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Agreement reached, MeckLINK heads to final shutdown

CommishRetreat
Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
FILE - Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio listens during a January County Commission retreat at the Government Center.

Mecklenburg County commissioners on Tuesday authorized County Manager Dena Diorio to execute a final agreement that will turn over the county’s mental health services to Kannapolis-based Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions.

The signing will bring to an end what commissioner Dumont Clarke called “one of the most bizarre chains of events” he’d seen in his 12 years on the board.

More than a year ago, the state tried to assign to Cardinal the county’s MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare and its $200 million a year in federal Medicaid funds.

But after the county threatened to sue, the state allowed Mecklenburg to continue to operate MeckLINK.

Then a state law passed last June forced the county to lose its oversight of mental health services to 120,000 consumers. So once its contract expires March 31, MeckLINK will shut down.

Yet, before they handed the services to Cardinal, commissioners wanted several concessions, including providing enough representation on its board to give Mecklenburg a voice and hiring MeckLINK employees who meet Cardinal’s qualifications.

Commissioners said negotiators for the county, including Diorio and assistant County Manager Michelle Lancaster – along with the county’s lawyers – did better than expected.

Under the agreement, the 15-member board will include up to four appointees from Mecklenburg, including a commissioner and two mental health experts, Lancaster said.

“Our negotiating position was weak,” Clarke said. “But a real mark of the character and quality of people who work for this county is that they did one heck of a job negotiating an agreement that is not perfect – but a whole lot better than I expected.”

Lancaster said Cardinal has interviewed 139 MeckLINK employees and plans to interview 69 more.

“This was a bad situation that we were in,” commission Chair Trevor Fuller said. “Our task has been to make sure we did everything we could do ... to lessen the negative parts of having to go through this transition.”

Reviewing code enforcements

Diorio also told commissioners that she’s conducting a 30-day review of the county’s code enforcement procedures.

Commissioners have heard complaints from developers, contractors, weekend renovators and the real estate community that the process is too slow or complicated to navigate.

Diorio said she’s going to hire an expert to identify any inefficiencies or inconsistencies in enforcements from inspectors. Her office will assess the feasibility of alternative scheduling options and establish a customer service center for customers unfamiliar with the system. She said she wants the enforcement office to create a quality control process to analyze “if we’re applying the codes consistently.”

She also wants to make the department’s website more user-friendly and see if the county’s system could be integrated with the city’s.

“We’ve heard from customers that they can’t get their projects through and those projects get delayed and it costs them more money,” Diorio said. “That’s property taxes for the county and for the city and towns. We have a responsibility to make sure our customers can navigate our process.”

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