As reported by the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, the New York state comptroller's office recently concluded an audit of Mountain Lake Academy and its past parent agency, Windwood Meadow Inc. It was reported that the parent agency overcharged taxpayers as much as $7.7 million over a four-year period.
Having worked at Mountain Lake Academy in Lake Placid from February 2000 through July 2011 as a team leader and in middle management, I am slightly shocked by the amount but not the situation. I now feel completely compelled to shine a brighter light on the recent audit by the state, in addition to some other circumstances that pertain to MLA and other not-for-profit organizations.
Sadly, what I guess no one mentioned, or people involved at this time were unaware of, is that in September of 2006, Daniel R. Levinson, Office of the Inspector General, had found Lake Grove Schools (Windwood Meadows as part of that group) guilty of bilking taxpayers out of $678,402 in Medicaid overcharges. Sadly, I was aware of this but thought that it had been addressed, and perhaps it had been? However, unfortunately, I personally was subject to some of the sleazy practices that continued via the parent agency while I was employed at MLA in Lake Placid. I was also indirectly aware, through the grapevine, of some of the parent company's sleazy operations. I am sharing this for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, I know personally to a great extent that the Lake Placid Academy director, Carol Prevost, was doing everything she could while I was still employed at MLA to separate the Lake Placid Academy from the parent agency. I personally know that Carol did everything she could to get the parent agency to do the right things when it came to decisions at the Lake Placid Academy regarding employees and the residents. I know that Carol Prevost is an individual who attempts to do what is right or best in any given situation.
Secondly, everyone needs to know that the programs and care provided by the staff to the residents residing at MLA in their "main care" program exceeds most others in New York state, if not all. I cannot speak for the other smaller Mountain View unit at MLA because I was not involved with it.
I know that not very long ago, Gov. Cuomo launched a committee to look into how not-for-profit agencies are being governed and what changes might be made to better that. In too many situations the answer seems to be "not well enough."
I want to make it perfectly clear that I endorse the presence of MLA in Lake Placid, both in the past as well as into the future. I fully endorse Carol Prevost as its director, both in the past and into the future. But at this point in time I am compelled to also advocate for closer governance of any not-for-profit agency. While I was an employee at MLA there were some upper-level managers who were managing to account for fewer than 40 hours a week. At other times some managerial practices, or the lack of such, led to costly expenses or losses in services provided. The entire time that I was employed at MLA there was no exact method used to track or account for employee attendance, hourly employees or management. At MLA the demand for overtime by a manager can be very high, but the ratio of apportionment with some managers to balance that overtime was becoming ridiculous.
I did bring some of these issues to Carol's attention before leaving my employment at MLA. But I assure you she was up to her neck in sleaze and at risk of being terminated by the Woodwind Meadows folks if she made a bad move.
So yes, I endorse Carol Prevost and Mountain Lake Academy, but I strongly advocate for more governing and scrutiny of all not-for-profit agencies in New York state. Based on the responses reported in the ADE by the governing agency involved with Windwood Meadows, a lot needs to change! I have not heard what, if anything, has resulted from the governor's review panel that was studying not-for-profit structuring. I do strongly believe that, regardless of any findings or changes, if any person has pledged to assume the responsibilities of being a board member of a not-for-profit agency, they should be held fully accountable for any operations they oversee. "No one is watching," should never be the default. I hope the taxpayers' losses are recovered, and I regret I was not more vigilant at the time.
For more details visit my blog, communitycrossfire.wordpress.com
Scott Grady is a former Mountain Lake employee who lives in Lake Placid.