Mobile, Alaa. (and) — The city council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to approve a $298 million budget, rejecting a proposal to reprogram mental health funds earmarked for AlaPointe Health.
For several years, the city gave AltaPointe $600,000, which is mostly paid for the evaluation and treatment of patients sent by the Mobile County Probate court to Daphne Mental Health System’s EastPointe Hospital.
Scott Jones, District Six City Councilor, proposed canceling this contribution and giving it to the city’s Office of Resilience for distribution to mental health providers. But the council rejected it, with council members William Carroll and Joel Davis voting “no” and council members Gina Gregory, CJ Small and Cory Penn abstaining.
Jones then voted against the entire budget, the only council member to do so. But he vowed not to give up.
“This is day one,” he told FOX10 News after the vote. I will not stop this endeavor. People are not happy with this. And the facts that were hidden will come to light.”
The spending plan remains largely unchanged from the FY2023 budget Suggested by Mayor Sandy Stimpson. They include increases to the minimum wage and cost of living and an additional 2.5 percent increase for all city employees. The city will award its first merit pay raise in more than a decade in an effort to recruit and retain employees during a historically tight job market.
The budget also includes $63 million to improve streets, sidewalks, traffic lights and other infrastructure. Additionally, the budget has $7 million for so-called performance contracts for nonprofits.
This includes the $200,000 the council approved on Tuesday for ransom ministries to work with displaced populations. The additional money comes from cuts in budgets for Azalea City Golf Course, the Executive Department of Public Works and Youth Programs at Juilliard Elementary School, along with reduced transfers from the general fund to capital projects.
But the most contentious debate centered on AltaPointe, which Jones targeted last week to cut a $200,000 budget proposal. At that meeting, doctors and health care workers from AltaPointe appeared in front of the board dressed in white to show support for continuing to contribute fully.
Jones estimated that AltaPointe spent $34,000 on salary, diverting employees from patients.
“What it appears to me is not about $200,000,” he said during the meeting. “It’s about the monopoly they worry about.”
Jones generated annual profits for AltaPointe — $7.4 million in 2018, $7.2 million in 2019, and $11 million in 2020. He said the city’s $600,000 represents about 5 percent of the system’s revenue surplus and a tiny portion of its $140 total budget. Million dollars.
He said, “The money that the city gives them goes to the banks.” “It is not used for our services.”
Jones said the city’s contribution would be best spent on smaller organizations that need the money. He said he spoke with five organizations whose combined operating budgets are less than the excess revenue that AltaPointe enjoys. Despite those profits, he said, AltaPointe has scaled back services — such as when it merged with Mobile Arc in 2019. He said AltaPointe has since scaled back the services that Mobile Arc provides to the mentally challenged.
“What I see is an organization that is routinely and deliberately cutting out mental health care services to inflate its profits,” Jones said.
AltaPointe CEO Tuerk Schlesinger disputed the board member’s assertions. He said the annual earnings are misleading because they are partly due to the pension account. He also said the system is constantly using these funds to repair damaged buildings and equipment.
“We take care of the mentally ill — sometimes, they are the most troubled in those hospitals,” he said. They punch holes in the walls. They tear down walls, ceilings stick out. These things have to be fixed daily.”
Schlesinger said the BayPointe Hospital in mobile just got a new $1.5 million cap. He said the new position cost $1.2 million.
“That’s how nonprofits do,” he said. We can’t go to the bank and get a $10 million bond issue or a $20 million bond issue. We won’t be able to do that and take on this level of debt.”
Tappoint boss: More work, not less
Schlesinger said the $34,000 that Jones cited to describe the cost of employees who attended last week’s meeting was inaccurate. What’s more, he said, these workers rescheduled sick appointments and worked through their lunch breaks. As for the council member’s assurances that AltaPointe is cutting services for the mentally challenged, Schlesinger said that was a result of COVID-19 restrictions and changes in federal funding rules.
He said that AltaPointe is doing more, not less. He said he received 80,000 calls for new services last year and averages about 150 mental health patients in his hospitals.
“We are proud to have the best mental health system in this case, here at Mobile,” he said. “And also, on a national level, AltaPointe is seen as a national leader, and one of the three or four largest providers in the country.”
District 4 Council member Ben Reynolds said he had no problem with the Jones amendment transferring AlaPointe funds to the Office of Resilience. But he wondered if it would have a significant impact. He said that since the city administration believes AltaPointe should get the money, the money will end up there under a different process.
Reynolds said the AltaPointe is critical considering that district mobile hospitals have been “out of the mental health field” in recent years.
“I see AltaPointe as a partner for our city,” he said. “They do a lot for us. …You know, running hospitals is expensive. There is no doubt about that.
Council President CJ Small jokingly congratulated Jones for sticking to the traditions of District 6, referring to former longtime council member Peace Rich, who has developed a reputation as someone who isn’t afraid to take lonely positions. He said he abstained from voting on the Jones Amendment because he was concerned about its impact on the Mobile Police Department. But he added that he had heard many of the same concerns the council member expressed on Tuesday.
Addressing AltaPointe directly, he said: “The only thing I will ask is in the coming years, please prove yourself.”
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