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Agency changes to eliminate conflicts

July 14, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

For years, the Washington County Mental Health Authority has employed case managers to meet with mental health consumers and refer them to various services.

Soon that will change.

When Phillip Dukes took over as executive director of the agency in March, one of the first goals he set was to get out of the business of providing direct services.

Now, if a troubled teenager, for instance, is in need of treatment for emotional or psychological problems, he or she is assigned a case manager at the authority.

The case manager would refer the teenager to a private doctor or to one of roughly 30 agencies, such as Cedar Ridge Children's Home.

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But Dukes and others say it is a conflict of interest since one of the authority's chief functions is to monitor mental health services.

"How do you monitor yourself? You can't," Dukes said.

Oscar Morgan, director of the state Mental Hygiene Administration, said Washington County is one of the few counties in Maryland that provides direct mental health services. He said Montgomery and Calvert counties also provide services.

"There have been some people and some mental health providers who have questioned whether Washington County should be providing those services," Morgan said.

Dukes said it was necessary to hire case managers at one time because nobody else would do the job. Now, he said, several companies want the job and the agency has invited private firms to bid on the contract.

That will create a fairer system for consumers and providers, Dukes said. Providers won't have to compete with the authority for money, he said.

Under the old system, the authority had to contract with providers to offer services, said the Rev. Andrew Cooney, the board's president. Now, providers can offer any service for which they are licensed.

The pending changes have caused consternation among some employees.

Doug Taylor, who was a child and adolescent case manager, said the employees who performed those services have been mistreated.

"That was our jobs," said Taylor, whose contract with the authority was not renewed. "It was not done nicely. It was not done with respect."

Dukes said much of the uproar is the result of a misunderstanding. Employees were not properly informed about their future, he said.

"We are concerned about their welfare and their future," Cooney said.

Dukes said the authority will require that the firm that gets the contract give current employees the first crack at jobs.

The Mental Health Authority also will spin off the Office of Consumer Advocacy, which helped consumers who had complaints about service they received or other problems.

As an independent, nonprofit agency, the agency will have the independence it needs, Dukes said.

Wini DeHaven, program director for the office, said she has lobbied for the program's independence for several years.

The office, which opened in 1990, will become the Office of Consumer Advocacy Inc. by September. It will continue to provide the same services, which include help to mental health consumers, a support group and a phone line people can call for comfort.

DeHaven said a seven-member board of directors has been selected.

The $44,000 federal grant that funded the office will go directly to the board rather than through the Mental Health Authority, she said.

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