MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare cleared a critical hurdle Wednesday after state-hired consultants determined there was a high probability that the Mecklenburg agency would be able to oversee federal money for mental health services by March 1.
County Manager Harry Jones delivered the good news to commissioners after three hours of exercises meant to strengthen oft-contentious relations between the board and Jones and his staff.
Had MeckLINK not passed Wednesdays scrutiny by Mercer Government Human Services Consulting, the agency would have lost the program, according to an agreement reached last week with N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos.
That would have meant losing $215 million in federal Medicaid and state yearly funding for 155,000 Mecklenburg residents who rely on the money for mental health, substance abuse and developmental disability services. The county has hired more than 200 staffers and spent $3 million to build the program.
MeckLINK will undergo a final readiness review Feb. 13.
Jones and board Chair Pat Cotham were clearly delighted with Wednesdays findings. It was emailed to the board by Charlotte attorney Dan Bishop, a former commissioner hired by the county after the state announced in late December that it was transferring the program to an out-of-county agency.
I feel very good now that we will be allowed to go forward in implementing the Medicaid waiver program in Mecklenburg County, Jones said.
Cotham said she was glad the county decided to hire Bishop and fight to keep MeckLINK. Im glad that they (MeckLINK) have made the first hurdle and hope they make the second hurdle, she said.
The news came on the first day of a three-day strategic planning conference for commissioners.
Wednesday was spent being briefed on the council-management form of government that for nearly 100 years have created and implemented policies in each of the states 100 counties.
After the briefing by UNC-Chapel Hill government professor Carl Stenberg, the commissioners and county staff were taken through three hours of relationship-building exercises led by former city council member Cyndee Patterson, president of the Lee Institute of Charlotte and Libby Cable, the institutes director.
Both groups found some common ground. Neither likes surprises, and felt that each group could be more respectful of the other and between themselves.
Board members want county staff to accept accountability, keep them informed and updated on issues and deliver information to all commissioners at the same time.
Commissioners want their colleagues on the board to come to meetings prepared and to protect their confidentiality in emails that tend to go back and forth on issues.
The relationship-building was a first for commission planning conferences, but Jones said he included it on the agenda to try to get the board and staff past some of the contentions. I felt we needed to try to get past that so well have a successful year.