It is good, actually it is a relief, to read that progress is being made in our region toward competently managing care for those suffering from mental illness. Specifically, the Chelan-Douglas Regional Support Network, which yearly distributes millions in state and federal funds for local mental health care, seems to have been righted after years of neglect, lack of oversight and fiscal chaos. It is far from safety, but on a reasonable course.
As outlined in a story Thursday by The World’s K.C. Mehaffey, the new RSN Interim Director Tamara Cardwell-Burns has been at work rebuilding an organization, essentially from scratch. Potential contract providers are being interviewed, a consultant with a track record of success in the field has been hired, alternatives for treatment are being investigated. Importantly, the governing structure of the agency has been overhauled. Previously Douglas County was solely responsible for managing the agency. The board consisted of Douglas County Commissioner Ken Stanton as chairman and Chelan County Commission Ron Walter as vice chair, with representatives from the cities of Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Rock Island added. Considering the agency’s financial implosion it is clear that group was not up to the task. Now the board will consist of two Douglas County commissioners, two Chelan County commissioners, and an at-large member to be chosen. Douglas County is not relieved of duty, it carries much responsibility, but now there will be more eyes on the spreadsheet and an added measure of transparency and accountability.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of this rebuilding effort. Mental health care is a crucial part of our health care system. Those suffering from mental illness often are among the most vulnerable in our society, in desperate need of help and assistance. Taxpayer dollars in the tens of millions are provided for that care. That they could be spent, or not spent, without a minimal regard for financial oversight and effectiveness was distressing for both the sick and the healthy.
In April the state auditor’s report said the RSN did not use a budget, did not have adequate controls to ensure contractors were meeting their obligations, and spent $6.6 million in Medicaid funds in 2011 alone without adequate records. It was overpaying providers who violated provisions of their contract. It had insufficient funds to pay nearly $400,000 for overuse of state hospital beds. Commissioners were considering giving up local control and merging with another agency or handing it over to the state.
Since that bottoming out, the rebuilding effort has proceeded. The state Legislature forgave the bed debt. A merger was avoided. It is clear that, although there is far to go, progress is being made.
We trust the new RSN governors will remain fully aware of the importance of their job, and how many suffering people depend on their work, and what great stake the community has in their success. Keep moving forward.
This is the opinion of The Wenatchee World and its Editorial Board: Publisher Rufus Woods, Editor Cal FitzSimmons and Editorial Page Editor Tracy Warner.