As an addendum to today's story, Cardinal Innovations spokeswoman Rachel Porter confirmed after deadline Tuesday that her agency—known in official lingo as a managed care organization—does indeed receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
That information is key because it confirms the state-funded Cardinal Innovations, formerly known as Piedmont Behavioral Health, is subject to the findings of a federal investigation into whether Cardinal has broken federal law by denying mental health care reimbursements for the treatment of undocumented immigrants in its 15-county service area, which includes Orange and Chatham counties.
As reported in today's INDY Week, HHS' Office for Civil Rights is probing the Kannapolis-based organization. Latino advocates say Cardinal's policy is effectively cutting off treatment for the undocumented community, a possible violation of federal discrimination laws.
Managed care organizations such as Cardinal Innovations are tasked with disbursing state mental health care dollars for the treatment of low-income residents. Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for Medicaid cash. But the state has deployed an alternate form of funding, known as integrated payment and reporting system (IPRS) dollars, to cover Medicaid gaps in the past.
Activists say Cardinal Innovations is declining the use of IPRS funds for that purpose today, and the impact has been felt in nonprofit organizations such as El Futuro that offer mental health care and substance abuse treatment for the undocumented community.
If the Office for Civil Rights inquiry finds Cardinal Innovations in the wrong, Cardinal can be forced to alter its policy or risk losing federal funding. Porter could not specify how much HHS funding the agency receives as of Tuesday night.
It may have taken a few decades, but the landfill-blighted Rogers Road community in Chapel Hill is getting some recompense.
Orange County commissioners unanimously approved a vote Tuesday night authorizing County Manager Frank Clifton to award a construction bid for no more than $650,000 to build a long-promised community center in the historically black, low-income neighborhood. Officials said construction could begin this summer with hopes of having the center open by summer 2014. It coincides with a plan to close the county landfill at June's end.
"It's a great opportunity for our kids to learn that, through perseverance, anything can be done," said David Caldwell Jr., organizer for the community center.
Commissioners seemed spurred last year to make progress on the center when Chapel Hill officials moved in August to close a Purefoy Drive home that Rogers Road residents had made into something of a makeshift center. Town leaders cited permitting and building code concerns for shutting down the center.
The new center will be situated on a roughly half-acre plot near the intersection of Purefoy Drive and Edgar Street. It is expected to include classrooms, a kitchen and a computer lab.
Addendum: It seems that Cardinal Innovation's approach on mental health care for the undocumented community is not unique.
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Julie Henry notified INDY Week after its print deadline Tuesday that undocumented immigrants are only eligible for emergency service coverage under Medicaid rule, echoing the comments of Cardinal leaders in today's story. That indicates managed care organizations such as Cardinal—which is charged with dispensing public dollars for mental health treatment—are following the rule statewide to deny Medicaid reimbursements to providers treating mental illness among undocumented residents.
Today's story investigates the impacts of the policy on the undocumented community and general public health—in particular, the impacts on nonprofits such as El Futuro that provide mental health services for the undocumented and Latino population. An El Futuro board member argues that the rule is stressing nonprofit finances and may clash with federal laws that order healthcare providers to offer services regardless of citizenship.
It is unclear whether federal law requires a denial for undocumented reimbursements. Medicaid is a joint spending venture primarily paid for by the federal government, but many North Carolina lawmakers have been targeting Medicaid for cuts since state spending peaked at higher than $3 billion in 2009.
Cardinal Innovations serves a 15-county region in the state that includes Orange and Chatham counties.
Expect a swift—and angry—response on this one.
The N.C. Court of Appeals released its opinion today in the case of Laurence Alvin Lovette, one of two men convicted of killing UNC-Chapel Hill Student Body President Eve Carson in 2008. The high-profile murder case was one of the most notorious in UNC-Chapel Hill's history.
According to Tuesday's court opinion, Lovette is due a resentencing because of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last summer in Miller v. Alabama. The nation's highest court ruled then that a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment" if the defendant was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime. Lovette was 17 when Carson was murdered.
The state court opinion vacated Lovette's sentence and ordered the trial court to "determine the appropriate sentence" for Lovette.
Read former INDY Week writer Matt Saldaña's 2008 Front Porch feature on Carson here.
