2012-03-15 / Front Page

Counties Hear MH/ID Task Force Recommendations

Commissioners agree to get more answers before transitioning MH/ID to nonprofit
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz

The Fulton and Franklin county commissioners agreed Tuesday morning they should slow down and get answers to the ‘right questions’ without the constraints of a deadline before altering any services offered to local residents with mental health and intellectual disabilities.

The counties’ decision was made after several months of ongoing talks between the commissioners, the Franklin/Fulton MH/ID Advisory Board and the Reorganization Task Force. Ample citizen input was also given during that time frame, as around 115 residents appeared for a trio of public hearings conducted by the Task Force last month in Chambersburg and McConnellsburg.

The proposal to transition the counties’ MH/ID administration to a nonprofit organization was broached in mid-January during a routine Advisory Board meeting. As a result of the discussion, the Task Force was formed to identify issues that could develop through a transition process. Serving currently on the task force are Chair Sheldon Schwartz, Sherry Goertz, Candace Rutherford, Dick Shoap, Becki Johnson and Fulton County representative Linda Carr.

Speaking to the commissioners on March 13, Schwartz stated the Task Force endorsed a list of issues or tasks to be addressed as part of their duties. Among those concerns were the need for an interpretation of the IRS code; public comments on the transition of administration into a nonprofit; continuation of existing funding streams and ability to seek grants to benefit the residents; continuation of services and the risks and benefits of quality provider / client services; determining the experience of existing nonprofit MH/ID agencies and nonprofit county organizations; and the continued responsibility of the commissioners to provide public health, safety and welfare.

Hearing the comments of concerned citizens, Schwartz said several general themes regarding the proposal seemed to be in existence. Many comments touched on the mistrust of government as suspicions were aired that a decision had been made by the counties and a transition was already under way, Schwartz said. Client service was also high on the list of issues as residents questioned if there would be less service and a reduced quality of service in the event a transition to nonprofit was approved.

As an alternative to the nonprofit option, some in attendance at the meetings suggested the counties could bid out case-management services to several private providers, allowing the county to maintain a small administrative staff to provide oversight. Savings could potentially be generated by the move.

The conclusion of the Task Force, according to Schwartz, was three-fold. Schwartz recommended the counties ‘identify, evaluate and publicly discuss’ both tangible and intangibles with the public, such as detailed schedules, costs and benefits. Schwartz went on to suggest the completion of a health-impact assessment to assure consumers they will not be adversely impacted by a transition. The final recommendation was to consider bidding out case management to a private provider.

Following up on Schwartz’s overview, Shoap urged the commissioners to be careful and refrain from rushing the process by creating a deadline to adhere to. He said the Task Force was not endorsing or condoning becoming a nonprofit, but asked the county officials to step back and ask the questions that should be addressed first.

Commissioner Bob Thomas reiterated a decision had not been made yet to undergo a transition. He said, “Questions need to be answered ... no one here went into this to cut services and hang people out to dry.”

As part of the Franklin County commissioners’ final decision, Chair David Keller stated a plan needed to be devised to answer questions such as how this issue has been handled in other counties and how those counties’ measured their success. Furthermore, their county’s staff should work with the Advisory Board. The Task Force also offered assistance in developing the necessary information.

Speaking on behalf of Fulton County, Chair Rodney McCray said, “There are some things we need to consider. Putting on a deadline may enhance the need to get questions answered but also hinder getting them answered in time.”

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