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County To Continue Funding Mental Health Services After Cardinal Takeover

Mecklenburg County government will continue to supplement state and federal Medicaid dollars for mental health services with its own money. The county has provided those funds for years, but their fate has been in limbo, as officials prepare to hand over mental health oversight to an outside organization.

Concord-based Cardinal Innovations will take over management of mental health, substance abuse, and disability services next week, after a state law forced the county to relinquish direct control of hundreds of millions of state and federal dollars, which it had managed through its agency MeckLINK. But the county also funds some services itself, such as job training and placement for those with intellectual disabilities and extra in-home visits for children with mental health problems. With MeckLINK’s closure, it was not clear if they would be continued.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Belinda Wilton, whose 23-year-old daughter lives with a developmental disability. A county service teaches her and about 400 others social interaction and can provide job placement. It is the largest program at about $2 million a year.

“I was shocked that it could be dropped,” says Wilton.

Wilton was one of dozens of attendees at the meeting Tuesday where county manager Dena Diorio recommended commissioners keep those services going, by paying Cardinal to administer them—at least for the next three months.

“We just wanted to buy a little time, make sure no one was harmed as part of the transition, and then we’ll make our long-term decision over the next 30 days,” says Diorio.

Still, that was enough to garner praise from Wilton and applause from the crowd. The county funds services for about 700 people altogether, and it will cost around $1.2 million to keep funding them until June 30. The money is already allocated, since MeckLINK was slated to provide the service.