Racine County has finally driven a stake through the heart of the Superior Health Linens controversy. Or so County Executive Bill McReynolds would like to believe.
So all of you County Board members "fixated" on the fact that the company lacked accreditation when it signed the county's Sept. 1, 2007, contract requiring accreditation, and all of you "making a mountain of a molehill," and those "few supervisors" raising "spurious concern" -- shut the !@#%&!!! up!
OK, Mac didn't really really say !@#%&!!!. (At least not in print.) What he did say -- in a memo given to the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday night -- is this: "It is hoped that Superior Health Linens will not continue to be a topic of public comment."
And why would Mac hope that? Because Superior has been accredited!
Cue the trumpets! The problem that never was, is no longer. Retroactive cleansing has been accomplished. Writes Mac (or is it Geoff Greiveldinger, his chief of staff?):
"You will recall that, at several meetings earlier this year, the County Board heard lengthy public comment and other discussion about whether Ridgewood Care Center's laundry contractor, Superior Health Linens, had a certification from a non-profit accrediting agency, Healthcare Linen Accreditation Council. I am pleased to inform you that you need not expect further discussion on that point. Superior has received that certification."
Actually, only the first half of McReynolds' memo deals with the certification issue. The second half implies that the issue was really about efforts to unionize Superior and how "some supervisors may have unknowingly tried to lead the county into a violation of the law." (Mac's complete memo is at the end of this story.)
In any case, almost 11 months after the contract that stated: "Upon request, Superior shall provide to customer copies of its Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) audits and certification as evidence for meeting state and/ or JACHO standards as they pertain to linen service;" and six months after the contract was amended by Corporation Counsel Jonathan F. Lehman and McReynolds, eliminating any requirement that Superior be accredited; and four months after Lehman ranted for 10 minutes at a County Board meeting against Supervisor Diane Lange, who'd questioned Superior's non-accredited status months earlier; and four months after a meeting to discuss the issue was canceled because Mac couldn't attend (and maybe the voters will dump Lange on April 1 -- oops, that didn't happen); and three months after it was supposed to come up at the County Board's April meeting, and then at its June meeting -- but conveniently didn't why, after all that: Superior has been accredited!
Lange still wants to discuss the issue formally, but continues to run into roadblocks. She had asked for time on the agenda of next Monday night's Ridgewood Board of Trustees' meeting, but Mike Miklasevich, new chairman of the Health and Human Development committee of the County Board, refuses to give it to her. "I wanted to have some time on the agenda, " Lange said. "I'm frustrated that a supervisor like myself who's been patient, and worked through the system, is still being denied. "
Nonetheless, she plans to speak during the three minutes reserved for public comment at the meeting.
Does she think the issue is now dead, as McReynolds hopes? "I don't think it excuses the fact that they had misrepresented themselves originally," she said. "I don't know if there were any consequences."
Although Lehman and McReynolds have taken great pains throughout this debate to insist that -- despite what the original contract said -- accreditation was not required, and Ridgewood is happy with the service it has received, it is clear from an email exchange between two of the parties involved that Superior's finally receiving accreditation is a big deal to the company.
On July 18, Judy Reino, president of Reino Linen Service of Gibsonburg, OH, and chairperson of HLAC, wrote Scott Reppert, president and CEO of Superior: "Yesterday, Lindsey Fior (sic: It should be Lindsay Fiori) from the Journal Times in Racine, Wisconsin, called me to verify that Superior received the HLAC accreditation. In a nutshell, I said the two plants passed with flying colors and that you run an exemplary organization. It seemed as though she was digging for some dirt but I kept responding with positive information about your operation. Please send me a copy of the article when it comes out." (Note: The JT hasn't written anything about this yet.)
Another note to Reppert, this one from Manda Shaw of HLAC, said: "Congratulations on passing the HLAC inspection. ...Attached is an invoice for Ken Dott's travel expenses during his visit. Upon payment of this invoice, I will send you the accreditation letters, plaques and marketing kits."
After the break, the complete text of McReynolds' memorandum to the County Board of Supervisors, dated July 22.
Subject: Ridgewood Care Center Contract with Superior Health Linens
You will recall that, at several meetings earlier this year, the County Board heard lengthy public comment and other discussion about whether Ridgewood Care Center's laundry contractor, Superior Health Linens, had a certification from a non-profit accrediting agency, Healthcare Linen Accreditation Council. I am pleased to inform you that you need not expect further discussion on that point. Superior has received that certification.
Most supervisors understood that the performance of a contractor is a day-to-day management matter that is the responsibility of the staff. Most supervisors also understood that, from the county's perspective, the fundamental questions were whether Superior provided linens that met Ridgewood's rigorous standard of care for its residents and whether the other aspects of its service met Ridgewood's standards and needs. The answer to both of those questions was then, and continues to be, an emphatic Yes!
A few supervisors, however, were fixated on a contract provision that had nothing to do with the bidding process, the awarding of the contract, or Superior's contractual obligation to meet all applicable state and federal health standards. Making a mountain out of a molehill, they wanted the County Board to parse out and interpret the legal effect of a sentence in Superior's contract stating that, as evidence of its full compliance with health regulations, Superior would provide evidence of its Healthcare Linen Accreditation Council. Most of us understood, of course, that the critical concern was not whether there was a certification, but, rather, what the certification helped demonstrate; namely, the quality of Superior's service.
Now even that spurious concern about certification is moot. As reflected on the attached email, Superior has passed the Health Linens Accreditation Council review.
For the sake of the County Board and the Health and Human Development Committee, it is hoped that Superior Health Linens will not continue to be a topic of public comment or floor debate. Unfortunately, even this recent development may not end the efforts of some to draw public attention to Superior.
Supervisors will no doubt recall public comment by representatives of Unite Here, a union that has been trying to organize at Superior, and by representatives of other labor unions. That is the underlying issue, and that is why Unite Here and others have been working so hard to undermine Superior's contractual relationship with the county.
If there is a labor-management issue at Superior, it is none of the county's business. Quite apart from the fact that the county is in no position to evaluate Superior's labor relations, it would be illegal for the county to take Superior's labor relations into account when determining whether to contract with it.
In a 1990 opinion, the Wisconsin Attorney General informed Dane County that, in evaluating contract bids, it could not consider whether a prospective vendor was unionized or even whether it was involved in a "labor dispute." A 2005 decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce v. Milwaukee County, held that a Milwaukee County ordinance requiring prospective contractors to sign "labor peace" agreements contravened the National Labor Relations Act. It is regrettable that, in their zeal on behalf of a labor union, some supervisors may have unknowingly tried to lead the county into a violation of the law.
Worse yet, we'd have terminated a contract with a vendor that's provided excellent service for four years and that was the lowest bidder when the contract was bid out last year -- all over whether it had a certification that it now has. That would not have been good for Ridgewood's residents, for Ridgewood, or for taxpayers.
I am grateful to many supervisors for their understanding of the difference between the Board's responsibilities and those of the Executive Branch. I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Board on matters of real importance to the people of Racine County.
RacinePost's earlier major stories on this dispute are HERE and HERE.