Cowley County Mental Health and Counseling Center needs an infusion of cash to cover December expenses, and is looking to county commissioners for a $165,000 advance payment.
The commission Tuesday will consider a request for the money, which is expected to mostly fund payroll for the organization’s 80-plus employees. County administrator Jeremy Willmoth also is expected to be named to the mental health board of directors to help oversee a recovery from a financial situation Willmoth described as dire.
The organization’s financial struggles led last week to the firing of executive director Brad Base, who had been on the job for just over a year. Board members are expected to choose an interim executive director soon.
Willmoth said Monday any payment would not be considered a loan - in part because it’s unclear whether the law would allow mental health to take on debt.
Instead, Willmoth said, the money would be an advance on money the county provides annually to help fund the organization. That would, hopefully, give mental health officials time to improve revenues where possible and consider spending cuts.
County commissioners still must make a final decision on whether to improve a payment, though it is clear the organization’s future is very uncertain without it.
“I think the commissioners understand the importance of the work done there and the value to the community, the need,” Willmoth said. “They’re committed to doing what they can to help out.”
FINANCIAL ISSUES HAVE BEEN FESTERING
Base told NewsCow that trouble came to a head last week when he received an email from Kansas Health Solutions - the agency that distributes Medicaid funds to mental health care providers.
KHS - which will cease to exist soon and give way to a different agency, KanCare - was performing a year-end reconciliation of Medicaid payments. Cowley County Mental Health had underbilled for a few months and thus would be paid just $60,000, instead of the usual $283,000.
That news created an immediate funding shortfall and left the multi-million-dollar local agency with less than $20,000 in reserves with payroll fast approaching.
Base didn’t immediately tell the board about the email at a meeting last week.
He said that was because he worried about the reaction from board member Kanyon Gingher. Base said he had known Gingher to “overreact” to negative news in the past and he believed she had something against him.
“She’s a bully,” he said.
Instead, Base waited until the day after the meeting to talk with board president Darrin Green and inform him of the money worries. A subsequent investigation determined that Base not only withheld the information for a time, but that he also informed at least one other employee not to share the information with the board.
Based on that finding, Base was fired. He doesn’t deny the accusations and admits he made a mistake. Though he does think he was fired mostly because of Gingher.
“I’m not trying to duck responsibility,” Base said. “I did something I shouldn’t have.”
But, he said, there were explanations for a shortfall in reserve cash the organization was experiencing. For starters, mental health paid $100,000 or more to buy out salaries associated with an overhaul of the organization last year that included the departure of Base’s predecessor, Linda Young.
Base said he also balked at money spent to retain Chad Giles legal counsel. Most mental health organizations, he said, pay around $5,000 a year for counsel, Giles made closer to $30,000, Base said.
That included a raise Giles received to compensate him for the cost of health insurance because he couldn’t be covered by the organization’s health insurance plan, Base said.
Base thinks he angered Gingher by not supporting an increased expenditure for legal counsel. There was an executive session held to discuss an increase in Giles’s compensation and Base said he was not included.
“They knew I wasn’t in favor of it,” he said. “The knew what I’d had to say.”
Gingher referred all questions about Cowley County Mental Health to Giles.
Giles told NewsCow he could not comment specifically about Base due to it being a personnel issue. He did say all compensation regarding legal counsel was handled in an appropriate way.
Giles said he and the board are focusing on how to work with the county to get the organization back on its feet. He believes the plan in place will help mental health carry on with its work.
Willmoth also would not comment specifically on Base’s departure, citing it as a personnel matter. He did say that the county had become concerned about the financial situation at mental health well before Base was fired and said the issues had been building over time.
“This wasn’t something that developed overnight,” Willmoth said. “Their cash reserves were much lower than what they should’ve been given their budget and given that they rely on payments made by the government.”
Over the past two or three years, he said, revenues grew by about four percent, while expenses grew by 13 percent.
“It won’t take long for that to eat through any reserve you have,” Willmoth said.
Base said he had planned to secure a line of credit to get the organization back on its feet financially, had he been allowed to stay on. Mostly, he said, he wants the mental health care provider to do well.
“I sure don’t want anything associated with me to negatively affect the center,” he said.
The commission meets at 7 p.m. this evening.