Commissioners must consider preliminary spending of $68.5 million from hospital sales funds and opioid settlement money

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

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A community stakeholder group with a mission to improve mental and behavioral services in New Hanover County will present key findings to the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

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

READ MORE: County and city committee to draft spending plan for $19.5 million opioid settlement fund

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 , Office of the Public Defender, 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, NHC Department of Social Services – Child Protective Services and Commissioners Jonathan Barfield and Rob Zapple.

It has met eight times over the past five months to draft a draft strategy focusing on three areas: education and awareness, access to services and treatment, and sustainable recovery and well-being. Within each are strategic goals, desired outcomes, and a plan to measure success.

The group began thinking by reviewing data, understanding trends, and listening to community members who have had experience with mental health and addictions services in the county. Members also met with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Association of North Carolina County Commissioners.

For education and awareness, the county hopes to provide additional information on how to spot early signs of mental health and addiction disorders, raise awareness of programs, and support and remove stigma and barriers. preventing people from seeking treatment.

Based on a draft of the strategy obtained by Port City Daily, initiatives being considered for funding include drug treatment for prison and EMS services, a mental health court, an expansion of the Mobile Crisis Team, a youth crisis center, money for The Harbour, a non-hospital adult drug rehabilitation center, and funds for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and the Wilmington Police Department for the additional NARCAN.

READ MORE: The county asked to contribute $3.4 million to the potential new location of The Harbour, a collaboration with LINC

Access to services and treatment aims to provide “immediate crisis stabilization” for people and their families, reduce the number of people going to the emergency room, and connect people in need of treatment more quickly and efficiently with care.

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

According to the draft plan, initiatives that could fall into this category include Coastal Horizons’ post-overdose response team; create 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 developing UNCW’s nurse practitioner program.

The third component surrounding sustainable recovery and well-being will develop a pipeline of mental health care providers to reduce hospital readmission rates to 15% or less and increase the ratio of health care partners to current population.

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

Other examples being considered for funding include the DARE program, training a crisis response team, lock boxes, and drug prescription drop boxes. Additionally, educational opportunities for trauma-informed training, safe opioid prescribing education, and public service announcements regarding the destigmatization of mental health are also being considered.

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

On Tuesday, commissioners vote to adopt the plan as presented, allowing the stakeholder group to move forward with finding the most needed initiatives and how much funding to spend on 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 the coming weeks from the $26 billion nationwide settlement against major pharmaceutical manufacturers. Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen for their role in creating and fueling the opioid crisis, used for treatment during the opioid epidemic. More than 3,000 lawsuits from nearly every state were combined into multidistrict litigation, which concluded in July 2021.

The funds are 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.

He will receive $18.7 million over 18 years, including $8.5 million in the first five years. Another $1.2 million is planned for 2023 and $1.5 million will be awarded in 2024 and 2025.

The remaining funds will be distributed to New Hanover each year in increments of approximately $800,000 to $1.1 million until 2038.

Attorney General Josh Stein, who led the nationwide lawsuit charge, told county and city officials during a visit to Coastal Horizons in May that the structure deliberately charged the funds over the first five years to launch initiatives. The rest will be spread out to make sure the money doesn’t dry up to maintain the programs.

County Executive Chris Coudriet served as a member of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners’ Opioid Regulation Task Force. Members helped form the settlement fund distribution model to ensure that local governments received the bulk of the share.

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

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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