New system delays release of substance abuse treatment funds

L’ANSE – NorthCare Network is holding about $20,000 in substance abuse treatment and prevention funds meant to serve Baraga County residents, NorthCare’s Judi Brugman confirmed Thursday.

The U.P.-wide health provider is working toward approval of the county’s funds request, however. And while NorthCare does have to approve all contracts with funded service providers, a board of county leadersmade the actual decision to not immediately send the funds to suggested service providers, she said.

At a County Board meeting Monday, Chairman Mike Koskinen expressed frustration with NorthCare, which administers both state and some local funding for substance abuse issues throughout the U.P.

Brugman, contract manager for NorthCare, said the issues essentially stem from a new system counties need to learn and that NorthCare’s Substance Use Disorder Policy Board, is only scheduled to meet three times a year.

Baraga’s request was discussed but not approved, at a meeting in December, Brugman said.

“There’s been some conversation about having a special meeting,” she said.

Minutes from the December meeting show Koskinen moved to approve requested funds for Gogebic, Baraga, Houghton, Kewenaw and Ontonagon counties, then withdrew the motion after discussion.

According to the minutes, those counties wanted some funds allocated to Western U.P. Substance Abuse Services, which had administered services there before NorthCare was given that responsibility. They didn’t provide information, however, on how Western U.P. would use the funds.

The money in question comes from half of Baraga County’s annual liquor tax receipts, which totaled $58,651 in 2015. Brugman said that amount was reduced by about $7,000 that Baraga County paid to Western U.P. in October for services before the administration switch. NorthCare is disputing that payment, saying the money should go toward future services.

Brugman said there were other concerns with Baraga’s request regarding providers that might be double-funded – NorthCare often allocates money from other funding streams to the same providers, and needs to be on the same page as counties regarding that money.

Some of the accounting is complicated, Brugman said, and several counties had issues with requests. For the most part, however, everyone is working together to get money to service providers as quickly as possible.

“It’s not a simple process,” she said. “There’s been a lot of change and a fair amount of confusion. We’re trying to move forward.”