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Hearing drills down into compliance strategy

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by Janjeera Hail

Guam - A hearing was held this morning to discuss the federal management team's plan to improve services at the Department of Mental Health.  And if the team gets its way, there are big changes on the horizon for an agency that's been plagued with shortcomings.  It's been six months since Federal Judge Consuelo Marshal appointed Dr. James Kiffer and Attorney James Casey to the federal management team to ensure Mental Health's compliance with an amended permanent injunction.

Their plan to improve services to consumers was finally unveiled this morning and Dr. Kiffer says it'll be a departure from the old style of doing things.  He told KUAM News, "Sending professionals to the homes and trying to do everything in the homes hasn't been working. That's what possibly ended up causing this lawsuit. So thinking outside the box we had to figure some way to build a set of services and a place to provide them so the consumers would get the most out of them."

They're proposing building a center wholly dedicated to providing treatment, training, and care, envisioned as a place consumers can go to during the week, much like work or school. Plans have already been drawn up to build the structure on DISID-owned land across from JFK High School, and the team says the project is shovel-ready.  They're also hoping to receive "underserved" status soon, a designation that will help secure the $11.6 million to fund construction which is expected to begin by next year.

Dr. Kiffer said, "When we get the underserved we move to a higher priority under the USDA loan programs and we think at that point we'll have the center funded through USDA."

The team also wants to hire and train 118 more staff, including occupational and behavioral therapists, psychiatrists, and 31 personal care attendants.  Said Casey, "It's a position that doesn't exist here on island at present and we think that true communal integration - getting people out into the community settings, out of residential group homes, certainly out of institutions like the adult inpatient unit, but perhaps with the assistance of a personal care attendant - could be realized."

The entire plan is scheduled to run 36 months, starting yesterday, and cost about 24 million dollars - that includes salaries, construction, and operating costs over the next three years, after which costs will be folded back into the general fund and control will go back into the hands of the department officials like director Wilfred Aflague.  He told KUAM News, "I anticipate that from their point of view, they'd want me there as a director of the agency because as they've pointed out, they're only going to be here for three years so the agency will need a leader for continuity purposes."

But not everyone's satisfied.  Attorney for the plaintiffs Daniel Sommerfleck wants to look at the fine print before he weighs in, saying, "I won't know until I look at the plan."

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