DHHS: No cost estimate for closing ENC early intervention offices that help disabled babies, toddlers

Budget cuts were the main impetus for a decision last month by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to shut down three Eastern North Carolina offices that provide services and screen infants and toddlers at risk of developmental delays.

But the state agency can’t provide an estimate of just how much it expects to save by shifting the work of the federally-mandated early intervention program to a contract with East Carolina University’s medical school.

As we reported here Feb. 17, the state health agency told 173 staff members for the N.C. Infant-Toddler Program last month they would be out of jobs with the July 1 shutdown of offices in New Bern, Rocky Mount and Wilmington that provide services for disabled children and their families in a 21-county area.

The state currently has 16 children’s development service agencies (CDSAs) across the state that screen babies and children under three for developmental disabilities, and then provide services to many of those families.

The state will shift the workloads of the three Eastern North Carolina offices to a yet-to-be-negotiated contract with ECU, and staff can apply for the estimated 150 positions that will come out of the new contract. DHHS sent a letter to families stating that the office closures should not affect services.

ECU’s medical schools has an existing contract to provide services through the N.C. Infant-Toddler Program for Greenville and some surrounding counties.

Dr. Robin Cummings, the acting state health director, sent a letter to CDSA staff in February stating that the DHHS-run offices were being closed in favor of contracting out services because of pressures from state budget cuts and a state hiring freeze that leaves positions vacant — a problem that contractors don’t have to deal with.

The legislature, in the two-year budget passed this summer, had  called for $18 million in state funding cuts to the Infant-Toddler program, including $10 million for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year. The program also receives federal funds.

N.C. Policy Watch, when it first learned of the office closure three weeks ago, asked the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services communications office how much of the $10 million in cuts the agency was facing next year would be achieved by closing the three CDSAs in the eastern part of the state.

DHHS communications staff did not provide any figures of the estimated savings and DHHS spokesman Kevin Howell said in a written statement Friday the agency didn’t have that information.

From Howell:

The specific amount of money that the state will save by expanding the catchment area of the ECU CDSA cannot be determined until the new contract between DHHS and the ECU School of Medicine is finalized.  During the negotiations, there has been a common understanding that cost savings would be achieved.

As we have stated before, consolidating three state-run CDSAs into a successful, contract-operated program operated by East Carolina University is an efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars while assuring continued services.

So, stay tuned. We’ve asked DHHS to provide us with those figures when they are available as well as a copy of the contract with ECU.

The upcoming closures are expected to be discussed Tuesday at a 10 a.m. legislative health oversight committee.

Below is the Feb. 24 letter DHHS sent to parents of affected children:

 

Letter to Families 02242014 by NC Policy Watch

2 Comments

  1. Concerned taxpayer

    March 10, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    This article mentions the Wilmington office. However in 2012 Wilmington office was merged with Fayetteville office and is now called Cape Fear CDSA office. There were no layoffs or increase in taxpayer dollars. I find this very interesting and wonder why this is not mentioned anywhere.

  2. Sarah Ovaska

    March 11, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Concerned taxpayer,

    Thanks for your comment. You are right about the Wilmington office managing multiple offices — Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Cumberland, Duplin, New Hanover, Pender, Robeson, Sampson counties. I wasn’t aware of the financials, but it may very well have been a breakeven situation.

    At this point, the Cape Fear (Wilmington) and two other CDSA offices facing closure are run and managed by DHHS and haven’t been outsourced, as has been proposed in this new scenario. It’s very different from the office consolidation you mentioned above.

    My primary question, in the case of these office closings, is what will be the cost to taxpayers — DHHS has not provided any information about this despite my repeated requests. As a journalist, I learned long ago that the devil is in the details and, in this case, I asked for the details about this fairly major move DHHS is planning on making in less than four months. It certainly seems noteworthy to me that the state agency apparently has not made any budget projections of what, if any, the exact savings might be for taxpayers.

    There also are going to be lay-offs in this case — 173 positions with DHHS will be eliminated as of July 1, though staff can reapply to the projected 150 positions with the ECU-run project. Of course, there is no guarantee they will be rehired.

    Thanks for you comments, please feel free to pass off any other information you might have to sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.