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MHB President Ellis: Story, editorial fuel misperceptions

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

The McHenry County Mental Health Board deems it necessary to clarify information and correct an inaccuracy in the article “Mental Health Board’s way at stake” by Kevin Craver, published on the front page of the Jan. 24 Northwest Herald, and in the “Our View” editorial on Jan. 27.

Both of these pieces fuel ongoing misperceptions regarding how the MHB manages taxpayer dollars designated for the treatment of mental illness, developmental disabilities, chemical abuse, and traumatic brain injury. At a time when social services are deeply affected by cutbacks and late payments by the state, our community needs to work together to meet the needs of our citizens. Effective collaborations benefit the people we serve, and effective collaborations can only begin with an understanding of the facts.

The MHB has dealt with differing opinions on how to manage tax dollars designated for the mental health fund since the people of McHenry County voted to establish a 708 Board, or Mental Health Board, in 1967. The board frames its decisions on management of taxpayer dollars based on its mission and by the mandates of the Illinois Community Mental Health Act. The mission and mandates require the MHB to provide leadership in planning, coordinating, developing, and contracting for quality services for our citizens.

Transparency of MHB governance is an issue that comes up repeatedly. All MHB meetings are open to the public, and public comment is welcomed at each meeting. Meeting agendas are posted on McHenry County and MHB websites, and on the bulletin board just outside the main entrance to the MHB building. All MHB meeting minutes are available on McHenry County government’s website. The MHB also facilitates meetings of provider agencies monthly to share information and concerns. Members of the community are welcome to contact the MHB at any time for clarification of any MHB-related business.

Discussion of allocation of taxpayer dollars designated for the mental health fund in Craver’s article is sketchy. He notes that a Jan. 13 financial report shows that of the $13.1 million in revenue from taxes, $8.7 million is designated for use by community social services agencies, and that the MHB keeps “more than $4.4 million for itself.”

Craver does not explain that this $4.4 million includes funds for facilitation of community supports for family-centered programs such as Wraparound and Screening Assessment and Support Services. This part of the budget also includes funding for psychological evaluations, mentoring and medication support, as well as for the CareTrak program and client transportation. It includes scholarships for consumers and staff of funded agencies so they can attend trainings and conferences related to mental health. Costs for management of clinical records of former clients of Family Service and Community Mental Health Center fall under this category. It additionally includes MHB support of coordination programs such as Individual Care Grants, which are required as part of the SASS program, and support of Crisis Services. All of these programs, and others, comprise a significant portion of the $4.4 million. Just 6 percenty of the revenue goes to administrative costs.

Craver’s article also references criticisms of the MHB’s decision on the building expansion project. The MHB used funds made available through the Americans Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for the capital costs. These funds could be used only for capital projects and were not available to providers for services.

The now-completed expansion provides rent-free space for several consumer-operated community organizations and groups. Just one example is the McHenry County McCap program, which serves young adults with special needs. McCap uses two conference rooms Monday through Friday.

Craver’s article also references a contract with Virginia Commonwealth University to pay former Executive Director Sandy Lewis $150 per hour for consultation services. Craver obtained this information through a Freedom of Information Act request, but failed to check the status of this proposed contract. This proposed contract was never fully negotiated and was never signed by either the MHB or by Virginia Commonwealth University. The MHB previously advised the Northwest Herald on Nov. 27, 2012, in a Freedom of Information Act response to Sarah Sutschek that “…there are no ‘Independent Contractor Agreements with Virginia Commonwealth University’ that have been entered into by or on behalf of the McHenry County Mental Health Board.”

Critics question funding of Lewis’ doctorial studies. The MHB negotiated tuition costs with Lewis to promote continuing education and quality leadership development on behalf of the MHB, and it benefited throughout the education process. The board currently is re-evaluating its policies on education benefits. .

The MHB is guided by a volunteer board of eight community members who are appointed by the County Board, and one county government liaison. Its yearly budget is reviewed and appropriated by the McHenry County Board each year. Additionally, MHB staff meets regularly with the Public Health and Human Services committee. Furthermore, the MHB is CARF accredited, which is earned through a rigorous peer review process to ensure commitment to programs and services that are measurable, accountable and of the highest quality. CARF is an independent, nonprofit accrediting body whose mission is to promote the quality, value and optimal outcomes of services through a consultative accreditation process that centers on enhancing the lives of the persons serviced.

The size of the MHB staff is frequently questioned by critics. It is important to note that mental health boards across the state are very different in size, scope and levy. MHB staff size is driven by the community development required to effectively and efficiently support a community behavioral health system that serves the citizens of McHenry County. Accountability and compliance to the rules and regulations of federal and state contracts are another factor.

Questions from the community are always welcome. The next meeting of the Mental Health Board is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 26 at 620 Dakota St. in Crystal Lake. For information, call the MHB at 815-455-2828, or check out our website, www.mc708.org.

• Lee Ellis is president of the McHenry County Mental Health Board.

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