April 06, 2001 11:00 pm

Last in a series

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The Center for Human Development is a unique organization in Oregon.

It is the only private, not-for-profit corporation that provides county public health services in the state.

One other public health service operates separately from county government, the Columbia County Public Health District, a public taxing district. Except for Union County, all public health services are administered by public agencies that must obey state rules and regulations that govern public


CHD, as a private corporation, does not have to open its operation or its books to public scrutiny, despite receiving nearly 100 percent of its income from public


In addition to providing public health, CHD provides the countys mental health services, veterans services, and alcohol and drug prevention and treatment programs. CHD also operates several private businesses, such as a consulting business, a telecommunications service (RodeoNet), and a private, fee-for-service clinic.

Comparing the public health services offered in Union County to other counties services is difficult, because of the CHD structure. While other public health services operate individually with individual budgets, public health in Union County operates as an arm of CHD, and while the public health budget is somewhat separate, administrative and other activities may be undertaken using funds transferred from other departments, such as mental health.

Other public health departments in the state have a director. At CHD the chief executive officer, David Still, directs public health. More than half of the public health departments in the state are headed by nurses, nurse-practitioners or professionals holding masters degrees in public health.

Karen Ladd, director of Columbia Countys public health district, heads a department of 17 with four program managers. Unlike CHD, which provides only public health, the Columbia County district offers both public health and environmental health, a service that examines and rates public eating establishments, drinking

Attempts by the Center for Human Development to diversify its income in the face of declining public revenues appear to have brought less success than hoped.

One effort, to develop computer programs for internal use and outside contracts, has not been successful and has even required employees to work extra hours, according to documents obtained by The Observer.

CHD has contracted with a computer developer to create programs with the goal of eventually offering individualized computer systems to outside agencies. The computer system, OPTAIO, remains in the developmental stages, generating only marginal income.

According to an internal document distributed last year, OPTAIO has not been effective.

The document states: Clinicians feel that this system is broken and dont want to continue to use it until it is fixed.

Two years ago, CHD Mental Health Director Steve Ryman said that CHD and the Psychological Corporation, developer of OPTAIO, were working on a business venture. Ryman said CHD staffers would offer individual computer programs to other companies.

The budget message for 2000-01, obtained by The Observer, says that new OPTAIO software for alcohol and drug programs is being sold and has generated $10,000 in revenue in the past few months.

But last March an employee sent an internal CHD message saying that any organization with many clients will not be satisfied with the computer system. OPTAIO will bring them down.

The document suggests that staffers who use OPTAIO have an increased work load.

(T)oo much paperwork not enough time to do good quality care and get all the paperwork done. This manifests itself as clinicians coming in every weekend or every other weekend, poor morale, extreme pressure, lack of an investment in the system, the document states.

The private, not-for-profit corporation spent no up-front money on OPTAIO, said CHD spokesman Mark Kubin. Money, however, has been spent on training, and CHD employees are paid to write OPTAIO programs. Training costs were $28,038 in 1999-2000 but are projected at only $8,509 for the current year.

The management systems or high-tech team employs five people with an administrator who earns in excess of $70,000, including benefits. Technical staff salaries for the 1999-2000 fiscal year were almost $165,000.

A year-end financial report distributed internally in September states that CHD was not required to pay for OPTAIO this year, saving $24,000.

But OPTAIO is not the only failure. A CHD consulting service is not actively soliciting business, and a fee-for-service clinic, opened two years ago, is operating at a loss.

Only the telecommunications service, RodeoNet, appears to be paying its own way, according to the CHD budget. Using telecommunications and video, RodeoNet connects mental health professionals with clients or patients in remote areas.

When the clinic, Health Solutions, opened in April 1999, mental healths Ryman said he hoped income from the clinic would help to offset some of the reductions in revenues from the HMO that serves people with mental illnesses.

But the CHD budget for the current year anticipates little revenue from Health Solutions. Instead, the document shows the clinic operating at a loss.

Health Solutions, which does not have a doctor on staff, offers alternative therapies, such as hypnosis and biofeedback, as well as anger management, smoking cessation therapies and other types of counseling. The clinic does not accept Oregon Health Plan or Medicare, and not all private insurance companies pay for the services.

CHD Executive Director David Still said recently that the private clinic has not done as well as hed like.

We have to see what we have to do to make it work, Still said.

The current budget projects earnings from Health Solutions at $4,271, and expenses, including salaries and benefits, at $35,216. A few CHD employees offer services at the clinic.

CHD is buying the clinic building at 700 Sunset Drive and makes a monthly mortgage payment of $1,263 with 8.93 percent interest, according to the CHD audit for 1999-2000. CHD had owned the building for awhile before the clinic opened, said spokesman Mark Kubin.

Another venture, the CHD consulting team, is not actively seeking business, Kubin said.

If folks call us, well help, he said.

The team has worked with companies and other agencies on organization and such issues as preparing documents for not-profit status under the IRS, Kubin said.

Within the past few months, CHD has received a $106,000 grant that allows the corporation to embark on a venture to train caregivers and study ways to bring family wages to health care aides and others in the industry.

The grant, which provides $52,681 of outside money, is paying half the salary of the CHD employee who has organized the effort.

A goal of the study is to develop a computer information network and find ways to expand the long-term health care industry in Union County.