Also challenged in the lawsuit was the announcement by committee chair Marla Dickerson that the committee had voted prior to opening the meeting to enter into executive session.

The state’s Open Meetings Law expressly says that all such votes shall be taken in open session and the votes recorded in the minutes, neither of which occurred. A decision on the lawsuit, heard by 19th Judicial District Judge Chip Moore, is pending.

The grievances were filed against University Executive Vice President/Executive Vice Chancellor Ammons, whose decision it was to terminate or demote the professors.

Investigation by LouisianaVoice into Ammons’ professional background revealed a checkered past during his tenures at two other universities prior to his being hired by Southern in January 2018.

While serving as chancellor at North Carolina Central University in Durham, he was implicated in a satellite campus CONTROVERSY which skated the edge of violating state rules on program establishment and conflicts of interest.

Briefly, that involved the establishment of an unauthorized satellite campus in an Atlanta, Georgia, megachurch that had donated $1 million to the university.

The New L.I.F.E. College Program was established at the church of Eddie Long, a North Carolina Central University graduate who had been named to the university’s board of trustees two years earlier. Ammons, when questioned about the campus, professed to not remembering specifics, but said, “I accept full responsibility.”

He agreed to REPAY the federal government more than $1 million of the $3 million dispersed in financial aid for ineligible programs.

His next stop was at Florida A&M and more controversy.

At the same time his ouster was gaining momentum following the 2012 hazing death of the school band’s drum major, Robert Champion, he was negotiating $356,000 taxpayer-funded low-interest business LOANS to a company run by Ammons and his son, James Ammons, III.

At the time of the loan through the state’s Black Business Loan Program, he had just accepted and then walked away from the provost’s position at Delaware State University.

Corporate records listed Ammons as manager of Ammons Food & Beverage, LLC, and his son as registered agent. After rejecting the Delaware State job as the school’s number-two administrator, he signed a new contract to remain at FAME as a faculty member.

The loan represented the largest made through the program, representing more than 15 percent of the $2.225 million approved by the Florida Legislature to assist Florida’s black small business owners.

As pressure mounted for Ammons to resign, including a call from the governor that he step down, Rufus Montgomery, a member of the FAMU Board of Trustees, said, “This is not about hazing. This is about leadership or lack of leadership at FAMU. There have been more than 30 issues over the past year that have come before this board.

“This all came under the watch of the current president,” Montgomery said. “We have the FAMU students on trial this fall, we have no band this fall, we have a drop in enrollment coming and I read the other day that the Florida Senate is investigating the school.”

J.L. CARTER, writing for the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Digest on Ammons’ appointment as Southern’s new executive vice-president, said, “The last thing the (Southern) system seemingly wanted to do was to add a reason for negative speculation. But with Dr. Ammons, it did just that.”

In retrospect, his words, more than a year later, appear somewhat prophetic.

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Emails sent to the medical staff by the CEO of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center (OLOL) Scott Wester and the CEO of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health Systems (FMOL) Dr. Richard Vath attacked what Vath described as “a troubling article” by the Baton Rouge Business Report which Wester said included “a number of negative allegations about Our Lady of the Lake, and me in particular.”

The Business Report article, by Editor Stephanie Riegel, was published on April 24 and described in detail administrative and financial problems encountered by OLOL and FMOL and hinting at a connection between the firing of former FMOL CEO Michael McBride and the embezzlement of $810,000 from the foundation involving its former chief fundraiser John Paul Funes.

McBride, brought in to shore up FMOL, lasted a year. An outsider, he attempted to oust local power Wester but was himself shown the door.

If all that isn’t confusing enough, consider this: the two emails by Vath and Wester went out on April 23, the day before the article’s online publication.

Damage control isn’t unusual but damage control in advance of a “troubling article” is less common, to put it mildly. Especially in light of a paragraph in Riegel’s story: “Attempts by Business Report to reach Wester for comment were unsuccessful and OLOL officials declined to make him available for an interview for this story.”

