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Supervisors Discuss Mental Health Bill Settlement

By Staff | Aug 9, 2011

An unpaid bill and who is responsible for paying it were addressed by the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors during their meeting on Aug. 2.

Maureen Sandberg, Palo Alto County Mental Health Director, initiated the discussion regarding a Palo Alto County resident’s mental health bill that was belatedly sent to the county for payment. The bill stems from a mental health commitment for the individual who was admitted to the hospital for health problems related to diabetes.

“This individual was in the hospital and not the mental health unit,” said Sandberg. “If someone is admitted to the mental health unit at the hospital, the CPC of that county is notified of the admittance right away because the county is responsible for paying it.”

Sandberg added that she had never received a phone call until two and a half months later about the matter.

“My opinion is, if she was in the hospital and not in the mental health unit, it’s the hospital’s problem,” Sandberg noted. “The hospital seems to think that the county should pay for it because it was a commitment. I don’t think that the mental health fund should pay for that hospital bill. I think it should come from some place else.

“The Clerk’s office and County Attorney’s office found out about this bill quite some time before I did, and I never heard anything about this bill mounting up. I wasn’t very happy about that,” concluded Sandberg.

Supervisor Leo Goeders asked where the individual was now.

“She’s in an apartment here in Emmetsburg with Home Health going in,” said Sandberg. “She persuaded the judge to let her go back home. She was in the nursing home at Ruthven Care Center, but she didn’t want to be there and thought that she could take care of herself.”

“Who pays for the apartment?” asked Supervisor Keith Wirtz.

“She does because she gets Social Security,” Sandberg answered.

Supervisor Ron Graettinger wondered what happens if the county chooses not to pay the bill.

“The County Attorney seems to think that they’ll file suit against the county if we don’t pay,” said Sandberg. “The total amount is $59,000, but our County Attorney has been talking to the hospital’s attorney and the attorney came back with a settlement amount of $45,000, and I told her that was too much.”

“I don’t think we should pay it,” said Graettinger.

“If we weren’t notified like we supposed to be, we shouldn’t have to pay it,” agreed Wirtz.

“According to the hospital, lots of phone calls were made to the Clerk’s office and the County Attorney’s office, but I never heard anything,” said Sandberg. “I assumed that Medicaid was either paying for it or she had moved back in with her sister.”

Auditor Gary Leonard wondered if the individual’s sister could be held responsible for the bill.

“The sister can’t be held responsible if it was court ordered,” noted Sandberg. “It was court ordered that she live with her sister, and it was court ordered that the sister find placement for her.”

According to Sandberg, the court order was written as a mental health commitment, but she was experiencing medical problems related to diabetes.

With no further discussion, the Supervisors called the County Attorney’s office and asked that County Attorney Lyssa Henderson attend the meeting to discuss the matter.

When Henderson arrived, the discussion was taken up again.

“Do we owe this bill?” Supervisor Ed Noonan asked Henderson.

“It would be an uphill battle,” said Henderson. “I think we have some good arguments on the side of not being responsible for all of it, but they argue that the only reason they accepted her was because they were court ordered to do so.”

Supervisor Jerry Hofstad suggested, “Put your legal expertise to work and tell them that we ain’t gonna pay it, and see what happens.”

“They’ll sue us,” said Henderson.

“Tell them we can pay some, but no where near what they want,” said Noonan.

“When I got the counter offer, the attorney said that he was only authorized to offer $45,000. He thinks he can get his client closer to $30,000. I told him that I don’t know if I can get the board to $30,000. If we are looking at settlement, it may be feasible to the board to swallow a higher amount if they would accept it being broken up over two budget years. I don’t know if that’s something they would consider,” said Henderson.

“I think we need to tell them that we weren’t properly notified,” said Wirtz.

“I told their attorney that,” Henderson said. “So we’re sticking with $15,000 for now?”

The board was in unanimous agreement on the amount, bringing the discussion to a close.