Writings and observations

The Hythiam disclosures

Likely we haven’t seen the end of this: A series of apparent ethics rules violations by Washington political figures, with the commonality of involvement with a company called Hythiam Inc. Odds are, we also haven’t seen the last of things like it.

Hythiam sells “comprehensive behavioral health management services to health plans, employers, criminal justice, and government agencies,” and there’s something highly useful about this. One of the videos on its corporate front page suggests “there’s a movement from incarceration to treatment,” and eventually probably there will be – prisons are becoming so unwieldy and immensely expensive that smarter solutions (for not all but a significant chunk of inmates) are going to be needed.

Thus, providers like Hythiam. Among its key products is this: “Hythiam currently offers initial disease management offerings for substance dependence built around its proprietary PROMETA Treatment Program for alcoholism and dependence to stimulants. The PROMETA Treatment Program, which integrates behavioral, nutritional, and medical components, are available through licensed treatment providers.”

It sounds good enough you might want to just leap, maybe before you look. One of the results is incorrect reporting on ethics documents by two Pierce County political figures, County Executive John Ladenburg (who had disclosed an investment interest in Hythiam but less than it really was) and state Representative Dennis Flannigan of Tacoma (who owns 4,000 shares in Hythia but didn’t disclose it), both Democrats. (Washington law, much like Oregon’s, requires annual disclosure to the state of asset interests by a large number of public officials.)

Kicker A is that, as the Tacoma News Tribune reports, “Flannigan, Ladenburg and other Pierce County lawmakers helped secure a total of $900,000 in state and local funding for Prometa.”

Kicker B is that, the paper also reports, “The [county] council and executive agreed in April to spend $400,000 to try the program on offenders in the county’s drug court. But the council suspended funding Oct. 23 after a preliminary report by the county audit staff found little evidence that Prometa is effective.”

The personal financial linkage to Hythiam spreads beyond the politicians. The TNT also says that Terree Schmidt-Whelan, who runs the nonprofit adminstration of Prometa treatment for Pierce County, also is a Hythiam stockholder.

Flannigan has a long history of failures to properly report; the Hythiam thing for him is one in a series. But probably we shouldn’t be too surprised that as private contractors take on increasingly sensitive and significant activities for governments, that some of them will attract direct involvement from people in government. It’s easy to justify: As a stockholder, a public official actually has a say, albeit likely a small one, in the private entities doing the public’s business. But that say, that link and that tie, bind in both directions.

Yes, we’ll be seeing more of this.

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