Stanly commissioners turn down health board request about opioid funds

The Stanly County Board of Commissioners, in a 5-2 vote, turned down a request from the county’s Consolidated Human Services (CHS) board regarding determining which entities receive opioid settlement funds.

Commissioner Peter Asciutto moved to approve up to $15,000 for three months for a facilitator, Dr. Shanta Dube of Wingate University, to help with opioid settlement funding strategic planning. Only he and Chairman Scott Efird voted in favor of the motion.

Dube gave a presentation at the Oct. 5 meeting of the CHS board which stated the proposed work would include “development of evaluation criteria and a rubric for objective review of opioid proposals.” The presentation also talked about recommendations for “a cross-disciplinary task force.”

CHS board chairperson Jann Lowder presented the request to commissioners Monday night. She said members of the CHS board at the last meeting “expressed concerns to better understand what to do with opioid settlement funds.”

Lowder said their questions included what stakeholders are included and if there is a “plan or process” for giving out funds along with considering other partners. She said other questions included which programs have the best outcomes, is there a detailed application process and are their guidelines for organizations wishing to apply.

“Their questions are ongoing,” Lowder said. “ These and more can be answered in a task force working with a facilitator.”

Commissioner Bill Lahwon asked if Dube’s resume was included in the packet. Lowder said she was sorry, it was her understanding commissioners would receive that in the agenda packet.

“She is well qualified,” Lowder said, adding Dube had spent 13 or 14 years with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Health Department Director David Jenkins said Dube was coordinating with Union County to help that county with its settlement funds. He said strategic planning was more of a one-time job rather than year-round.

Jenkins said the proposed task force would determine what was best for the funds, which could include commissioners, community members, county administration, Department of Social Services members or members of Stanly’s Emergency Management Services.

Commissioner Brandon King said he was concerned that $15,000, which “could help six or seven people” with opioid abuse issues “may miss the help” if the money went to a doctor “that really probably doesn’t need the money.”

King said the Association of County Commissioners receives $2 million to help boards “make these decisions, and we’re not consulting with them. We have a resource there we are not using…I’d rather use (a resource) we are already paying for.”

Lowder said the $15,000 “is a good investment” if it would help to “nurture the successful programs.”

Commissioner Trent Hatley asked if county staff could research the situation “and save $15,000.” County Manager Andy Lucas said it was conceivable staff could “help facilitate the development of (a task force) and development of forms and applications.”

Saying she agreed with a task force, Commissioner Patty Crump said she was “having a hard time wrapping my brain around spending $15,000 of that opioid settlement funding to pay a salary to someone when it can help individuals who are struggling.”

Lucas said county staff acts like a “quasi task force,” getting feedback from groups such as the Health Department and EMS staff who work with entities.

Asciutto noted the $15,000 would come out of a fund of $8 million over the next few years.

“I know that sounds like an awful lot of money to people, and it is… I’m worried if we don’t set this up right we could have hundreds of thousands of dollars going to the wrong people because we don’t have a process in place to evaluate and vet people,” Asciutto said.