A West Virginia testing company is suing the state because it allegedly awarded a contract to an out-of-state company based on inaccurate and misleading information, and the state Department of Health and Human Resources signed off on the information.
The information in question includes the DHHR considering the employment of a subcontractor by a company, even though both the company and the subcontractor deny any official agreement.
Professional Healthcare Development made the allegations in a lawsuit filed late Thursday in Kanawha County Circuit Court.
PHD, an Ona-based company, filed the lawsuit against David Tincher, director of the state purchasing division. The lawsuit alleges Tincher's division and the state DHHR acted inappropriately in awarding a contract to Pearson Vue for the testing and training of nursing assistants.
PHD has administered the tests in question - including the Nurse Aide Training and Competency Evaluation Program, the Educate the Educator program and the Approved Medication Administration Personnel certification - since November of 2001, said Denise Cihy, who runs PHD with her husband, Mark.
The Cihy's company has bid for and received the contract every time it came up since 2001, and submitted a proposal again when it was put up for bid Aug. 2 of this year, Denise Cihy said. She was therefore surprised when the purchasing division informed her in November that her company did not receive the contract this year.
Pearson Vue was recommended for the contract on Aug. 6, according to a letter from a nurse with the Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification to a DHHR administrator. Pearson Vue is a computer-based testing portion of parent company NCS Pearson. The company's headquarters are in Minnesota but its branch office in Pennsylvania submitted the bid proposal for this contract.
Pearson Vue submitted the highest bid of the three companies. However, it was deemed the only company to meet all of the bid requirements, according to purchasing division records.
After receiving the rejection, Cihy filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the other companies' bids. In reviewing Pearson Vue's documentation, she said she found several areas troubling.
Most notably, she said she saw that Pearson VUE included Ben Dickens and his company, Consulting International, in its documentation. The company listed Dickens in its organization chart and labeled him and his company as a "key team member."
The Pearson Vue proposal states Dickens developed and delivered the Educate the Educator workshops - a portion of the certification listed in the contract parameters. That portion is intended for "key employees only," according to the state's request for bids.
Dickens has provided the Educate the Educator services for PHD since the company received the bid for the testing in 2001, Cihy said. She was surprised that he had agreed to work with Pearson Vue and asked him about his involvement.
Dickens told her he is not a subcontractor with Pearson Vue, but a company representative had asked him if he was interested in becoming one. In a letter sent to the state, Pearson Vue maintains he is not an employee but that it intends to hire him as a subcontractor while referencing his company as "our subcontractor" repeatedly in its bid proposal.
The DHHR states that Pearson Vue properly identified Dickens as a contractor.
In a signed letter dated Nov. 13 and addressed to Cihy, Dickens said he had spoken with a representative from Pearson Vue before the contract was awarded but told that person he was already providing his services to PHD.
"I did not or have not signed a contract in either my name or in my company name, Consultants International, on or before August 2, 2012. I am not a subcontractor connected with Pearson Vue," Dickens reportedly wrote in an email dated Nov. 15 to Mark Cihy.
A phone message left Friday with Dickens was not returned.
On Nov. 15, Cihy sent a letter to Tincher protesting Pearson Vue receiving the contract. She cited Dickens' statements that she believes go against the company's representation of his employment. She also pointed to several other mandatory requirements of the contract that she believes Pearson Vue did not meet.
On Nov. 19, Tincher sent a letter to Arthur Valentine, a senior vice president for Pearson Vue, and Bryan Rosen, purchasing director for the DHHR. The letter tells Valentine to stop doing any work that might be connected to the contract.