Local control or ASAP? Opening of Treatment & Recovery Center could hinge upon competing values

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If community members want the Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County to open its doors sooner rather than later, they might need to weigh the value of local management against the value of a timeline.

Two looming questions remained after a TRC update Wednesday evening at the Douglas County Commission meeting. Still to be determined is when the center will open its doors and whether it will be managed by the local, collaborative nonprofit entity Behavioral Health Partners Inc. or the out-of-state, for-profit management company Connections Health Solutions.


Acknowledging the “elephant in the room,” Shannon Reid, commission chair, said Connections remained a consultant in helping the nonprofit BHP board members and local behavioral health staff in preparing the center to open. Reid asked whether any timelines on an opening date or the center’s management arrangement could be specified.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky acknowledged the community had expressed that it valued both a locally managed center and a center that would open soon.

“I’m afraid at times they’re in opposition, and I think the commission’s gonna have to judge some of those things,” Plinsky said. “As outlined, there are significant gaps in terms of the administrative and executive structure that (have) to get filled for people to be safe in this building, and I think that’s important to talk about here.”

From an administrative perspective, Plinsky said, the operation required protections in place for staff and patients, much like a jail, and that was a priority.

Representing Justice Matters during public comment, Belinda Davis said she was following up with commissioners on the 184 postcards delivered to the commission two weeks ago. Community members used the postcards to share personal messages about the TRC, its value to the community, and local control.

“We understand the value of input from national experts,” Davis said. “We value that, but it should be as a consultant role only, not managing the center. We have serious concerns about the continued delays and the consequences for the local collaboration if the county pursues management with Connections.”

Plinsky said the conversation could pivot to management of the center as a priority if commissioners wished.

“We are in ongoing conversations with Connections, but our driver has not been to make a decision on the operator,” Plinsky said. “Our driver has been what is best needed to operate this facility in Douglas County as soon as possible and who can do that the best and who can do that the quickest.”

Plinsky reiterated the services that would ultimately be provided within the TRC’s walls are currently carried out within the community by TRC staff and partners through LMH Health and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

Commissioner Patrick Kelly acknowledged the public’s desire for transparency and answers from authority. Kelly referred to the possibility of maintaining local operators as a “protection” that some community members expect. 

“If that’s the protection that we want, then we may have to sacrifice some time to make that happen,” Kelly said. “That might be what happens. We may not be able to have it all, and that’s hard to hear because we want it all, right?”

The commission agenda packet included a long list of outstanding deadlines and deliverables related to the TRC’s opening. Those include training, staffing, workflow, billing, budgeting, information technology, insurance, translation services, credentialing, inventory, regulatory compliance, and agreements related to the lease, operations and prefunding.

Cindy Yulich, BHP board chair, told the commission the board had agreed it might need to accept advice from Connections and to “only be engaged with them as long as they bring value.”

Yulich noted the majority of BHP board members were volunteers. Three positions on the nine-member board remain open and will be filled by each of the three partners — LMH Health, Bert Nash and Douglas County.

Reid asked what areas the board might need expertise in to fill those positions and make progress toward deadlines.

Patrick Schmitz, CEO of Bert Nash and a BHP board member, said the board was working with its partners to understand what expertise gaps exist among the current board and how to go about identifying new members to fill those particular governance needs. A separate process to identify operational gaps, Schmitz said, also was underway.

Commissioner Karen Willey said she recently attended a BHP board meeting and time was dedicated to the importance of filling BHP board vacancies with those who have lived experience with mental illness.

As part of normalizing discussions around mental health, Willey urged the public to extend grace to those working toward the TRC’s launch. Willey told Yulich she appreciated the work involved.

“I know the urgency that’s expressed by the community is felt by every one of, not only your board members, but all these partner organizations, too, and bringing, pulling together, working together,” Willey said. “It’s been hard. It’s been a rough, rough road.”

George Thompson, medical director and executive director of the TRC, was out of town with a family member and did not attend the meeting. Thompson and other behavioral health leaders led a ceremony dedicating the center in June. The center has surpassed its anticipated summer opening by several months.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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