The Transylvania Times -

By Derek McKissock
News Editor 

Mental Health On The County's Radar

 


After claiming the entity that coordinates mental health services for Transylvania County isn’t being fully transparent or accountable, commissioners last week approved three recommendations to address those concerns.

The Smokey Mountain Center oversees 23 Western North Carolina counties, including Transylvania, and coordinates mental health services, including for people facing substance abuse or with developmental disabilities.

Smokey Mountain has a $369 million budget, of which, Commissioner Page Lemel pointed out, 11 percent goes toward administrative costs.

Lemel is the county’s representative on an advisory board, which, she said, has “questionable authority” over Smokey Mountain and also finds it difficult to hold the organization “accountable.”

Local taxpayers contribute to Smokey Mountain’s budget at the state level, while Transylvania County directly funds them roughly $99,000 a year.

The “challenge” is to find out what exactly Smokey Mountain is doing for the county, Lemel said.

Smoky Mountain has not “been eager” to come to the county, Lemel said. She hoped that commissioners taking “public action” will make Smokey Mountain “more willing” to come to the county and spell out what services are being provided.

The three recommendations (see page 14A) were inspired by an August report from the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. The report may be viewed at ncacc.org.

Lemel pointed to some of the challenges facing Transylvania residents needing services: there are no residential treatment facilities in the county; it’s difficult to place people who need treatment; and the lack of services to treat young people.

The local emergency rooms or jail is where a lot of people who need mental health help are ending up.

“It’s a huge challenge for us as a community, but providing good mental health services will save us a lot of money in the long run,” Lemel said.

Lemel said another deficiency in the system is the lack of a single point person at Smokey Mountain who can field questions and more conveniently educate the public and officials on what services are available.

Lemel’s fellow commissioners supported pursuing Smokey Mountain to be accountable.

Commissioner Mike Hawkins, who believes Smokey Mountain is just “too big,” said the county is also supposed to be getting quarterly reports but isn’t.

Commissioner Jason Chappell said the county should refuse to sign any Smokey Mountain-related documents until they produce detailed reports.

In other action at last week’s meeting:

• A public hearing was held on the proposed schedules, standards and rules for the 2016 property reappraisal. Copies of the proposed guidelines are available at the administration office, tax administration office and the library. No one from the public spoke during the hearing.

• Commissioners approved upgrading a social worker I position to a social worker II position and fulfill requirements to foster care placements, recruitment and licensing services.

In a memo, Tracy Jones, the Department of Social Services (DSS) director, said that on July 1 her office terminated the contract with Black Mountain Home for Children, which had been placing children in DSS’s custody and providing services for recruitment, training and licensing of foster homes. This termination occurred because of an ongoing decrease in availability of local placements for children in DSS’s custody by the service provider.

The DSS office will now take over these services after the county approved the change.

The cost for the upgrade is about $6,200.

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Transylvania County Commissioners approved the following recommendations in relation to the Smokey Mountain Center:

1) Invite Smoky Mountain LME to come to a Transylvania County Commissioner meeting for a workshop agenda item at a regular meeting. This recommendation is in line with the N.C. Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) recommendations to keep educating commissioners on mental health concerns and services and to hold providers accountable for services.

2) Develop a group of stakeholders including staff from the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Health Department, along with others such as the school system to explore additional ways of identifying services available for citizens and develop a visible gateway to the public for mental health per the NCACC recommendation. This stakeholder group would also work to identify the most appropriate staff liaison charged with regular contact with Smoky to enhance communication.

3) Make a formal request for regular reporting of Transylvania County specific data, including the scope and type of services provided, updates on who local providers are and how many county citizens have been served. This will be in keeping with the recommendations to enhance communication between the county and regional entity while also making accountability transparent.

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