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Cabarrus firm takes over management of group homes

By Kathy Chaffin

Salisbury Post

Piedmont Behavioral Healthcare’s decision to award the contract for six group homes to another provider has Rowan Homes officials determined to fight for the agency’s very existence.

“We’re not giving up the fight,” said Executive Director Jay Laurens. “That was the unanimous decision of our board of directors. That’s all I’m at liberty to say at this point.”

Laurens said he was disappointed at Piedmont Behavioral’s decision to award the contract of six HUD group homes presently managed by Rowan Homes to Cabarrus Group Homes Inc. effective Feb. 1. “We did not expect it to go to that point,” he said.

Cabarrus Group Homes has been incorporated since 1975 and has been managing four group homes serving 21 residents with developmental disabilities in Cabarrus.

Pam Shipman, Piedmont Behavioral’s area director, said in a press release that none of the residents of Rowan Homes, all of whom have developmental disabilities, will lose their housing, services or supports.

Piedmont Behavioral and Rowan Homes have been in an ongoing dispute about money for years, resulting in the Rowan Homes board’s refusal to sign its contract for the 2006-2007 fiscal year.

Barbara Setzer, president of the Rowan Homes board, said members voted at a called meeting Monday night to hire legal counsel to pursue the matter. “The attorney on our board (John Basinger) cannot be paid because of our conflict of interest policy,” she said.

Setzer said Dan Coughlin, Piedmont’s area director and CEO, called her on Monday, Jan. 8, and requested a meeting for the next day. She and Basinger met with him on Jan. 9, at which time Coughlin requested a proposal from Rowan Homes for continuing to provide the services by the following day.

A proposal was submitted to Piedmont in the time allowed agreeing to accept the $41.05 per resident per day rate paid to other group homes. The next evening, however, Coughlin called and said his staff had met and decided on a different provider.

Coughlin said in the release, “While we want to recognize the genuine commitment of the Rowan Homes Board of Directors to this program and the consumers they have served, they have not been able to develop a successful solution to this problem over the several years that it has existed.”

He went on to say that Piedmont, as regional manager of mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities services for five counties, “has the challenge of managing limited resources for high quality services to consumers.”

“We are committed to paying the same rate for the same service to all providers in our network,” he said. “It is important to be fair. We have seen many mergers and affiliations among providers to achieve operational efficiencies over the past few years, and we expect to see this trend continue just as it has in the business sector.”

Coughlin was out of the office Tuesday, and Stephan Tomlinson, Piedmont’s public relations director, referred questions about the decision to him.

Shipman said all of the Rowan Homes group home managers will be offered employment with Cabarrus Group Homes.

“Our goal is to ensure as much continuity for the residents living in the homes as possible,” she said. “Cabarrus County Group Homes has an excellent track record in providing quality services, and we have great confidence in them.”

Laurens said residents are feeling uneasy about their future. “It’s been a very emotional situation for them,” he said. “Everything has happened so fast.

“I really can’t speak for them other than to tell you that it’s been hard on them.”

Nancy Collins was one of the Rowan Homes parents who participated in interviews with the three providers considered for the contract: Cabarrus Group Homes; the United Methodist Association for the Retarded (UMAR); and RHA, which presently manages nine group homes in Rowan.

Collins said she asked Cynthia Benjamin, Piedmont’s developmental disabilities provider relations manager who was facilitating the interviews, about Rowan Homes.

“I said I understood that Rowan Homes had submitted an application meeting the requirements of PBH and asked if we were going to be allowed to consider it,” she said. “I was told no, that we would choose from the three that were being presented.”

Another parent asked if Rowan Homes could be considered and was also told no, she said.

Benjamin said at a Dec. 18 meeting with Rowan Homes residents, their families and staff that six providers (not including Rowan Homes) had submitted applications to manage the six group homes. Collins said they were told that Easter Seals had withdrawn its application, but that the interview committee members were not told anything about the other two.

“I wish that Rowan Homes could survive,” she said. “I think it’s a vendetta between PBH. It’s not because of poor services. They keep throwing things, and I just don’t feel like we’re ever getting a real answer.”

These were among Collins’ concerns e-mailed to Coughlin. “I said I felt like Rowan Homes was being led to believe it was still in the running,” she said. “Rowan Homes was never a choice for us.”

Collins said she didn’t think Piedmont was “being on the up and up. I think it’s a political issue rather than a care issue, and I have real problems with that.”

Another concern she expressed to Coughlin was the decision to seek another provider being made right before Christmas. “If the contract hadn’t been signed in July, why on Dec. 13 are we going to push and disrupt everybody?”

Rowan Homes officials had asked for $51.05 per resident per day for its 33 residents. Piedmont increased its funding to Rowan Homes from $41.05, the rate paid to other group homes, to the requested $51.05 for six months during the 2005-2006 budget, then dropped it back to the earlier rate mid-year.

Laurens said Piedmont Behavioral agreed at that time to do an acuity study to determine if additional funding was justified. He and the Rowan Homes board believe that the acuity study, despite some inaccuracies, justifies their need for a higher rate.

They also contend that the other providers receive more supplemental funding than Rowan Homes. Setzer said they had hoped to discuss the acuity study at a Jan. 5 meeting with Piedmont Behavioral officials, but that didn’t happen.

Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.

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