County makes emergency loan to Lifeline

Inpatient substance abuse program needed $190,000 to make payroll




Clark County commissioners on Wednesday agreed to loan Lifeline Connections, the county’s only inpatient substance abuse treatment center, $190,000 so the private nonprofit can make payroll on Friday.

Lifeline’s medical director, Dr. Gilbert M. Simas, told Commissioners Marc Boldt and Steve Stuart on Wednesday that the organization would not be able to pay its employees if the commissioners didn’t lend them the money.

Lifeline has 140 employees and recently laid off 15 people, Simas said after the meeting.

The organization has been having cash problems since reducing the number of state-funded patient beds to make room for private-pay patients, Simas said, due to the delay in receiving payments from insurance companies.

On top of being cash-poor as they are making the transition to a predominantly private-pay system, two factors brought them to the point where they needed a loan, Simas said:

n The company that was doing billing for Lifeline, Northwest Clinical Billing of Olympia, didn’t bill for patients in two weeks in December and two weeks in January, Simas said. Lifeline will immediately start doing its own billing, commissioners were told. The lost billing amounted to $450,000 worth of services, said Harold Rains, finance manager for the county’s Department of Community Services, who has been reviewing Lifeline’s finances.

A call to Northwest Clinical Billing was not immediately returned Wednesday evening.

n Lifeline has had internal problems since the departure of executive director Lynn Samuels, who left Dec. 31 to lead Columbia River Mental Health Services.

After she left, the organization was not functioning well and there was fighting among the nine members of Lifeline Connections’ board of directors. Three members have left the board, said Simas, who has been named interim executive director.

Simas also said the $1.5 million annual rent Lifeline has to pay the county for its space at the Clark County Center for Community Health has put pressure on the nonprofit. Similar sized agencies pay two-thirds that amount, he said, or less.

In a worst-case scenario, Lifeline would need as much as $750,000, Rains told commissioners. That figure was based on Lifeline’s projected payment schedule.

Both Boldt and Stuart (Commissioner Tom Mielke was absent) would not agree to that big of a commitment Wednesday.

They agreed to lend Lifeline $190,000 from the county’s general fund and ordered the issue to be set over to the Feb. 21 board meeting.

Lifeline officials said they will likely need an additional $170,000 to make payroll on Feb. 24.

When Stuart asked about what other money could be used to tide the organization over, Lifeline officials said they do have a $400,000 line of credit through Riverview Community Bank, but they’ve used $395,000.

Stuart said he wants a full report on Lifeline’s finances, a list of other potential funding sources and a repayment plan by the Feb. 21 meeting. He also wants more information on how much rent the county charges organizations at the $39 million Center for Community Health, which opened in 2006 as a “one-stop shopping” site for public health services.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about rent at the Center for Community Health,” Stuart said.

“We’re the landlords of a very expensive building,” Boldt said.

John Cox, the county’s director of drug and alcohol services, told commissioners that if they didn’t help Lifeline, which has a total of 56 inpatient beds and also offers outpatient treatment, the addicts would likely turn up in hospital emergency rooms or in the Clark County Jail.

“It’s a risk,” he said of lending money to Lifeline, “but it’s probably a risk worth taking.”

Lifeline provided services to 3,000 people last year.

In August, the treatment center reduced the number of patient beds for people who are low-income, have Medicaid and come through the county’s drug court.

Samuels told The Columbian in July that for the last several years, the inpatient unit has lost $20,000 to $50,000 per month as operating expenses climbed and the state reimbursement rate stayed stagnant.

Statewide, in the past four years reductions for inpatient programs totaled $17 million and funding for outpatient services was reduced by nearly $48 million.

As a result, Lifeline decided to restructure and treat more private-pay patients to subsidize public patients.

Marissa Harshman contributed to this story.