At their regular board meeting Wednesday, July 20, the Geauga County Board of Mental Health bemoaned the Geauga County Board of Commissioners’ 1-0 vote in favor of a resolution asking for a mental health levy, which resulted in the motion dying for lack of a second, effectively denying their request.
At their meeting Tuesday, July 19, Commissioner Tim Lennon voted in favor of the mental health board’s ask, while Commissioner Jim Dvorak did not vote, arguing that it “boggles some taxpayers’ minds” that the mental health board has agreed they had too much money, agreed to reduce their levy from .5 to .25, but was asking the commissioners to approve the levy a year early. Mr. Dvorak told them he was “leaning toward seeing (them) next year.”
Had Commissioner Ralph Spidalieri, who has not attended a meeting since May 24 due to undisclosed “health issues,” been present, the resolution may have passed, depending on his vote.
The commissioners also questioned why the mental health board needs to levy a tax considering that they were asked to reduce their budget by the budget commission and have $4 million in budget carryover into next year, which Mr. Lennon called “excessive.”
Mr. Claypool brought up a similar point at the July 20 board meeting as he talked about the levy denial.
“I’m just filing a comment here that we need to have a conversation about this reserve fund as it relates to the levy,” Mr. Claypool said. “I was very disappointed that the commissioner wouldn’t second a motion yesterday to approve that levy this year.”
During their presentation at two different meetings of the commissioners, Finance Director Jim Mausser and Interim Director Amie D’Arienzo made vague references to state grants not being guaranteed and other points Mr. O’Brien brought up.
Using harsher, more definite language than Mr. Mausser and Ms. D’Arienzo had used before the commissioners, Mr. O’Brien explained that if the levy were denied next year, too, it could have a profound impact, stopping state funding and grants for years to come.
As Ms. D’Arienzo had told the commissioners, the mental health board also wanted to avoid having two levies on the ballot at once, as has been done in the past.
After hearing from Mr. O’Brien, board members questioned whether or not Mr. Mausser and Ms. D’Arienzo adequately made their case to commissioners on behalf of the board.
Mr. Claypool, who was also in attendance at the commissioners’ meeting, interjected to say that Mr. Mausser and Ms. D’Arienzo had adequately portrayed the issues at hand and that the denial was because their plea had “fallen on deaf ears,” referring to Mr. Dvorak, his political adversary.
Mr. Claypool, who has previously suggested the board “give back” some of its funds to the county because they are “pretty cash rich right now,” then went on to say they needed to have a more robust conversation in the future about the reserve fund and how it relates to the levy and levy amount.
“The reserve fund is for housing, and before we take any action on adopting and enacting a reserve fund, we’ve got to have a debate, so we’ll have that debate when we have the resolution to create the reserve fund,” Mr. O’Brien said, probably in September.
Board members decided that Chairman Steven Oluic would call Mr. Dvorak to see if he would change his mind and vote to approve the levy at an upcoming commissioners meeting, as the deadline was fast approaching.
Mr. Oluic, who holds a PhD in Geography from Kent State University, indicated that he would call Mr. Dvorak the following morning.
Following a brief committee chair report on agency relations by board member Kathy Johnson, who was appointed by Mrs. Malainy before she was ousted as chair by her fellow board members, board member Carolee Lesyk said that it was past practice for incoming chairs to appoint the following year’s committee chairs.
“I agree with you, that’s what I remember,” Mr. Oluic replied, “but we have much more pressing issues that we have to deal with, and I would suggest we keep the committees right now as Jen appointed moving forward. We can approach that in September.”
The board also unanimously approved a resolution relating to the allocation of 2022 State Opioid Response (SOR) funds.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) has awarded $297,613 to the Geauga County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Services in SOR project funds to be used for the provision of medication-assisted treatment and other services designed to reduce opioid and stimulant addiction and enhance recovery.
State allocations for SOR grants are calculated by a formula based on the equal weighting of two elements: the state’s proportion of people with abuse or dependence on opioids who need but do not receive treatment and the state’s proportion of overdose deaths.
Per the resolution, funds must be used for adults with a diagnosis of opioid or stimulant use disorder and those at risk for misuse of opioids and stimulants.
All programs must also report data elements as specified in the grant application or by OhioMHAS, and all agencies must participate in performance reviews or required meetings with SAMHSA, OhioMHAS, or the board staff when specified.
The board will provide Ravenwood Health with $231,482 for the provision of treatment, medication-assisted treatment services, and lab costs.
The board allocates $55,746 to Lake-Geauga Recovery Centers for the provision of support, group services, and residential and outpatient peer recovery services.
