07/27/05 — Eastpointe: Who's paying whose bills?

View Archive

Eastpointe: Who's paying whose bills?

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on July 27, 2005 1:51 PM

The Eastpointe Board of Directors said Tuesday they need more time to review a proposal that would provide Duplin and Sampson counties with an additional $550,000 to pay their share of the cost of providing mental health services.

Wayne County Commissioners John Bell, a member of the Eastpointe board, said that he didn't believe the board had been given the correct information about where the money came from.

"When we discussed this in May, we were told that this was money those two counties had brought into the merger," Bell said. "I've since learned that isn't true."

Eastpointe is a private organization that provides public services for people with mental health problems, substance abuse problems and developmental disabilities in Wayne, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties.

The Eastpointe board voted in May to free up $550,000 in reserve funds so that Duplin and Sampson counties could pay their share of the costs of providing the services. For the past year, the two counties have been paying less than the required amount for services offered by Eastpointe and officials representing Wayne and Lenoir have been pushing to get them to come up with their share.

The $550,000 was originally set aside by Duplin and Sampson officials for contingencies.

In May, the Eastpointe board agreed to release the money held in reserve and allow it to be used to help Duplin and Sampson pay their bills over the next few years. The agreement was contingent on commissioners in each county approving the deal.

But Lenoir County officials have refused to back the plan, saying the money should be split four ways.

Lenoir County Commissioner George Graham, who voted against the idea when it was approved in May, said his county might pull out of the Eastpointe arrangement if the issue is not resolved satisfactorily.

"It's not equitable," Grantham said. "I hate to see this pull us apart because we've come so far, but Lenoir has discussed the possibility of joining another local management entity if this can't be resolved."

Bell said the $550,000 originally came from state and federal sources and should not be used for making up Duplin and Sampson's shortfall.

He said he wanted more time to study the issue.

That drew a quick response from Duplin County Commissioner Zettie Williams, who said Bell should have already discussed the issue with his fellow Wayne County commissioners.

Many of the services provided by Eastpointe are reimbursed through state and federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. But those that aren't have to be paid for with county dollars. Wayne paid $690,000 this year to cover the non-reimbursed costs its residents incurred. Duplin and Sampson's share would have been between $325,000 and $350,000 but they paid only about $125,000 each.

Dr. Jack St. Clair, the Eastpointe director, said the money in question was Eastpointe money, not county money, so he didn't understand the need for commissioners approval.

Bell said he would not make a decision about his vote without the support of the Wayne County commissioners.

"Don't try to force me to make this decision on my own," Bell said. "Don't tell board members to ignore their county."

St. Clair said that he wasn't trying to circumvent Wayne commissioners but that he was concerned the agreement would be nullified.

"It's just that, as hard as it was to get an agreement, I think this is a grievous step," St. Clair said. "We could become embroiled in local politics."