Governing board will oversee county mental health services

The Pierce County Council passed an ordinance yesterday creating a joint council/executive governing board for the Pierce County Regional Service Network (RSN). The ordinance also authorized the opening of the Pierce County Evaluation & Treatment facility as soon as the necessary state licensing is obtained.

The RSN governing board will set policy and provide financial oversight. It will consist of nine members; three from the County Council, three from the Executive’s Office and three from the community at-large. A tribal representative may also be included. “We are happy the council and executive could work together to design a governing board that will have the tools and skills to obtain information, make sound decisions, and raise the profile of mental health issues and services in Pierce County,” said Council Chair Shawn Bunney.

The Pierce County RSN contracts with the state Division of Mental Health to allocate state and federal mental health funding. The RSN also contracts with community mental health organizations to provide services to qualified county residents. RSN funding for 2006 is estimated to be $59 million.

The governing board will hire an administrator as soon as possible to help manage the changes to the funding system. The county will then begin transition plans to shift RSN oversight from the county’s Human Services Department to the new, independent RSN. The initial meeting for the governing board is set for June 2006. The goal is to have the transition as complete as possible by September 1, 2006.

“The best strategy the council has to restore public trust and increase accountability is to require in the County Code that the Pierce County RSN operate independently, openly, free from conflicts of interest, and with a fair governing board. That’s why this ordinance is so important to the county and me,” said Councilmember Barbara Gelman, Chair of the Public Safety & Human Services Committee.

The state licensing process for the Evaluation and Treatment (E&T) facility is expected to be completed this week. The E&T facility will give the county the ability to provide short-term, inpatient mental health treatment for qualified residents, rather than renting extra beds from Western State Hospital. Fran Lewis, Director of Pierce County Human Services, estimates the annual cost of operating a 30-bed E&T facility will be approximately $6.17 million; about half the cost of operating the previous 43-bed hospital.

“It won’t be easy,” said Councilmember Tim Farrell. “The governing board and staff face a lot of work in the next six months.

However, with the newly cemented commitment of the council and the executive to work together, I am confident this board will be able and willing to tackle the important decisions that lie ahead.”