09/28/05 — Eastpointe must find 1.4 million dollars after state shortfall

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Eastpointe must find 1.4 million dollars after state shortfall

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 28, 2005 1:53 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A local, four-county mental health service is being asked to find $1.4 million to make up its portion of a statewide $28 million shortfall this year.

Area Director Jack St. Clair told the Eastpointe board in Mount Olive Tuesday night about the financial difficulties of mental health services statewide.

St. Clair said state officials announced last week the Department of Health and Human Services is in crisis and not able to sustain funding for all of its local management entities like Eastpointe. The department can only afford to fund 10 local organizations statewide, and each must have about 1 million people.

Board member Floyd McCullouch, who attended the meeting in Raleigh with St. Clair, said some lawmakers present were enraged when they found out the state officials had not told the General Assembly about the problem before the legislators went home for the summer. They are expected to bring up the matter in the short session next May, he said.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Carmen Hooker Odom said the shortfall resulted from inefficiencies caused by some of the local management entities, which were too small to operate effectively financially. The local management entities need to be larger to be able to break even.

St. Clair said the state's proposal "was not put together with any logic in mind," leaving agencies scrambling to figure out how to juggle budgets and still provide services.

"Many of us felt these cuts should be shared," he said. "You have to laugh, because if you don't laugh, you'll cry."

Representatives of all of the local organizations like Eastpointe rejected the state's proposal designed to offset at least $14 million of the $28 million deficit. The groups said the proposal wasn't realistic in what it was asking them to accomplish, and did not give them the time that would be necessary to get the cuts made.

St. Clair said the state has asked Eastpointe to partner with three other entities south of Wayne -- Lenoir, Duplin and Sampson counties. And that could be a problem, he said.

Those organizations, Neuse, Onslow-Carteret and Southeastern, don't have compatible computer systems to tie their databases in with Eastpointe's system, he said. The proposal was to have Eastpointe and the other partners' new organization consist of 12 counties altogether. The population would be close to 929,000.

St. Clair said Eastpointe would be better served forming a partnership with counties like Greene, Edgecombe and Nash. This partnership would have only seven counties, which have compatible computer systems, rather than the proposed 12.

He added that a meeting is scheduled with state officials this week to further discuss the proposal.