MRH Board of Trustees set April 25 deadline for suspension of Open Heart Advocates |

MRH Board of Trustees set April 25 deadline for suspension of Open Heart Advocates

Struggling to obtain any type of immediate funding help in recent months, Memorial Regional Health’s Board of Trustees made the difficult decision to suspend Open Heart Advocates’ services on April 25, giving the service line a 60-day window to try and come up with funding to keep the doors open.

During Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting, MRH Chief Financial Officer Andy Daniels said that OHA currently operates at a loss of around $16K a month, down from the $24K-$26K a month loss.

Daniels told the board Thursday night that after pleas to the city, county and other organizations in an effort to find sustainable funding for their community services and programs, MRH and OHA settled on asking for $6,250 each from the city and county, which would be $13,000 a month. Daniels said that total would allow MRH to continue to run OHA, but it would be “pretty darn tight,” Daniels said.

In an email to MRH regarding funding, Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck said that the county didn’t budget for funding for OHA; the city is still working through some finances and fact-gathering, but hasn’t committed any funding at this time. Commissioner Beck did personally hand letters to the Attorney General during a recent trip to Denver, and Francone said OHA did talk with the AG’s office, but nothing further has come of the funding issue from the state level.

“MRH stepped up to save this organization when no one else would,” Daniels said. “We have tried every avenue we can to help keep Open Heart Advocates in operation to continue providing these much-needed services in the community. It’s a tough decision.”

Due to operating costs of the non-profit organization, Daniels made the recommendation to cease operation of OHA on March 25. MRH’s Board of Trustees pushed for 60 days by vote, extending the operating window to April 25.

MRH took control of OHA – previously known as Advocates Crisis Support Services – in 2018 after the service line was embezzled by two former employees. Following the embezzlement, federal grant funds didn’t come through due to questions about finances and organization structure, leaving MRH to foot the bill entirely.

In June 2019 at Colorado Northwestern Community College, MRH invited a number of stakeholders in the community to participate in a funding discussion. The invitation was extended to entities that rely on services provided by Open Heart Advocates in order to supplement their work. Stakeholders invited included representatives from Moffat County Sherriff’s Office, Craig Police Department, Moffat County Commissioners, District Attorney’s Office, Moffat County Combined Courts, Vale board members, Moffat County School District and Craig Fire Department, according to MRH.

In that discussion, MRH disclosed funding issues to the public, according to meeting minutes from that June 2019 session, and discussed the struggles to secure a grant, while showing the stakeholders just how impactful OHA was for the communities of Craig and Moffat County as a whole. Currently, OHA serves more than 21 percent of the population in Moffat County; that’s more than 2,800 people within the borders of Moffat County.

Since that discussion, MRH and OHA has applied to more than 50 grants, but has yet to secure funding. Prior to the decision to set a hard date for closure, OHA Director Meghan Francone said at a recent City Council meeting that the service line believes its on track to secure a grant of more than $250,000 for the grand funding window of January 2021 to January 2023. Now though, with imminent closure, Francone said that it’s very unlike that grant funders would award a grant to an organization no longer in existence.

In 2019, Open Heart Advocates lost $219,410 of direct cash expenses. In 2020, the organization was projected to lose $159,314 of direct cash expenses. The projected reduction for 2020 was expected to be less than 2019, even after MRH restructured the organization to make it run more efficiently.  

“We needed other community support to narrow this funding loss,” Daniels continued. “MRH provided the structure, organizational oversight and a grant writer for almost two years now at no cost to the organization. We were hopeful that other community organizations would see the value of Open Heart and help support the organization. It just did not happen.” 

Trustee Don Myers mentioned that with the impending energy changes within Moffat County, the need for a service line like OHA will be greater, which made the decision all the more difficult for the board.

“We just can’t keep kicking the can down the road in this community,” Daniels added. “Politics are politics, I get it. But reality is reality, too. This is a community problem; this isn’t just an MRH problem, or a city problem, or a county problem, or even a school district problem – this is a serious community problem. At some point, politics are going to have to get out of the way or it’s going to be a disaster all the way around.”

MRH hopes to have further discussion with City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 26. For now though, MRH has to proceed forward with the understanding that come April 25, OHA’s doors will close.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.