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Mental health programs cut

"In the ever-changing and ever-belt-tightening world of managed health care, Island County mental health services saw new cuts in staff and further reorganization of management this week. And more changes could be coming.Kris Laaninen, chief executive officer of Community Mental Health in Mount Vernon, said the agency has decided to close Island County's existing youth respite program in favor of a new system that will direct troubled youth to special foster-care families.The change will mean layoffs. Laaninen said 10 people will be affected including 5 full-time employees. Most of them hold positions as behavioral aides, she said. Island Mental Health Director Steve Daggett's job was also rumored to be on the chopping block but he said Thursday that it is just being reorganized, not eliminated.The closing of the youth respite was foreshadowed more than a year ago when Community Mental Health shut down the county's adult respite facility and redirected operating money from a program in Skagit County to keep the youth program going as long as possible. At the time, Laaninen said the youth respite was operating at at loss of about $6,000 per month. This week she said the facility is still losing money.We made significant improvements. We were able to make it run more cost-effectively but it still didn't pay for itself, said Laaninen.Community Mental Health Services is a private, non-profit agency which represents providers in Skagit and San Juan counties as well as Island Mental Health in Island County. Island Mental Health employs about 33 full-time people and serves about 300 clients on Whidbey. During an average month, the youth respite facility handled about 8 children requiring about 14 bed nights.Under the new program, youth needing shelter and mental health treatment will be sent to one of two special foster homes on the island. Those requiring treatment and detox for drugs will now have to go to facilities in Skagit or Whatcom counties.Closing the youth facility will at least temporarily keep two other local mental health programs operating said Laaninen. Community Mental Health plans to keep both Cookie Creations of Coupeville and Alchemy Specialty Upholstery of Oak Harbor open through the end of the year Laaninen said. She wouldn't commit beyond that point but did say the agency is looking for new ways to fund the programs.Cookie Creations and Alchemy are businesses owned and operated by mental health clients. They provide training, work and business experience. But, like the youth respite, they have been draining money faster than they can bring it in.We are hopefully going to be able to continue, said Laaninen. But both programs are deficit programs. She added that, of the two, Alchemy is operating closer to its budget.Laaninen estimates that $2,500 per month that used to go to the respite facility will now go to help support the two business operations. In addition, the Island County Mental Heath Advisory Board has kicked in an additional $1,200 per month for two months. The agency is also looking into grants as a future funding option."

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