Job training changing for mentally ill Health department suggests private plan, points to rising costs; Privatization trend; State administration asks providers for bids on program


The county health department plans to end its involvement in a program that trains the chronically mentally ill to find and hold jobs, and turn over management of the service to a private provider by July 1.

The Supported Employment Program, run by the mental health division of the county health department, provides job training and work supervision to 55 clients, about half of whom are employed at 18 private businesses in Carroll County.

The health department's decision to withdraw from the program reflects an uncertainty about future state funding of the program and a continuing trend toward the privatization of local mental health services, said Janet Neslen, the county health officer.

"We just can't afford to run that program at the level that it was being run, and we know a private program can run it for less," Dr. Neslen said.

In addition, she said the health department is facing a $117,000 reduction in county funds for fiscal 1997, which begins July 1.

"We're in a situation where money is very, very tight and wherever we can save money, we're saving it," Dr. Neslen said. "What we're always looking for is money to get medical care to people who have no insurance, and that's 10 percent of our population" [in Carroll].

The state Mental Hygiene Administration is seeking bids from private providers to run the supported employment program.

Last month, Granite House, a nonprofit agency in Westminster providing housing services for the mentally ill, took over management of Carroll Hall, a psychiatric rehabilitation program the county health department ran for 19 years. The program now is called Granite Hall.

The Supported Employment Program was founded nine years ago to serve the clients of the county's two psychiatric rehabilitation day programs, Carroll Hall and Aspire.

"As the trend toward the development of day programs really flourished, it became obvious that to facilitate their success, we needed to help the participants become paying members of the community," said Howard Held, director of the county health department's mental health division.

The program's "job coaches" help the clients find jobs, work with the employer to define job duties and monitor the client's progress. Transportation to and from work is provided.

Last week, county health officials told the supported employment participants there would soon be new management.

"The general reaction was as I suspected," Mr. Held said. "The feelings expressed were anxiety, depression, frustration, anger and fear about the future.

"We'll be continuing to work with them over the next few months as the transition proceeds," he said.

The 23 clients who work for local businesses likely will keep their jobs when a private provider takes over the program. However, the future of nine program participants who have janitorial jobs in county health department buildings is uncertain because they are considered contractual health department employees.

"We've been working with the Mental Hygiene Administration to see what can be done to maintain their employment," Mr. Held said.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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