Polk fears lack of representation on mental health board

Published 11:37 pm Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Polk County Board of Commissioners say they fear with the makeup of its new Smoky Mountain LME Board of Directors Polk County could have no representation.

Commissioners met Oct. 21 and joined other counties in approving a resolution that urges the state to delay, revisit and revise the requirements concerning the governance and appointment of elected county officials as board members to the Smoky Mountain LME (local managing entity)/MCO (managed care organization) Board of Directors.

Interim Polk County Manager Marche Pittman told commissioners that since Western Highlands, Polk’s former mental health managing entity merged with Smoky Mountain, each board member seat is dictated by law and there is currently only one seat on the entire 21-member board for a representative from a county.

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Smoky Mountain is made up of 23 counties, whereas Western Highlands was eight counties. Polk’s county manager has always been a board member on the Western Highlands board and at times, county manager Ryan Whitson served as chair of the Western Highlands board.

“The problem is we’re being asked to help fund that (Smoky Mountain service), but we’re given no say so in how it is run,” Pittman said.

The resolution states that Senate Bill 191 was passed into law and the new law does not provide counties the flexibility and oversight for fiscal control of their regional LME/MCO, even though counties are still required to fund a major portion of the costs of the system.

The resolution says the law hinders counties from providing needed communication and oversight in terms of services and special needs in their respective jurisdictions.

“Whereas, member counties of the Smoky Mountain LME/MCO provide over $2 million each year from local resources to help pay for the operation and services rendered by this organization plus countless resources to provide support to deal with mental health issues in our own jurisdictions; and whereas, our elected county commissioners, stewards of the public trust, and providers of a vast number of human services programs, have been all but excluded in the revised makeup of the new governance requirements as set forth by the General Assembly,” states the resolution.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson asked what the size of the Smoky Mountain Board would be if the counties prevail in changing the current board makeup.

Pittman said the counties would be satisfied with the 21 members if counties weren’t restricted in its composition.
“We’re not advocating less members,” Pittman said.

He also said other counties are pretty frustrated because they are statutorily obligated to fit the law.

Commissioner Tom Pack said one commissioner (from the 23 counties) is on the board currently. Pittman said counties are trying to change that so there are at least some county manager seats.

There are four at-large seats currently. Other seats are set to include certain professionals, such as psychiatrists.

Commissioner Ted Owens said Polk as an individual county could end up with no representation at all with only 21 seats available for 23 counties.

Western Highlands merged with Smoky Mountain on Oct. 1 to manage mental health, substance abuse and disability assistance for residents in Polk County seeking Medicaid and state-funded services.

The merger was done after Western Highlands Network struggled with a $3 million budget deficit.

Smoky Mountain serves the counties of Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon,
Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey.

Smoky Mountain Center provides a 24-hour, seven day a week consumer access number for individuals needing services. Individuals can call 1-888-573-1006 or visit www.rhabehavioralhealth.org for more information.