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'We'll Never Get That Check': Community Regroups After Health Agency Collapses

Former Columbus Area staffers at a recent job fair.
Nick Evans
Former Columbus Area Integrated Health Services staffers at a recent job fair.

Former staffers from Columbus Area Integrated Health Services walk from booth to booth, surveying materials from various employers and service providers. The hastily-arranged job fair aims to connect workers with new positions after organization’s sudden closure two weeks ago.

William Mackey used to run the front desk, checking insurance and collecting co-pays. He says one of his paychecks bounced, and his most recent one is worthless. 

“Before we could even go cash it they told us not to go cash it—the account was froze,” Mackey says. “So today actually is a pay day, too, but we’ll never get that check. I turned in timesheets last Monday for time that people will never get paid for.”

CAIHS was a fixture on the city’s East Side for nearly 50 years, but all that unraveled after the non-profit took out a series of dubious loans. Now patients must find new providers, while the county looks for a new organization to fill the void. Like Mackey, many staffers are out of a job and scrambling to keep up with bills.

Mackey's wife also worked at CAIHS, so they’re out two incomes. After effectively working for a month with no pay, Mackey says they had to decide between paying rent and paying back the check-cashing company.

They paid their rent.

Job fair attendees voice frustration with the leadership at CAIHS, but most sound hopeful about their prospects. That wasn’t true for everyone, though. Pam Williamson has worked in mental health services for 20 years, but she says it might be time to change.

“I’ve been dislocated several times in the last, since 2015,” Williamson says. “So I’m just a little bit uneasy about getting another job in the field.”

When CAIHS closed its doors, the Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County (ADAMH) stepped in to pick up the pieces. CEO David Royer explains the organization was nearly $3 million in the hole as of June 30, 2018.

To dig their way out, management took out six loans with interest rates that Royer calls "predatory." Then they went to four other groups trying to consolidate that debt.

“I’m stunned by the depth of the financial failings and the decision making of this organization," Royer says, shaking his head.

ADAMH CEO David Royer
Credit Nick Evans / WOSU
ADAMH CEO David Royer

To take care of patients, Royer explains they started with the most acute needs and worked their way down from there. There’s still work to be done, but he says they’ve connected well over 500 of the roughly 1,500 patients with new providers.

ADAMH is also working to find a new provider to take over coverage of the East Side. Many of the clients CAIHS served are people of color, and Royer notes the population is at a disadvantage when it comes to getting mental health services. He says it’s important the new organization understands and reflects its community.

“We need to find a provider that is culturally competent culturally sensitive, that is supported through African leadership, supported by African American community, because the disadvantages people of color face when they have a mental illness is so pronounced,” Royer says.

Initial talks for a new service provider have already begun, and Royer is hopeful they can have an organization under contract by the end of summer.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.