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News / Health / Clark County Health

Nurse-Family Partnership among several programs to benefit from $1.15 million boost in funding

Increase a result of changes to how Clark County distributes its Mental Health Sales Tax Fund money

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: December 29, 2018, 6:01am
4 Photos
Nurse Elise Stills, right, tries to see if James, the 17-month-old son of Randell Farnham, will try to stack blocks, a sign of developmental progress. Stills has been a familiar presence in Farnham’s home as part of a county program that provides home visits to low-income, first-time mothers.
Nurse Elise Stills, right, tries to see if James, the 17-month-old son of Randell Farnham, will try to stack blocks, a sign of developmental progress. Stills has been a familiar presence in Farnham’s home as part of a county program that provides home visits to low-income, first-time mothers. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

In March of last year, Randell Farnham was just shy of turning 21 years old when she found herself pregnant for the first time and hospitalized for a heart condition. While at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, a social worker referred her to the Nurse-Family Partnership, a program run through Clark County Public Health that provides nurse home visits for low-income, first-time mothers.

Farnham said that her pregnancy and heart condition left her unable to work. That left her husband, who was also going to school, the couple’s only breadwinner.

“I remembered being nervous,” said Farnham of her first visit with nurse Elise Stills at Clark County Public Health. But the two developed a relationship as Stills connected Farnham with resources.

With Stills’ help, Farnham enrolled in a birthing class and set up medical appointments that diagnosed a bone condition. Stills also found a free queen-sized mattress for Farnham that replaced the air mattress she had been sleeping on. After her son James was born, Farnham had trouble breastfeeding, so Stills helped her find a breastfeeding consultant. Stills also helped connect her with an early childhood development class and playgroup.

Her son, James, is now almost 18 months old. Cheerful and bubbly, he has a head of blond, curly locks and loves toy cars and books. Stills will continue to stop by to visit until James is 2 years old to check on his development, bringing along wipes and diapers.

“That helped a lot,” said Farnham of the program. “We’d be struggling a lot more.”

In 2019 this service will be among several county programs that will receive an increase of $1.15 million in funding. The boost in funding comes as a result of changes to how Clark County distributes money from its Mental Health Sales Tax Fund, a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax that funds programs aimed at preventing or treating substance abuse or mental health disorders.

The tax was created by the Legislature in 2005 and adopted by Clark County in 2007. The money has been used to fund programs and services throughout county government, the bulk of it going to the Department of Community Services.

In the strong economy, the fund has seen its revenue rise. According to county figures, the fund’s projected balance will increase from $8.6 million in 2018 to $10.6 million in 2020.

Earlier this year, the county adopted a new policy to better direct how the fund is spent. It also created an advisory committee, comprised of staff and county councilors, to review and recommend requests for new funding from the tax. Over the summer, the committee recommended additional funding for county programs, which was approved by the county council.

637 new moms assisted

Included were two funding packages for the Nurse-Family Partnership. One was $405,000 to retain two full-time nurses. Another was $170,000 to hire another nurse and public health worker.

According to a county staff report, the program has been in place in Clark County since 2007 and has enrolled 637 first-time mothers. It’s been shown to reduce substance abuse, child neglect and juvenile delinquency, while improving pregnancy outcomes.

Pat Shaw, a program manager with Clark County Public Health, pointed to numbers showing that more than half of the women who gave birth in Southwest Washington received Medicaid, indicating a strong need for the program.

“We’re still not meeting the need, but getting closer with the additional funding,” she said.

The additional money from the Mental Health Sales Tax Fund for county programs also includes an additional $106,952 to fund a position that will coordinate mental health services for youth in the juvenile justice system.

The county council also approved several budget packages increasing funding for the county’s Therapeutic Speciality Courts, which direct defendants to treatment to address underlying substance or mental health issues.

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In 2019, the courts will have an additional $397,239 to meet increased demand. According to a county staff report, in January 2018 the court’s Mental Health Court began offering defendants the ability to enter the program prior to adjudication while also opening it to felons. The expansion resulted in a 61 percent increase in caseload and the additional money will pay for more staff, supplies, urinalysis, monitoring of defendants and other costs.

Also included are separate budget packages funding $15,000 for staff training and $41,400 for law enforcement involvement in the Therapeutic Speciality Courts.

Bradley Alberts, the district court administrator, said the Mental Health Court currently serves 20 to 30 people and the additional funding will allow it to serve 50.

“People turn their lives around,” said Alberts of the program. “They’re not reoffending, they are getting help getting a job or housing.”

Another $20,000 from the Mental Health Sales Tax fund will be used to increase the stipend for two post-doctoral psychologists who spend a year splitting their time working in juvenile court and in local high schools.

Christine Simonsmeier, juvenile court administrator, said that the positions are similar to internships or residencies for doctors. Each psychologist is paid $30,000 and Simonsmeier said it’s been difficult to recruit for these positions, which increase the mental health resources in Clark County.

“We’ve had almost every participant, so far, be hired by Evergreen or Vancouver school districts,” she said.

External funding

The county council also approved setting aside $1.2 million for nonprofits offering services that fall under the scope of the Mental Health Sales Tax.

Vanessa Gaston, the director of the county’s Department of Community Services, said that in making its recommendations the advisory board, which she served on, looked for areas that weren’t currently being funded by state or federal dollars.

“We are trying, from a county perspective, to use our behavioral health dollars to address gaps in services,” she said.

The advisory board approved $759,060 in various funding requests. Consumer Voices are Born, a nonprofit that works with people in addiction recovery, received $74,242. Lutheran Community Services NW received $54,800 for culturally oriented support groups. Lifeline Connections, a large social services provider, received $327,146 for its various programs.

Columbia River Mental Health received $182,456 to put three substance abuse disorder counselors in Clark County public schools. Craig Pridemore, CEO of the nonprofit, said that there is a “clear need” for the counselors. The counselors will work in to-be-determined middle and high schools.

Mullen-Polk Foundation, a nonprofit that places foster children and provides case management services received $120,416. Linda Weems, its executive director, said that the money will be used for a program for 15 youth who are at-risk or dealing with mental health challenges to initiate a community-oriented project. She said that other similar programs have involved kids selling art in an art gallery or repairing and renting bikes to the public.

“There’s a lot of areas we can go in,” said Weems. “We have some ideas. But we really want to make it youth-based. We want to take it where they feel they can be more successful in their community.”

Columbian political reporter