Clatsop County will no longer have an oversight role over intellectual and developmental disabilities, as the responsibility for people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and epilepsy shifts entirely to the state.
The state Department of Human Services will contract with Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, a private nonprofit, to provide services and work with adult foster homes, group homes and supported living to help about 230 people in need.
The shift, which takes effect in July, will come a few months after Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare completed a corrective action plan to improve monitoring.
The state will issue the new contract under an emergency procurement process. Sherryll Hoar, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said it is too early to know whether or when the state will put the contract up for competitive bid.
“We have had conversations with Clatsop County about problems with its Community Developmental Disabilities Program,” Hoar said in an email. “As part of those discussions we noted our ability to have more control over the quality of the programs we contract with directly and did suggest that the county had the option to not be the state contractor.”
Michael Shipley, the communications and quality metrics coordinator for Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, said the agency is awaiting details of the new contract. “We’re committed to continuing to provide services in the community, and ensuring that there’s not going to be an interruption of the services,” he said.
The Astorian reported in February that the state nearly pulled the $1.7 million contract last fall. Investigations into abuse and neglect at adult foster homes had uncovered a troubling lack of oversight. The newspaper, using the state’s public records law, obtained documents that detailed the state’s concern over management of the program and the agency’s response. The program’s manager was removed last year.
Clatsop County put both the developmental disability and mental health and substance abuse contracts up for bid this year, inviting competition to Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, the longtime provider. But no other agency stepped forward to compete.
According to the county, the state Department of Human Services prefers to contract directly for developmental disability services in counties that are not large enough to do the work through county staff. The transfer of responsibility to the state could lead to better communication and oversight, while freeing up county resources and reducing legal exposure.
County commissioners have often appeared uncomfortable and frustrated with their oversight role. The county was expected to ensure the developmentally disabled received proper care, but the state sets the standard for services and provides the money, while Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare works with the providers.
County leaders were surprised last year, for example, when the state outlined a pattern of inconsistent monitoring at adult foster homes that raised significant concern.
“I hope that even though we aren’t in the middle of it, that we still get good service information by providers going forward,” Commissioner Lianne Thompson said Wednesday night before the county commission voted unanimously for the shift. “I hope that’s possible.”
Sarah Nebeker, the commission’s chairwoman, said afterward that the situation had been unworkable for the county.
“Our hope is that this will work well,” she said. “And only time will tell.”