The financial picture for mental health provider Behavioral Health Resources is so dire that earlier this year the non-profit agency didn’t even have the money to pay their employees. And, after seeing the need for a new phone system, BHR officials soon realized they didn’t really have the money for that either and soon solicited employees to gather 10 friends and have everyone donate $10 to the agency.
“We’re in financial distress, and I’m doing everything in my power to keep BHR from failing,” CEO John Masterson told The Olympian. “If BHR were to close, that would be a significant impact to the community.”
Behavioral Health Resources services more than 10,000 mainly low income patients utilizing mental health and addiction recovery services in Grays Harbor, Thurston and Mason counties. The agency currently has a 10-bed “crisis stabilization treatment unit” in Hoquiam with a crisis hotline and 24/7 ability to respond to people in crisis, and centers for adult and children services in both Hoquiam and Elma. They also serve as many as 700 people on the Harbor with outpatient services each month, according to Grays Harbor Public Health director Joan Brewster. Brewster says service has continued uninterrupted.
The agency had so little cash on hand that on Thursday, Jan. 30, BHR notified employees that payday, for that period, would be moved from January 31 to February 1 because the agency couldn’t afford to pay its employees and the firm’s bank declined to issue what they refer to as a “daylight loan.” The agency was getting its deposit from Thurston County on the last day of the month. Brewster notified the commissioners about the situation in an email earlier this month.
BHR’s Director of Community Relations, Alliea Phipps, calls the problems faced by BHR a “crisis situation.” She said one of the first problems she tackled when she began in her position in October was fixing phones in BHR’s Grays Harbor locations that were dropping calls due to aged computer systems, something she calls a serious problem. Since then, she has been working to help find donors for upgrading BHR’s technology. She’s currently looking for more than 40 new computers for Grays Harbor alone and says BHR does not even have funds for the cheapest deals on computers.
An employee for BHR emailed the Grays Harbor County commissioners recently, noting he was asked to find 10 friends to all donate $10 each back to the agency to help pay for the phones. The employee begged the county commissioners to intervene and push for a new “functional CEO,” a grant writer and better working conditions. Earlier this month, another employee told the county commissioners during public comment that she was scared the non-profit agency would run out of money.
County Commission Chairman Frank Gordon says there’s only so much the commissioners can do other than task Brewster to keep track of the situation. Brewster and the county’s Regional Support Network in charge of mental health oversight is looking into the situation. Gordon provided a list of talking points about BHR authored by Brewster, noting the non-profit is a “good community partner” that stepped up when Evergreen Counseling Center in Hoquiam collapsed a few years back. Brewster told the county commissioners last week in an email that Thurston County was working with the social service agency to help them get through the rough financial patches and Grays Harbor Public Health is analyzing a rate revsion and considering plans for added services that could be beneficial for the community.
The agency is also working without a contract with labor union SEIU Healthcare 1199NW. The original contract expired in March of 2013. Masterson said they last bargained on Jan. 31 in the presence of a federal mediator (at the request of the union), but BHR ended up declaring an impasse. The issues of contention include the employee health benefits plan and the union’s desire for concessions involving productivity standards.
A potential strike, which the union is required to forewarn BHR of 10 days in advance, would last only a couple of days at the most, said Masterson. He said outpatient services would not be offered, but the impact would not be all that significant during that time. However, he said, closure of the agency’s 24-hour clinics and evaluation centers, would both harm patients who are acutely ill and cost BHR financially, as well.