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by Charlotte Smith

The Bladen Board of County Commissioners held a reconvened meeting at the Bladen County Courthouse to discuss Bladen County citizens’ health and health services. The meeting convened originally on Monday, June 21, was reconvened once on June 23 and then again on Monday, June 28, 2021. All Board members were in-person during the Monday evening meeting except for Commissioner Dr. Opheila Munn-Goins, who attended the meeting via ZOOM. 

During the June 21 meeting, the Commission discussed a resolution to disengage from Eastpointe LME/MCO and re-align with Trillium. The Board tabled the discussion and scheduled another meeting for June 23, 2021.

Eastpointe LME/MCO and Trillium Health LME/MCO both operate in contract with the NC Department of Health & Human Services (NCDHHS) as managed care organizations (MCO). Both agencies have the duty to work with individuals and families who struggle with substance abuse, mental health, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. The MCO organizations work in partnership with state and county agencies, licensed independent practitioners, and hospitals to serve the uninsured and Medicaid customers.

NOTE: “LME” means “Local Management Entity;” “MCO” means “Managed Care Organization.”

Eastpointe has been the MCO for Bladen County since 2013. According to many citizens and some Commissioners, reoccurring issues with Eastpointe services or lack of services have led to needless frustrations. Commissioners have reported a substantial number of letters, emails, and in-person complaints to the Commission from citizens as well as County public safety personnel regarding the needs not being met by Eastpointe in the County. 

Lack of local physical locations for behavioral, mental, and substance misuse services is a primary concern for Bladen County, according to Chair of the Bladen County Board of Commissioners, Charles Ray Peterson. 

The Board of County Commissioners requested Eastpointe LME/MCO and Trillium Health LME/MCO give presentations to the Board on services each MCO can provide Bladen County before making any final decision on moving forward with the resolution.

On June 23, Eastpointe’s CEO Sarah Stroud and some other Eastpointe representatives presented a detailed PowerPoint presentation illustrating its services in general and in Bladen County. Stroud reported currently, 11 Eastpointe employees live in Bladen County.

There are 1,293 Bladen County residents currently receiving at least one service from Eastpointe. 

Eastpointe’s presentation had more information about numbers, funding, and potential services Eastpointe provides in Bladen County than about current services and locations. However, the team mentioned a Mobile Crisis unit is offered in Bladen County with 24/7 assistance. In addition, Eastpointe has trained 55 first responders in Bladen County since 2008 and has another training scheduled for August of this year. 

Eastpointe committed to the Commissioners to open a physical location in Bladen County to better communicate with the County officials and offer better visibility for services.  

After Eastpointe’s presentation and their discussions with the County Commissioners, the meeting was recessed again to Monday, June 28.

On the 28th, Trillium Health had the opportunity to present to the Commission at the Bladen County Courthouse. Joy Futrell Executive Vice President of Administration and Finance and Cindy Ehlers, Executive Vice President of Clinical Operation gave a detailed presentation.

Out of the gate, Ehlers started talking about services Trillium provides in their catchment area. “Neighborhood Connections is in every county. Ehlers explained, “They make house calls. They leave door hangers at homes they visit when someone is not home, which has been important during the pandemic.” 

“We cater everything we do with the county,” Ehlers said. 

Trilliums motto is, “Transform lives and building community well-being through partnership and proven solutions.”

Another service Ehlers spoke about is Mental Health First Aid Training with school systems, health departments, law enforcement, and first responders. The service educates people about mental illness and substance abuse.

Rapid access for Substance users is another service Trillium offers, according to Ehlers. 

“We are going to make sure that comes right here to your county,” she stated.

“We offer the most services for IDD (Intellectual or Developmental Disability) members in the state,” Ehlers said, “We offer grant opportunities for the IDD to start small businesses… We put fences in the backyards of patients with IDD children so they can have peace of mind.”

“For mental health, we do a lot of evidence-based services for children and adults,” Ehlers continued in her presentation. Trillium offers around-the-clock mobile crisis services as well. 

Ehlers and Futrell confirmed, Trillium would hire any of the Eastpointe Bladen County employees.

Commissioner Cameron McGill asked the Trillium representatives what the vetting process would be for employees leaving Eastpointe to be hired by Trillium.  

The Trillium team explained their hiring practices are the same as Eastpointe’s. Therefore, all that would be needed for an Eastpointe employee to be hired by Trillium are references and background checks. 

Commissioner Ray Britt asked about how Trillium would market its services in Bladen County. 

The Trillium team said, “It does take a full-on marketing approach in the community. Our commitment is to make that happen.”

Commissioner Michael Cogdell, an Eastpointe Board member, asked, “What are you going to do that’s so different?”

Ehlers answered, “I can show you a track record. Our counties are satisfied. They aren’t getting the phone calls.”

She continued, “One of the chief complaints Columbus had that you have as well is they didn’t have a comprehensive provider, so we brought in Port Health. We funded them for the time when no one walked in the door so they can be there for when the person does walk in the door. They can only do that because we fund them.”

