04/28/05 — Eastpointe paying deputies to transport patients

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Eastpointe paying deputies to transport patients

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on April 28, 2005 1:46 PM

Eastpointe is paying off-duty deputies in four counties $20 an hour to transport mental patients, even though sheriffs' departments are required by state law to provide the service.

The Eastpointe board of directors learned Tuesday the agency paid more than $62,900 annually for the service.

Eastpointe provides services for people with mental health and substance abuse problems and developmental disabilities in Wayne, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties.

"Doesn't the law mandate the sheriff's department provide this?" board member George Graham said. "Why are we paying for it? The county should be paying."

The issue came up when Eastpointe finance officer Ken Jones informed board members an additional $15,400 was needed to cover the deputies cost.

Jones said some of the money could be taken from rental fees generated by a Smart Start building, and the rest could come from funds earmarked for transferring services from a child development center. The agency pays the deputies directly, he said, because the sheriff's offices aren't allowed by law to accept the payments.

Dr. Jack St. Clair, the Eastpointe director, said the system was created several years ago because counties were short of deputies when officers were needed to transport patients to a hospital or clinic.

"This was to help the county out," St. Clair said.

Sampson and Wayne counties received $18,000 each to cover the expense, Duplin got $15,500 and Lenoir received $11,400.

Duplin and Lenoir received less money, Jones said, because those counties had decreased their funding for the Eastpointe agency.

Jones added Duplin County went over its allotted amount and said Sampson County was likely to go over the $18,000 mark.

Neither Lenoir nor Wayne had used up its funds yet, although Lenoir might be getting close, he said.

Graham said he didn't believe Eastpointe should be paying deputies directly.

"This would be cleaner with the sheriff's department paying or the county," he said.

Jones said he agreed, but added some counties didn't want to go with a contract because it set a precedent regarding calling in off-duty deputies.

"And the sheriff can't write them a check," he said.

Duplin Commissioner Zettie Williams said the practice started after an appeal was made by the Duplin County sheriff to reduce the demand on his office.

Graham said he thought the issue was a management, not a mental health, problem.

"This never should have been fixed using our money," Graham said. "But if owe an invoice, and have entered a contract, we should pay. But the way it's handled is incorrect."

Board member Tom Fleetwood said Eastpointe should pay what is owed, but take another look at contracting the service when the board begins to prepare its budget for next year.