Friday, January 25, 2019

City to Build Despite Ops Funding Gap

by Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston

"We're gonna be saving them a lot more than $100K apiece."
The City intends to proceed with sobering center build out, include operating costs in next year's budget and worry about how they're going to close the operating cost gap, later.  

According to information shared at the Council Policy Agenda work session on January 23, 2019 (see video here and report below), construction would not now be completed until mid-summer 2019.  The center was supposed to open in early 2019.    

Last week, after the City released the news that the estimate of what it will cost annually to operate the sobering center had jumped by about 50% to $950K, Mayor Bennett told Salem Reporter that the sobering center "is a very high priority and we’re going to do this thing."  See Brynelson, T. "Mayor calls on Marion County, Salem Health to help pay for proposed sobering center."  (20 January 2019, Salem Reporter.)

City Manager Steve Powers told Salem Reporter that "A sobering center was one of the top recommendations from the Mid-Willamette Valley Homeless Task Force."  But, the task force did not  prioritize its recommendations, and staff placed the sobering center as the very last "objective" listed under Goal 3, "Support Services and Education" in the task force's strategic plan.  (See here at 3.14.)

However, in a 2017 work session on the City's strategic plan, the City Council ranked the sobering center "most urgent", along with redoing the budget process and the comprehensive plan and a climate action plan.  See "News from the Continuum" (10 September 2017). 

The City's annual, ongoing commitment to operating costs now stands at $250K, Marion County's at $100K, and Salem Health's at $100K for a limited time.  At the work session, Councilor Andersen commented that he was, "looking at what the partners are offering and what they're actually going to be saving by the sobering center, and that's not enough in my view."  He said, "if we take on this role, we're going to be saving them a lot more than $100K apiece."

We asked Councilor Andersen what savings information he was looking at during the work session, and he pointed to the work session staff report.  However, neither that report, nor the one on the sobering center, contains any savings information.  City Manager Steve Powers could say only that the "other partners are at the table."

Salem Health is most often able to bill for emergency room services to individuals brought there by police for intoxication.  That's because such individuals are often chronically homeless and have multiple untreated medical conditions.  Therefore, savings to Salem Hospital from not having those admissions are not as significant as some people are perhaps assuming.  

Any hopes that WVCH, the local CCO, might be willing to contribute to the operation of the sobering center have been dashed by the recent announcement that it will not be seeking a contract with the state.  See Floum, J. "Split in Salem health care industry leads to major insurance changes."  (25 January 2019, The Lund Report.)  The likely successor, Marion Polk Coordinated Care (MPCC), a partnership between Salem Health, Salem Clinic and WVP Health Authority, might be willing, but that seems unlikely, given Salem Health has already contributing what it considers to be a fair share for a limited time.  Perhaps MPCC might be willing to take over Salem Health's contribution down the road. 

Staff report for 23 January 2019 Council Policy Agenda work session

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