Who’s reviewing Douglas County’s crisis center project? Commissioners say they’re working with outside counsel; director claims Arizona health care company is involved

photo by: Contributed Photos

Left to right: Douglas County Commissioners Patrick Kelly, Shannon Reid and Karen Willey.

Douglas County leaders say the county’s yet-to-open behavioral health crisis center has the necessary state license to safely treat patients, but that there are still financial and administrative issues that need to be addressed.

The question now might be who is addressing them.

This past week, County Commissioners Patrick Kelly and Shannon Reid both told the Journal-World that the license is just about whether the facility is qualified to provide care, and that it doesn’t say anything about the soundness of the facility’s finances or administrative structure. And over the past two months, county leaders have said they’ve been working with outside legal counsel to sort those issues out.

But the center’s director, who announced last month that he would be resigning, has claimed that an out-of-state health care company might be playing a role, and that it might constitute a conflict of interest.

In early October, Behavioral Health Partners, the nonprofit formed to guide the Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County, announced that it had been granted a private psychiatric hospital license by the state of Kansas. But County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said at the time that the facility still wasn’t ready to open, and at the County Commission’s meeting on Oct. 19, she revealed that the center had missed several key deadlines and had not yet produced a budget.

That meeting was also the first time that Plinsky mentioned outside legal counsel. She said “it was important to ensure that the taxpayers were getting a fiscally responsible operating plan,” and that the county had brought in an attorney with expertise in the health care field to accomplish that.

Since then, Commissioner Karen Willey has identified that attorney as Brooke Aziere, a partner with Kansas-based law firm Foulston Siefkin LLP. At a meeting in November, Reid said the decision to seek an outside expert on contracts for medical facilities was intended to cover a gap in the county’s own expertise, and she said this past week that Aziere was brought in to assist in a “diligent” review of Behavioral Health Partners’ documents.

But it’s not clear what specific documents Aziere is reviewing.

On Friday, the Journal-World asked the county whether there was a document detailing the specific things the county asked the outside counsel to review. County spokesperson Karrey Britt said the county doesn’t have any such documentation.

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The Treatment and Recovery Center’s outgoing director, Dr. George Thompson, has raised questions about whether another entity is playing a role in the review — Arizona-based for-profit company Connections Health Solutions.

At one time, the county was exploring whether to have Connections manage the facility for three years instead of the local nonprofit, Behavioral Health Partners, and Connections is still providing consulting services for the county about the Treatment and Recovery Center.

But Thompson suspects the company isn’t just a consultant — he’s suggested that it’s also helping the county determine whether Behavioral Health Partners is fit to operate the facility.

Thompson leveled that claim in his resignation letter, which the Journal-World reported on this past week. He said that if Connections is helping the county gauge Behavioral Health Partners’ readiness, that creates a conflict of interest, because the county was once considering Connections as a replacement for Behavioral Health Partners.

On Thursday, Reid told the Journal-World that she doesn’t view that assertion as accurate, and that would mean such a conflict doesn’t exist in the first place.

Thompson also claimed in the letter that Plinsky was “manufacturing” the crisis center’s failure in a bid to outsource its operations to Connections. Plinsky denied those claims in an email this past week, and the board of Behavioral Health Partners has declined to say whether it agrees.

The Journal-World obtained a copy of the county’s contract with Connections for consulting services, and it says that Connections “will obtain observations, develop recommendations and provide guidance on plans for a new crisis stabilization unit.”

The contract also lists objectives for Connections in three areas: facilities, staff and operations. The “operations” section includes actions like assisting in developing “potential legal and operational structure to bring various community service providers into a seamless continuum of care,” but nothing related to legal documents like lease agreements and budgets.

In her email, Plinsky emphasized that Connections was just an option for commissioners to consider, and that the company wasn’t responsible for making any decisions about the crisis center’s future.

“The ultimate decision will be up to the county commissioners,” Plinsky wrote.

• • •

Meanwhile, county leaders are still waiting for Behavioral Health Partners to complete some unfinished tasks.

Kelly told the Journal-World on Thursday that there were still major pieces of documentation related to the Treatment and Recovery Center that needed to be sorted out — he specifically mentioned an operating agreement, a budget and a lease agreement. Those items — and more than 20 others — were part of a list of unfinished tasks that Plinsky shared with the commission in early November.

It’s not clear how many of those items are still outstanding, but Kelly said he hoped that the review process would help fill in the gaps and alleviate the county’s concerns.

“I look forward to working with our partners to complete all necessary items that will ensure that the Treatment and Recovery Center is not only a safe facility, but one that meets the financial, administrative and operational expectations,” Kelly said.


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