09/29/04 — Eastpointe foresees drop in employees

View Archive

Eastpointe foresees drop in employees

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on September 29, 2004 1:59 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Eastpointe mental health agency will have as few as 75 employees, down from more than 300 now, within three years, Director Jack St. Clair said Tuesday night.

The remaining staff will be concentrated in a few areas, St. Clair told the agency's directors. The employees will mainly help the public through the process of getting mental-health and other services.

Those services, however, will be provided by private individuals or firms. State law requires the local agencies to stop providing direct services by 2007.

The Eastpointe board has been anticipating some reduction in its workforce, either by leaving some vacancies unfilled or by layoffs. But Tuesday night was the first time the directors have discussed actual numbers. Eastpointe provides mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services in Wayne, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties.

During the meeting at the Mount Olive Assembly Hall, Dr. John Fisher asked St. Clair how much of Eastpointe would remain in the four counties in three years.

"We'll be primarily gone," St. Clair said with a grimace.

Eastpointe is evolving to what the state calls a "local management entity," or LME. Eastpointe will still be the starting point for people seeking help, but the therapists, counselors and other service providers will not be Eastpointe employees but instead contractors.

Eastpointe's main responsibilities will be access and quality of care, so the LME will keep employees who primarily work on those areas.

The board had discussed using a separate nonprofit organization, Upper Cape Fear Human Services Inc., to hire some of the displaced Eastpointe employees and continue providing services, but state officials had warned that they would cut the agency's funding by more than $600,000, should that plan proceed.

But many employees are trying to set up private practices, said Tammy Thigpen, Eastpointe's personnel director.

At least five have asked recently for permission to go to 32-hour work weeks; that allows them to use the fifth day establishing private practices, she said. Although that limits these employees' availability, Eastpointe has been allowing it because the agency might otherwise lose the employees altogether.

Across the state, mental health agencies are losing staff, many of them heading to social services departments or school systems, St. Clair said.

"It's a sad thing," he said, adding, "This field has never had enough qualified staff and now we have people leaving the profession."