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Commissioners favor merger with ECBA

By Staff
Beaufort County nixes string of unanimous votes for Tideland-Albemarle partnership
By NIKIE MAYO, News Editor
Beaufort County commissioners voted 5-2 Monday night to merge the county’s mental-health services with those of East Carolina Behavioral Alliance, with several conditions to be met.
Beaufort County’s mental-health services have historically been provided by Tideland Mental Health Center. The other four counties served by Tideland — Hyde, Martin, Washington and Tyrrell — unanimously supported a Tideland merger with Elizabeth City-based Albemarle Mental Health Center.
But his motion didn’t end there.
Under the terms of the motion, Beaufort County’s 24-hour crisis unit for mentally ill patients would need to be reopened after the merger is finalized. Further, there must be a full-time psychiatrist for Beaufort County. Finally, ECBA would develop a business plan in consultation with Beaufort County Manager Paul Spruill and the leader of Beaufort County Hospital.
If those conditions cannot be met, the decision will be placed back in the laps of the commissioners, based on a “friendly amendment” by Commissioner Robert Cayton. Spruill said he could have some indication about whether they could be met by March 1.
A motion to give Albemarle the opportunity to meet those same requirements and stay a part of the merger options for Beaufort County failed 4-3.
The original motion came after an hour-long public-comment section related to the merger decision and following two presentations from Tideland employees.
Commissioner Hood Richardson, who supports a Beaufort County merger with Albemarle, accused McRoy of using his position as chairman “in a nefarious way” because McRoy made the motion before his fellow commissioners got involved in heavy discussion.
Richardson said a merger with Albemarle would allow “the best of both worlds” because Beaufort County would be able to receive services provided by that entity while still being close enough to ECBA’s Greenville hub to benefit from its providers.
Commissioner Stan Deatherage said supporting ECBA was a move that discounted the medical community’s “overwhelming support” of Albemarle. Deatherage said ECBA does not want Beaufort County to join its team, which is comprised of Pitt and Neuse mental-health centers and Roanoke Chowan Health Services.
Commissioner Jerry Langley, Beaufort County’s appointed representative on the Tideland Area Board of Directors, said ECBA is “very well interested in having crisis and detox services here,” a point that was questioned more than once during the evening. Langley cast one of the opposing votes when Tideland directors voted 9-3 to recommend a merger with Albemarle.
Albemarle plans to continue provide direct services in the counties it serves instead of divesting of them as required by state mental-health reforms. Albemarle has been granted waivers to provide direct services thus far, but Director Charles Franklin said the agency is “not afraid to take the state on” if those waivers stopped being granted.
In casting his vote for ECBA, Commissioner Al Klemm said he was “disappointed that Tideland didn’t try to find another county (to serve) early on” so it wouldn’t have to merge with another entity. It’s five-county area was one county short of complying with state legislation that mandates the size of a mental-health agency’s population.