Fort Smith Board considers interlocal agreement on county crisis stabilization unit

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 417 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors at a Tuesday (July 17) study session reviewed an interlocal agreement for its existing participation in the Sebastian County Regional Crisis Stabilization Unit (SCRCSU).

The SCRCSU opened March 1 under the supervision of Sebastian County and the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center (WACGC). SCRCSU participants include the county and city governments from Sebastian, Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Polk, and Scott counties.

For year one, the facility will operate at an overall expense of $1.675 million, funded mostly through a $1.6 million state grant. It is one of four facilities statewide and the first one to go online. Pulaski County has since followed suit with Washington and Craighead counties to follow.

Under the interlocal agreement presented Tuesday, participating entities would make up the difference — in this case, around $75,000 — at a daily cost of $5 per patient. As the largest entity in the “catchment” area, said Sebastian County Judge David Hudson, the city of Fort Smith would be “key” to the program’s ongoing success.

The SCRCSU is designed to divert non-dangerous, non-violent individuals with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems who would otherwise be arrested for incidents involving law enforcement into the appropriate treatment programs. Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said the city pays a $20 booking fee and a $54.01 fee per day for detainees housed at the jail. Diverted SCRCSU detainees will cost just $5 per day.

Additionally, the program helps with overcrowding at the jail. Hudson said that as of Tuesday morning, there were 409 detainees, which is “53 over-capacity.”

Sebastian County provided $184,000 in upfront funding to secure a 16-bed facility, located at 3113 S. 70th St. and staffed by therapeutic and medical personnel. Hudson said the low $5 rate in the interlocal agreement is “because we don’t know what the difference of the cash flow to the actual property cost will be, and we wanted to encourage everybody to participate.”

Funding also would be obtained through insurance reimbursements for services provided, and that includes Medicaid eligibility. Hudson called WACGC “an expert in billing for services,” noting it’s “how they survive.” The $1.6 million grant will go to the county to enable auditing by the state and provide “full transparency” in how the money is spent, Hudson said, adding that “how much insurance money the Guidance Counseling Center sees … they’ll be reporting that to us, and we can reconcile on an annual basis the actual cost of operating and the actual revenues and determine what that daily wage should be” moving forward.

Hudson said if the state “hadn’t stepped up (with the $1.6 million), we wouldn’t be talking about it. We are literally breaking new ground, so it’s important that we have good data, and then lobby for continued support. If it does not get funded by the state, I don’t think the counties and cities can fund it.”

Maj. Larry Ranells of the Fort Smith Police Department called the program “a good option for us,” adding that “With some of the people we come into contact with, an arrest is not the best solution. They need help, and this is a way to get them the help today and hopefully help them in the long term by getting them the right type of treatment so they can be a better citizen. It’s a good thing.”