Kaine’s office had role in quashing findings
By David ResS
March 11, 2010
Then-Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s office was involved in discussions that led to the suppression of findings that a state children’s hospital he wanted to close provided an essential service.
The state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services said a series of e-mails from Nov. 5 to Dec. 16, 2009, between the governor’s office, then-Secretary of Health Marilyn Tavenner and the department discussed revisions to an expert panel’s report on the care for children with severe mental illness.
The revision removed from the report a finding that no other hospitals in Virginia could care for the 800 children with serious mental illnesses treated every year at the state’s Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton and a smaller facility in Marion.
The officials also removed findings that private hospitals were not doing an adequate job meeting Virginia’s needs for treating less severely ill young people.
The communications between Kaine’s office and the other officials started even before the panel submitted its report in mid-November, the behavioral-health department said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The department said the documents were working papers of the governor and that the state has the option to keep them secret for 75 years.
The department also cited the working-papers exemption in refusing to release a report to Kaine outlining savings from closing the hospital. That report was sent to the governor several weeks before the expert panel completed its review, according to the department.
Kaine was unavailable to comment on the matter, according to a spokeswoman at the Democratic National Committee, where he serves as chairman.
Tavenner, recently named to the No. 2 post at the federal Medicare agency, also declined to reply to questions submitted to her this week. Earlier, when asked about the proposal to close Commonwealth Center, she said she would not talk because it no longer was her job.
After state officials sent the expert panel’s report — minus the suppressed findings — to the General Assembly, Kaine proposed closing the two facilities to save about $10 million. He proposed setting aside $2.1 million to pay private hospitals to care for the seriously ill children the state hospitals treated.
Last month, the General Assembly rejected Kaine’s proposal to close the Commonwealth Center and Gov. Bob McDonnell’s subsequent proposal to sell the facility to a private hospital group, Tennessee-based Psychiatric Solutions Inc., for $9 million.
An official appraisal has valued the property at $11 million to $12 million, McDonnell spokesman Taylor Thornley has said. The state paid $7.5 million to build the facility in the late 1990s, and it sits on land valued at $500,000, according to Staunton City Assessor James G. "Jim" Gallaher.
E-mails in January 2009, released under the Freedom of Information Act request, show officials from the private hospital group whom Tavenner escorted on a tour of the Commonwealth Center indicated the company "may be interested in serving" the young people treated there.
In the e-mails, Tavenner noted she was "trying not to make a big deal of it for obvious reasons" and requested multiple copies of detailed information on the building, staffing levels and how the state was paid for treatment to give to Psychiatric Solutions.
Psychiatric Solutions executives did not reply to requests for comment yesterday.
The company, which operates eight facilities in Virginia, is a major donor to Virginia politicians.
It gave $25,000 to Kaine’s political action committee, $10,000 to McDonnell’s campaign last year, $13,500 to Democratic gubernatorial nominee R. Creigh Deeds, and $10,000 to Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Brian J. Moran.
The company gave $50,000 after the election to McDonnell’s inaugural fund.
Its residential treatment facilities are licensed by the state. State reports show the facilities have well-above-average numbers of founded complaints of abuse — in one case, roughly 20 times the average of other licensed residential facilities.