by Max Brantley
It's about the money. So you had to know Ted Suhl, major domo of the Lord's Ranch, jet provider to governors, provider of tens of thousands in campaign contributions to members of the legislature, would not give up.
After years of writing his own ticket at DHS, after years of co-opting friendly court workers into pushing any and every kid possible into his $500-a-day racket up in the hills of North Arkansas, you knew he wouldn't like getting outmaneuvered by Gov. Mike Beebe.
First Beebe beat bills that Suhl and other residential care providers of mental health services for kids had run through Sen. Shawn Womack. They wanted to set their own reimbursement rates and otherwise run their own private system -- with government money -- through bills that were never shown to state regulators. Then Beebe proposed legislation for a commission to study mental health care. We spend four times as much as Ohio, a much larger state, on residential treatment. Cheaper and more effective community treatment is the way to go in many cases. But Suhl likes to get the kids behind his fence and keep them and let the charges mount. His critics claim he runs a bounty system to get kids into his system. At a minimum, he has watchers in juvenile courts to recommend new clients because they are so valuable. We've been inundated with allegations of all sorts about Suhl's operation. He won't allow reporters to visit. He won't talk to the press. He won't talk to regulators either. But we remain hopeful that more will be told.
His next trip to the Capitol is a big dog-and-pony show (we haven't been invited, surprise) at which some black ministers are supposed to be ready to claim Wednesday that community mental health treatment is NOT the way to go and a burden on black children. That locking kids up at a remote place that resists state DHS and Education Department inspection is the best course for the black kids -- never mind that they are ripe for exploitation because they are the forgotten and unfortunate who lack advocates and effective guardians when they arrive in juvenile court and thus don't get the option for community care. They are ready marks for sweeps by avaricious residential care facilities.
(UPDATE: Our source says this lobbying event has been cancelled. Did our early warning have an impact?)
Who's on these facilities' payroll? How does this system work? Why did the state start slow-walking inspections of Suhl during the Huckabee era? Why were auditors discouraged from vigorously reviewing Suhl, as they reviewed others? Are people, preachers maybe, paid for referrals to his system? These are just some of the questions we'd like answered thoroughly and openly.
Also, what's the latest lobby count for people on the Suhl payroll?