Craig City Council gathers vast panel to mull over potential funding for Open Heart Advocates
Finding a viable short-term solution to hopefully set up long-term success, all while coming together as a community to put politics aside and sustain an essential service, was the message behind Wednesday morning’s Open Heart Advocates meeting inside the Craig City Council chambers.
Among those in attendance were councilors Ryan Hess, Chris Nichols, Tony Bohrer and Mayor Jarrod Ogden, City Manager Peter Brixius, Administrative Assistant Melanie Kilpatrick, Craig Chief of Police Jerry DeLong, and City Attorney Sherman Romney. Moffat County commissioners Don Cook and Donald Broom, and Moffat County Sheriff KC Hume were also on hand to discuss potential funding avenues for Open Heart Advocates.
Memorial Regional Health’s Board of Trustees voted to close OHA’s doors on April 25 if funding is not found in the next 60 days.
In attendance for MRH were Vice President of Clinical Support Services Kyle Miller, OHA Executive Director Meghan Francone, Board Chairman Kelly Hepworth, and trustee Todd Jourgensen.
At the Feb. 20 Board of Trustees meeting, MRH Chief Financial Officer Andy Daniels said that OHA currently operates at a loss of around $16,000 a month, down from the $24K-$26K a month loss that the agency was operating at in late 2019.
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Daniels said that MRH has asked the city and the county for $6,250 a month in funding through the rest of 2020 to keep the agency — which serves more than 21 percent of the community in Moffat County and the City of Craig — afloat until a potential grant of $435,000 would kick in Jan. 1, 2021, should OHA be awarded that large grant.
“I’d like to stay optimistic about that large grant, but there’s just no guarantee,” Miller told those in attendance Wednesday.
Miller added that OHA feels that they’re on the right track to receive that large grant, but the group also isn’t putting all its eggs in that one basket, instead seeking out smaller grants as well to piece together funding for 2021-22, should the large grant be declined.
The elephant in the room though, according to Councilman Nichols and OHA Director Meghan Francone, is the inability of OHA to secure grants long after a 2014 case of embezzlement from the program — then known as Advocates Crisis Support Services.
“You know, the city and the county are going to be in a place eventually where we can’t maintain this [OHA] forever, if we step in,” Councilman Nichols said. “…So how do we get the grants up? You’ve written a ton of requests [for grants]. I’m not knocking you for your aggressiveness; you’re doing your part there. But how do we re-establish the confidence in the grantors to get the funding?”
Councilman Bohrer was quick to jump into the conversation about the grants, stating that a show of support from the city and county would be a big boost in confidence for the grantors.
“If we can figure something out financially to make this work for this year, it’s going to speak volumes to those that hand out the grants,” Councilman Bohrer said. “If the city and county can come up with a way to chip into funding this essential service, it’s going to cover up that black eye some from the past.”
Should the city and the county come up with the $6,250 a month through the rest of 2020, both entities are looking at more than $60,000 each to fund OHA.
“We didn’t budget for it,” Commissioner Cook said during Wednesday’s meeting. “We also have some things coming down the pipe during this legislative session that will be mandated for us to pay for this fiscal year. Our revenue is already down, too.”
In previous email exchanges with MRH, the county seemed to be a hard “no” on providing funding to OHA. Wednesday’s meeting showed some progress towards the county pitching in to help with commissioners Cook and Broom present.
OHA has made some cuts from a staff standpoint in hopes of lessening the burden on MRH, dropping down to just three paid members from five previous full-time employees. According to Francone, the staff of three meets the minimum requirement for funding.
Those savings have helped lessen the loss OHA operates at each month, but the loss is still significant enough to cause MRH to vote to close the doors.
Jourgensen made it a point to bring up the fact that should OHA cease to exist, the community would end up paying for it anyway, but in a much larger fashion.
“If this program — which does some tremendous work — goes away, we’re all going to end up paying for it in the end,” Jourgensen said. “The work that they do is going to fall onto law enforcement and these victims are going to have nowhere to go. To me, funding them now seems like the most affordable option, rather than paying much more in the long run for problem that we don’t have the resources for locally.”
Chief DeLong did say that law enforcement in the community could meet the minimum requirements required by law, but that the minimum requirements wouldn’t be anywhere near enough support for for the victims should OHA close.
According to Councilman Hess, who is a Moffat County Sheriff’s Office deputy, the minimum requirements for officers is to hand victims a pamphlet with information, and that’s it.
That said, according to Francone, most victims do not seek help from law enforcement, which creates a larger problem should OHA close up shop.
City Council did not make a decision Wednesday on whether or not to fund OHA through the rest of the year, but Mayor Ogden came to an understanding that it doesn’t sound like a choice at this point for the city.
“It sounds like we don’t have a choice, really,” Mayor Ogden said. “So there’s no sense is spending more time talking about this. We’ve got to come together here and figure out how to fund this program; it’s a simple discussion.”
Councilman Bohrer told the Craig Press after the meeting that council will likely have a workshop and hopefully make a decision at the March 10 City Council meeting.
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