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Levine defends appointment to charter school commission

David Floyd • Mar 2, 2020 at 7:40 PM

Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine on Monday rebutted a lawmaker’s statements made on the state House floor last week and outlined his qualifications for a seat on the state’s public charter schools commission.

Levine’s appointment to the board, which will hear appeals of charter school applications denied by local boards of education, was rolled for two weeks on Feb. 24 after state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, questioned Levine’s record at a company he worked for in 2012 and his alleged treatment of a protester at Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport.

“I serve on the board of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education in Tennessee, an organization widely respected by members of both parties due to our focus on student achievement,” Levine said in an email Monday. “I've served on the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, focusing on improving reading skills for our young people. I serve on the Board of Governors for Florida's system of higher education, which is now ranked No. 1 in the nation for three years in a row, and I chair the committee on research and academic excellence, in addition to my past service as chair of audit and compliance.”

In discussing his appointment, Johnson said last week Levine was the “focus of a ‘60 Minutes’ expose as CEO of a company, Health Management Associates.”

Levine said Johnson’s statements made on the House floor were not true, noting he was not the focus of the “60 Minutes” story, which aired Dec, 2, 2012, and was never the CEO of Healthcare Management Associates, which has since been acquired by another company. Johnson corrected a Facebook post where she identified him as the CEO.

“The allegations against the company stemmed from a period of time before I was employed by the company,” Levine said, “and the ‘60 Minutes’ story clearly said I had only been with the company for a short period of time.”

According to a script of the “60 Minutes” story, which investigated accusations of fraud against Health Management Associates, reporters wanted to talk to HMA’s CEO but instead spoke to Levine, who was then executive vice president at the company and had worked there for two years.

“The effect of her chosen words has real meaning here,” Levine said of Johnson. “It’s very different to falsely tell an elected body that someone was the CEO of a company and was the focus of a ‘60 Minutes’ story versus telling that same body that the person was a spokesman for a company and was not part of the company during the time when the issues were alleged to have occurred.”

HMA agreed to pay more than $260 million to resolve allegations of false billing and kickbacks, according to a September 2018 press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Levine said he has a history of fighting fraud and abuse in government programs, pointing to efforts he made as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and of the Agency for Healthcare Administration in Florida to cut down on Medicaid fraud.

Johnson also said Levine filed a “felony vandalism charge on a disabled veteran and a grandmother who’s been fighting for her community and her family in Upper East Tennessee by protesting Ballad Health’s practices and policies.”

Levine said this also isn’t true, saying he’s never filed charges against anyone.

“On one occasion, a security officer — himself a former police officer — observed property damage related to a protest on the property and right of way of a hospital,” he said. “The security officer made the decision to file a complaint with local police — as any reasonable person would expect a security official to do.”

Johnson told a Johnson City Press reporter on Feb. 25 she thought it was important that information about Levine’s bio be publicized.

Johnson said she isn’t supportive of the charter school commission and that she doesn’t support increasing the number of charter schools, but she noted that her opposition to Levine’s appointment isn’t about the commission itself.

“This is about appointing someone with, what I think, is a suspect history to that leadership position,” she said.

Gillum Ferguson, interim press secretary for Gov. Bill Lee, said Lee’s nominees are “highly qualified individuals.”

“We urge the General Assembly to approve them without delay so they can get to work on behalf of Tennessee’s parents and students,” he said.

Levine said he is grateful Lee appointed him to the position.

“My passion is that every child graduate high school prepared for a career or for college, and that will remain my focus,” Levine said. “If we want to reduce the cost of health care, and give people the best opportunity for success, it starts with giving them the educational tools to pursue their dream, which will result in reduced poverty and a better quality of life for everyone. I support our public schools, and will never hesitate to hold those the commission is responsible for overseeing to the standards that are established.”

Johnson acknowledged Monday that she misstated Levine’s position at HMA, and noted that Levine’s other issues could stem from disagreement in how she presented the details.

Johnson said she has done quite a bit of research and is continuing to receive more information from people in East Tennessee about Ballad Health, saying that residents are “thrilled” someone is listening to them.

“I’m certainly totally willing to correct any inaccuracies,” she said. “I absolutely want to do that, but those details do not change what is happening in Upper East Tennessee with Ballad Health and how the folks up there are feeling.”

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