The Spokane County commission decided Tuesday to protest a state review that puts in jeopardy its oversight of mental health services.
Earlier this month county officials were informed that their public mental health system, which administers care to about 5,000 people a month, failed a state review.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to send the Department of Social and Health Services a six-page letter detailing what they said were flaws in the review process. However, they said they didn’t expect their action to help get them a better rating.
“The state has done a phenomenal job of protecting themselves against a successful appeal,” Commissioner Mark Richard said.
Christine Barada, the county’s director of community services, stressed that people receiving mental health services from the network will not lose care over the controversy.
“This is an administrative issue of how the dollars come to our area and the local control of these dollars,” Barada said. “Providers will continue to provide their services.”
Spokane County is one of the state’s 14 Regional Support Networks, which contract with the Department of Social and Health Services to oversee public mental health care in Washington. In turn, the networks contract with other groups who give care to patients.
The Legislature mandated the review of the networks last year. Scores were based on 20 categories including care coordination and financial stability. Spokane County was one of six networks that failed.
To pass the review, a network needed to receive at least 70 out of a possible 100 points. Spokane County scored 61.7.
The county raised five concerns in its protest, including that the state violated open records law by shredding some of the documents used in the review.The letter also denies state claims that the county neglected to provide some requested information and says that one of the state evaluators was biased.
DSHS spokesman Jim Stevenson said the department will not comment on concerns raised by the networks.
“We are encouraging them to protest if they feel their score is not correct,” Stevenson said.
If the protest is unsuccessful, the county will lose its mental health designation in September unless it wins a competitive process for a new contract against health care companies and nonprofit organizations.
Barada said the county is hopeful that the state Legislature will intervene to delay implementation of the process.
If it doesn’t, Barada said, the county will submit a bid in the competition, which starts March 31.
A few months ago, as the county faced financial shortfalls, commissioners questioned whether the county should stay in the mental health business.
After further review, and with new revenue for mental health approved by voters in November, Richard said he believes the county should keep the contract.
“My concern is that we lose the local passion and local understanding,” Richard said.