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April 26, 2012 8:19 am

Meeting fails to relieve angst for prevention workers

Written by Ilene Olson

A meeting Tuesday between state officials and the Park County Prevention and Wellness office in Cody did little to alleviate local concerns about the process used to select a statewide fiscal agent for future prevention operations in the Wyoming.

The meeting, called by Wyoming Health Officer Dr. Wendy Braund, gave local prevention workers, partners and supporters a chance to address their concerns to Braund and Marilyn Patton, manager of the Prevention Unit of the Wyoming Health Department.

Elizabeth Hoy, policy adviser for Gov. Matt Mead, also attended, as did four local legislators, one former legislator. All five called for the agency to pull back and re-examine the process and make it more transparent.

Colin Simpson of Cody, formerly speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives, said, “A bad process leads to a bad result and angry people, and that’s what you’re faced with right now. ... I think you need to go back and look at the process moving forward and redo that. ’Cause right now, it’s just a wreck.”

According to Hoy, that decision would be up to Mead.

About 45 other people from the Big Horn Basin with various careers and concerns about prevention and wellness also attended the meeting.

Opening presentations by Braund and Patton repeated their positions regarding the need to consolidate prevention services to make ends meet following large cuts in federal grants and state appropriations. The change will save $329,000, Patton said.

No one argued with the need to save money. Instead, most expressed frustration with the procurement process used to select Johnson County Community Resource Center as the statewide fiscal agent.

That process awarded the contract without putting out a request for proposals to other prevention and wellness providers in the state. When asked to provide the names of up to four organizations to send a request for proposals to, department officials suggested the Johnson County organization along with the Wyoming Citizen Review Panel, the University of Wyoming Survey and Analysis Center and the Wyoming Student Loan Corporation.

“Numerous fiscal agents across the state that currently manage multiple prevention grants and manage large budgets with large staff did not obtain the RFP,” and they were given no notice that a request for proposals was going out, said Annmarie McMahill, West Park Hospital Prevention and Wellness coordinator in an April 4 email. “When Patton was asked why, she stated prevention offices could have put themselves on the procurement vendor list. However, (Johnson County) CRC was not on that list, nor was any other likely candidate to obtain this grant.”

Patton said communication suffered because of her unit’s move from the department’s Behavioral Health Division to the Public Health Division, and the disruption that move caused.

Sarah Mikesell Growney, public policy specialist for the West Park office, said during the meeting that some key, high-salary positions at Johnson County CRC already have been filled — again with no notice to existing providers.

Patton replied, “Four people selected were chosen because they had experienced history in prevention science, or that the entity had some statewide work and had an interest.”
Growney said prevention specialists in Park County are among the best, and they focus on community-based environmental solutions — the type Patton said the Health Department prefers.

“Annemarie, I would say, is the leading expert in the state,” Growney said.

When pressed for more details, Patton said she still does not have final budget numbers, and she could not say yet how many prevention workers will be hired in Park County or anywhere else. Those details will be available in a few days, and the governor then will pick from several scenarios. The plan still is to roll out the new system by June 15, she said.

Simpson said, “Marilyn, you don’t even have final budget numbers. You’ve got a July 1 deadline. ... Move the deadline if you have to, and then put out these scenarios to people so they understand, and do it more publicly ... so you have a good result moving forward.”

Jack Russell of Cody said, “It seems to me the elephant in the room is the lack of transparency, and that began with the director of the local hospital that said it came as a shock to him and to his fellow workers. I think that’s what you have to deal with — that lack of transparency.”

Russell represented the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Ginger Largent of Worland, who runs Youth Alternatives in Washakie County and supervises tobacco prevention efforts in Washakie and Hot Springs counties, said her auditor told her that all office supplies, furniture and equipment previously purchased by existing fiscal agents, such as her office and the Park County Prevention and Wellness Office, will remain with those agents. The only exception is, if anything valued at more than $5,000 is sold, that must be reported to the state. That means that Johnson County CRC must start from scratch to furnish and equip prevention offices statewide, she said.

Largent noted that much of what she uses has been donated or provided through in-kind services.

She and others pointed out that the loss of those donations and in-kind services statewide likely represent as much or more than Health Department officials hope to save by consolidating services.

Several people said prevention workers in the Basin partner with and have developed relationships with other individuals and organizations to increase the scope, breadth and effectiveness of area prevention efforts. It is doubtful that one or two people employed in Park County by Johnson County CRC would be able to develop as many partners or nurture those relationships, they said.

Prevention specialist Helena DeFina said she gets calls from local police departments when they need help or information.

“The police department calls me up; we don’t have to call them,” she said. “We are the resource. They come to us. That’s what’s going to be lost.”

Mikesell Growney said Prevention and Wellness Office has a good relationship with local bar owners and managers, and they work together to reduce the incidence of alcohol being sold to minors.

Some also said Park County likely will lose funding under the planned structure because it has done such a good job of prevention, thereby reducing the scope of addiction problems. Currently, funding goes to programs based on population. The new system will provide more funding to areas with higher rates of tobacco and drug use and alcohol use by minors.

“We’ve got one of the best wellness and prevention programs in the state right here, said Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody. “I think we’re being penalized because we’re so good.”

Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, said he sat on the committee that demanded that the Health Department cut its budget.

“We as citizens say, ‘Cut government spending, but not here,’” he said. He said trying to hold state costs down is like standing in front of a train and holding your arms out to stop it.

“Let’s remember that we asked to cut government spending,” he said.

Still, he said, “I would beg and plead that the transparency be addressed.”

Coe also advised the department to re-evaluate.

I don’t think this RFP process has been transparent,” he said. “Hold back. Come up with a transparent process. ... Make sure you’re bringing everybody to the table.”

As the meeting drew to a conclusion, McMahill asked Patton and Braund if they would consider stepping back in the process and reconsidering.

Hoy replied, “I think that’s not Dr. Braund’s question to answer. I think the only person who could address that would be the governor. And I can tell you that, at this point, the governor is not inclined to reopen the process. I am going to take my notes and my observations back with me ... and that’s the most I can tell you.”

Fred Snelson, substance abuse counselor with Cedar Mountain Center Cody said, “I’ve never heard anything saying that (the lack of transparency) is going to be addressed in any concrete way. It’s your job to come and tell us nothing bad happened here. But it looks bad, and it doesn’t just look bad in Park County. We’ve had communication from all over the state that it looks bad. You might do the governor a great favor and carry that back to him as well.”

Editor's note: This version corrects what was said about the future of office supplies, furniture and equipment.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link April 27, 2012 9:37 pm posted by Margo Hutchinson

    I just cannot believe this process will stand. To spend $374,000 to set up a new fiscal agent in the state is rediculous, when others who already have the infrastructure to do it does not make sense. CRC in Johnson County only had 8 employees before this contract, and some of their new hires are the ones who helped them write the grant. The whole thing just is not ethical.

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