Benchmark Family Services owner Marguerite K. Peg Feistel said she hopes a new strategic plan will be enough for the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency to approve loan proposals this week.
The JCIDA board on Thursday held off on approving a loan request that is needed to keep the centers doors open at 1635 Ohio St.
Mrs. Feistel said Benchmarks new compliance plan should address all of the JCIDAs concerns.
The issues they talked about are related to Medicaid billing issues, Mrs. Feistel said. In your billing there are certain pieces that have to be there and if not, youre out of compliance. For example, if a therapist forgets to put their title after their name, thats a compliance issue.
She said that example, as well as others, such as therapists forgetting to have parents sign off on things, have caused compliance violations to mount. Over the past few months, however, Mrs. Feistel said, the center has worked aggressively toward improving its billing, which is now reviewed weekly. A Medicaid compliance program will be included in the centers strategic plan.
Benchmark offers 48 preschool slots, which are either three or five hours long. Day-care services also are offered, with a total of 57 slots: eight for infants, 12 for toddlers and 37 for preschool-age children. Reinstating Benchmarks early intervention program is a work in progress.
Last year, county officials feared that without the license, and with unfulfilled requirements from previous contracts, the county would lose Medicaid reimbursement for services at Benchmark. The county reimburses contracted providers for early intervention and preschool services with Medicaid money through the Office of Community Services.
The reimbursement issue unraveled after Benchmarks license was suspended in May 2011, after the state Office of Children and Family Services said the center had repeat violations. All but two of those violations had been corrected as of Friday, according to the state OCFS website. The centers license was renewed in March.
Meanwhile, although the original plan included Mrs. Feistel as compliance officer, she said she has learned that someone other than she needs to be in that position. On Friday, she appointed Chelsea VanArnum, the centers clinical supervisor and occupational therapist, as compliance officer. In that role, she will make sure there is no Medicaid fraud or abuse.
Aside from compliance issues, the overall strategic plan includes marketing, finances and obtaining an early intervention contract through Jefferson County.
The Watertown Local Development Corp. board of directors on Wednesday approved a loan of $118,054 for Benchmark, which already owes that agency $121,121. Watertown Savings Bank has signed off on a loan of $272,802, adding to the $238,004 balance that the day-care center owes it.
But those loans will go through only if JCIDA the lead agency for the transaction approves its loan of $113,870, adding to the $119,484 it already has lent to Benchmark.
If all of the loans are made, Benchmark will owe the bank and the agencies a total of $983,335.
That total amount is about what Benchmark makes in a good year when all slots are filled and an early intervention program is running. That has not been the case for the past two years, Mrs. Feistel said, as the long stretch of violations had damaged the communitys perception of Benchmark. She said there are no issues, however, regarding quality of care or programming.
With an income of about $1 million in a good year, a bulk of that would come from preschool tuition rates, which are set by the state Education Department and may reach upward of $22,000 per child per school year. Parents are charged $4.50 per hour for day-care services.
Income has declined steadily throughout the past two years, Mrs. Feistel said. The new strategic plan, she said, will be good for business and put the center into a solid recovery mode.
JCIDA board members are scheduled to reconsider the loan Thursday.
Wed like to know at Thursdays meeting that everything will be approved so we can move forward, Mrs. Feistel said. If its not approved, itll be the closure of another business in Jefferson County.