Arkansas at the Bottom of the Barrel for Tenants

tenantsNew Orleans        Reading the press release from the Arkansas Legal Services Partnership, there was no doubt that a significant victory for tenants had finally been won.  Arkansas had long been the only state that still criminalized evictions for tenants.In other words you could be evicted by the landlord filing criminal charges on you for not paying your rent and using the police and public apparatus to evict you. I had three lawyers, Stacy Fletcher and Dustin Duke from their Little Rock office and Jason Auer from Jonesboro on “Wade’s World” on KABF/FM 88.3  to talk about, and, as it turned out, tell us the “rest of the story.

Trying to remember the first name of Hobson Mahon who ran the Pulaski County Legal Aid in 1970, and agreed at the request of Jay Lipner, a VISTA lawyer at the time and Steve Herman, a Reginald Heber Smith fellow, to let me squat in the office for a month or so when I was first founding ACORN in Arkansas, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the local legal services.The article I found on Mahon covered the fact that in 1973 legal aid was fighting against this same criminal eviction statute.  So, yes, this victory was sweet and hard won over many decades, but as it turned out it was a victory only in one circuit court’s jurisdiction for Pulaski and Perry County.With no appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court, they would have to continue to look for cases to challenge elsewhere throughout the state.In truth very few tenants go to jail for nonpayment, but it is a big stick wielded by the landlords and depending on how they strike with it one of the lawyers explained how a tenant could end up with a class misdemeanor serious enough drag on credit ratings and impact job applications.

So what does a tenant do when the landlord won’t make needed repairs?  Stacy Fletcher explained that there was an eye in the needle a tenant might be able to crawl through to withhold rent by paying for the repair themselves but it was only good for one month, and the repair were often greater than that sum, and of course there were risks.  The risks being the fact that the tenant could end up with a criminal eviction if they didn’t dot every “i” and cross every “t” correctly in
fix the problem.

Landlords can get away with all of tenant abuse in Arkansas because it is the only state in the United States that does NOT have an “implied warrant of habitability,” meaning that there is no assumption that the landlord is providing housing as a spoken or unspoken part of lease where it is decent enough for people to live.  Yes, you understand this perfectly. A landlord can get away with collecting rent for a place with no heat, no utilities, no running water, and even no toilet.  Unbelievable in the 21st  Century in the United Sates.   Arkansas essentially is OK running slums on the order of Korogochu in Nairobi or Dharavi in
Mumbai!Arkansas could still legally rent the managers of Biblical times.  And, there’s no shame about it either.  Stacy related one sad tale of a landlord in Pulaski with over 100 properties complaining that now he was going to have to get a lawyer or something to evict tenants rather than have the taxpayers do it for him.

A bill seems to have been submitted in the state legislature to finally allow Arkansas not to be the last state without a warrant of habitability.  Republicans or Democrats or whatever, surely they can agree it’s past time to allow tenants to have some basic human rights even if they don’t have anything like tenant’s rights in the state.  If not, we need to talk about all tenants declaring a rent jubilee until we can put an end to both the criminal evictions and legalized slum housing forever.


Please enjoy Answer by They Might be Giants,  Thanks to KABF.


Nonprofit Hospitals Are Going to Have to Prove They are Not Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

medical-bills1-660x330Little Rock     For many top executives and CEO’s it easy to imagine that running a big urban nonprofit hospital has been a sweet gig.  Looking at some of the 990’s that all nonprofits submit to the IRS annually, salaries in the millions are not unusual at some of these big hospitals and many make millions all down the corporate flow chart. They are big whoops in their local communities with thousands of jobs and money to spend and, hey, for all that the regular folks out there know — they’re doing fine, while doing good. Luckily for their patients and the whole community, their world is going to have to change.