You might have seen this one coming.
Chapel Hill Town Council members on Wednesday tapped former (well, not anymore) Councilwoman Sally Greene to fill the panel's vacant seat. The seat has been open since Penny Rich departed to join the Orange County Board of Commissioners last month.
Greene seemed the frontrunner coming into Wednesday's meeting. She was a popular councilwoman from 2003 until 2011, when she stepped down reportedly to focus on her work at UNC's Center for the Study of the American South.
Town leaders were also expected to be under pressure to appoint a woman to replace Rich, because Rich's departure left only two women, Laurin Easthom and Donna Bell, on the nine-member council.
George Cianciolo, a Duke University associate research professor who co-chaired development of Chapel Hill 2020, initially seemed the favorite when he announced his interest last year. But Cianciolo bowed out and threw his support behind the former councilwoman in November when Greene indicated she would apply for the seat.
Greene was one of 11 seeking the vacant seat. In her application, Greene said she would focus on affordable housing, the public library and local homelessness. Read her application in full here.
A plus-sized UNC advisory board—beset with controversy before the first gavel—convened for the first time Wednesday, mulling over the state universities' curriculum and changing demographics.
The UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions, which includes 31 leaders in education, business and politics, is expected to consider the future of the state's 17 public universities, but its makeup garnered more headlines than its actual charge before Wednesday's session.
Critics are fired up over a handful of appointments, including the selection of publicly right-tilting businessmen like Art Pope and Fred Eshelman. UNC Board of Governors Chairman Peter Hans and UNC President Tom Ross made the appointments.
Pope, CEO of Variety Wholesalers Inc., has spent millions on conservative think tanks, advocacy groups and political campaigns backing right-wing causes. Ditto for Eshelman, a pharmaceutical bigwig who spent $3 million launching the conservative Rightchange.com. UNC-Chapel Hill's pharmacy school is named for Eshelman.
In Pope's case, he's also been a vocal advocate for charter schools and his groups have lobbied for budget cuts for public schools.
Neither played much part in the early proceedings Wednesday, with Pope arriving just before noon for a meeting that began at 9:30 a.m.
The commitee also includes the appointment of legislative leaders like powerful Republicans Thom Tillis and Phil Berger. Berger is president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate. Tillis is speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives. Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a Durham Democrat, is also a member of the committee.
Committee leaders are facing pressure to include more student and faculty representation on the panel. Wednesday's roll call included one UNC student and one faculty member, although officials have indicated more members may be appointed.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, who announced last week that he would end his scandal-plagued tenure next spring, said little Wednesday, although at one point prior to the committee session, a faculty member could be heard pleading with Thorp to change his mind about his resignation.
Committee members heard a presentation Wednesday morning from UNC-Chapel Hill business professor James Johnson Jr., whose overview of prevailing demographic trends in North Carolina showed the state's universities can expect radical change in student population in the coming years.
According to Johnson, North Carolina's Hispanic population grew by 829 percent from 1990 to 2007. In that time frame, the Asian population grew by 332 percent. Compare that to growth among white and black residents—127 percent and 133 percent, respectively.
"They're going to be far more diverse," Johnson said.
Johnson also urged leaders to focus efforts on narrowing the gender gap in academic achievement, pointing out boys and men are struggling mightily in the job market and academics compared to their female counterparts.
"This is imminently fixable," Johnson said. "And if we don't fix it, we're going to be in trouble."
The advisory committee is expected to present its recommendations to the UNC Board of Governors in January.
Chancellor Holden Thorp—beset by academic and athletic scandal in his short tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill—seems to at least have a chunk of the university's employees in his corner.
The school's Employee Forum, a group representing university staff, is holding a "peaceful" rally supporting the troubled chancellor this morning in front of South Building, the school's administrative HQ.
Thorp announced Monday that he would step down from his post at the close of the 2012-13 academic year after two years of an athletic scandal that began with the school's football program and expanded into the academic sphere.
In a statement Tuesday, the forum expressed "heartfelt dismay" at Thorp's decision, urging UNC President Tom Ross, the UNC board of trustees and the UNC System Board of Governors to back Thorp.
"We have found a true friend in Chancellor Thorp since he began working with us in 2008," the statement said. "Chancellor Thorp is a leader and visionary who has greatly improved working conditions for staff."
