Mecklenburg County commissioners are poised to give up the county’s new mental health agency, MeckLINK, less than a year after it opened for business. The state is forcing their hand.
The county launched MeckLINK in March, as part of a statewide reorganization of how Medicaid funds for mental health, substance abuse, and disability services are managed. Tuesday, a special committee of commissioners recommended handing MeckLINK over to Cardinal Innovations, its counterpart to the north. Commission Chair Pat Cotham says it’s not what she wanted.
“We’ve tried very hard to keep this, but we have to face the reality of what the state wants,” Cotham says. “They are in control, and they are more powerful than the county, and we just have to make the best of a bad situation.”
MeckLINK has been under fire from state lawmakers since before it opened its doors, for a variety of reasons. One of them is that, of the 11 agencies handling Medicaid mental health across the state, MeckLINK is the only one run directly by a county or that covers only a single county. The state ultimately wants just a handful of these organizations, instead of 11.
The General Assembly voted in May to force either MeckLINK to merge with a counterpart or the county to create an authority to govern it. Cotham says the state has made clear it prefers a merger, and it does not make sense to fight it at this point. In addition, the county can stop bankrolling MeckLINK. The county spent about $8.5 million to get MeckLINK up and running and still provides about $90,000 a month worth of administrative services.
“We’ve just got to think about what can we afford, and right now we’re kind of bleeding money on this, and that’s not a good thing,” Cotham says.
Commissioners want to recoup some of that money from Cardinal, but Cotham’s skeptical about their prospects.
“We don’t have a whole lot of leverage,” says Cotham. “I mean we have a big group, but Cardinal knows that nobody else wanted us. Cardinal knows that the state is pushing us to do this. They’re not fools.”
The full commission will vote on the recommendation, and MeckLINK’s fate, on Tuesday.