Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner today announced that a recent audit revealed that complex procedures and internal deficiencies in the County’s Department of Human Services (DHS) could cause dysfunctions in the facilitation of mental health services in Allegheny County. District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Controller Wagner joined forces to investigate and initiate an audit of DHS’ contracted work with Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic’s (WPIC) re:solve Crisis Network program and found that tighter controls are needed to ensure that County residents receive the help they need when experiencing a mental health crisis, particularly in the case of involuntary commitments, also known as a “302.”
WPIC’s re:solve program provides 24-hour mental health crisis intervention and stabilization services for residents of Allegheny County through telephone, mobile and walk-in services as well as residential crisis stays at its 333 North Braddock Avenue location. For fiscal year 2013, WPIC’s annual contract totaled $14.4 million to provide services through more than 50 programs, and re:solve’s funding under this contact totaled approximately $4.4 million.
“While conducting our audit, we found internal deficiencies that could potentially result in people being left untreated. It is my responsibility, as the County Controller, to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent in the manner in which it is intended. I’ve been committed to improving health care and mental health services in our region and I will continue to work to bring quality health care to all Allegheny County residents, especially those that are often underrepresented and underserved.”
An involuntary 302 commitment is an application for emergency evaluation and treatment for persons who are “dangerous” to themselves or others due to mental illness. The involuntary commitment process in Allegheny County is complex and involves multiple entities, including the police departments, the Sheriff’s Office, physicians and DHS. Police officers and physicians are able to authorize a 302 commitment on their own, outside of the DHS process. Otherwise, DHS staff coordinates the process – from authorizing a 302 involuntary commitment warrant, to facilitating the process of services, to alerting the Sheriff’s Office and Pennsylvania State Police about a commitment so that the person cannot possess, use, manufacture, control, sell or transfer firearms. As such, it is imperative that DHS operates at an optimum level.
The Controller’s audit found gaps in paperwork processes, incomplete call logs and insufficient tracking of 302 authorization warrants, leading Wagner to call on DHS to strengthen its controls surrounding documentation of the 302 involuntary commitment process. These internal deficiencies cause breaks in the process, that could result in residents in need to fall through the cracks and not receive the help they need. As too many are aware, when left untreated, mental illness can lead to violence, addiction, incarceration and more. Mental health services, including involuntary evaluation and commitment, can help save a person’s life, as well as the lives of others, as seen in the Shick incident in March 2012.
The audit also found that re:solve overbilled DHS $15,604, which has since been repaid, and that it needs to strengthen internal policies and documentation regarding confiscated illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia and weapons.
After meeting with District Attorney Stephen Zappala in May 2013 and discussing concerns about the efficacy of mental health programs being provided by WPIC and DHS, Wagner launched an audit of the contract between the two entities. The audit, and Controller Wagner’s recommendations, can be found here. This audit is the Controller’s latest work to fight to bring quality health care and mental health services to Allegheny County residents, following a call on Corizon to provide better care to Allegheny County Jail inmates and encouraging Governor Corbett to restore state-funded health services in Allegheny County that are allocated for mental health.