Former ACS workers highlight call center problems

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Sandra Chapman/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - The cost of privatizing Indiana's welfare system has jumped more than $180 million on top of the original $1 billion price tag. The money will pay for new programs and ongoing problems. Former employees say it's going to take more than money, manpower and some proposed policies to get a major contractor in line.

Hired to take client calls, two professionals in two different Indiana cities, unknown to each other tell similar stories to 13 Investigates.

"Your job is to get the people off the phone," said Angie Kennaugh, former ACS employee. "The people running the call center came from Sprint and Taco Bell. They had absolutely no experience at all whatsoever."

"We don't call back because we're not getting paid for it," said George Thompson, former ACS employee. "The training was very substandard."

George Thompson is a former employee at a wireless telephone call center in Anderson. Angie Kennaugh worked at the Grant County FSSA call center in Marion.

But it turns out they share the same boss - an out of state contractor making millions here in Indiana.

"That was all ACS doing that," Kennaugh said.

"It's just about ACS making money," said Thompson. "And that's what they do, they make money."

ACS, Affiliated Computer Services, is the vendor approved by FSSA and Gov. Mitch Daniels to answer the calls of Indiana's neediest residents - those seeking food stamps, cash assistance and Medicaid.

ACS vowed to avoid the pitfalls of another company, Accenture, which tried to privatize welfare in Texas and failed.

"It's like a company that produces a whole lot of junk, you know. They can be proud of how fast they get it out, but it doesn't really matter if it isn't right," said Scott Severns, Carmel attorney.

Severns is representing thousands of Indiana residents in a class action lawsuit against FSSA. Some of his clients had benefits denied, he says in violation of their constitutional rights.

Shannon Frye is legally blind in one eye. She sat waiting a year just to get a Medicaid disability determination.

"It's a horrible mistake and we've got to get on to talking about what the solutions are," said Severns.

Last month, 13 Investigates uncovered a confidential internal report outlining widespread problems with the project, everything from poor customer service to lost documents, even infighting between partners IBM and ACS.

The Daniels administration put the companies on notice but is shying away from talk of ending the billion-dollar contract.

Instead, the state gave contractors $47 million more over the initial $1.6 billion deal, some of it to hire more call center staff to tackle the backlog.

Rep. Peggy Welch (D-Bloomington) said, "Now where did this money come from...that's available to be able to pay toward a contract? Again, we've got obligations, but if the companies that are providing the service aren't fulfilling their obligations why are we continuing to pay them."

Now under a deadline to make improvements, 13 Investigates has obtained internal emails detailing the urgency to process a backlog of Medicaid disability cases for clients already approved for federal SSI benefits:

"Do not waste time on these cases or requesting additional information. If a member has been approved, please approve and continue...We presently are not meeting our objectives. We have more cases per day coming in than going out. I'd like to reiterate that...all employees of MRT [the Medical Review Team] are actively at there [sic] desk and working vigorously..."

13 Investigates also learned letters are going out to clients about proposed changes in September. A new policy would simplify the re-enrollment process for clients.

The governor and FSSA Secretary Anne Murphy declined to speak with us about FSSA. We got no response from Mitch Roob, the former secretary who not only launched the project but formerly worked for ACS.

From recent experience, these former ACS employees recall the responses behind closed doors amid trouble.

"If we get fined, heads are going to roll," said Thompson.

"They would be hysterical - 'we can't lose this contract,'" said Kennaugh.

State Representative Peggy Welch says this contract is costing the state an estimated $200,000 a day in services it's not receiving. That's because Indiana's two biggest counties, Marion and Lake, have yet to be rolled out.

Welch sits on both the Ways and Means and Human Affairs Committees. She says in a matter of weeks FSSA will be facing many tough questions.

Related stories:

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IBM on notice after Indiana welfare deal