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Missoula-based Consumer Direct lands $500M contract with Washington state

Posted: 9:15 AM, Sep 09, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-09 16:32:58-04
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MISSOULA — Consumer Direct, the home-health management company with a growing presence at its national headquarters in Missoula, has added a major $500 million contract with Washington state to oversee caregivers and clients in that state.

“By far, it is the largest contract that we have, although we are preparing to serve 10,000 clients in Virginia,” said Ben Bledsoe, in his seventh year as Consumer Direct president and CEO. “But this contract is completely different … this is a big step for our company. In our industry, you can’t get any bigger than this award.”

Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services selected two vendors — Consumer Direct Care Network and Public Partnerships Limited — to serve as the legal employer and provide administrative employment support to about 43,000 caregivers who care for DSHS clients at home.

“That $500 million sounds gigantic, but we don’t have a lot of control over it,” Bledsoe added. “The Washington (state) Legislature does, but we are responsible as the employer, for Medicaid and on the client side.”

That means Consumer Direct will become the legal employer, so will process payrolls, claims and oversee caregiving on the ground in Washington state. However, the company’s home base remains in Missoula.

The cost of administrative employees, including 400 in Montana – most of whom are located in Missoula – lies outside that dollar amount.

Thrilled about landing the annual contract, which must be fully implemented by 2021, Bledsoe nevertheless remains realistic: “Basically, we have access to $500 million. We are the stewards of that money and make sure that caregivers are paid and that clients receive approved services.”

Consumer Direct kickstarts the contract within the next fiscal quarter and will start taking on clients probably this time next year, in 2020.

“We must have everyone on board by 2021,” he added. “We have two years to get there.”

It’s an exciting development for Consumer Direct, which moved into a larger complex south of Howard Raser Drive last spring and already has plans for expansion.

“It’s very significant,” said Bledsoe. “The contract roughly doubled our company in every statistic: number of clients, number of caregivers and financially. There are lots of metrics to point to – not quite double, but nearly double.”

The contract divides Washington state into manageable sections. Consumer Direct in Missoula will take on the southern region in Washington, spanning 22 counties – from the Olympic Peninsula, Olympia and Vancouver in the west, to Yakima, the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla in the east.

What are other advantages of such an expanded contract?

“It gives caregivers a better chance to succeed in their part of the state,” said Coco Ballew, Consumer Director development director.

Because Washington state tallies over 40,000 caregivers, the new contract helps divide the labor between the two vendors. At least 20,000 of those caregivers will shift their employment relationship from various independent employers or Washington state itself to Consumer Direct.

By contrast, Montana has 515 caregivers providing personal, in-home care for clients who qualify for Medicaid, public health coverage for qualifying low-income individuals. Washington state is a national leader in providing for clients eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, the federal government program that provides health care coverage for seniors.

Having two vendors also gives Washington state more security and a greater chance of success for DSHS and the caregivers, known in industry parlance as Individual Providers.

Consumer Direct now contracts services in 17 states, but Bledsoe praised Washington state, in particular, for providing good pay and solid SEIU 775 union benefits for caregivers.

“They have a good approach that really fits in well with what we like to do, so we’re excited,” he added. “They’re very proactive.”

According to a Consumer Direct press release, Consumer Direct has an “unprecedented partnership with the Trust for Workers, an innovative new vehicle to promote good working conditions, economic security for workers and worker voice and influence in the home care industry.”

The state of Montana pays Consumer Direct various rates for myriad services, depending on skill sets, costs and relationships.

-Renata Birkenbuel reporting for the Missoula Current