Benton and Franklin counties will collaborate on mental health services after all.
Two weeks ago, the counties were prepared to go their separate ways when they couldn’t agree whether to hire a consultant from Yakima or San Antonio.
The stalemate ended last week when the Franklin County Commission voted to follow Benton’s lead and hire Rick Weaver of Yakima’s Comprehensive Healthcare to help it take a critical step toward mental health services in the Mid-Columbia.
Weaver will help the counties jointly prepare a strategy to comply with Washington’s move to privatize physical and mental health services by 2020.
The collaboration was a significant about-face for Franklin County.
Just a week earlier, the commission affirmed its preference to use Leon Evans of the Center for Health Care Services in San Antonio, despite difficulty in agreeing to a contract.
The change occurred Wednesday when Commissioner Brad Peck, the key voice against hiring Weaver, was absent. Peck worries that hiring Weaver to develop a mental health road map will lead to future conflicts of interest if his company bids to provide services in his plan.
But with Peck gone, Commissioners Rick Miller and Bob Koch voted to join Benton County in contracting with Weaver. Peck could not be reached Monday about their decision.
Both counties agree the community needs to work on mental health services, but mapping out a plan is proving difficult.
No one is questioning Mr. (Rick) Weaver’s capabilities.
Keith Johnson, Franklin County’s administrator
Benton County favored Weaver for his strong local ties while Franklin wanted to bring in Evans of San Antonio for his national reputation and because a Texas organization is unlikely to pursue work in this state.
Last June, Peck’s conflict-of-interest concerns carried the day and the two commissions agreed to contract with Evans, with Weaver playing an advisory role.
After nine months passed with no agreement to bring Evans to the Tri-Cities, Benton County said it was tired of waiting. Two weeks ago, it voted to circle back to Weaver. Commissioners left the door open for Franklin County to sign on.
Franklin County did not wish to do so when the commission met the following day. Miller said it was time to move on but Peck and Koch directed the county attorneys to review contract language that was preventing a deal with Evans. The two counties were set to pursue the same goal but with different guides.
Keith Johnson, Franklin County’s administrator, said the conflict-of-interest concern is still valid. But as the process unfolds, he said both counties will have opportunities to scrutinize any proposals for possible conflicts.
“No one is questioning Mr. Weaver’s capabilities,” he said, adding that the county is still interested in hearing from the Texan, but not as the primary consultant.
Weaver led Yakima’s shift to a consolidated health system approach more than 25 years ago. His company provides a wide range of behavioral health services, including residential programs, crisis services, a triage center and advocacy services, throughout the Mid-Columbia.
Weaver addressed the conflict-of-interest issue last year. He said Comprehensive doesn’t intend to compete with existing providers in the Tri-Cities and would only consider launching services if no local organization is willing to provide them.