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State takes over Southeastern Center's finances

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

WILMINGTON—The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has taken control of Southeastern Center’s financial affairs.

The Southeastern Center for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Assistance is the local management entity, or LME, for all mental health services in Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties.

Southeastern Center does not provide mental health services but manages a network of providers.

On Aug. 1, the state assumed all financial control of the LME.

Dempsey Benton, N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to Southeastern Center’s Director Art Costantini, notifying him the state would assume control of the center’s financial affairs.

In the letter, dated July 29, Benton writes, “On March 13, 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) issued official notification to Southeastern Center, its board of directors, and the chairs of the boards of county commissioners of Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties that DHHS had determined that Southeastern was at imminent danger of failing financially.”

“We appreciate the efforts that you and your staff have undertaken to try to resolve the Center’s financial difficulties. Unfortunately, we do not believe that to date those efforts have been sufficient to ensure the Center’s long-term financial viability and its ability to continue to provide adequate services for consumers. We have concluded that it is time for the Department to fulfill its statutory obligations,” the letter continues.

While the state has control of Southeastern Center’s finances, Joy Futrell will serve as the DHHS administrator for Southeastern, according to the letter. Futrell is the assistant area director of East Carolina Behavioral Health. She began her post on Aug. 5.

“She will work in conjunction with Southeastern management and other Division staff to develop and implement a corrective action plan designed to ensure that the Center’s finances are stabilized and services to consumers are appropriately funded,” the letter states.

The letter further explains the state department of health and human services’ goal is to develop and implement “a corrective action plan” within 90 days, “in order to return full responsibility for the financial affairs of Southeastern to its Board and management as quickly as possible.”

Southeastern Center’s funding comes from a variety of sources, including contributions from county governments.

“One is the local county money from each of the counties. We also get state funds. Mixed in with the state funds are federal funds that come through the state,” Costantini explained last week.

While Southeastern Center’s full budget won’t be finalized until October, Costantini said the center’s preliminary budget is $17.9 million.

In the current year’s budget, Brunswick County contributed $650,000 to Southeastern Center, with an additional $42,000 coming from a portion of ABC bottle tax proceeds, county finance director Ann Hardy said.

“I know we share the goal of restoring Southeastern Center to financial health and ensuring that needed services remain available for consumers,” Benton said in the letter.

“We believe these actions are necessary to achieve that goal.”

Caroline Curran is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or at ccurran@brunswickbeacon.com.