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Community Concepts takes over Child Health Center
OXFORD — On Tuesday night, Community Concepts (CC) voted to take over the beleaguered Child Health Center (CHC), which has provided social services to thousands of area children for the last 30 years.
Richard Card, the chief operating officer of CC says that the group hopes to largely maintain both services and staff.
"We're really thrilled and pleased that we'll be able to continue the services, and continue to provide the jobs to the good people at Child Health Center," said Card.
CHC offers three different major programs, including pediatric services to children with disabilities, adolescent mentoring, and counseling and support for young parents.
"What we're hoping to preserve is the Specialized Pediatric Therapies, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and Parent Place," said Card.
Parent Place, which provides prenatal and parent education to adolescents and young adults under age 22, will be the most affected by the transition.
"We're hopeful that the services will be able to continue, but CC will not be operating that program in both Androscoggin County and Oxford County," said Card.
Instead, said Card, at least some of the programming will likely be provided by a different agency.
Card said that the staff at CHC will see only minor changes. According to CHC Executive Director Greg Armandi, the organization currently employs 47 people.
"I don't think it will be accurate to say that no staff will be impacted," said Card. "However, the plan is that the vast majority of staff who are currently providing those services will continue to do that. There may be some slight changes in the program structures that will need to be considered."
Card said that CC's intervention is good news for staff and service recipients, who were seriously threatened by CHC's financial problems.
"The timing couldn't be better for this," said Card. "It's a joyous thing that kids and families are going to continue to receive these services, and maintaining jobs has also been an important consideration for this agency."
In October, CHC was forced to shut down its Oxford-based Child Care program, which had been opened in 2007 and which served 55 area children. That same month, it reached out to CC for help in maintaining its remaining programs.
"We're a $2 million outfit, they're a $40 million outfit, so they have some resources of advice and counsel that they can provide to us," said State Representative Tom Winsor, who also serves as a board member for CHC.
Card says that the CHC board has been critical to the success of the transition.
"Community Concepts is grateful to the Child Health Center board and its leadership. The management group there is helping us to create this plan for the continuation of services. They've been wonderful to work with, and we're really impressed with the quality of the services they provide to kids. Without their full cooperation and their generosity with their time, this could not have happened."
"It's so evident how committed the staff is to providing the services," said Card. "It's touching."
The coming weeks and months contain many logistical obstacles to be overcome, said Card, including the renegotiation of CHC's existing agreements to allow CC to legally continue the provision of services.
"It will certainly be well worth it in the end to have preserved these services and jobs," said Card.
Card said that the community can help by simply understanding that the transition is taking place, and doing anything they can to support individual kids, staff members, and families while the transition is happening.
"It's not anybody's fault really," said Winsor. "We had a whole series of things that happened to us."
The reasons for the crisis, says Winsor, are diverse, and not at all unique to CHC.
"Small nonprofits in Maine are under a lot of stress," said Winsor. "There are changing rules. Funding sources are primarily through state and federal government programs, and those programs are oversubscribed and underfunded."
Card said that CC has a lot of depth in the field of financial management for a nonprofit. Card gives CHC credit for their efforts.
"They have over a 30-year experience in running high quality programs," said Card. "They ended up finding themselves in some difficulty, and rather than closing their doors and terminating services, they were looking for assistance."
"I've worked worked with many nonprofits," said Winsor. "They're always hand to mouth. There's no big savings account to draw on."
"These small nonprofits are always running right on the edge," said Winsor. "There's been a couple of them closed locally. There's lots of reasons why this happens, but in the end, the Mainecare reimbursements are expecting them to provide more with less," said Winsor.
"When it looked like we had a severe cash problem, we could not continue to rob Paul to pay Peter," said Winsor. "No matter how good your business is, you can't take in less money than you pay out."
The crisis first became apparent as a cash-flow problem precipitated by policy changes that affected the organization's ability to bill and be paid in a timely manner.
"Obviously, we've had some issues," said Winsor. "It came to a head because we were slow getting reimbursed. The state changed some accounting procedures, and Child Development Services, one of our major funding sources, underwent a policy change."
"We've done a marvelous job of making sure that our accounts receivables, we think we've found the roadblock of why we weren't being reimbursed in a timely manner, and we think we've addressed it," said Winsor.
"As state finances have become stressed, they have been slower paying than they're accustomed to," said Winsor. "That is one of the factors that has caused us some financial stress."