It just seems to me that if you’re not going to avail yourself to an opportunity to tell your side of the story, you waive any rights to attack the messenger—especially the day before the story’s publication.

Which, of course, raises the question of just how did Vath and Wester get their hands on an advance copy of the story?

Something about the timing of all this just doesn’t pass the smell test.

For those who might need a refresher or for those living out of the Baton Rouge media coverage area, FMOL and OLOL were rocked late last year by the revelation that $810,000 had been embezzled from a foundation, established by OLOL to raise funds for projects like the new OLOL Children’s Hospital.

Chief fundraiser Funes, whose salary was listed at $283,000, subsequently fired.

But Riegel’s story went further by quoting McBride as saying the Funes scandal “was a symptom,” not the cause, of bigger problems at OLOL. McBride was quoted as attributing low OLOL employee morale to the “good ol’ boys’ network,” adding, “It is no coincidence that seven-plus years of stealing went unreported until new senior leadership was in place.

She described inroads into the Baton Rouge market by Ochsner Health Systems of New Orleans, quoting sources as implying that OLOL’s fees are currently about 25 percent higher than its competition at Ochsner and Baton Rouge General.

Those were the points with which the two emails obtained by LouisianaVoice appear to disagree, although neither email addressed any specific errors in the story, both choosing instead to deliver a “feel good” message aimed at lifting morale and deflecting from points made by Riegel.

“I believe the article paints an inaccurate picture,” Wester wrote. “I could easily make the case about why the ministry is strong and how the Sisters and System’s leadership have us on the right path. Instead, I want to apologize.”

Vath took a similar approach, writing, “The article is misleading and inaccurate in several ways and attempts to use recent leadership transitions as the starting point for several lines of attack against our ministry.”

“When reading the emails, it was impossible to know what Mr. Wester and Dr. Vath were talking about unless one received the Baton Rouge Business Report in published form,” said one OLOL employee.

“Both of the emails are camouflaging and obfuscation, and don’t address any facts or specifics of the article—nor of anything going on at the hospital.

“Just from the form and tone of the two emails, I was pretty confident that I’d agree with over 50 percent of the article even before I actually read it the next day,” the employee said. “Now that I’ve read the article, I agree with almost 100 percent of it—at least the parts I know about from working at OLOL.

“I’d love to have Mr. Wester and Dr. Vath tell us which parts of the article are not factual and/or untrue.”

 

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LSU basketball coach Will Wade has been REINSTATED and all those Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) supporters can breathe a sigh of relief.

But does anyone even remember the shabby treatment of STEVEN HATFIELD by LSU? Did anyone ever protest the disgraceful manner in which he was shown the door? Well, a handful of SCIENTISTS did protest Hatfield’s firing, but who listens to scientists anyway? Certainly not Donald Trump.

Hatfield, for those who may not remember, was an expert on biological warfare who, along with about 30 others, found themselves on the FBI’s list of “persons of interest” in connection with its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. Apparently, this honor was bestowed upon him because he had once passed through Fredrick, Maryland, where the anthrax envelopes were mailed from. Actually, he worked as a biodefense researcher for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick—enough to make him a “person of interest.”

Even though the FBI repeatedly said that Hatfill was not a suspect in the case, it nevertheless directed the university to prohibit Hatfill from participating in any projects financed by the Justice Department.

LSU meekly complied without asking the FBI for a shred of evidence. The university denied that its decision was influenced by the fact that LSU received substantial funds from the Justice Department for programs that trained law-enforcement and public health officials to handle bioterrorism attacks and similar crises.

Not satisfied with firing Hatfield, LSU went a step further in firing his boss, STEPHEN GUILLOT, director of the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training and the Academy for Counter-Terrorist Education.

And our legislators wonder why so many professors are looking at Louisiana in their rear-view mirrors.

Can you say “extortion”?

Hatfill had the last laugh, however, settling his LAWSUIT against LSU and the federal government for $4.6 million.