Modern Healthcare, the industry’s bellwether magazine, reported recently on the shivers running through many nonprofit hospital CEO’s spines as they absorbed the new world in which the courts and the Federal Trade Commission are no longer willing to take their word for it when they say that mergers and consolidations in their markets will just mean better patient care, when it is clear that they will also create healthcare monopolies able to charge escalating prices on a captive market. A federal appeals court has ordered St. Luke’s Hospital in Bosie, Idaho to unwind their purchase of a major area medical practice, the Nampa, Idaho-based Saltzer Medical Group.  The court essentially said that they could hear St. Luke’s saying it would be better for the community and patient care, but in fact St. Luke’s would have to prove that it wasn’t really much more than an attempt to build a health care monopoly with no price controls.  The FTC had earlier delivered a similar blow to an Ohio hospital, and the head of the FTC has been speaking loudly and clearly in recent months about the agency’s skepticism towards healthcare mergers now.And, then of course you have the fact that nonprofit hospitals are going to have to toe the line because of the new rules from Treasury and the IRS being implemented under the Affordable Care Act. As we assemble our “volunteer army” to look at the 990s for nonprofit hospitals in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana, we’re already seeing enough to turn our stomachs.  A billion dollar children’s hospital that claims to spend only $6 million in charity care and some of that is suspect, along with huge fundraising efforts that seem mainly about politics, public relations, and marketing and in fact lose money at year’s end. So-called “community benefit” items included under charity care by other nonprofits that are also in many cases simply marketing efforts dropped into the category.  Many are simply self-serving like one outfit that put the cost of training its doctors as a community benefit under charity care.  I get the feeling when Local 100 finishes pulling all of these pieces together it’s going to make our hair burn and our hearts’ hurt.St. Luke’s in Idaho is a bit far out of our range, but looking at their particular cut on the twisted reality of all of these matters gives me a feeling that they also are going to have many lessons to learn. In their Q&A section they are careful to point out that they are nonprofit and exempted from some taxes, and in their view that requires them to invest in expansion and new services. How about charity? No mention of that. In fact in their self-presentation they have a unique way of describing for their whole hospital system how they see charity. Here’s how they explain their munificence when it comes to handling Medicaid:

The amount of money St. Luke’s receives from Medicaid is an indication that St. Luke’s provides care to a large number of Medicaid patients. In fact, St. Luke’s provides more care to patients covered by Medicaid than any other health care provider in the state.  Medicaid pays hospitals well below the cost of providing care to Medicaid patients.  The costs that count for Medicaid purposes do not include all of the hospitals costs, so the reimbursement is even less on a percentage basis than it would appear.  Because Medicaid pays below cost, a higher volume of Medicaid funding results in lower net revenue for the hospital.  In other words, on balance, St. Luke’s pays to see Medicaid patients because we spend more on the care of the patient than we receive in payment for the care we provide.

What a unique argument!  St. Luke’s “pays” to see the poor, because they believe that Medicaid reimbursement rates are low compared to their view
of their market pricing.

In a similar bit of double-speak, St. Luke’s communicates in totally imperial and oblique terms their collection policy for the poor Idahoan
that cannot pay the sticker price.

If a patient has difficulty paying their medical expenses, St. Luke’s Patient Financial Services works with them to determine what options are available for assistance, including a possible payment plan.  If it is determined that a patient can pay all, or a portion, of their medical bills but chooses not to do so, St. Luke’s refers those accounts to a collection agency to help collect payment from patients. St. Luke’s may charge interest on outstanding accounts depending on the circumstances.

“Chooses” not to do so?”Interesting.  Probably the same way they “choose” to be poor or unemployed or even for that matter, sick and in the hospital in the first place.  It doesn’t take much imagination to believe that St. Luke’s is taking a page out of the now notorious Heartland Hospital’s playbook in St. Joseph, Missouri.We’re doing the work, but we can already tell even as we get started that we are not going to like what we find, but neither are some of these nonprofit hospitals, because change is coming. There are way too many wolves in sheep’s clothing seeing nonprofit status not as a mission but as a tax dodge.
Please enjoy Modern Times by Dropkick Murphys