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Fuller: Cardinal’s indecision on governing seats could lead to 'messy' MeckLINK transition

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  • CDC expert to lead Mecklenburg's health department
  • The big questions

    Mecklenburg County staffers will be fanning out to eight public library branches across the county Wednesday to ask residents what they think about the county and what they’d like to see improved.

    They will ask for opinions on four key themes: economic development, high-performing organization; quality of life and cost of living; and human services. The feedback will help county commissioners set an agenda for 2014 and beyond. The staffers will be at the following libraries from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday: North County Regional Library in Huntersville, Mountain Island Lake Library, Steele Creek Library, Beatties Ford Regional Library, Plaza-Midwood Library, Morrison Regional Library, Matthew Library and Mint Hill Library.



Some Mecklenburg County commissioners are concerned the county won’t have enough of a voice on mental health services when Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions takes over those duties on April 1.

A state law passed last June is forcing the county to lose its oversight of $200 million in yearly Medicaid money to provide mental health services to 120,000 consumers. Mecklenburg had administered those services through its own MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare, but once its contract with the state expires on March 31, MeckLINK will be shut down.

Yet, before they handed the services to Kannapolis-based Cardinal, commissioners wanted several concessions – including providing enough representation on the government entity’s 11-member board to give Mecklenburg a significant say in how the money is spent. Cardinal oversees services for 187,000 consumers in 15 counties, compared with MeckLINK’s 120,000.

Commissioners want at least four members on the board, board Chairman Trevor Fuller has said.

But as of Tuesday’s regular meeting, the board had not received a final decision by Cardinal on the matter – though its board is supposed to meet Friday and Saturday, Fuller said.

After the meeting, county commissioner Bill James said he thinks the delay means that Cardinal won’t be increasing Mecklenburg’s seats on the board.

“From what we can tell, Cardinal has essentially said, ‘No way, that’s not going to happen,’” James said. “The county doesn’t have any negotiating power, so there’s no particular reason for Cardinal to offer us any more seats. They can let the clock run out and they get the whole thing.”

Fuller, however, thinks the county still has leverage if Cardinal wants a smooth transition by not “having to re-create mental health services in Mecklenburg County.”

Fuller, too, couldn’t explain Cardinal’s delay on the matter. He said county staff and Cardinal have negotiated daily on the transition, but he’s not sure why there’s been no agreement on the representation issue.

“This hasn’t risen to the level of concern yet, but it does leave me wondering why we’re not moving faster,” he said. “I just hope they’ve heard what we said about the need to have proportionate representation ... I think we’re running out of space to come to an agreement that both sides can live with.”

Anything short of a proper number of seats, Fuller said, could lead to a “messy” transition. “Either the process is going to be messy or it will be a process where we can say, ‘let’s put our hands together and work through this difficult situation together.’”

The transition is not as simple as “flipping the switch off here and then flipping it on up there,” Fuller said. “They (Cardinal) admit it’s a detailed kind of thing. That it would be much easier for them if this was done in cooperation.”

Fuller and James are also concerned that Cardinal is trying to absorb MeckLINK’s $4.5 million in reserves.

James said state law allows the county to keep it, and Fuller vowed the board would fight to keep it – even if the county had to sue. The money would help defray the more than $8 million Mecklenburg spent on MeckLINK, Fuller said.

“We’re standing pretty strong on that. The reserve is county money, and Cardinal is not getting it,” Fuller said. “Cardinal wanted to make sure all of MeckLINK’s claims outstanding would be paid, which is fair. We would use reserve money to do that. Beyond that, no matter what the state says, they’re not getting our money.”

Commissioners also wanted to protect the jobs of MeckLINK’s employees. On Dec. 28, Cardinal posted 197 jobs that only MeckLINK employees could apply for during a 14-day period that ends Monday.

Assistant County Manager Michelle Lancaster told commissioners Tuesday that MeckLINK doesn’t have 197 employees anymore. For the ones who are applying for Cardinal jobs, she said human resources staffers are helping them with resumes and preparation for interviews.

On Tuesday, Cardinal said in a release it would create 80 new jobs in Charlotte over the next three to five years. The group also said it is establishing a new 25,865-square-foot service center on Mallard Creek Road.

The positions, Cardinal said, will include customer service management; contract, enrollment and quality specialists; claims managers, supervisors and specialists; and analysts, auditors, information technology support and human resources support.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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