September 03, 2002 11:00 pm

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

After more than a year of working without an agreement with Union County, the Center for Human Development is expected to have a contract by day's end.

CHD, on contract to the county to deliver public and mental health services, alcohol and drug treatment, and veterans services, has been the subject of a performance study, done by Jeff Davis of Marion County.

Davis completed the study early last fall and during the year has made several recommendations to the county and to CHD.

County Commissioner Steve McClure, county liaison to CHD, was to present the contract to the other two commissioners this morning. He said Tuesday he expected little discussion about the matter. He said he has discussed the content of the contract with CHD Executive Director David Still.

The agreement is retroactive to July 1 and will be renewed in 2003. After that, it will be a two-year agreement, signed at the end of each legislative session, McClure said. Much of CHD's funding comes from state grants and direct state aid.

The new agreement will require CHD to present a report to the county, outlining the biennial budget, what services will be provided and whether the agency will provide the services or subcontract. The county's Health and Human Services Advisory Committee will first hear the reports and will make recommendations for any changes to the commissioners.

"I think it's a better contract," McClure said. "We've tried to address some of the concerns from the community."

Members of the Health and Human Services Advisory Committee had asked for an evaluation of CHD last year after several concerns were raised. McClure asked Davis, who is director of the Marion County Health Department, to investigate.

Davis' report, delivered to the county last September but not reviewed by the advisory committee until late in the year, suggested that a lack of communication among all health care providers in Union County was a stumbling block to providing seamless countywide health services.

The report urged the county's public and private health care providers to work through their differences and cooperate more fully.

The report suggested that the CHD develop a plan to respond to outbreaks of disease, add a registered nurse to its executive team, and communicate more closely with physicians in the county.

Some of the suggestions would require additional funds, but CHD, like other public and mental health providers, faces financial reductions as the state struggles to balance the biennial budget.

Over the past two years, other providers of health care, including alcohol and drug treatment, have questioned CHD's willingness to release state funds to other agencies. As the county's mental and public health authority, CHD receives all state funds, but it is one of several providers in the county. The new contract more clearly defines how CHD will act when it decides to keep grant dollars designated for another provider — the right of first refusal.

"IF CHD is interested in exercising the right of first refusal and intercepting grant funds designated for another agency, the Union County Board of Commissioners would refer the issue to the Union County Health and Human Services Advisory Committee for their input," the contract states.

When CHD exercises right of first refusal, the CHD administrator must declare an actual conflict of interest and refrain from participating in any discussion or decisions making, the contract states.

Any new services supported by state money must be submitted by CHD to the county before the new services can begin, according to the agreement.

McClure said that CHD must submit its annual audit to the county by Jan. 1 each year.

"The biggest safeguard we have is that the state looks at how CHD spends its funds," McClure said. "That assurance is still there, and the audit, all those things, are available to the county.

"There should be accountability," McClure said.