Sandhills Center Makes Transition to Managing Services
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
Sandhills Center has successfully made its way through difficult transitions in the past year but remains focused on services to residents of the eight-county region.
Victoria Whitt, the center's executive director, made this progress clear in the center's annual report to the Moore County Board of Commissioners at a Jan. 4 meeting.
"Funding by the county does fund services to Moore County residents," Whitt assured the commissioners.
The center operates with funds from the state and federal governments as well as allocations from each member county, based on population. With headquarters in Seven Lakes, it provides mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services to Moore, Montgomery, Richmond, Anson, Hoke, Lee, Harnett and Randolph counties.
Whitt reported that $40 million previously cut from the state mental health budget was restored, and Sandhills' share of that allocation was $1.1 million.
Although this was good news, she reminded the commissioners that the $1.1 million was not new money, but funds originally designated for mental health services and later cut. She said the restoration enabled the center to continue providing services.
"The bad news is, we're not sure what the new year will bring," she said.
Mental health area managers are being advised to expect 2011 funding cuts at the 10 to 15 percent level.
One tricky transition in recent weeks has been the transfer of patients from historic Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh to the new Butner Hospital. Although many patients were sad and uncertain about making the change, Whitt said the transition has worked out satisfactorily.
The other transition, which took place at the beginning of the previous fiscal year, converted all centers in North Carolina from direct-service providers to service managers.
Effective July 1, 2009, Sandhills Center had contracted with a private provider to operate all outpatient clinics within the eight counties. Other services had already been privatized.
Rather than deliver services through the center staff, Sandhills now has the broader responsibility to assess the needs in each county, to contract with private providers to meet those needs, to monitor provider performance, to direct consumers to providers of their choice, and to authorize type and quantity of services to be paid for with state funds, Whitt said.
Whitt said Sandhills is continuing to develop new local sources to serve patients.
This is the third year that Sandhills Center has collaborated with FirstHealth of the Carolinas to provide psychiatric beds in Moore County.
"FirstHealth was the first hospital to step up to the plate," she said.
The center took advantage of the FirstHealth availability during the fiscal year when there were 387 psychiatric admissions and 146 admissions for substance abuse reasons. The largest number, 158 psychiatric and 59 substance abuse, came from Moore County, but there were admissions from all eight counties and 35 from outside the Sandhills area.
Of the $3.2-plus million paid by the state for these admissions, $1,621,500 went to FirstHealth. Other hospitals where Sandhills Center patients were admitted include Moses Cone in Greensboro, High Point Regional, Holly Hill in Raleigh, Old Vineyard in Winston-Salem, Freedom House, ARCA (Addiction Recovery Care Association) in Winston-Salem, and Sandhills Regional in Hamlet.
The annual report shows that one of two mobile crisis teams funded by Sandhills Center is based in Southern Pines. The other team is based in Asheboro. These teams, made up of licensed professionals, are available 24 hours a day to offer stabilization services to people in crisis situations involving mental illness or substance abuse.
During the 2009-2010 fiscal year the Southern Pines team answered 230 such crisis calls from surrounding counties.
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training is a Sandhills Center program that relies heavily on Moore County institutions. CIT training enables law enforcement offices to recognize symptoms of mental illness and to interact safely and effectively, according to the report.
When the report was compiled, 120 law enforcement officers from various Moore County agencies had been certified as CIT officers. Sponsors are the Moore County Sheriff's Department, Sandhills Community College, the local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and Sandhills Center.
Officers from Harnett, Hoke, Montgomery, Lee and Randolph counties, as well as Moore County officers, have undergone training here.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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