*(Los Angeles, CA – September 11, 2015) – In a move unprecedented in First 5 LA’s six-year Welcome Baby program history, Great Beginnings for Black Babies (GBBB) was abruptly and unceremoniously terminated in July by Centinela Hospital Medical Center from a near $1 million a year contract. Within two days Great Beginnings management had to inform nine staff people that they no longer had jobs. In addition, with its part of the contract at $778,000, it also meant the organization’s budget had been slashed by half.
Great Beginnings had just completed year one of what was supposed to be a five-year contract that would have resulted in nearly $4 million to the agency.
“We were completely blindsided when we received the call to come to an emergency meeting with Centinela CEO Linda Bradley,” Welcome Baby program director Janna Woods explained. “We knew that we not only had met, but in most instances had exceeded all of the Welcome program goals and objectives. And, in most cases, we’d done that without Centinela staff input or support,” she said.
Ms. Woods, who also served as Great Beginnings director of Administration and Finance in the past added, “In addition to the loss of staff and the loss of services to hundreds of clients, the worst part of all of this is that in June we had just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Centinela for the 2015-16 fiscal year. And, all the time they were planning to terminate our involvement. How insidious is that?”
Rolled out by First 5LA in 2009, the Welcome Baby program is a voluntary, universally provided hospital and home-based intervention for pregnant and postpartum women with a primary objective of working with families to maximize the health, safety and security of the baby and the parent-child relationship. Guidelines established by First 5LA require that the hospital serve as the fiscal agent and subcontracts with a community-based organization to provide the direct home visitation services. First 5LA currently funds Welcome Baby program services through 14 hospital sites.
When informed that Centinela officials were terminating the contract without cause on Wednesday, July 29th, Great Beginnings management contacted a senior program officer at First 5LA who admitted that she had been informed of Centinela’s intent to terminate “about a month ago.” Prior to hearing this from First 5LA staff, Great Beginnings had never received formal, nor informal notification of any issues. When pressed for additional details, First 5LA’s program officer acknowledged that “we recognize that this is a difficult situation, but legally our hands are tied.” Great Beginnings management questioned her about a moral or ethical obligation to vet the issue.
Ironically, it was Great Beginnings management who brought the idea of a Welcome Baby partnership to Centinela administrators who were unaware of the program’s existence.
“We were the impetus for Centinela’s involvement and coordinated all services to low-income clients under the grant from the beginning,” GBBB officials offered. “Not only did we bring the program partnership idea to them but we also co-wrote the proposal, negotiated the budget, wrote the budget narrative, and generally had the lead in developing and managing the program since grant approval by the First 5LA Commission in November 2013,” they commented. “In addition, although it was the primary responsibility of Centinela, as program director Ms. Woods wrote all of the quarterly and year-end reports that had been submitted up to receipt of the termination notice.”
Within a matter of days of Great Beginnings being informed of the termination, Shields for Families CEO Kathryn Icenhower contacted Great Beginnings management offering to “take care” of the Welcome Baby staff. “We were assured by Centinela that your staff did an excellent job and that this has nothing to do with a performance issue,” she said. Ms. Icenhower stated that she had been contacted by Centinela at least six weeks prior to notification to Great Beginnings. Shields has since hired four of the nine employees forcibly terminated by Great Beginnings.
An August 27th meeting with Great Beginnings Executive Director Rae Jones, Ms. Woods and Kim Belshe, First 5LA executive director along with Welcome Baby program officers, netted absolutely nothing. When asked by Great Beginnings management about First 5LA’s protocol for vetting perceived issues between contractors and subcontractors, Ms. Belshe repeatedly responded “Our primary relationship is with the contractor,” even though her program manager admitted that her contact with Centinela had been “very minimal” and that they hadn’t completed the required trainings nor participated in mandatory monthly meetings per the agreement contract.
In contrast, Great Beginnings was timely in ensuring that all staff paid under the Welcome Baby grant completed all mandatory trainings, that staff participated in all mandatory monthly meetings, and, that the agency was in compliance with all provisions of the grant agreement with Centinela and First 5LA.
Established in 1990, Great Beginnings was the only African American female headed agency in Los Angeles County that was contracted or sub-contracted to any Welcome Baby grant, which at $778,000 accounted for almost half of the agency’s $1.5 million annual operating budget. In contrast, after Great Beginnings implemented the grant goals and objectives, and in some instances exceeded those goals, the program was handled over to Shields for Families, which boasts an annual operating budget of $30 million and two additional Welcome Baby grants.
“Without having ever been informed by Centinela administrators of any concerns with Great Beginnings performance, either formally or informally, our 25 year-old community-based grass roots nonprofit organization, which has provided stellar community service through the years, has been stripped of resources “without cause” a Great Beginnings manager commented. “The only common denominator in all of this is that the heads of all three entities – Centinela, Shields and First 5LA – are white women.
If this isn’t racism, what is it?”
Who We Are: Founded in 1990, for 25 years Great Beginnings for Black Babies, Inc. has promoted the healthy growth and development of babies, children, youth and families in Los Angeles County communities. Core strategies to achieve these goals include community outreach; prenatal care; home visitations; social support and empowerment; care coordination; referrals and follow-up; case management; life skills training; parenting education; an after school values programs in two at-risk elementary schools; and a recently re-launched fatherhood initiative.
Rae Jones, MBA