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Western Highlands Network officially ceases operations

Smoky Mountain Center plans name change, commission reps from 23-county area

With the formal transfer of management for mental health, substance abuse and intellectual and developmental disability services to Smoky Mountain Center, the Asheville-based Western Highlands Network no longer exists.

Smoky Mountain Center manages services for mental health, substance abuse and other behavioral issues for clients in Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Swain, Watauga, and Wilkes counties. Taking on the counties formerly under Western Highlands management adds Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Transylvania and Yancey counties.

Both the Smoky Mountain Center and Western Highlands Network governing boards signed off on the consolidation earlier this month, after approving the initial management agreement to set the plan in motion in May.

Aldona Wos, secretary for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, must approve the dissolution of Western Highlands and consolidation with Smoky Mountain Center, said Brian Ingraham, chief executive officer for Smoky Mountain Center.

The next step will be to appoint a new board and advisory board consisting of a commissioner from each of the 23 counties in the new agency’s service area. A change in state law requires representation from each of the counties included in the agency’s area.

Smoky Mountain Center manages services for mental health, substance abuse and other behavioral issues for clients in Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, McDowell, Swain, Watauga, and Wilkes counties. Taking on the counties formerly under Western Highlands management adds Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Transylvania and Yancey counties. Map courtesy of Smoky Mountain Center.

“Within 30 days of the DHHS secretary approving the final consolidation or before the first of the year, a new board must be appointed,” Ingraham said.

“We want the new board to have a role in developing a marketing plan to change the name and image identity for the consolidated entity,” he said.

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Western Highlands agreed to give Smoky Mountain authority to close-out operations. The center has contracted with a consultant to oversee all details of the closeout process. The closeout will be accomplished through staff divided into two teams: the finance team and the management information systems team.

Smoky Mountain Center has hired the majority of the former Western Highlands staff, some as temporary employees specifically to conduct activities surrounding the closeout process, said Nancy Ford, senior director of human resources for the center.

“Western Highlands had 184 employees when this all began,” Ford said. “We brought on 141 of those employees who received the retention bonus approved by the board to minimize the risk of being unable to respond the needs of our clients.”

“We lost about six and about 15 chose not to apply for a position at Smoky Mountain,” she said. “Ten elected for retirement and a small group applied, but was not hired. Those employees received severance packages equal to one week’s pay for every year worked, or a minimum of $3,500.”

Payment of wages prior to Oct. 1, severance packages and bonus incentives will be part of the closeout activities, which also will include processing and payment to providers, vendors and other contractors prior to Oct. 1, and completion of other financial responsibilities, including IRS tax documents.

While those activities are taking place, Smoky Mountain Center will begin the process of providing services to clients in the eight additional counties now in its area. One of the first changes in the consolidation is the re-organization of crisis and mobile crisis management services as the center begins to manage those services.

RHA Behavioral Health Services will now provide mobile crisis management services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. RHA dispatch will ask callers to provide information about the situation and attempt to stabilize the person in crisis over the phone.

If this can’t happen, team members will travel to a location where the person in crisis will feel most comfortable, according to a news release from Smoky Mountain Center. This can be the person’s home, the home of a trusted relative or friend or a neutral place in Buncombe County.

Ingraham said consumers would not notice any change in services, other than the mobile provider.

“This consolidation will continue to evolve. While we don’t anticipate any glitches, any time a change of this magnitude occurs, there is the possibility of some speed bumps,” Ingraham said.


If you need help

Mobile crisis management is not the only option. Offices will also be maintained throughout the area, including the former offices of Western Highlands Network in Asheville. Go here for directions to the center’s regional offices. For immediate help, Smoky Mountain Center also provides a toll-free, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week consumer-access number at 1-800-849-6127. Here is a listing of additional available services.

Buncombe County

In Buncombe County, Family Preservation Services of North Carolina will offer a walk-in crisis center for adults and children at 1316-D Patton Ave. in Asheville from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The center can be reached at 828-225-3100. For after-hours emergencies, call 828-388-1903.

Henderson County

Blue Ridge Health Center will offer a daytime walk-in clinic at 2579 Chimney Rock Road (U.S. 64-E.) in Henderson County. The center offers medication management, treatment and intensive community-based services from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call 828-692-4289.

Transylvania County

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In Transylvania County, clients can visit Brevard Health Center, a part of Blue Ridge Community Health, at 89 Hospital Drive, Suite B, in Brevard from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Those who currently receive services from Alliance Crisis Services or Meridian Behavioral Health Services can continue to do so. For more information, call 828-883-5550.

Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford and Yancey counties

RHA has had a presence in Madison County for nearly four years. The walk-in center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and is located at 140 Healthcare Lane in Marshall. To contact that center, call 828-649-9174.

RHA will also have clinics in Mitchell and Yancey counties. Clients in Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties can go to any of those clinics. RHA’s mobile team will travel throughout Rutherford and Polk counties to help stabilize an individual in crisis.

Others

Smoky Mountain Center also provides a toll-free, 24-hour, seven-days-a-week consumer-access number at 1-800-849-6127. Individuals who need mental health, substance abuse and intellectual/developmental disabilities services can call the number, where they will be screened to determine the nature of a person’s needs and offer him or her choices of appropriate treatment providers.

Peggy Manning

Peggy Manning is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact her at pntmoody@bellsouth.net.

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