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State pulls funding for Fairbanks Community Behavioral Health Center

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:27 pm, Thu Sep 5, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The state plans to void its grant to the financially troubled Fairbanks Community Behavioral Health Center next week, shifting the responsibility for local mental health services to an Anchorage-based organization instead.

The move comes a week after the board of directors for the local health center voted to pursue bankruptcy after an audit determined it had only enough money to remain open through mid-September.

The health center is $1.2 million in debt and has been staggered by a series of financial problems in the past year. Board members said they learned of the scope of the troubles in May, when the organization struggled to meet payroll for its roughly 60 employees.

With the future of the Fairbanks health center in question, the Alaska Division of Behavioral Health decided to pull its funding for the organization, effective Sept. 13. At that point, Anchorage Community Mental Health Services will oversee local care.

Jake Poole, the new interim executive director for the Fairbanks health center, said he expects the center’s employees will retain their jobs through the transition.

Poole praised the Anchorage center’s willingness to step in during troubled times and said he expects the changes will be “minimal” for local mental health clients. The Fairbanks organization serves more than 1,000 clients in the area each year.

“From what I can tell in this short period of time, it’s really going to be seamless,” Poole said.

Poole, a former University of Alaska Fairbanks administrator, began his temporary role with the health center on Tuesday. He plans to serve as interim director for the next month while the center navigates the transition.

Many of the details behind the transition still are hazy, he said.

The biggest involves the impending bankruptcy for the health center, which could happen as early as Saturday. If the organization is forced to liquidate its assets, facilities that include the main center on South Cushman Street face an uncertain future.

Poole said it’s also too early to explain why the board didn’t know earlier about the ongoing financial problems. He said the state launched a forensic audit Tuesday to answer that question.

The Anchorage center will oversee local mental health services until at least June 30, 2014, when the state will accept proposals to take over. Poole hinted that the eventual solution could be to permanently shift some administrative services outside Fairbanks.

“You can’t be everything to everyone, everywhere,” he said. “There just aren’t enough people to do that.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.

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