The director of Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services is bristling at a $2.3 million monthly sanction imposed by state authorities over the department’s staffing levels.
Director Bill Walker said the sanctions, which are slated to take effect in June, are unfair, and a plan was already underway to bring the county into compliance with the state.
“It’s chaotic,” he said of the sanctions. “And I don’t think it’s a good way of presenting what’s actually going on in community mental health.”
The California Department of Health Care Services announced Monday that it would be imposing the multimillion-dollar sanction onto Kern County for the county’s “failure to comply with network adequacy standards.”
The state agency responded Tuesday to criticism from Kern Behavioral Health.
Walker explained that the state used a formula to determine how many mental healthcare workers the county needed to employ to adequately service the needs of the county.
The formula was based on the number of the county’s MediCal beneficiaries. Walker said this was the first year that the state was starting its updated regulations.
“They’re not saying there’s not adequate service,” he said. “They’re saying, using a math equation, this is how much staff you should have.”
In September, the state notified the county that it would need to add 205 full-time healthcare providers to be in compliance.
Walker said the state was not adequately tabulating the county’s employees, and in reality, Behavioral Health Services only needed to add 29 employees to be compliant.
He said he disagreed with the state’s evaluation of the county’s employee numbers, but Behavioral Health Services nevertheless plans to hire 56 new employees as soon as possible.
He hoped to have the new employees in place before June, when the sanctions would begin.
“That’s a very small number,” he said, referencing the department’s 900 internal positions and $125 million worth of contracts.
He said the county submitted a plan to the state in October that detailed its strategy to become compliant. The county did not receive any communication back from the state until it was told it was out of compliance.
“If I had known in October that they were in disagreement with what we submitted, I could have already added those positions by now,” he said.
According to Walker, 10 other counties were found to be noncompliant with state regulations.
The state plans to enforce the sanctions by withholding $2.3 million in payment to the county. The figure represents roughly half of what the Department of Health Care Services passes on to Kern Behavioral Health for mental health services.
A $771,400 civil penalty could also be levied if the county does not come into compliance.
Walker said that a couple months of the state’s sanctions would not have a big impact on Behavioral Health Services if the department did not already become compliant before June.
“The fiscal part of it, we’ll remediate very quickly,” he said, “but public confidence, that’s the most outrageous part of it to me.”
He added that he hoped to work with the state to provide excellent mental health service in the county.
“We believe at the end of the day, we will find common ground on these issues,” he said.