Douglas County leader says nonprofit missed a contractual obligation to open new crisis center by July 1, has yet to submit a budget

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Douglas County Commission listens as Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky reads a statement regarding the county's ongoing work to open the Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County.

As questions mount about the yet-to-open Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County, the county’s top administrator said Wednesday that the nonprofit hired to manage the center missed a contractual obligation to open it this summer and has yet to submit a budget to county staff.

Tensions between the county and Behavioral Health Partners, the nonprofit formed by LMH Health and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to run the new crisis center, have been building for months, and the Journal-World reported earlier this week that county staff had been exploring a proposal to have an Arizona-based provider, Connections Health Solutions, manage the facility for three yearsinstead. At Wednesday’s County Commission meeting, County Administrator Sarah Plinsky spelled out why the county had been considering such actions.

Specifically, Plinsky said that according to its contract with Douglas County, BHP was supposed to be ready to open the facility by July 1, but that date wasn’t met. She also said that as of Wednesday night, BHP hadn’t submitted a budget for the Treatment and Recovery Center for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Without a budget, she said, the county can’t finalize a $3.1 million funding commitment from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services that would support the center’s operations.

“I had hoped that we could speak positively and hopefully about what our shared collaboration will return for this community,” Plinsky said. “I am saddened that I need to step aside from that work and talk about issues that I am confident we will work through together, like we always do, in Lawrence.”

Part of the reason the center didn’t hit the July 1 target, Plinsky said, involved the facility’s licensing. She said that in May, BHP hadn’t yet applied for a license to operate the facility or explored alternative licensing scenarios, and that it wasn’t until July that BHP applied for its license. The nonprofit received its license last week, as the Journal-World previously reported.

Plinsky raised some other issues as well. She said that at the end of February, the nonprofit’s preliminary agreement with the county expired, and the commission didn’t receive a proposal for an extension until nearly the end of May. She also said she asked for a plan for how BHP intended to open and operate the center successfully on Aug. 1, and received internally inconsistent and incomplete documents nearly a month later.

But Plinsky also said on Wednesday that she was committed to working with BHP and other community partners to make the center successful, and she asserted that there isn’t a formal proposal at this time to hire a new provider to manage the facility.

“We are meeting daily to work through issues, identify road blocks, and determine structures and services that are needed to best serve the community,” Plinsky said.

Commissioner Shannon Reid said she believed the county was working with the community’s best interests at heart, and fellow Commissioners Patrick Kelly and Karen Willey echoed those sentiments. Kelly said that he aspired to have a facility that was locally governed and operated, but that he also thought it was fair to be concerned with how feasible that is right now based on the issues that Plinsky outlined.

In other business, the commission:

* Approved amending an agreement with Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to provide up to $70,000 to expand staffing and service hours for its new mobile crisis response team. The team began operating in September from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, and the expansion will add two full-time therapists and two full-time peer specialists so that the team can function until 2 a.m. daily starting in December. The funding will come from the county’s behavioral health sales tax.

* Approved a request from Douglas County Emergency Management to enact a five-day burn ban — Oct. 20-24 — in the county’s unincorporated areas. Typically, Emergency Management Director Robert Bieniecki said that’s a determination that’s made daily, rather than across multiple days. Bieniecki said the extended ban was needed because of a forecast of heightened fire weather risk, which includes gusty winds.

• Considered two requests for conditional use permits. Commissioners deferred approving a permit that would establish an event center or public assembly space at 1558 North 600 Road about 5 miles north of Baldwin City. They said they wanted to see more work to outline the limits for that permit, then have it be brought back before the commission. They approved a permit for heavy equipment storage at 1603 East 779 Road, just west of Lawrence off U.S. Highway 40. Two previous permits had been approved on this property for the same use, the most recent of which expired in 2016. According to the agenda item for that permit, Douglas County zoning and codes staff was made aware of maintenance issues on the property in question and has been working with the property owner to rectify the situation.


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