County Commissioners today (Aug. 22) will discuss a "letter of intent" and the progress of the County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to spin off the department as a nonprofit entity.

The change is needed because the county no longer has the money to operate the department and thus provide adequate services for citizens in Curry County.

Under the terms of the proposal, Curry County Health, formed after almost two years of planning, will provide services in the public, environmental, mental health services and addiction treatment realms, thus enabling the services to remain under local control and not revert to state operations.

The new board was seated in June, recently obtained its 501 c(3) status and is now seeking its federal tax-exempt status. It hopes to transfer services from the county beginning in January.

The board includes Bob Horel, Renee Balcom and Dan Brattain of Brookings, Ken Dukek of Port Orford, John Spicer of Gold Beach, Mike Meszaros of Agness and Mary Jane LaBelle of Sixes.

The seven were assigned by the Curry County Board of Commissioners last year to create the nonprofit, which will involve the transfer of employees, assets and certain property that HHS occupies.

Other options they entertained included creating a non-taxing special district, incorporating into an existing entity or separating the departments and allowing outside nonprofit agencies to take them over. However, none of the established entities could absorb the department's cash flow needs or commit to accepting the department in the future, the letter of intent reads.

The model, Kaplan said, is based on others throughout the state, including 19 counties that have non-profit mental health departments and six that have health departments run by either non-profits or special districts.

The change will be similar to that of Home Health and Hospice a year ago. The county will also consider transforming the Children and Families Departments to, or into existing, nonprofits next year.

County commissioners and those serving on the transition board are pursuing the change in anticipation that timber monies won't be available next July, the beginning of the county's fiscal year. The county was able to secure about $1.4 million in timber funds only because U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio was able to tack legislation onto a transportation bill that was approved this summer.

"We recognize where the county is going financially," Kaplan said. "We have to preserve our vital services. We can't flip a switch the day we go off a cliff."

County Commissioner George Rhodes noted that the county had to dip into its "working capital reserve" andndash; its rainy day fund andndash; to meet basic budgetary needs this year.

"It's likely the next board will have to use additional money," he said. "At some point in time, that pot dries up. If you can't put gas in the car, you can't drive the car."

In 2011-2012, Curry County Public health served 2,283 "unduplicated" individuals; the mental health division served 779 people and the addictions treatment served 522.

By creating the nonprofit before the next fiscal year begins, the county is ensuring continuity in human services including mental health, immunizations, addictions treatment, domestic violence, emergency preparedness, school-based health services and others. Public health covers such things as immunizations, restaurant inspections, public pools, drinking water and emergency preparedness.

Mental health is an arena that specifically needs help, said board member Bob Horel.

Kaplan noted that every 10-day stay a psychiatric patient stays in the hospital computes to the same amount of money that could help 50 people in outpatient therapy, thus alleviating the need for that hospital stay. And many of the untreated end up in jail, costing the county even more money.

"It's also the human thing, the right thing, to do," Horel said. "If you have one guy in the hospital, that's bad enough. But if you have 49 others you can't serve, that's real bad. Mental health programs need more help before it costs us a fortune in law enforcement and other costs."

"This is the new fiscal reality," Kaplan said. "The county is struggling to maintain the jail, services andhellip; and a nonprofit can focus entirely on that."

The county collects $22.2 million in taxes each year, and all but $1.4 million is passed on to the 50-plus special districts in the county. The county needs about $5 million to provide services that range from road maintenance to restaurant inspections.

The new nonprofit will work under a $3.5 million budget provided by state and federal funds and, because of its status as a nonprofit, will be eligible to apply for loans and grant money.

"We're making headway," Rhodes said. "If we're doing the right thing, we have no choice but to continue in that direction. County government has got to change; it cannot have status quo.

"It's a challenge, but it's a viable plan, a viable opportunity," he added. "These are people who need the services most. If we neglect that, there's no excuse for it.