Three months after Benton and Franklin counties agreed to jointly hire a Yakima health executive to guide plans to unite behavioral health and substance abuse services, the agreement may be falling apart.
In March, the two commissions agreed to hire Rick Weaver, CEO of Comprehensive, to develop a roadmap to guide the bicounty human services department as it adapts to Washington’s healthcare privatization model.
Franklin County has not yet approved the actual contract, citing fears the agreement will prevent Comprehensive from being eligible to provide crisis-related services later on.
It has floated the idea of bringing in the leader of the Bexar County human services department in San Antonio, Texas, to help out because it’s considered a national model.
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(Crisis response) is not broken. What is broken is our partnership.
Jim Beaver, Benton County Commissioner
At its regular weekly meeting Tuesday, Benton County commissioners indicated their patience with Franklin County is wearing thin. They considered moving ahead with their own plan until their attorney reminded the three-member board the current contract runs through June 30, 2017.
“We’re trying to make decisions in the middle of the Columbia River and we’re going to drown,” said Commissioner Jim Beaver.
Later, Franklin County Commission Chairman Rick Miller told the Herald he too is frustrated by the delays. His commission is wary that hiring Weaver would make it a conflict of interest for Comprehensive, which operates model programs in Yakima and Walla Walla counties, to bid for work later.
“We don’t want to push them out the door if they’re good,” he said.
The two commissions will hold a joint session next week to try to resolve the impasse.
In the interim, the Benton-Franklin crisis response unit team is losing staffers to other agencies. The crisis unit isn’t in crisis itself, but Benton County Commission Chair Shon Small said Tuesday he fears the exodus could push it to the breaking point.
We don’t want to push (Comprehensive) out the door if they’re good.
Rick Miller, Franklin County Commission chairman
The crisis response contract highlights tensions that have simmered between the two commissions since last winter over joint operations, communications and the financial burden of administering various functions.
The two counties share human resources, Superior Court and other functions, typically with Benton County providing the administration and Franklin paying a fee spelled out in bicounty agreements.
The strained relationship was in evidence during Tuesday’s Benton County session.
“(Crisis response) is not broken. What is broken is our partnership,” Beaver said.
The Franklin County Commission plans to discuss the issue when it meets at 9 a.m. June 29, 1015 N. Fifth Ave., Pasco.