OPINION: ‘Bill To Do Away With Statewide Prevention’

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Opinion Article by R. Keith Hotle, J.D., MPA

At today’s third reading of the budget bill, the Wyoming House of Representatives will be asked to approve a last-minute budget amendment filed by Representative Tom Walters (Natrona)  that reads: “for the period beginning July 1, 5 2017 and ending June 30, 2018, no funds shall be expended for the purposes of third-party, statewide prevention management administration within the substance abuse and suicide prevention unit.”

This amendment seeks to legislate the Wyoming Department of Health’s ability to allocate funding and administer substance abuse and suicide prevention services in the manner it deems most effective and efficient. It’s bad law and public policy, raised in a manner clearly intended to stifle any sort of credible review and debate.

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As some of you are aware, Representative Walters has attempted on multiple occasions in previous sessions to enact legislation in various forms that would prevent WDH from using a statewide prevention management organization. He has repeatedly claimed over the years (without ever offering supporting facts) that the current model isn’t working, spends too much money on administration and management, and duplicates services.

With all due respect, those statements are simply false.

The statewide prevention model has been far more effective than the former system in producing outcomes that save lives and make communities safer and healthier.  All the relevant problem areas – underage drinking, cigarette use, substance abuse – are trending in the right direction.  Almost 45,000 people have been trained in suicide prevention in less than five years.  Of those trained, 44% have used their training to help someone in crisis. The attached fact sheet provides specific information on how well substance abuse and suicide prevention has worked under the current system.

The statewide prevention system (specifically the PMO as its fiscal agent) actually has the lowest percentage of administrative and management costs ever – less than 10% of operating costs.  By comparison, the former system had agencies charging upwards of 20% for similar costs.

The current prevention system does not duplicate services. Never has.  Never will. We do provide services that other agencies used to under the old system (and we do them better and less expensively). That’s not duplication – it’s our job and we do it well.  We employ the finest and most highly qualified professionals working in every community in Wyoming. Every prevention strategy in every county was decided upon and approved by community coalitions and the Wyoming Department of Health.

It’s worth considering why this legislation is being raised as a last-minute amendment the night before the third reading of the budget bill.  If Representative Walters truly was interested in having the merits of the statewide prevention system debated as a matter of policy (as they have been many times in the past), why not submit a bill to the LSO pursuant to established procedures that could be subject to input and scrutiny? Our elected officials are responsible for the appropriate use of the legislative process.  Is this really the right vehicle to decide whether to dismantle an entire public health system it has taken years to build and improve on.

The PMO was the subject of extensive discussion at the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee meeting held last December. None of the concerns voiced by Representative Walters were raised, much less validated.

Per motion made by Representative Walters actions on the Joint Appropriations Committee, the budget for this program has already been slashed by $2.1 million for the next fiscal year, thereby crippling substance abuse and suicide prevention efforts in Wyoming.

If passed, this budget amendment will further undermine prevention. The end result will be less effective services, higher costs, and ultimately harm the citizens of Wyoming who have benefitted from a statewide substance abuse and suicide prevention system that has demonstrated value and provided a return on investment every year since it began operating in 2012.

Thank you in advance for your consideration

R. Keith Hotle, J.D., MPA
Chief Executive Officer
Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming
(307) 262-2798