The board allocates $10,385 to the Red Tulip Project of Geauga for the provision of housing and support services.
The board’s executive director or chairman is authorized to expend funds and reallocate dollars between agencies upon the approval of OhioMHAS and in accordance with the resolution once the final state award is received.
Board member Walter “Skip” Claypool said that he understood giving funding to Ravenwood and Lake-Geauga, but not Red Tulip.
“When SOR 2.0 was put through, instead of a 12-month budget because of delays at the state level, because it comes from SAMHSA to OhioMHAS to the counties, so for reasons beyond our control, what ended up happening is they were given nine months instead of 12,” Interim Director Amie D’Arienzo replied. This is to bring the funding for Red Tulip from nine months’ to 12. “This is a bridge for them.”
Ms. D’Arienzo added Ravenwood will receive additional provisions for support services due to an increase in need.
The three entities have already received nine months of funding from SOR.
“I thought when Red Tulip started up, that was going to be privately funded, and it was not going to receive any government grants,” Mr. Claypool said.
Ms. D’Arienzo replied that Red Tulip is not an agency of the mental health board, but they are free to request SOR funding. The approval of the funding pieces come from OhioMHAS.
In other business, the board:
n Approved the release and settlement agreement between former Director Jim Adams and authorized the board chair to sign that agreement. On May 4, the board voted 9-1 to place 34-year Executive Director Jim Adams – who has been lauded for his role as executive director, as well as in the community following the Chardon High School mass shooting – on paid administrative leave immediately without explanation.
n Received an update from Mr. Oluic on the sale of a board vehicle that was given to Mr. Adams as part of his employment contract to be used by staff in the course of doing board business. The 2011 Ford Explorer was purchased from Akron-based Montrose Ford in 2011 for $24,175.50.
At a May meeting, the board approved the disposal of, by either auction or scrapping, the vehicle, which they said was no longer in use due to mechanical issues and discontinued insurance coverage.
They made $3,050 from the sale of the vehicle. A fixed asset inventory change form will be completed and submitted to the Geauga County Auditor.
“We sold the dinosaur,” Mr. Oluic said, and then cracked a few jokes: “Don’t go to Auto Mall of New Jersey to buy a new car,” which is where the vehicle ended up.
Mr. Claypool quipped that with the shortage of avaialble housing, the board should have found a “needy person” to sleep in it.
n Approved a resolution for the Shelter Plus Care funding award for $108,928, which will be paid to Ravenwood Health, for the time period of April 1, 2022 through March 31, 2023.
The board received notice from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that their grant application was selected for funding. The grant funds are to be used to subsidize rental costs incurred by adults with severe and persistent mental illness.
Ravenwood will be the agency responsible for the Shelter Plus Care program and will follow the rules and regulations that govern this program. Ravenwood will submit monthly invoices to the mental health board reflecting the amount of rental assistance provided during the HUD grant period.
n Approved a resolution for multisystem adult wellness funding, which appeared in the board members’ packet but did not appear on the agenda. The board received $27,966 from OhioMHAS for programs targeting multisystem adult services and support.
Funding may be used for “recovery and gap supports such as clothing, employment supports, furniture, cleaning supplies, identification cards, social security cards, and costs related to housing and transportation for clients who meet the qualifications for funds and have a need for such supports,” and other needs as determined by the wellness council, according to the resolution.
These funds will allow for the implementation or expansion of recovery and gap support services to adults and their families throughout the county who have had two or more psychiatric hospitalizations in the past year, three or more psychiatric hospitalizations in the past month, or meet other criteria as established by OhioMHAS.
Ms. D’Arienzo explained the intention is to capture expenses that are not encumbered by traditional resources for those in multiple systems. For example, last year, an inmate could not be released due to inability to afford their mandated treatment and an ankle monitor.
“By having this fund in place, we were able to get that person out of jail and into the residential treatment that they needed,” Ms. D’Arienzo said.
n Heard a presentation about community based interventions for suicide prevention for veterans from Jim Holbrook, a mental health social worker for Veterans Affairs, toward the end of the almost two-hour meeting. Mr. Holbrook stressed the importance of communication on behalf of agencies to help veterans struggling with mental health to find the help they need and can receive from various institutions.
After about ten minutes, Mr. Oluic told Mr. Holbrook that he was “out of time.” Mr. Holbrook kept talking for about three more minutes after that.
“I want to say the VA is not the VA of the 1960s and ‘70s,” Mr. Oluic remarked when Mr. Holbrook was done speaking. “It’s quite a different organization today. Cleveland is lucky, because we have one of the top VA hospitals in the country.”
The next regular board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 21. There is no regular board meeting scheduled for August, although that is subject to change.