Beaufort County up at bat in Tideland merger choice

Published 12:46 am Friday, January 5, 2007

By Staff
Commissioners may vote Monday; 60 percent of patients from here
By NIKIE MAYO, News Editor
Four of the five counties served by Tideland Mental Health Center have supported its merger with Elizabeth City-based Albemarle Mental Health Center, but the heaviest hitter has yet to vote.
Tideland provides mental-health and substance-abuse counseling for patients and runs day programs for developmentally disabled people. Tideland serves Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Washington and Tyrrell counties. While the four smallest counties have unanimously supported the Tideland board’s merger recommendation, Beaufort County commissioners, voting on behalf of about 60 percent of Tideland’s patients, could make a decision Monday night.
The commissioners’ agenda packet for Monday includes a 56-page report dedicated to merger-exploration comparisons. It’s a mix of meeting minutes, media coverage and recommendations from county leaders, Tideland staff and local residents.
At least seven people are scheduled to speak about the Tideland merger during the public-comments portion of the commissioners’ meeting. They include a Tideland psychiatrist, two members of the Tideland board and a psychiatrist from Beaufort County Hospital.
Tideland’s clinical staff supports a merger with Albemarle, as do the four patients whose letters are presented in the packet. Most of them express concern about losing services if Tideland patients must be served by any agency other than Albemarle.
Jerry Langley, Beaufort County’s commissioner on the Tideland Area Board of Directors, cast one of the three opposing votes when the agency made a recommendation to go with Albemarle. Langley said he is already uncomfortable with the alliance between the two centers, whereby Albemarle provides screening, triage and referral services for Tideland’s clients.
Langley has said he believes there is a personal relationship between Tideland Director Barbara Moore and Albemarle Director Charles Franklin Jr. In a letter dated last Friday, Moore announced her intent to resign June 30, a decision she said was “strictly personal” and was not a bow to any pressure.
Franklin oversees mental-health operations in six northeastern North Carolina counties, drawing a salary in access of $300,000. He receives an additional $31,000 because of Tideland’s already-in-place alliance with Albemarle, which took effect in July 2006.
Beaufort County will feel a $3.7 million impact if Tideland’s clinic here is closed, according to a financial report included in the commissioners’ packet. That takes into account 44 jobs lost at Tideland.
Each county served by Tideland has the option to join Albemarle or jump ship and be served by another agency. East Carolina Behavioral Alliance, a combination of Pitt and Neuse mental-health centers and Roanoke Chowan Health Services, is another potential partner for Beaufort County.
Beaufort County leaders have had separate meetings with representatives from ECBA and Albemarle, and they have also met with mental-health representatives from the state level. Only the Albemarle meeting was public, because enough county commissioners attended to make it a public meeting.
In voting for a merger with Albemarle on Tuesday night, Washington County Commissioners’ Chairman Billy Corey called it an opportunity to increase mental-health care for residents there.
Tyrrell County leaders expressed similar ideas with their unanimous vote.