AP NEWS

Columbia County panel addresses addiction program

October 9, 2018

Columbia County Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard, left, and Stacy Davenport, the county's medication assisted recovery coordinator, share their accounts of success and struggle in dealing with the challenge of opium-based drugs in Columbia County, during an October 2016 forum on rural opioid addiction, held at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station.

Proposed organizational changes in the programs that serve Columbia County residents with mental health challenges, including opioid addiction, gained partial approval Monday.

The County Board’s Executive Committee said yes to a proposal to change an existing Health and Human Services Department position from crisis coordinator to social worker.

The panel held off, however, on deciding on Health and Human Services Director Dawn Woodard’s proposal to change the classification of the position held by Stacy Davenport, from Medication Assisted Recovery Coordinator to Crisis and Alcohol and Other Drugs Program Director – until county officials get more definitive information on how the new post would be compensated.

Woodard said the proposal would not involve creation of a new county job. The reclassification of the now-vacant post of crisis coordinator would save the county about $8,000, she said.

The main reason for the proposed changes is to increase efficiency in the delivery of services to people, including those with addictions, said Clint Stark, administrator of the department’s Behavioral Health and Long-Term Support division.

“This would increase efficiency and help us provide services faster,” he said.

Stark said the department has struggled to handle calls for mental health and crisis assistance, in the wake of the June termination of the contract with Tellurian, a Madison-based substance abuse agency that was contracted to handle the Medication Assisted Recovery Program for addiction, including mainly opioid drugs such as heroin and many prescribed painkillers.

The Health and Human Services Board recently approved the changes in classification, so that Davenport can focus entirely on administering the program, while the social worker, to be hired later, would focus on case management. With the previous classifications, both Davenport and the crisis coordinator handled both administrative and case management tasks.

County Board Chairman Vern Gove of Portage noted the County Board’s Human Resources Committee has opted to hold off on recommending the changes.

Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf said the HR panel’s hesitation stems largely from uncertainty as to how Davenport would be paid in the new post – where the job would fall on the county’s job classification and wage system, and whether the federal Fair Labor Standards Act would classify the job as hourly, or as a salaried management position exempt from requirements for overtime pay.

The Medication Assisted Recovery Program currently has about 50 clients. With the departure of Tellurian, the cases have been handled by existing HHS workers.

James Foley of the town of Leeds, the County Board’s second vice chairman, said he understood the Health and Human Services Department had difficulty recently in filling vacant social worker positions.

Stark said there are multiple qualified candidates interested in the newly-reconfigured social work post, and he does not anticipate trouble filling it.

Woodard acknowledged that county officials had rejected the previous proposal to hire three social workers as limited-term employees to handle the program for addiction. They would have been paid with money from a $350,000 state grant for the addiction program, and would have stayed employed only as long as the grant money was available.

Gove expressed concern the change in Davenport’s job would burden her unduly.

“(Addiction) is such a big issue, and I don’t want to ruin it by asking more duties of her,” Gove said.

Supervisor Susanna Bradley of the town of Caledonia, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Board, said board members think the change will have the opposite effect – that not having to handle case management will free Davenport to do more of the administrative tasks she already does, such as educating health care providers about treating addiction with medications.

Ruf said people in the corporation counsel’s office will further study the compensation questions before the Executive Committee is expected to take up the matter again Nov. 5.

AP RADIO
Update hourly