Tri-City crisis response services will continue uninterrupted even after Benton and Franklin counties agreed Thursday to turn over crisis response services.
At a testy joint meeting of the two county commissions in Kennewick, the commissioners ended their contract with the regional agency that coordinates public health services in the region.
Greater Columbia Behavioral Health is a 10-county agency responsible for crisis response, substance abuse, mental health and other behavioral health services.
The crisis response decision means Greater Columbia will contract with new providers to help Mid-Columbia residents having mental health crises.
Despite Thursday’s tension-filled discussions, the commissioners dealt with two key issues — crisis response and hiring a consultant to draft a plan to comply with the state’s new plan for health and human services.
The transition away from the counties providing the services should improve services, said Ken Roughton, Greater Columbia’s director.
“I think providers in the community will rally,” he said.
The agency contracts with various providers for different services. In the Tri-Cities, the Benton-Franklin Human Services Department holds the contract to respond to suicide threats and other crises. It’s unclear what the change will mean for the county employees left in the unit.
The goal was to have the transition be a little more PR friendly. It just has gone sideways.
Ken Roughton, Greater Columbia Behavioral Health
The commissioners agreed to cancel the contract and let Greater Columbia find another provider to shore up a crisis response system that is understaffed. Uncertainty about the future of the agency has caused employees to leave and made it hard to find qualified replacements.
Thursday, a half-dozen residents told commissioners that the system failed their family members, often with heartbreaking consequences.
A daughter described being unable to get help before her father shot himself. A mother spoke of finding her son’s body after he shot himself in the head. A father said a counselor visited his son at a hospital after he attempted suicide. The counselor asked the young man if he intended to hurt himself as he lay in the intensive care unit.
“That’s stupid,” the father said. His son recovered physically but his mental health issues went unaddressed and his son was recently sentenced to prison for assault.
Commissioners agreed that crisis response needs an immediate fix. “Give it over to Greater Columbia Behavioral Health because we’re not doing very well,” said Benton County Commissioner Jim Beaver, who described his own experience with the trying to get a relative proper services.
Give it over to Greater Columbia Behavioral Health because we’re not doing very well.
Benton County Commissioner Jim Beaver
The move to end the contract puts Benton and Franklin counties in line with other counties that rely on outside contractors to serve people in crisis. The decision will help the two counties ready themselves for 2020, when Washington state will consolidate behavioral and physical health services under managed care organizations.
“The goal was to have the transition be a little more PR friendly. It just has gone sideways,” said Roughton, referring to the tensions between the counties.
In the second decision, the commissioners agreed to hire a health care executive from Texas to develop a plan to deliver human services.
The counties expect to hire Leon Evans, CEO of the Center for Health Care Services for Bexar County, San Antonio, Texas. That’s a shift from a tentative agreement to hire Rick Weaver, CEO of Yakima’s Comprehensive, to develop the plan.
Franklin County officials said they worried it would be a conflict to have Weaver develop a plan for services his company might want to supply in future.
In a compromise move, the two counties agreed to engage Evans, but to use Weaver as a resource and give other providers, including Lourdes Health, an opportunity to provide input. Evans will be directed to seek information from users of the system, as well.