The odyssey of a former LSU BAND DIRECTOR got more ink than the injustices inflicted upon Hatfield.

The Baton Rouge SUNDAY ADVOCATE was liberally PEPPERED with stories SPECULATING with breathless anticipation the next steps for Wade and LSU. The gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth even carried over to Monday with yet another story that DICK VITALE had returned to a Baton Rouge radio show to discuss the monumental ongoing saga that, to rabid LSU fans at least, carries all the weight of say, the selection of a new Pope.

Yet, only minimal coverage was given to the manner in which LSU canned hurricane scientist IVOR VAN HEERDEN following his criticism of the U.S. Corps of Engineers because his public statements were “hurting LSU’s quest for federal funding across the board.”

Now that’s the humanitarian approach: go right for the bottom line.

The fact that van Heerden’s criticism was vindicated when tests of steel pilings revealed the very deficiencies, he had described that led to the levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina did nothing to prompt LSU to rush to reinstatement.

So, he did the obvious: he FILED SUIT filed suit against LSU in 2010 for wrongful termination.

LSU, if nothing else, is consistent. It doggedly defended the lawsuit, even after losing one key ruling after another until Jed Horne, a columnist for THE LENS, a New Orleans online news service, wrote:

Journalists and members of the LSU community who are aware of the ongoing persecution are disgusted and somewhat mystified that the university has chosen to go after van Heerden, rather than quietly settle this shameful case. It seems especially odd in light of the state’s increasing vulnerability to catastrophic storms and van Heerden’s proven expertise in anticipating their wrath—not to mention the high cost of protracted litigation as Gov. Bobby Jindal makes devastating cuts to the university’s budget.

Finally, after throwing $435,000 of taxpayer funds down a rat hole to defend the suit (benefiting no one but the state’s defense attorneys) LSU finally decided to settle in February 2013 for an undisclosed amount. Again, taxpayer dollars but this time the court concealed from public view the amount of the settlement, itself a disturbing trend when public dollars are involved.

While the local media in Baton Rouge have given extensive coverage to the travails of poor Will Wade (six-year, $15 million contract), not a nano-second of air time nor a single sentence has been devoted to the manner in which the LSU Dental School swept a multi-million-dollar scandal under the rug by firing the whistleblower who revealed that a joint replacement device developed by Dr. John Kent, head of the LSU School of Dentistry’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, was defective. That the deficiencies resulted in excruciating pain and at least eight suicides wasn’t enough to prevent the department from ruining the career of DR. RANDALL SCHAFFER.

But thank God Will Wade has been reinstated.

Following drastic budget cuts to higher education in general and LSU in particular by the Bobby Jindal administration and his lap dog legislators, it was decided that LSU President JOHN LOMBARDI  John Lombardi had to go for his failure of leading LSU to its “true vision and leadership.” Lombardi had opposed some of Jindal’s PROPOSALS, a cardinal sin, it turned out.

One of the things that sealed Lombardi’s fate was his hesitancy to endorse the surrender of the LSU Medical Center via a contract containing 55 blank pages. The beneficiary of Jindal’s generosity, by the way, was a sitting member of the LSU Board of Supervisors who headed the outfit that took over University Medical Center in Shreveport. But no conflict there, apparently.

Also loath to approve the giveaway of one of the finest teaching hospital systems in America were LSU Health Care System head Dr. Fred Cerise and Interim Louisiana Public Hospital CEO Dr. Roxanne Townsend. On July 17, 2013, there was a meeting at which the privatization of the state’s system of LSU medical centers was pitched.

Both Cerise and Townsend were present at that meeting and both EXPRESSED THEIR RESERVATIONS. Members of the Board of Supervisors who were at the meeting “indicated they want LSU’s management to pursue this strategy,” according to a two-page summary of the meeting prepared by Cerise.

With days, two of the most respected members of the LSU medical community were gone. Fired.

But LSU has Will Wade back in the fold and all is well.

