By Steven Friederich
August 30, 2007
A spokesperson for Behavioral Health Resources, an Olympia-based mental health organization, said they stand ready to “cover the needs” of some 900 Evergreen Counseling Center clients, but “whether that will be in the interim or permanently is up in the air.”
In the wake of Evergreen’s decision to close its doors, Grays Harbor County Health Department officials and administrators at Evergreen are exploring options with the CEO of Behavioral Health Resources and the management of another health center.
Evergreen’s volunteer board decided Monday to pull the plug after 39 years on the Harbor, concluding that a funding contract offer from the county would mean laying off 16 staff members — too big a hit for the center “to provide mental health services in accordance with ethical and professional standards.”
Evergreen, which employs 58 people and serves 937 clients, will close on Sept. 30.
Maryann Welch, the county’s director of public health, says she and three staff members will work with the center’s administrators to find alternative mental health counseling providers.
Welch planned to meet today with John Masterson, CEO of Behavioral Health Resources, which has an office in Elma. She said she will also talk with officials at Sea Mar Community Health Centers, a low-income health care provider that has a clinic in Aberdeen.
Behavioral Health Resources already sees 2,000 patients per month and has more than 350 staff members, including several psychiatrists and nurse practitioners. It operates an in-patient hospital and already manages a lot of the services that Evergreen has provided in the past.
Most of its facilities are in Olympia and one question that will have to be resolved if Behavioral Health Resources takes over the bulk of Evergreen’s load is where those services will be provided, on Grays Harbor or in Olympia or some combination of the two. That’s the kind of thing that the health care providers and county officials will be working on.
“This will not be easy, given the short time frame we’ve been provided,” Welch said. “We really need to get a response from both of them (Sea Mar and Behavioral Health Resources) on what they think they can do. And then they have to sit down with their organization and their management.”
Judith Hoefling, the community relations director with Behavioral Health Resources, said her organization already provides some mental health services to East Grays Harbor as well as to Thurston and Mason counties.
“We are the closest, major mental health provider and we will take whatever steps necessary to prepare for an influx of people who need our help,” Hoefling said.
Hoefling said her agency learned of Evergreen’s imminent closure Tuesday morning and immediately started working with county officials and Evergreen management.
Rogelio Riojas, a spokesman at Sea Mar, said he was just hearing about the closure on Wednesday.
“This is very surprising to us that they are closing their doors,” Riojas said. “We will help in whatever way we can, that’s for sure.”
Both Sea Mar and Behavioral Health Resources had been planning to enhance their presence on the Harbor in terms of mental health care, even before Evergreen’s announcement.
Sea Mar had asked the county for funds for two staff people at its Aberdeen clinic. Behavioral Health Resources had asked for money to start a new office in Aberdeen for “consumers who need intense services, which is something Evergreen didn’t provide,” Welch said. (The Daily World incorrectly reported Wednesday that Sea Mar would be providing those services.)
Behavioral Health Resources was offered a $1.3 million contract over a nine-month period starting in October. It is receiving $620,000 for the current nine-month period.
Sea Mar was offered a $160,000 contract starting in October.
Some of that money, routed from state and federal sources, had been going to Evergreen. The re-allocation was done under the watch of county-appointed citizen advisory boards, Welch said.
Hoefling said Behavioral Health Resources had not yet signed its contract. Riojas said Sea Mar would never have applied for the funding, had it known it would be taken away from Evergreen and contribute to the local agency’s closure.
The allocated budget for Evergreen went from about $386,000 per month in 2005 to around $325,000 per month in the most recent contract. The new contract offer was about $293,000 per month or $2.6 million over nine months, starting in October.
Riojas said, “If we had something to do with their closure, we feel bad about it.”
Some wondered yesterday whether anything can be done to keep Evergreen afloat.
Welch said none of the conversations she’s had so far have focused on anything the county could do to save Evergreen. Rather, “we’ve been working with BHR on the issues of transition.”
But if both of the other agencies are willing to take less money to make sure Evergreen stays at their current level of service, would the county go for that?
“Evergreen did not provide us with any information on what it might take to keep them open,” Welch said. “We don’t even know that from them. We gave them the information on what their contract would be, and they responded several days later that they would be closing their door.”
Melissa Fox, interim executive director for Evergreen, said, “Without the funding we had been receiving … if we were to remain open, we would have to reduce by a minimum of 16 direct service providers.”
That wasn’t acceptable to her or the board, she said, noting the local agency was in a “Catch-22” scenario since by cutting funding, that would mean cutting staff and not being able to live up to the county’s contract to provide adequate mental health services.
Welch said the details of Evergreen’s new contracts weren’t yet set up, “We would have expected any reduction in funding would have resulted in a reduction of staff to some extent but we expected there would be a staff increase at BHR and Sea Mar. They would offer different services and BHR, in particular, would increase their services by opening an Aberdeen office.”
Is that better than having a local agency provide mental health coverage?
“I wouldn’t characterize it quite that way,” Welch replied. “We were looking at any mental health agency that meets the requirements to operate under our funding, whether they’re based in Olympia or locally is beside the point. BHR’s services in East Grays Harbor have been very well received and we have been happy with their services.”
Hoefling said Behavioral Health Resources’s new office would be an adult out-patient facility, which could be used by persons with any kind of mental illness, but would likely specialize in helping those with bipolar disease as well as schizophrenia.
“We are very distressed for Grays Harbor and Aberdeen, but we will do what we can to help,” Hoefling said.
Riojas said that at Sea Mar’s clinics, “We try to provide as many services as possible because our patient needs are so high and they need so many services. One of the areas we try to combine is mental health and medicine. … We had no idea that our request for funding was going to impact Evergreen Counseling Services in such a way.”
Does Evergreen’s closure impact you? The Daily World would like to know. Please e-mail email@example.com or call (360) 532-4000 ext. 134.
Friday, August 31, 2007
By Steven Friederich
Posted by david at 6:05 AM Permalink