Saturday, October 1, 2022

Commissioners to consider preliminary spending of $68.5M from hospital sale funds and opioid settlement money

New Hanover County commissioners will vote next week on how a strategy for mental and behavioral health services with money from the hospital sale and opioid settlements. (Port City Daily/file)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A group of community stakeholders with a mission of improving mental and behavioral services in New Hanover County will present its key findings to the board of commissioners Tuesday. 

Members were tasked with developing a framework for how to spend its $18.5 million share of funds from a nationwide opioid settlement, as well as $50 million in proceeds from the sale of the county-owned hospital toward wellness initiatives.

READ MORE: County, city committee to pen spending plan for $19.5M opioid settlement funds

The committee includes: Delta Behavioral, RHS Services, Coastal Horizons, Novant Health, City of Wilmington, Trillium Health Resources, Resiliency Task Force, NHC Schools, LINC, NAMI, Cape Fear COG – Continuum of Care, Community Care of the Lower Cape Fear, The Public Defender’s Office, Wilmington Police Department, New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office, NHC Fire Services, NHC Office of Diversity and Equity, NHC Health and Human Services, NHC Community Justice Services, NHC Department of Social Services – Child Protective Services, and Commissioners Jonathan Barfield and Rob Zapple.

It met eight times over the last five months to pen a preliminary strategy focused on three areas: education and outreach, access to services and treatment and sustainable recovery and wellbeing. Within each are strategic objectives, desired outcomes and a plan for measuring success.

The group began brainstorming by reviewing data, understanding trends, and listening to community members who have lived experience with mental health and substance use disorder services in the county. The members also met with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.

For education and outreach, the county hopes to provide further insight on how to spot early signs of mental health and substance use disorders, develop public awareness of programs and support and remove stigmas and barriers for individuals to seek treatment.

Based on a draft of the strategy obtained by Port City Daily, initiatives being considered for funding include medication-assisted treatment for the jail and EMS services, mental health court, an expansion of the mobile crisis team, a youth crisis facility, money for The Harbor, a non-hospital detox center for adults, and funds for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and Wilmington Police Department for the additional NARCAN.

READ MORE: County asked to contribute $3.4M to The Harbor’s potential new location, a collaboration with LINC

Access to services and treatment are intended to provide “immediate crisis stabilization” for individuals and their families, to decrease the number of people visiting the emergency department and connect those needing treatment with care more quickly and efficiently.

In 2020, there were 93 overdose deaths in New Hanover County and 44 in Brunswick County, with 430 emergency department visits between the two.

According to the draft plan, initiatives that could fall into this category include Coastal Horizons’ post-overdose response team; creating scholarship opportunities to increase the number of minorities in the mental health profession; housing support for people in mental health treatment and recovery; outpatient services for the uninsured; and growing the UNCW nurse practitioner program.

The third prong surrounding sustainable recovery and wellbeing will develop a pipeline of mental health care providers to reduce readmission rates from inpatient facilities to 15% or less and increase the ratio of health care partners compared to the current population.

The draft plan includes 5% in a cash reserve for sustainable funding.

Additional examples being considered for funding include the D.A.R.E. program, training for a crisis intervention team, pharmacy prescription lock boxes and drop-boxes. As well, being considered are educational opportunities for trauma sensitive training, safe-prescribing opioid education and public service announcements around destigmatizing mental health.

The allocation of funds will be decided on during the county’s annual budget process.

Tuesday, commissioners are voting to adopt the outline as presented, allowing the stakeholder group to move forward with researching the initiatives most needed and the amount of funding to go toward each.

There will be a separate vote on the exact initiatives at a later date, according to a county spokesperson.

New Hanover County received its first payment of $716,866 on May 31 and a second round of $1.5 million is expected to arrive in coming weeks from the $26-billion nationwide settlement against major pharmaceutical manufacturers Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen for their roles in creating and fueling the opioid crisis, used for the treatment during the opioid epidemic. More than 3,000 lawsuits from nearly every state were combined into a multi-district litigation, which wrapped in July 2021.

Funds are being distributed to all 50 states and North Carolina will receive nearly $750 million. New Hanover County — one of the most populous — received the sixth-largest settlement amount among the 100 counties and 47 municipalities awarded. 

It will receive $18.7 million over 18 years, with $8.5 million coming in within the first five years. Another $1.2 million is slated for 2023 and $1.5 million will be awarded in each 2024 and 2025.

The remaining funds will be dispersed to New Hanover annually in increments of roughly $800,000 to $1.1 million until 2038.

Attorney General Josh Stein, who led the charge on the nationwide lawsuit, told county and city officials during a visit to Coastal Horizons in May, the structure purposely front-loaded the funds in the first five years to kickstart initiatives. The remaining will be spread out to ensure money doesn’t dry up to maintain programs.

County manager Chris Coudriet served as a member of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners’ opioid settlement working group. Members helped form the distribution model for the settlement funds to ensure local governments received the bulk of the share.

Stein said his goal was to put the majority of the spending decisions in the hands of local communities. He said they could determine most appropriately the needs of their residents.

The City of Wilmington will receive $769,823, Brunswick County will receive $13.6 million, and Pender County’s share is $2.4 million.


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