With Licensed Mental Health Pilot Program success already evident, county commissioners agree to tweak reimbursement process for participating nonprofits

Requirements for one affidavit proving difficult to meet, Moran tells colleagues

Commissioner Michael Moran. File image

At the request of Sarasota County Commission Chair Mike Moran on May 7, the staff of the county’s Office of Financial Management will draft a revised affidavit regarding the processing of payments for the Licensed Mental Health Pilot Program that the board members approved unanimously in January.

The primary goal, described in a handout that Moran gave his commission colleagues on May 7, is to eliminate the need for the licensed professionals to fill out their own affidavits, attesting to the services that they have provided to youth and/or families. He pointed out that some of the nonprofits have only part-time bookkeepers who come in a couple of times a month, which has made it difficult for the nonprofits to get those professionals’ affidavits notarized, as the county has specified.

Moran’s handout did explain that the authorized representative of the related nonprofit still would be responsible for applying for the funding by signing an affidavit. Moreover, each of those affidavits specifies that it is being submitted “under penalty of perjury and/or other applicable laws.”

Additionally, his handout asked that the timeline for reporting the services be modified so the documents are “due the last day of month following the close of calendar month.” For example, the handout said,  “Any ‘Dates of Service (DOS)’ in calendar month of January would be due the last day of February.”

The intent, the form noted, is for each of the nonprofits to turn over to the county one bundle of reports each month, detailing all of the sessions provided. Moran stressed that the affidavits that the CEOs have to sign makes “them incredibly accountable to those funds.”

During his May 7 comments, Moran also emphasized — as he has in the past — the need for county staff to be able to audit the payments. Nonetheless, he pointed out, no clients are identified by name, in accord with the federal health care privacy law, HIPPA.

As The Sarasota News Leader has reported, in December 2023, Moran brought up the proposed pilot program, explaining to his board colleagues that the idea had originated with the CEOS of four nonprofit organizations that provide mental health care services. The goal of the initiative is to get licensed professionals into the homes of families with at-risk youth.

Moran has noted on a number of occasions his strong belief that the county should fund services that can assist children with mental health care issues at earlier stages, to try to prevent the situations from becoming aggravated and more problematic as the children grow older.

For example, he indicated during the Dec. 12, 2023 discussion, a household might have substance abuse or domestic violence issues that have affected one or more of the children.

The four CEOs with whom he discussed the program were Michelle Kapreilian, CEO of the Forty Carrots Family Center in Sarasota; Kristie Skoglund, CEO of the Florida Center for Early Childhood in Sarasota; Heather Todd, executive director of Teen Court; and Helene Lotman, president and CEO of the JFCS of the Suncoast.

Each of the nonprofits is eligible for up to $50,000, with the program having begun on Feb. 1; its ending is set for July 31.

When he met recently with the CEOs to get an update on how the pilot initiative is working, Moran continued on May 7, “They couldn’t have been more complimentary of the program. They were super appreciative of it.”

One of the nonprofits already has logged 125 sessions with youth and family members, he added.

When he asked the CEOS whether they had any suggestions for improvements, Moran said, they explained that dealing with the provider affidavits, “is proving very troublesome for them.”

This is the affidavit for the providers of the services, as shown in materials provided to the commissioners in their Jan. 10 agenda packet. Image courtesy Sarasota County

After explaining their concerns, Moran added, “I just couldn’t think of any reason anybody would have a beef with [the proposed changes].”

If his colleagues agreed, Moran said, county staff could modify the relevant affidavit and bring back a copy of it for final board approval.

‘Tremendously successful’ already

Commissioner Neil Rainford was the first to respond, noting, “It’s been obviously a tremendously successful program.” His only concern, Rainford added, was whether the change in the timeline for the payment process could result in one or more of the nonprofits exceeding the $50,000 allotment from county funds that have been set aside for mental and behavioral health services.

“It shouldn’t be an issue,” County Administrator Jonathan Lewis responded. “It’s $50,000 eligible total,” Lewis reminded Rainford. The more qualified expenses each nonprofit has in a given month, Lewis added, “the sooner they draw down that $50,000.”

Karen Rushing, clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller — whose staff processes all county checks — “would have the appropriate documentation to pay out the expenses,” Lewis added.

Commissioner Joe Neunder. Image courtesy Sarasota County

“How long does it take us to reimburse these nonprofits for their services?” Commissioner Joe Neunder asked. “It is very important,” Neunder added, that the county pay the organizations promptly. (As a chiropractor, he indicated his familiarity with billing issues regarding health care services.)

Lewis explained that the county has to abide by the Florida Prompt Payment Act, so the Clerk’s Office processes checks immediately upon its receipt of the valid documentation.

Rushing added, “We have an internal process to move the checks out within seven days,” as long as the documentation “supports a valid expenditure.”

Lewis did ask for a board vote directing staff to bring back the draft, amended affidavit for final approval of the commissioners.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger made the motion, and Commissioner Rainford seconded it.

“Appreciate the work on this,” Cutsinger told Moran. “Obviously, it’s doing some good things,” he added of the program. “If [this tweak] helps,” he said, “it would be great.”

The motion passed unanimously.

After the pilot program concludes, Moran has pointed out, the CEOs will provide a detailed report to the County Commission. During his May 7 remarks, he noted that they would present “real-life stories.

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