Mendo’s Health & Human Services Agency boss, Stacey Cryer, generally does little more in Board meetings than introduce members of her staff who proceed to make dubious statements about things over which the Board has little authority (the number of alcohol outlets in the County, high sugar content in soda, stand out particularly lately), or she attempts hypnotically tedious replies to questions from equivalently tedious questions from individual board members.
But last December 16, when the Board was discussing restoring a five day a week work schedule proposed by the local Court Special Advocates group now headed by former Fifth District Supervisor Norman de Vall, Ms. Cryer became very animated — much more bluntly expressive than she usually is, giving us some actual insight into the workings of what’s left of her agency now that big chunks of it have been privatized.
“This is a deeply operational issue. We have operationalized [sic] Fridays off for a long period of time. You begin to pull that thread and the entire operation of this organization begins to fall apart. I believe this would be a critical mistake. There are two sides of this issue. One is the employees and the impact to th employees who continue to suffer a wage cut of 10%. Many have taken second jobs, many have saved for carpool costs, many have saved on childcare costs. We begin to impact employees who are still suffering from that 10% wage loss. They begin to wonder, Why are we able to open on Fridays when the original premise behind that was that we would save money? If we don't need to save money anymore, then the question I've been asking I've been asked by several employees is, Well then where is my 10% back? So you have all of those issues.
"Second, you have all of the operational issues. We use Fridays for many many things. Some people take Fridays off as I've mentioned. Some people work Fridays to catch up on paperwork. Some people work Fridays to do home visits. Some people work Fridays to handle health care. We do trainings on Fridays. We have experienced over 100% workload increase in many areas of our agency. We started out with over 750 staff. We have 434 today. I don’t disagree that there are problems, the problems stem from a lack of staff, not a lack of Friday hours. I think operationally, this would really tear apart this agency when you begin to micromanage at a level like this. CASA [Court Appointed Special Advocates] has not approached me. They had not asked me any specific questions. They went straight to the Board of Supervisors. This came up in conversation about the family dependency drug court. That's where it started. That is a non-mandated program that this agency has decided to support. The question is, Can we even continue to support that with the lack of staff we have? We're seriously down and staff. Part of that is the wages that we cut. If we begin to look at Friday hours, some of the staff that we have been able to recruit and retain, even though we have less wages, they will leave as well and we will have a bigger problem on our hands. We don't have enough staff. It's that simple. One of the examples cited, we had four social workers in Willits the day they cited the example where it took an hour and a half to respond. It was not that people were not working. It's just the way it goes that it sometimes takes us an hour and a half to respond. So I think you are getting into a level of detail — and I appreciate that CASA has suggested that perhaps we stagger hours. But they do not know the operations of this agency well enough because that will not work.”
Supervisor Carre Brown suggested that the CASA people (lead by former Supervisor Norman de Vall who was on hand at the December 16 meeting) speak to agency staff and try to work something out.
Supervisor John McCowen thought that the issue should be discussed further with the board: “This has certainly been quite a process. If anyone is unhappy with the process, this has been a very odd one. I disagree that this is purely an operational issue. I think it also gets into policy when we're talking about being open to the public or not open to the public. I think it's unfortunate that we are not having a full discussion of the range of issues related to this, that we don't have the full information that Supervisor Brown earlier requested that we get in advance. I think we are doing a disservice to the public, to ourselves and our employees by not having a full discussion and I don't know why we are so defensive about having that discussion. So I will not support this motion” (to simply send a letter of denial to CASA).
Supervisor Dan Hamburg: “I am not feeling defensive. I feel that there are times when this board really needs to support the staff. This is a decision that was made five years ago. The reason that decision was made for still in existence. We still have a 10% wage cut in effect for the employees of this agency. We are trying our best to triage, to make the system work when we know there's more pressure on that system every single day and if there's anything that would make me defensive it is the implication, and I saw this in CASA’s letter, that somehow the Board of Supervisors countenances risking the well-being of the children in Mendocino County. I resent that implication. I don't think it's true. And I don't like it. And I certainly don't think that's true of the staff of HHSA. So I'd like to call the question.”
The Board voted 3-1 (with Supervisor Dan Gjerde absent) to send a letter to CASA saying that the board would not change current hours of operation but that members of CASA should meet with HHSA and see if anything can be worked out.
De Vall concluded by saying he fully intended to bring the issue back, but that he would indeed try to reach some accommodation with County staff in the meantime.
* * *
A sharp-eyed reader asked us about the County’s large revenue “carry forward” last week. According to a pie chart in the County’s Budget Summary for FY 2014/15 the 2014/15 budget includes a whopping $8,850,853 of “discretionary revenue” labeled “carry forward.” Digging deeper into the budget in the hopes of understand this number we found this “explanation” in the County’s budget book:
“However, multiple County departments finished the year under their assigned Net County Cost creating a sizable carryover figure of $8,850,853. The reasons for the carryover are: Timely AB 109 claiming; Additional state and federal program revenue; SB 90 Reimbursement Claims to specific programs ($347,070); One-time revenue (approximately $284,336); Contingency Fund rollover; Unanticipated vacancies; Sizable HHSA carry-over.”
But nowhere does the budget package say how many “unanticipated vacancies” there were or why, nor is the “sizable HHSA carry-over” enumerated or explained.
We sent an inquiry to County CEO Carmel Angelo for more on this intriguing revenue source.
Ms. Angelo’s budget expert, Deputy CEO Heidi Dunham soon replied: “When HHSA develops their annual budget, their estimates are based on the possibility of having to cover the costs of providing critical care and services to a number of high level clients. In these cases, the County is often required to use general fund dollars in order to cover the entire cost. When HHSA does not have the estimated high cost cases, the general fund money is not spent, and is carried over to the following fiscal year and reallocated by the County.”
To which we replied: Dear Ms. Dunham, Thank you very much for your prompt reply.
However, your response begs the question: Why didn't the HHSA have these estimated high cost cases? (Assuming there was some reasonable basis for estimating them in the first place).
Were services denied to some number of high level (mental health) clients? I assume we are talking about Mental Health clients, since that's where the reimbursement shortfalls have been in the past.
The last numbers I've seen on this subject were in the bid package and follow up questions when Mental Health was privatized. At that time (in 2013) the County told bidders that there were 983 active adult cases and 871 active youth cases. And that among those there were 15 "consumers in IMDs for a total cost of $350,240." (IMDs being institutionalized clients, I think, and therefore presumably "high level.")
Is it possible to find out how many were estimated and how many there actually were (including IMDs) and how much of a carry-over this over-estimate generated?
* * *
We’ll keep you informed of whatever reply(ies) we get on this apparently somewhat complicated budget issue.