A program that could help Medicaid-eligible people address mental health and chemical dependency issues won’t be launched anytime soon in Douglas County.

The Administration Committee denied funding Thursday, June 6, to help launch a Comprehensive Community Services program in Douglas County.

The program helps individuals of all ages live their best life by providing support to address needs related to mental health and substance use. It is intended to assist individuals in need of care outside of inpatient settings, but who may have ongoing needs that, if left unaddressed, could result in hospitalizations during times of crisis, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

As of Dec. 31, 2018, the latest data available, 7,543 individuals were enrolled in the 66 counties and three tribes where the program is available.

However, with the county’s Health and Human Services Department facing another deficit this year, committee members were reluctant to use the department’s reserve funds to cover administrative costs for the first year of the program.

The Department of Health and Human Services was seeking $285,000 of the approximately $360,000 Wisconsin Works (W2) reserve fund to assist a partner agency with unbillable administrative costs in the first year of the program. Those costs would be recouped during a year-end reconciliation and cover the agency’s administrative costs in subsequent years.

Only about $99,000 of those initial costs would be recovered by the county.

“It’s a good program,” said Pat Schanen, Health and Human Services director. She said it’s an investment in the community because it helps people address mental health and substance abuse disorders.

“Those reserve funds should have been used last year to balance the budget,” County Administrator Ann Doucette said. She said those reserves will be needed to balance the budget this year.

The Health and Human Services Department is already facing a $500,000 deficit this year, which is projected to climb to $2.1 million by year end.

“We just don’t have the money,” Supervisor Pat Ryan said. “And that’s the sad part.”

Ryan agreed it would be a good program for the county to have but said people on Medicaid would be not be overlooked because they do have the ability to go see a doctor.

“I’ll say this instead of Ann having to say it,” County Board Chairman Mark Liebaert said. “We may have to freeze wages. We may have to freeze hiring. We may have to lay off. We may have to implement a wheel tax. We’re going to have to make some really hard choices that we avoided making last year.”

He said if the county funds Comprehensive Community Services, that means the county has to look elsewhere to cover those costs and the deficit the county is already facing.

“This is a great program,”Liebaert said. “We should maybe think about it if we had money, but right now, we have a bigger problem.”