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Prevention cuts stand

Despite pleas to reconsider from county prevention workers and local lawmakers, the Wyoming Department of Health is moving forward with plans to coordinate prevention efforts statewide through the Johnson County Community Resource Center.

“We remain fully committed to going forward with this plan,” Health Department Director Tom Forslund said in a May 15 letter. “We believe this approach will help maximize prevention dollars in the face of decreased funding and increase the focus on evidence-based prevention strategies and accountability.”

The new system will begin operating July 1.

Forslund noted that the current system involves 52 separate contracts, each bearing 8 to 11 percent overhead costs.

The revelation of that plan in late March caused an uproar among prevention workers in Park and other counties.

While they understood the need to consolidate, they say the process was not made public and they were given no chance to submit bids for the contract.

Meetings around the state last month between department representatives and prevention workers and partners did little to relieve those concerns.

In a phone conference April 30, Gov. Matt Mead said he would talk to Forslund about the situation. Mistakes were made, Mead said, and he promised to review the process and see what could be done to fix it, according to a report on the conversation from the Park County Prevention and Wellness office in Cody.

But Forslund last week announced that the department will move forward with the plan. No specific information about staffing in each county was available last month, so a conference call took place Wednesday to provide that information.

Only one staff person will be hired by Johnson County CRC to conduct prevention operations in Park County — a job now undertaken by 11 prevention workers, said Sarah Mikesell Growney, public information specialist with the Park County Prevention and Wellness office in West Park Hospital in Cody.

Prevention efforts will continue to focus on alcohol, tobacco and suicide. In his letter, Forslund said areas with bigger substance abuse problems will get larger proportions of prevention funding and more personnel.
Forslund said he had directed his staff, working with Johnson County CRC, “to reach out and seek stakeholder input on details of the coming changes.”

Forslund said the process through which Johnson County CRC was selected as the fiscal agent “met state requirements (but) it has become quite clear that we should have done a better job with this process and with communicating our plans. We do apologize for that shortcoming.”

Some question Johnson County Community Resource Center’s selection for other reasons as well. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, the Wyoming Business Council in February canceled a contract for a $190,000 federal stimulus grant previously awarded to the organization for homeless housing. Mary Randolph, the Business Council’s program director, said last week that decision was made because CRC failed to follow federal guidelines.

The issue is being reviewed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and CRC Director Toni Cervenka said she expects a positive report, based on her exit interview with federal officials, the Casper Star-Tribune story said.

Prevention workers still are finding it difficult to get answers to their questions, Mikesell-Growney said.

“It’s sad,” she said. “(Health Department leaders) completely admit there was a lack of transparency and mistakes were made, and they continue to apologize, yet they’re still moving forward.

“You can go out of your way to make sure you just barely follow the law, just enough to make it legal, even though you’re secretive, lacking in transparency and with a complete breakdown in communications, and intentional about all of that, and then get away with that,” she said. “I don’t know what kind of lesson that teaches the public, but it’s not a good one.”

Mikesell-Growney said she applied for the lone Park County position.

“There’s three separate coalitions that ended up recommending me, so I applied,” she said.

However, because of her open criticism of the process, Mikesell-Growney said she questions whether she will be given a fair shake at the job.

“I have serious concerns about whether my application will be take seriously, in spite of my qualifications and recommendations,” she said.

Other prevention personnel have found other positions with West Park Hospital, are finishing up existing grants and/or are looking for new positions elsewhere, she said.

“As far as our office goes, we’re just trying to make sure we don’t leave anything undone ... to make sure we have all the historical information, contact lists and minutes ready to turn over to the new person.”

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