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January 23, 2014

Cambria crisis services to be outsourced

EBENSBURG —  At the regular Cambria County commissioners meeting Thursday night at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, administrators said the county’s crisis intervention services would be outsourced.

A request for proposals is to be submitted.

According to administrator Tracy Selak, Cambria is one of few counties in the state that is still a primary provider of services including 24/7 telephone support for those at risk of suicide, mobile crisis support for other emergencies, administrative case management for about 2,700 county residents, community residential rehabilitation and group home placements.

The almost 20-year program head said the decision was not made lightly.

The change is the result of a drop in general call volume, loss of staff through attrition and budget cuts on the state level. Selak said the center averages about three calls a day.

On overnight shifts, there might only be one call. She also estimated that the center has an annual operating cost of $500,000.

“At one time, we had 154 employees,” she said.

“As of two weeks ago, we were down to 53 employees, management and otherwise.”

She added those positions haven’t been filled, partially because of the commissioners’ expectations that Cambria will be bumped down from a fourth-class county to a fifth-class county within the next five years. The staff size must stay in line with the county population. She said those currently employed with the unit can expect their jobs to transition to the new provider.

Selak said she’s hopeful that the bids can be opened sometime in February, with a decision on the new provider to be made by the end of March. But, given the paperwork between now and then, she said a more “realistic” projection would be six months from now.

The new provider also must adhere to certain requirements that the former county services upheld, such as 24/7 coverage, maintaining a mobile crisis unit and a branch office in the county, if the bid is awarded to an outside provider.

“We still want to be able to provide as much service as we can,” she said. “(The state government) has an expectation of us locally, so we have an expectation of them.”

Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkowski was also on hand to plug the job that Selak and her employees do, which he considers a “fantastic” asset to his office and other emergency response crews.

“Whenever we get to the scene of a traumatic injury, the family, naturally, is distraught,” he said.

“While they’re supporting the families, it allows us to do our work and it just makes everything work a lot smoother. Plus, it cuts down on the trauma of the families.

“They’ve done a great job over the years and I hope they keep doing it.”

The commissioners also adopted a resolution that pushes the county past the funding stages for a new 911 antenna in the Ashville, Gallitzin and Dean Township service area.

The new equipment should drastically improve emergency communication in an area that has been plagued by spotty 911 radio reception, according to Steve Ettien, the county’s chief clerk.

A successful grant proposal of $30,400 and a five-year loan of $49,900 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Service were accepted to fund the project.

On a lighter note, President Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder invited all residents to a party honoring the county’s 210th birthday, from 3 to 6 p.m. on March 26 at the Cambria County Courthouse. He said a host of activities are planned, including informational videos and a tentative appearance from the state’s gubernatorial office.

“I hope to see each and every one of you there,” he said.

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/ JustinDennis.

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