Government, Sanctuary at odds over "reasonable" cost of services - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Government, Sanctuary at odds over "reasonable" cost of services

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - In less than 60 days, Sanctuary will run out of money for its Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program that services more than 250 of the island's youth. Officials are unable to agree on how much it costs to provide the services.

Executive director of Sanctuary Millie Lujan stated, "The Legislature and the governor need to ensure that we get adequate funding for drug and alcohol treatment in general across the board, not just for adolescents but for adults as well." But that's easier said than done for Sanctuary. Lujan and her staff have been trying to get adequate funding for years. It costs upwards of $2 million to keep the organization running each year, but Sanctuary officials have been operating at less than $1.8 million for the last year. And when it comes to funding for being the sole provider of drug and alcohol treatment services for the island's teens, Sanctuary has repeatedly asked for $690,000, but only received $320,000 for the last several years.

Lujan says the costs have gone up significantly, noting, "We transport them to and from, we feed them three meals a day, they're with us 24/7 so all the costs have gone up.  We have to maintain our facilities. Our vehicles, so all of that has gone up and in addition to the matrix model is a very comprehensive model."

Under a contract with the government back in 2011, Sanctuary billed approximately $26,000 every month.  In the last year, that figure has gone up and Sanctuary bills that amount every two weeks. Rey Vega said, "If they continue to bill us $26,000, it would translate to about $633,000 a year, which is almost twice as much as we're paying. Comparatively speaking except for age grouping other services can provide that at a very lower cost." As Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center director, Vega says he cannot pay sanctuary above what is legally appropriated because he would be held criminally liable.

"So my issue is what is the reasonable cost of running that department or providing the service for Guam kids?  That's the issue and I don't believe the number that they're throwing me is reasonable," he shared.

Earlier this week Sanctuary put Vega on notice that effective April 1, they would no longer be accepting any new clients to the program and without any additional funding, they would be forced to shut the doors to their drug and alcohol services, and layoff employees. Vega maintains his department is capable of providing the services should sanctuary stop. It's just another issue of contention between the two entities. Vega told KUAM News, "Within a week I could take care of them." Asked if he has the expertise and staffing now," he added, "In fact, we have certified staff quite qualified to do it."

Lujan said, "They say that they are capable but I truly believe they are not. They don't have the expertise or the background we are the only accredited drug and alcohol program in the region. We are the sole provider for drug and alcohol treatment for adolescents on Guam and in region."

Both Vega and Lujan are willing to keep working on the numbers so that Sanctuary can provide the services, but whether they'll be able to resolve the matter before March 31 remains to be seen. Sanctuary officials say they need an additional $220,000 to continue providing the Drug and Alcohol Program services through the end of this fiscal year.

Healthcare committee chair Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. will bring the parties together on Thursday in an effort to resolve the impasse.  After months of discussion back and forth and without a contract in place, the senator says it is time for everyone to get on the same page. "If Sanctuary can't do it because they don't have the resources to do it one way or another we have to have this program continue. It's my personal opinion that the non-profit, Sanctuary has been there, has been doing it and should be given the tools to continue to do it," he said.

Rodriguez says if additional funding is necessary for sanctuary then he will work with his colleagues to find the additional resources needed to keep the services for the island's youth going.

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