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Rowan Homes advised to take case to court

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

Rowan Homes and its supporters are asking the Rowan County Board of Commissioners for help in its battle with the multi-county Piedmont Behavioral Health Care agency.

Earlier this week, Piedmont selected Cabarrus Group Homes to take over the six homes that Rowan Homes has operated for 31 years, providing care for adults with developmental disabilities. The changeover is set to occur Feb. 1.

“Hire a lawyer, a topnotch lawyer, go to court,” advised Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. He added that under oath, Rowan Homes may get the answers they seek from Piedmont about funding.

Rowan Homes, a nonprofit agency lost its contract in a funding dispute with Piedmont. Rowan Homes maintains that the $41.05 daily rate for each client is not sufficient and has struggled to get additional money, particularly for those clients with greater needs.

Other officials of Rowan Homes, parents of clients and supporters spoke during the commissioners’ public comment period late Tuesday night, pleading for the board’s help.

Among those speaking, Terry Osborne, the former director of Rowan Vocational Opportunities, shared his frustrations of trying to deal with Piedmont. He cited a battle with the agency in which he enlisted the help of 23 state legislators before he could get the agency to listen.

Osborne said the level of service and care provided by Rowan Homes is phenomenal.

Osborne said while he has moved on to another job, the people he worked with at Rowan Vocational stay with him. “I see their faces every day.”

“Please, for God’s sake, they need your assistance,” Osborne said, asking commissioners to intervene on behalf of Rowan Homes.

Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell suggested that Piedmont has agreed to pay Cabarrus Group Homes more than the $41.05 daily rate to operate the group homes.

Mitchell questioned John Burke, a member of the Piedmont Board of Directors, who defended the agency’s actions.

Burke said Piedmont has seven providers — organizations that operate group homes — in five counties. He said only one refused to accept the $41.05 rate.

“It’s an unfortunate situation … Piedmont had no choice … price has to count,” Burke said.

Mitchell asked Burke if Cabarrus Group Homes was receiving an innovative waiver that will give them more money.

Burke said he didn’t know, as a half-dozen or more Rowan Homes directors and parents in the audience indicated that Cabarrus will get more money.

Burke then said he wasn’t aware of a waiver, but if Cabarrus had received one, Rowan would have also been eligible to apply.

Mitchell told Burke he wanted to the see the full contract between Piedmont and Cabarrus Group Homes, including any waivers.

Commissioner Jim Sides said he wanted detailed information from both sides and related documentation on how the situation came about.

At one point, Burke held up several pages of what appeared to be an e-mail, saying it would clarify the situation.

But Burke said he didn’t know if he could legally give the material to Sides.

Chamberlain responded that the papers are a public document, but advised him to wait until after the Piedmont Behavioral board meeting this evening.

Parents of Rowan Homes residents criticized Piedmont for meeting with the group home’s residents and telling them of new operators without parents or guardians present.

Debbie Martin, a parent, said the residents were emotionally destroyed.

Another parent, Cindy Bridges, said Piedmont has acted unethically, and is not paying the rate set by the state.

Vickie Staton, a member of the Rowan Homes board, and retired teacher, challenged Piedmont’s assertion that the daily rate set by the state has remained flat for years. Staton said Piedmont receives $74 per day per client.

She added that Piedmont’s budget increased in 2004 from $18 million to $38 million. “Where is the money going? Some questions need to be asked.”

Barbara Setzer, chairman of the board of directors of Rowan Homes, vowed that they will fight Piedmont and asked for the help of commissioners.

Chamberlain, who also serves on the 20-member board of directors for Piedmont, warned it may be too late to stop the transfer.

“The help you need is not from us … I don’t want to give you false hope,” Chamberlain said.

He vowed to raise the issue at a meeting of the Piedmont board tonight in Concord. But Chamberlain said the agency pays little attention. He pointed out that there are five chairmen of county commission boards serving on the Piedmont board, but they have no influence. “We’re nothing,” Chamberlain said.

This year, Rowan County budgeted $600,000 to the five-county agency.

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