Forum reveals missing pieces of mental-health reform

Understanding how statewide mental-health reform will unfold locally is a bit like trying to piece together a puzzle. But as a forum last week revealed, one of the challenges is trying to find the missing pieces.

About 55 people attended a March 25 forum on state-mandated mental-health reform, held in an A-B Tech auditorium. Many of the family members and consumers in the audience made it clear once again that they want as much representation as county commissioners and/or staffers will have on a new board being formed to govern the agency that will replace the Blue Ridge Center. Others — including audience member Diane Bauknight — emphatically criticized the Blue Ridge Center. (Bauknight, in fact, is suing Blue Ridge over services that she says weren’t provided to a member of her family.)

Blue Ridge Center Director Larry Thompson, meanwhile, voiced his frustration that the state’s shift from publicly provided services — dictated by the General Assembly — has not been accompanied with enough information to make it work.

The Blue Ridge Center is supposed to stop providing most services by the end of this year, noted Thompson. And though he and his staffers are recruiting private providers to take their places, Thompson said he has no info from the state about reimbursement rates, clinical record requirements or accountability standards to share with these new recruits.

But Assistant Buncombe County Manager Jerome Jones tried to assure the audience that the counties (which will now be responsible for mental-health services) are committed to making sure there are no gaps in service during the transition from the current system to the new one. Those gaps, he said, could be covered, in part, by a nonprofit corporation (WNC Human Services Inc.) that’s associated with the Blue Ridge Center.

“If we don’t do this for you all, you should throw us out of the county,” declared Jones.

Despite the uncertainties — including the effects of the continuing state budget crisis — only two people raised their hands when Jones asked whether anyone thinks reform is not needed.

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