08/19/04 — Eastpointe contract plan abandoned

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Eastpointe contract plan abandoned

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on August 19, 2004 2:02 PM

Eastpointe has abandoned a controversial plan to split off some of its duties into a separate nonprofit agency, the Wayne County commissioners heard Tuesday.

The proposal is a "dead issue," Eastpointe Director Jack St. Clair told the commissioners. "It's probably not going to ever resurface."

The issue had been divisive on Eastpointe's board, but it had also raised the hackles of other officials. The state was threatening to cut the agency's funding by $600,000, and commissioners in all four of Eastpointe's counties were raising objections.

"We heard your concerns loud and clear," St. Clair said.

Eastpointe directors had already dropped the idea, but Tuesday was the first time St. Clair had met with the Wayne County commissioners since the controversy arose this summer.

The proposal had been to contract with Upper Cape Fear Human Services Inc. for some services now done internally at Eastpointe. Upper Cape Fear would hire current employees so there'd be no job loss.

But officials in the N.C. Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services have recently indicated they will allow local agencies like Eastpointe more flexibility, or at least more time, in the mental health reform plan.

Ultimately, all local programs will still be shifting from agencies that provide services to ones that manage access to services done by private individuals or businesses, he said.

Formed by a merger of two local agencies last summer, Eastpointe is responsible for mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse services in Wayne, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties.

In its first year, Eastpointe served 14,483 people in the four-county area, according to information given the commissioners. Around 5,700 of the clients were from Wayne County. About half the clients were children.

WATCH update

The commissioners also heard a presentation from the Wayne Action Teams for Community Health, or WATCH.

Dr. Clark Gaither said that the WATCH mobile clinic has seen around 5,500 people in the last four years. That number represents about a quarter of the county's residents who don't have coverage from private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, he said.

WATCH is the second busiest clinic among the membership of the N.C. Association of Free Clinics, Dr. Gaither continued.

County Manager Lee Smith noted that the county contributes $20,000 a year to WATCH. The county more than recoups that cost by preventing more serious health problems showing up at the county health department or at the hospital.

"It's not a bad investment at all," Smith said.

Other business

Also Tuesday, the commissioners did the following:

*Approved the school system's application for a $750,000 grant to lease computer equipment. No local match is required.

*Discussed the biennial review and update of the county's Work First program.

*Made adjustments to the Thoroughfare Volunteer Fire Department's district.

*Agreed to back the Nahunta Volunteer Fire Department's efforts to secure a $290,000 loan to buy a fire truck.