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Pioneer Center, Mental Health Board reach funding deal

CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County’s largest provider of services for the mentally disabled got a financial lifeline from the Mental Health Board, provided it meets stringent reporting requirements to prove its fiscal competency.

Board members voted Thursday evening, 6-1, to approve a $600,000 rescue plan for Pioneer Center for Human Services while it transfers its behavioral health services clients to other agencies and prepares to lease or sell two of its facilities under a 60- to 90-day restructuring plan.

But the board, concerned over Pioneer’s sustainability and financial problems caused by lax billing and other issues, attached some strings. Pioneer gets $300,000 up front, and must provide weekly cash-flow reports, and in-person financial updates every other week, before the Mental Health Board approves the remaining $300,000 at its March 22 meeting.

Pioneer Center Board President Mike Moushey said after the three-hour meeting that both sides “reached alignment on the priority of sustaining client services going forward.” 

“We all wanted the same thing, and we had the same common goal that drove the outcome,” Moushey said.

Under the plan, Pioneer will slim down to its original mission of helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and still will maintain its group homes. It also will maintain control of Public Action to Deliver Shelter, the homelessness agency it absorbed in 2006.

Pioneer Center announced last week that it would need to raise at least $400,000 immediately to keep its doors open. McHenry-based Pioneer serves about 4,800 clients a year.

While the eight-month state budget stalemate has exacerbated Pioneer’s fiscal woes – the state owes it at least $1.5 million in late payments – Mental Health Board members expressed concerns over past financial problems and a significant turnover of top management.

For example, Pioneer lost at least $2.6 million in behavioral health reimbursement because of inadequate billing and lack of follow-up with the state, which provides about 60 percent of Pioneer’s budget. Pioneer inherited most of its behavioral health services when it absorbed the services of Family Service, which shuttered its doors in 2012. 

Mental Health Board Executive Director Scott Block said the board did not want to dwell on the past, but had a responsibility to spend taxpayer money wisely. The board doles out property taxes from a voter-approved levy to fund agencies helping people with mental and developmental disabilities.

“You’re trying to uphold your fiduciary duties with the emotional pull to vote for the services at hand, but the Mental Health Board has to evaluate these programs because the people getting the care won’t continue to do so if the programs are not sustainable,” Block said.

The sole opposing vote on the Mental Health Board came from member Ray Lapinas, who was skeptical of Pioneer’s long-term financial sustainability, Block said.

Discussion and the vote came after a number of political officials and parents of people receiving services spoke on Pioneer’s behalf. Supporters included Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley and McHenry Mayor Sue Low, and statements were read from officials including state Sen. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, and Reps. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills.

Pioneer is accepting donations to help keep it afloat. Donations can be made at www.savepioneer.org, or sent to Pioneer Center for Human Services, 4100 Veterans Parkway, McHenry, IL 60050.

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