CHILL defends decision not to go before board

Published 7:43 am Tuesday, October 23, 2007

By Staff
Director submits written response to county inquiries
Staff Writer
The mental-health service provider asked to meet with the Washington County Board of Commissioners has declined that invitation.
In a letter sent to commissioners and the media last week, CHILL Inc. Executive Director J.E. Garrett wrote “if it is not for collaborative efforts relating to our youth or family preservation, we will not attend another meeting with the Washington County Board of Commissioners.”
Agency representatives gave a presentation to some commissioners at their Sept. 3 meeting, but they were asked to return at a later date so the full board could be present and commissioners would have time to prepare questions for the agency to answer. CHILL representatives agreed to return, but they canceled meetings with the board later in September and Oct. 1. Garrett’s letter, postmarked Oct. 18, addressed cancellations of those meetings and an interview scheduled with the Daily News on Monday morning.
CHILL is one of 53 mental-health service providers in the county, according to information from County Attorney Robert Wendel Hutchins. Of those 53, 16 are licensed by the state. CHILL, the acronym for Changing Hearts Instead of Losing Lives, was not state-accredited, according to Hutchins. But with $2 million in reported earnings for fiscal year 2006-2007, the agency tops the list of mental-health service providers in the county.
In the wake of a probe by the board into county spending on community-support services in the past fiscal year, commissioners voiced concerns about the qualifications and possible criminal histories of CHILL employees, according to Washington County Manager David Peoples.
At meeting earlier this month, Peoples also presented commissioners information he obtained from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services indicating that at least two men employed by CHILL have felony convictions. Three other men employed by CHILL were listed as having misdemeanor charges between 1998 and 2001 ranging from possession of a deadly weapon on state property to resisting a public officer.
Garrett wrote that CHILL requires all prospective employees, especially those who are applying for positions that call for direct contact with clients, to submit to background checks as required by state law.
Offenses that “indicate abuse or neglect of persons” are considered relevant, Garrett wrote. He also wrote that it is the agency’s policy not to employ anyone who refuses to submit to a criminal background check, but that a criminal background does not necessarily make an applicant unfit for employment.