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Prevention office at West Park absorbed by Johnson County

Local prevention office staff say they were given no chance to submit a proposal

A recent decision by the Wyoming Department of Health to consolidate prevention efforts in the state hit a nerve among employees and partners with the West Park Hospital Prevention and Wellness Office.

The department announced March 23 that Community Resource Center of Johnson County in Buffalo will serve as the statewide fiscal agent for the department’s Prevention Unit. It will manage community-based prevention efforts in all Wyoming counties, said Annmarie McMahill, WPH Prevention and Wellness Office manager, in a news release issued Monday.

“This ... will have a major impact on the future of West Park Hospital’s Prevention and Wellness Office,” McMahill said.

It is unknown what impact the decision will have on the office’s 11 employees.

Currently, the WPH office focuses on healthy communities in Park County and helps with projects in Big Horn, Fremont, Hot Springs and Washakie counties, McMahill said.

Marilyn Patton, manager of the Prevention Unit of the department’s Public Health Division, said the decision to consolidate financial operations was driven by a 52 percent cut in federal and state funding over the past two years.

“We had to look at how we could use the dollars that we have to create more dollars for communities.”

But West Park office staff say the decision, and the request for proposals, was made without any communication to most prevention and wellness offices and organizations in Wyoming.

In a letter to prevention and wellness partners, McMahill said the change “came as a surprise not only to our office, but to the rest of the state as well,” although Health Department officials “have clearly known about about this since September 2011.”

“We were not aware of the process and regret that we were not given the opportunity to apply as the Community Resource Center of Johnson County was,” she said.

Patton said the department used the state procurement process, through the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information, when it selected the Community Resource Center of Johnson County.

In order for any agency to be considered, it had to be on the state vendor list and have documented experience running programs statewide, Patton said.

Most agencies currently receiving grant funding for prevention and wellness, including the West Park office, “have not put themselves on that vendor list,” she said.

Patton said the office was not advised that it must be on the list to be considered, but added that the Wyoming Business Council and the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information offer “all kinds of help for people to get on that list.”

However, Sarah Mikesell Growney, public policy specialist for the West Park office, said in an email that she had learned requests for proposals were sent to four “hand-selected” agencies not on the vendors list in addition to those sent to some — but not all — on the list.

Those “hand-selected” agencies included Community Resource Center of Johnson County, she said.

Patton told the Cody Enterprise that Community Resource Center was the only agency that submitted a proposal.

Growney questioned why a the RFP wasn’t published.

“It is my impression that nothing illegal transpired, but rather a process that lacked in integrity and strong communication took place,” she said.

Patton said the Prevention Unit previously had more than 50 fiscal agents “who each took administrative cuts of the dollars they received.

“By moving to a single fiscal agent, we can recoup about a half a million dollars to put back out to communities,” she said.

Under the new system, prevention efforts will receive the same funding as in the past, less the 4 percent budget cut required of all state agencies during the coming two years, Patton said.

While money aimed at prevention will remain about the same across the state as in the past, funds aimed at reducing tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse will be allocated according to community need.

McMahill stressed that the West Park Hospital Prevention and Wellness Office has been fiscally responsible.

“The office staff has always had a unique approach to transform existing systems before introducing or adding new services,” McMahill said in the release. “The staff and the coalitions they serve strive to be data and need driven and base all strategies on well-researched best practices.”

Patton said Community Resource Center in Johnson County will hire staff statewide, including in Park County. But she won’t know exact numbers until all the budget information is available and decisions are made in about two weeks.

Patton said, “Our bottom line is that 700 people in Wyoming die every year because of tobacco use (and) some years, around 150 people in Wyoming die because of alcohol involvement.

“We’re really interested in creating an enhanced prevention system that can prevent these losses. These deaths are 100 percent preventable.”

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