The forum credited Thorp with raising employee wages, addressing longstanding troubles in the university's housekeeping department, increasing efficiency in the university and allowing "unprecedented access to him and his office."
The forum is also circulating petitions urging the chancellor to reconsider his resignation. The petitions will be available to sign from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in the UNC-Chapel Hill Pit, Wilson Library and South Building.
Today's rally is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at South Building.
Dueling petitions regarding the chancellor are already circulating on social media websites like Facebook. One, simply titled "Fire Holden Thorp," had 1,458 likes as of Friday morning, as well as a smattering of anti-Thorp messages.
Another Change.org petition directed at Ross urges the system president to reject Thorp's resignation. As of Friday morning, 54 people had signed the petition.
After years of much-bemoaned inactivity on the touchy subject of Rogers Road, leaders in Orange County seem to be on the move these days.
Two weeks ago, Orange County commissioners passed a sweeping resolution to pledge $500,000 for a long-sought community center in the low-income neighborhood vexed by an aging landfill. That comes after Chapel Hill leaders closed neighbors' makeshift community center on Rogers Road last month over numerous fire safety concerns.
Tonight, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will take up a proposal to provide public sewer to the community.
Extending sewer service to Rogers Road residents would cost approximately $5.8 million, according to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA). It's unclear how leaders in Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will divvy up the cost.
The sewer proposal comes from a task force of local government leaders and members of the Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association (RENA). Cost-sharing plans include dividing up expenses based on population, landfill usage and tax revenues.
There has been no consensus yet on how to pay the sewer bill, but officials acknowledge the need. Rogers Road residents blame health ailments and polluted water on the landfill, which was built prior to more modern regulations requiring dump lining to prevent harmful contents from seeping into the groundwater.
Rogers Road has been the landfill site for local governments for 40 years, after initially agreeing to house the dump for a decade. Leaders have postponed closing the landfill for years. County commissioners now say they will shut down the site next year.
Tonight's Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall.
Embattled UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp is on the way out.
WRAL reported Monday morning that Thorp will step down at the close of the 2012-13 academic year, ending a watch that has been plagued by allegations of academic improprieties, primarily associated with the school's football program.
The school confirmed the news in a press release later Monday morning. This comes after Thorp met privately Friday with the UNC Board of Governors, the panel in charge of the state's public universities. The release said Thorp on Sunday told UNC President Tom Ross of his plans to resign.
"I will always do what is best for this university," Thorp said in the release. "This wasn't an easy decision personally. But when I thought about the university and how important it's been to me, to North Carolinians and to hundreds of thousands of alumni, my answer became clear."
Thorp has held the position since 2008. A UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and former chemistry professor, Thorp was among the youngest university leaders in the nation when he accepted the chancellor's post at the age of 43.
But the school's reputation has been sullied in the last two years by allegations of improper benefits for football players, as well as an ongoing investigation into academic misconduct—including altered grades and infrequently-taught courses—in the university's Department of African or Afro-American Studies. The classes in question were popular among UNC athletes.
Most recently, the school has been in the headlines over accusations of improper travel spending among UNC fundraisers.
Thorp acknowledged the UNC scandals in Monday's release.
"Over the last two years, we have identified a number of areas that need improvement," he said. "We have a good start on reforms that are important for the future of this university. I have pledged that we will be a better university, and I am 100 percent confident in that."
Ross said he would work with UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees Chairman Wade Hargrove to find a successor to Thorp.
The Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School is a long shot to open in August. Its founders are struggling to find a suitable temporary location for the school as they navigating the zoning approval process for a permanent site.
Amid opposition from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools board and the local NAACP, the North Carolina State Board of Education approved fast-track status for the Lee School in February, clearing the way for the group to open later this year.
But now, as a backup plan, they say, the school’s brass has submitted a request to the state to open in 2013.
Danita Mason-Hogans, a member of the Lee board of directors, said the group identified one site in Chapel Hill and one in Carrboro but neither area was zoned for a school. She said she did not know the exact locations.
“There are some problems with both of the spaces based on the number of students we’d like to have in the school,” she said. “We had full intentions of opening in August. Now it looks like that may be put on hold.”