Cloud And Washington County Commissions Have Concerns About Pawnee Mental Health's Finances

Concordia Blade-Empire

Concerns about Pawnee Mental Health’s financial matters were a topic of discussion at the Monday meeting of Cloud County board of commissioners.

The board visited by telephone with Washington County commissioners Alison Mueller, Gene Helms and Marcia Funke, who brought forward questions about Pawnee’s accounts. Mueller alleged that $1.8 million is unaccounted for in Pawnee Mental Health Services accounts, that there is only $850,000 in reserve funds, that Accounts Receivable are currently running over $1 million when they normally are about $400,000. She noted that the 2001 audit is not yet complete and expressed fears that Pawnee Mental Health may become bankrupt.

When Cloud County commissioners asked where the information came from, Mueller cited the monthly financial reports presented to the Pawnee board and figures provided by the Concordia office financial department.

Pawnee board member Nancy Champlin reminded the group of the SRS recommendation that financial matters be handled through one department rather than several and spoke of the difficulty in getting complete and timely records when several offices handle financial matters. Champlin also reminded the group that the difficulties experienced by Pawnee would need time to be remedied.

Mueller recommended that commissioners ask Pawnee Executive Director Everett Jacobs to inform them in writing as to his explanation of the financial matters she previously noted, obtain a copy of the salaries for Pawnee employees and obtain the 2001 audit report.

Jacobs met with the Washington County commissioners Monday afternoon. Mueller said that during the meeting, the commissioners asked a lot of questions about the financial status. She said they wanted to know how the financial difficulties were going to be remedied.

"We didn’t get any straight answers," Mueller said. "We didn’t feel we got answers as to where the money had gone. We were just as confused when he (Jacobs) left, as we were before."

Jacobs said that Pawnee’s operations are running at a deficit for the first four months of 2002, and he discussed options that Pawnee administration has in addressing these loses.

"With 80 percent of our costs generated by salaries, we have no choice but to look at eliminating positions when we have to cut costs," he said.

Jacobs went on to explain that it is a careful balance that has to be maintained between having enough staff to meet service demand, but not too many to overtax the budget.

"The first area we look at is how to trim administrative staff—those not directly providing services," he said. "Deeper cuts would cause us to have to look at clinical staff who are not being as productive as they need to be. But, our first priority is always in providing needed services."

Mueller also said that the main thing she wanted to communicate to Pawnee’s clients was that regardless of what they are hearing about the financial situation, services will not be affected.

Jacobs will be presenting a detailed cost-cutting plan and budget at the regular Pawnee board meeting on May 28.