Smoky Mountain Center now managing mental health, substance abuse and disability services

Published 7:10 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2013

As of Oct. 1, Smoky Mountain Center (SMC) has taken over the management of mental health, substance abuse and disability assistance for residents of Polk County seeking Medicaid and state-funded services.

The Western Highlands Network (WHN) previously coordinated services for Polk and surrounding counties but struggled with a $3 million budget deficit.

Interim Polk County Manager Marche Pittman sits on the WHN board, which fired its president last year after discovering the budget shortfall. Pittman said he’s confident SMC is well prepared to handle area services.

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“They’re going to do a good job,” Pittman said. “Their experience has been mostly in rural counties before, so I feel they know about a lot of the unique situations we face and can put a plan in place.”

SMC and WHN continue to work toward the development of a consolidated board of directors that will serve the 23 western North Carolina counties.

In the meantime, one of the primary goals, according to a press release from SMC, is to transition care with minimal disruptions for consumers. WHN staff members were hired by SMC to keep community-based coordinators available to the public.

Brian Ingraham, Smoky Mountain CEO, said one difference in how SMC is approaching things is in the model of care coordination.

“We really try to approach this in very unique – whatever works in Polk County – kind of way,” Ingraham said. “We work to embed these people as deeply as possible in the community where they will be of most service to the community.”

Polk County Department of Social Services Director Lou Parton said DSS has already begun to make room in its new building for SMC staff.

“We want to make this room so their staff can reach our Polk County residents more easily,” Parton said.

She said access to provider information and providers nearby are just the cusp of hurdles clients face every day. Parton said there is also a need for more developmental disability services and more substance abuse services, including intensive outpatient care and support groups for Medicaid patients in Polk County.

“I really hope to see a stronger provider network and services for Polk County developed in Polk County so our people don’t have to travel,” Parton said. “We’d also like to see more creative, effective solutions to a myriad of individual problems. Not everyone can talk about their problems – everyone responds more when they are doing something instead of sitting there talking to a stranger about how bad things are.”

Parton said she’d like to see more things such as art therapy available to Medicaid patients. She’d also like to see more creative therapies for the elderly, since those individuals make up such a large portion of the local population.