Mecklenburg will continue to fund some mental health services

With Mecklenburg County transferring mental health services on Monday to Kannapolis-based Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions, county officials said Tuesday that Mecklenburg will continue to fund a portion of services for people who aren’t eligible for Medicaid.

At least until June 30 – but likely beyond.

In recent years, the county’s MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare has received about $17 million in state money to pay for an array of “non-Medicaid” services. Likewise, the county has matched that amount to boost those services.

But a state law is forcing the county to turn over to Cardinal management its yearly $200 million allocation in federal Medicaid money. And last month, the state denied Mecklenburg’s request to continue managing the $17 million in state money that have plugged service gaps for residents ineligible for the Medicaid money.

Instead, Cardinal will also manage that money. Last week, Cardinal announced it would use the state money for services in three areas: crisis services, safety-net outpatient services and residential services. That left the county to cover services for nearly 530 residents with a variety of child and adult mental health problems and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

County Manager Dena Diorio recommended to commissioners Tuesday that Mecklenburg pay about $1.3 million to continue those services through June 30. The matter required no action from the board since Mecklenburg already had the money earmarked for those services in the current budget.

Meantime, Diorio said her staff will spend the next 30 days working with Cardinal to come up with recommendations for funding in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

That brought cheers from providers and parents of consumers who had packed the government chamber.

Many said communications from Cardinal and the county had created worry that both would stop funding services their relatives need when Medicaid and state money is turned over on Monday.

Some parents were worried their adult children would be kicked out of group homes. Belinda Wilson was concerned her daughter Cameron, 23, wouldn’t get the job training she needs.

Diorio’s announcement gave Missy Hill some relief. “For the short term anyway,” said Hill, whose daughter Katie, 24, receives job skills training from LifeSpan. “We as parents need to make sure that Mecklenburg pays for what Cardinal won’t pick up.”

The past few days, parents and providers have peppered commissioners and Diorio with emails and calls describing the impact that cutting money for services would have on residents with disability.

Tuesday’s announcement left Davan Cloninger, LifeSpan’s CEO and president, “cautiously optimistic.” “I am hopeful that an agreement will be made and the county will continue to fund services for citizens with disabilities,” Cloninger said.

Board Chairman Trevor Fuller said it’s “highly likely” commissioners would approve continuing services. He said Diorio and Cardinal officials may consider funding “a different configuration” of services. “But I believe we will do our level best to provide these services for people who need them the most.”

He said the confusion came after word got out that Cardinal had decided not to fund these services and “Mecklenburg wouldn’t backstop. I hope this meeting cleared that up.”

Diorio said Mecklenburg has always paid for mental health services. “I don’t see that this board is going to change directions. … We will work with Cardinal to make sure we don’t have any (service) gaps. We want to make sure all the array of services are covered.”