For quite a while, it looked as though our county commissioners were going to let their egos get in the way of doing the right thing by the community.
Relations have been prickly between the commissioners on either side of the Columbia River for quite some time. Neither side has hidden its disdain for the other group’s behavior.
One of the most significant services affected by their apparent inability to get along was the fate of crisis response services in the Tri-Cities.
For those at their most fragile, it really doesn’t matter if our elected officials are pals. What matters is that resources are available when needed.
But despite the tension and testiness toward each other at meetings on the topic, the commissioners were able to do the right thing in the end.
At a recent meeting, they terminated their contract with Greater Columbia Behavioral Health, a 10-county agency that coordinates regional public health services. So instead of the county providing services, Greater Columbia will contract with new providers to deliver uninterrupted services, in essence privatizing the service.
County services have been understaffed and inadequate. Several residents told commissioners that the system had failed their loved ones, describing family members who they tried to find help for but couldn’t, or found what was available woefully inadequate.
The one thing commissioners could agree on is that the system was in need of immediate repair. By handing the reins to Greater Columbia, citizens should be better served.
The decision also preps the counties for a state-required shift in four years to privately managed care for behavioral and physical health services.
The other key move commissioners agreed on was to hire a consultant to draft a plan for compliance under a new state model. The anticipated hire of Leon Evans, CEO of the Center for Health Care Services for Bexar County, San Antonio, Texas, has a national reputation for innovation. That was a shift from a previous plan to hire locally. It was a shrewd decision given the scope of the task at hand.
Evans has helped create a system that saves lives and saves the county money at the same time. It has become a model for other communities to follow.
By creating “strong community partnerships and diverse funding sources, Leon’s programs have created an effective public safety net that keeps people with mental illness out of emergency rooms, jails and prisons and links them to treatment programs that help them lead independent, productive lives,” according to its website.
That sounds like just what our community needs.
We have to give credit where it’s due, and the commissioners sure did the right thing by their communities this time. Evans will help build the kind of foundation we need to help our own get the help they need.