Following drastic budget cuts to higher education in general and LSU in particular by the Bobby Jindal administration and his lap dog legislators, it was decided that LSU President JOHN LOMBARDI had to go for his failure of leading LSU to its “true vision and leadership.” Lombardi had opposed some of Jindal’s PROPOSALS, a cardinal sin, it turned out.

And who could ever forget the humiliation the LSU Board heaped upon legendary football coach Charles McClendon by making the man wait in his car back in 1979 while the board decided his fate? He was canned because he couldn’t beat Bear Bryant. Well, guess what? No one else was beating the Bear either. If that is the barometer for a coach’s survival at LSU, then no coach’s job is safe as long at Nick what’s-his-name is at ‘Bama.

And the ham-fisted manner in which Athletic Director Joe (Duke lacrosse death angel) Alleva handled the LES MILES firing had all the delicacy and subtlety of Jack the Ripper.

But Will Wade is back and that makes everything okay.

Until the other shoe drops from the ongoing FBI investigation, as it almost surely will.

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You want to know how politicians skew their poll data?

A poll commissioned by Candidate A, for example may contain loaded questions like:

If you were asked to choose between Candidate A, who believes in the sanctity of life, and Candidate B, who believes in killing babies, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?

Or:

If you were asked to choose between Candidate A, who believes people who rape and kill should be given stiff jail sentences and Candidate B, who believes we should open the prison doors, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?

Candidate B, of course, actually stands for a woman’s right to choose and he believes our prisons are overcrowded with non-violent offenders, but Candidate A doesn’t couch his poll questions in that manner. Instead, Candidate B is a baby-killer who wants to turn hardened criminals loose on an unsuspecting public.

Or maybe, in Candidate A’s poll, Candidate A wants to bring jobs to the people of Louisiana while Candidate B, by tightening restrictions on tax giveaways to greedy corporations who don’t really produce that many jobs anyway, is cast as one who wants to drive business and industry from the state.

You may even be asked something like, “If you were told that Candidate A loves his family and teaches Sunday School and Candidate B beats his wife and kids, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?”

Candidate A may be a womanizer who never sets foot in a church and Candidate B may be a devoted husband and father. No one has claimed that Candidate B beats his wife and kids, but you were asked a hypothetical question that implies that he does and phrased in that manner, you are naturally prone to support Candidate A even though you may know zilch about either candidate.

It’s really easy. And just because I’m using an example provided by the Trump campaign, don’t for a moment believe that the practice is limited to Republicans.

It’s not. They all do it.

But this one is especially egregious.

The Trump campaign, which somehow has me on its mailing list, sent this poll before the Mueller report was released. But to submit your response, you’re taken to another page which gives me the choice of contributing to his campaign in amounts ranging from $35 to $2,700.

“At this critical moment, we’re asking our strongest supporters:

“Do you think it’s time for this WITCH HUNT to conclude once and for all?

YES

NO

“This is the most important survey we’ve sent you this year.”

TAKE THE POLL

I tried to vote but without pledging a contribution, my poll response was blocked. In one attempt, I even received a text from the campaign informing me that I had entered an incorrect response.

So, by accepting responses only from those who contribute (and if one is prone to contribute to the campaign, it’s a pretty good bet the poll response would be sympathetic to Trump), the poll results necessarily showed heavy support for Trump, a fact he trumpeted in his tweets as “overwhelming evidence of a witch hunt.”

As pointed out earlier, this practice is by no means the exclusive tactic of Trump.

All candidates do it.

So, the next time you are polled about your political preference in the upcoming election cycle, be careful to listen to how the questions are phrased in order to get a good read as to how the poll is tilted in favor of a certain candidate.

And the next time you read about some candidate is doing well in his privately-commissioned poll, take it as biased—because it is. It’s going to be a poll tailored to the individual candidate and not an accurate reading of the electorate.

That’s just the way the game is played—by both sides.

And we are the losers.

 

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