Commissioner Arthur Bullock asked about the makeup of the minority population of their administrative Board. The Trillium team did not have that information. 

Commissioner Mark Gillespie asked if the mobile crisis works with the law enforcement and hospitals because a Bladen County nurse just told him they had a patient stay at the hospital for seven days. 

Ehlers explained Trillium’s mobile crisis services that would help eliminate situations such as the one Commissioner Gillespie addressed.

Commissioner Peterson added the situation at the hospital cost the county $7,200 last week for law enforcement services. He asked if Trillium would pay for any situations like this when they happen, even though at this time, Eastpointe does not.

Ehlers said, “Our job is to make sure you never have to ask me that question.”

Commissioner Cogdell said the State wants only to have five MCO/LME and asked if Trillium was trying to be part of the five that remain in the State.

“Absolutely,” was Ehlers answer to Cogdell. 

Before ending the presentation, the Trillium representatives stated they could begin offering services in Bladen County by October 2021. 

The Board thanked the Trillium representatives for their presentation and took a recess for ten minutes. All the Trillium representatives left the meeting after the recess. 

After the recess, Commissioner Ray Britt made a motion to adopt the resolution to switch to Trillium from Eastpointe. 

“My only recommendation is we stay with Eastpointe,” Commissioner Cogdell stated during the discussion before the vote. 

Commissioner Peterson responded to Commissioner Cogdell, “Seven or eight days ago, you wanted to leave Eastpointe too.” 

Commissioner Gillespie pointed out, “It should not have taken us thinking about moving to Trillium for Eastpointe to offer us the services we should already be receiving.”

The motion passed six to three with Commissioners Dr. Ophelia Munn-Goins, Bullock, and Cogdell voting no and Commissioners Mark Gillespie, Ray Britt, Dr. Danny Ellis, Rodney Hester, Cameron McGill, and Charles Peterson voting for the motion. 

Before adjourning, the Board heard from Bladen County Health & Human Services Agency Director, Dr. Teresa (Terri) Duncan, about the increase in COVID-19 cases in the county. Over the last several days, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and his staff have reported Bladen County as the State’s COVID-19 hotspot.

Dr. Duncan started by saying, “It has been a challenging time. We got worse, and the other counties got better.”

Bladenboro is the hotspot in Bladen County, with an increase in COVID-19 cases. According to Dr. Duncan’s report, there are 86 active cases in Bladenboro, with one recent death. 

Dr. Duncan gave the following COVID-19 update. 

The contact tracers cannot pinpoint an outbreak or what is causing the increase, Dr. Duncan explained. 

Commissioner Bullock said, “When I was employed, and we identified a problem, we come up with a plan.” He then asked Dr. Duncan what her plan was for the COVID-19 hotspot. 

Dr. Duncan explained that the Bladen County Health Department had offered vaccines at several events, such as the Juneteenth event and the White Lake Water Festival, and other locations in the county. In addition, one vaccine clinic is planned for this week at the Bladenboro Fire Department.

“What is the other side of this?” Commissioner Peterson asked Dr. Duncan. 

Bladen County does not have the lowest rate of vaccinated population, according to Dr. Duncan’s report, and only one percent of positive cases come from people who have already been vaccinated.

Commissioner Peterson handed out two news reports citizens sent him to the Board. The reports were about the FDA adding warnings about the vaccines. He said, “I took the shot, but I’m not telling anyone else to take it.”  

Commissioner McGill said, “At this point, we really don’t know. This shot hasn’t been approved by the FDA.”

Dr. Duncan explained the FDA could have pulled the vaccines if they didn’t feel the vaccines were safe, but the FDA has not pulled the vaccines. 

Commissioner Cogdell made a motion for the Board to make an official declaration about the rise in Covid cases and make a statement if citizens do not get vaccinated, they should consider wearing masks and social distance. 

Commissioner McGill said, “It’s a free country. Let people decide for themselves.”

Commissioner Dr. Munn Goins said, “The vaccine, I don’t agree with it. I’m not going to tell anyone to take the vaccine.”

Commissioner Dr. Ellis said, “It is a personal choice.” However, he explained it might be good for the Board to make a public statement about healthy lifestyles.

Commissioner Peterson called for a vote on Commissioner Cogdell’s motion. The motion passed six to three. Commissioners Peterson, McGill, and Britt voted against the motion, and the other six commissioners voted for the motion. 

The Board adjourned around 7:20 p.m.

On Tuesday, June 29 the following announcement was made by Board Chair Peterson. The Bladen County Board of Commissioners will hold a Special Meeting to consider approving Managed Care contracts for the
Bladen County Health Department, as well as approving an appropriation to the Bladen County Dixie Youth Baseball team to assist with tournament travel. The meeting is scheduled for 4:30 pm on Thursday, July 1, 2021. The meeting will be held in the Commissioners’ Room, located on the lower level of the Bladen County Courthouse, 106 East Broad Street, Elizabethtown, NC.

The meeting can be accessed virtually by calling 1 (571) 317-3122,
Access code: 377-006-581.

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