DOBSON — Surry County’s Department of Health and Human Services is operating under new rules from the state that come with penalties for not complying.
With the start of the new fiscal year July 1, the local department must adhere to a “memorandum of understanding” or MOU to comply with N.C. General Statute 108A-74.
Under Section 2.1 the agreement states, “In the event the county fails to satisfy the mandated performance requirements as set forth … or fails to otherwise comply with the terms of this MOU, the department may withhold state and/or federal funding.”
Under Attachment X, Section 4.b., the MOU states that in circumstances of continuous non-compliance, “the secretary may also exercise her statutory authority to assume control of service delivery in the county.”
In other words, if the county continuously fails to meet performance standards or other mandates, the state could take control with the state health department secretary (Dr. Mandy Cohen) running things.
Kristy Preston, director of social services, brought the MOU before the county Board of Commissioners in June, but the board was neck deep in hammering out the final details of the 2018-19 annual budget.
Squeezed in among public hearings on possible tax increases, the county board heard Preston’s take on the updated contract that had to be signed by someone from the county.
Preston said one of her primary concerns would be the reliability of the data that the state will use to measure Surry County’s performance.
“Performance measures don’t look at outcomes, and we are outcome-driven,” she said.
In some areas Surry County already measures up well. Such as, if Child Protective Services receives word of a child in need, the MOU states, “The county will initiate 95 percent of all screened-in reports within required time frames.”
According to a “dashboard” report of DSS Preston gave the board in March, this isn’t an issue because her department hit 100 percent in January and February.
For foster care, the MOU states, “The county will ensure that 95 percent of all foster youth have face-to-face visits by the social worker each month.” In January, the county hit 99 percent, then 96 percent in February.
However, one area in the dashboard report where Surry lagged behind a benchmark was in completing child protection reports in a timely fashion. With a goal of 75 percent, Surry hit 46 percent in January and 23 percent in February.
If a thorough investigative job takes 35 days rather than rushing things to meet a 30-day deadline, then that is what matters for the sake of the child, said Preston.
Commissioner Gary Tilley, who was only appointed to the board this spring, said the MOU seemed to include a lot of wording about mandated performance. Is this new language, he asked.
There have always been mandates, she said, but yes, some of this strictness is new.
“It doesn’t seem to give much choice in matters,” noted Commissioner Van Tucker.
County attorney Ed Woltz said the state seemed concerned about accountability, but has done so with a sort of a straight-jacket approach.
Another troubling part of the MOU are benchmarks that might not be in the county’s control.
For example, under foster care it states that once children are discharged from the county’s care that no more than 8.3 percent of children re-enter foster care within a year. That seems to imply that the county can prevent at-risk children from needing foster care.
Under Work First, the MOU states that the county will collect documentation from families that show they have completed “the required number of hours of federally countable work activities.”
The paperwork that Preston showed the county board included a response from Craven County that stated that a county’s DSS cannot control what parents do, nor is there always a day care subsidy available so that parents can have care for their kids in order to work.
After the discussion, Eddie Harris, chairman of the board, agreed to sign the document for Preston.
Commissioner Larry Phillips will be in Nashville next week for an annual NACo conference.
The National Association of Counties’ annual event is the country’s largest meeting of county-elected officials and staff, according to organizers.
It will be held in the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center July 13-16.
Since Phillips was already planning to go, the board appointed him as its delegate for any votes that might come up.
Sessions planned for the conference include:
• Engaging Artists, Building Community
• Emerging Strategies in Addressing Poverty
• Enhancing County Engagement in Early Childhood Development
• The Opioid Crisis: Supporting County Medical Examiners’ Offices
• Affordable Housing Forum
• Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health
• A How-To Discussion on Financing Main Street Redevelopment Projects
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.