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.
The future of Orange County's celebrated recycling program is before county commissioners tonight.
County commissioners will consider a number of proposals—including the widely-reviled prospect of privatization—when they meet at 7 p.m. in Hillsborough.
Expect a full story on the recycling program and its funding challenges in Wednesday's print edition of INDY Week, but in the meantime, sit in on tonight's meeting if you want an admittedly complicated primer. The program touts an unprecedented 59 percent waste reduction rate in the last two decades, but a 2012 court decision has put the program's funding in jeopardy.
Obtain tonight's agenda here.
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.
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.
Carrboro planners may have rebuffed a Family Dollar developer's designs for settling in an Alabama Avenue historic neighborhood, but local opponents of the discount store aren't breaking out the party hats and streamers just yet.
"We've been having these small victories," said community resident Anissa McLendon. "But we can't celebrate 100 percent, maybe we can celebrate about 80 percent."
McLendon, along with a band of fired-up neighbors, has led protests and even a march to stymie Raleigh-based builder Will Stronach's plans to build a 8,100-square-foot Family Dollar in the largely residential community.
The discount store would be built on less than an acre near the intersection of Alabama Avenue and Jones Ferry Road. Residents in the tightly-knit Alabama Avenue community have been largely unified for more than a year in their quest to jettison Family Dollar plans.
McLendon's guarded optimism comes after Carrboro Development Review Administrator Marty Roupe wrote in a July 20 letter that a builder plan to pipe drainage water off of the Alabama Avenue site clashes with town ordinances that development "shall conform to the natural contours of the land and natural drainage ways shall remain undisturbed."
By piping the drainage off-site, the builder hoped to avoid town rules requiring Stronach receive a variance from town regulations on an ephemeral stream, a temporary waterway created by precipitation. Carrboro land maps denote one such stream on the Alabama Avenue plot.
The builder contends a pipe running beneath a nearby convenience store "artificially" increases the flow on the Alabama Avenue tract, and that piping the flow to the town's drainage system on Jones Ferry Road would render the variance unnecessary.
Carrboro staff would not give their blessing.
The decision is the latest snag for Family Dollar, a Matthews-based chain that residents worried would beget heavy traffic and crime for the neighborhood. In June, Stronach—who did not return an Indy phone call this week—withdrew his application after the Carrboro Board of Adjustment rejected the stream variance. Reps for the builder have been inquiring about his options with town staff in the weeks since.
Following Family Dollar's latest defeat, McLendon said Tuesday that locals hope the developer gets the message. "Maybe they will just go find another lot that would be suitable for their needs," she said.
Family Dollar foes hope to deal another blow to the proposal in September, which is when officials on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen are expected to consider rezoning the Alabama Avenue tract for residential uses. The move would require any future commercial development plans go before the town's elected leaders for rezoning.
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.”
Talk of teaming up, including a possible merger, riled the community for 18 months. The Raleigh-based YMCA of the Triangle, which runs a dozen Piedmont-area YMCAs, does not list sexual orientation as a protected class in employment materials.
Jennifer Trapani, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro YMCA Board of Directors, said the decision to no longer seek a partnership was mutual. The controversy played a part in the discussions, but it was not the only factor in Friday's announcement.
"Our community is obviously very important to us. Our YMCA is an organization for our community, so we were trying to listen to everyone's comments and concerns openly," she said.
"We were very convinced that they are not an organization that discriminates at all, but still, the uneasiness from our community made them and us concerned."