Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mental health services start fresh

by Kellen Moore

Tuesday was a fresh start for mental health services in Watauga County, as Daymark Recovery Services opened its doors at the sites of the former New River Behavioral HealthCare.

And on day 1, Daymark CEO Billy West had one message for clients and the community: “Bear with us.”

Although hundreds of details large and small were still being finalized even as business started Tuesday, Daymark staff reported a fairly calm transition.

“I think we're able to handle a lot of complicated things very well,” said Murray Hawkinson, site director for Watauga County.

Watauga County commissioners agreed Tuesday morning to lease former New River office space in the Human Services Building on the Poplar Grove Connector Road to Daymark for $5 per square foot per year.

With 13,775 square feet of space being used, Daymark will pay $5,739 per month in rent as well as $5,643 per month in janitorial and operating expenses, County Manager Deron Geouque said.

The rent is far below the fair market value of $10 to $12, but the board agreed to the reduced rate to minimize any disruption of services. The lease runs through June 30, 2012, and will be renegotiated then.

The rate is higher than the $3 per square foot that other members of the New River Service Authority board agreed to offer last week.

Inside the leased space, a skeleton crew was already operating Tuesday.

About half of the newly hired Daymark employees are attending orientation sessions Tuesday and Wednesday, and the other half will attend Thursday and Friday, West said.

The organization is still working to hire more physicians, and West said he did not know the exact number of employees that were in place as of Tuesday but was certain it was enough to keep the offices functioning.

In addition to staffing and space considerations, Daymark has been working to ensure that information technology systems are in place.

Computer systems and data lines are also being installed this week in the offices, West said, and Daymark also has had to purchase a new server to handle the data.

In a perfect transition, those data lines would have been connected and tested a month before the service provider opened, but Daymark didn't have that luxury, West said.

Telephone crisis lines are also continuing to function, although they may still refer to “New River Behavioral Healthcare” in automated messages for a while, West said.

West said all crisis employees have been instructed to continue as they have been until Daymark can address the crisis lines and services.

In Watauga County, 911 dispatchers had been answering New River's crisis lines after hours and connecting callers to the New River staff member on call, but Sheriff Len Hagaman told commissioners Tuesday he would like that system to end.

Commissioners agreed that the sheriff's office should continue answering the lines for the time being and directed Geouque to work with Daymark to find a new agreement.

With so many technology needs, Smoky Mountain Center has agreed to reimburse Daymark up to $370,000 to assist with the technology startup process, Smoky Mountain CEO Brian Ingraham said last week.

Although Daymark is covering the rest of its own significant startup costs at this point, West said he had “no problems” with the amount Smoky Mountain Center has provided to the organization.


While Daymark will provide the bulk of mental health services in the community, Smoky Mountain Center has also selected two other service providers to handle court-referred juvenile services and case management for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

True Behavioral Healthcare, based in Gastonia, hired 11 or 12 former New River staff members to start work Tuesday providing intellectual/developmental disability services.

In Boone, those employees are currently in the same space with Daymark employees until office space is arranged, True Behavioral CEO Carla Balestra said.

When IDD programs are up and running, True Behavioral plans to serve about 200 to 250 clients with an array of services, Balestra said.

Youth Villages is a national organization formed in Memphis, Tenn., in 1986 that will provide services to youth offenders and their families referred through the court system.

Sonja Luecke, a spokeswoman for Youth Villages, said the organization plans to begin helping youth by next week and started meeting some juveniles last week to assess their needs. Youth Villages does not yet have office space in Boone, but Smoky Mountain Center and the court are lending office space right now to conduct assessments, she said.

West said he was shocked to learn that Smoky Mountain Center would not select Daymark for the juvenile referral services and disappointed, as those enhanced services typically bring in revenue unlike many other mental health programs.

“What I told my staff was simply this: Am I surprised? Yes. Is this going to be the last thing that happens? No,” West said, adding that he felt there was too much to do to worry long about losing that solid source of revenue.

Luecke said court-involved youth and families can decide whether to follow their therapists to Daymark or use Youth Villages.

With dozens of decisions being made quickly and revenue streams still unknown, West said he is focused on ensuring that Daymark will not meet the same fate as New River.

“At the end of the year, we will have a system that may not be what you had yesterday, but it will be a system that will be sustained, and you will get a professional service for the long haul,” West said.

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