HERMISTON - The state's certification of Umatilla County's Mental Health Services expired Sunday, but the program is still serving clients while attorneys for both the county and state work out a temporary, conditional permit to allow it to continue operating.

The details were still being discussed today, said Commissioner Emile Holeman, but the county believes the conditional permit would give it 90 more days to appeal the state's decertification.

"It looks fairly promising, although we have quite a bit of work to do yet and some negotiating to do with some of the conditions," Holeman said.

In the meantime, the county is fighting another battle to hang on to its mental health program, which has been criticized by outside professionals for poor quality of care.

The county's primary funding source, the Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Inc., sent its own notice to the county a month ago, saying the county presented a liability and that it intended to break its $2 million contract with the county and transfer its funds to an alternative mental health care provider.

That hasn't happened yet, either, said Kevin Campbell, chief executive officer of GOBHI. But Campbell said the county's continued funding by GOBHI is dependent on two things: The state's approval of a temporary certificate and the county's appeal to GOBHI's executive board, which will be heard Oct. 12.

Between now and then, as long as the county retains approval from the state to operate, GOBHI will continue funding the program, Campbell said. However, if the county is not persuasive with GOBHI's executive board when it makes its appeal, GOBHI will still transfer its funding regardless of whether the county is still certified by the state.

According to Madeline Olsen, assistant administrator in the Oregon Department of Human Services Mental Health and Addiction Services, GOBHI has leeway to provide its funding to any provider within the county who is certified by the state (such as an organization) or licensed by the state (such as a doctor or a nurse).

"We don't tell them precisely who to contract with," Olsen said. "We tell them what the standards are."

Commissioner Holeman said he is sure the county's staff is feeling the strain of the situation but is working quickly "to get to the bottom line."

Charlie Carnes, mental health program director, said employees are trying to stay positive.

"We're moving forward," Carnes said. "Our position is that regardless of how this thing plays out, we need to serve the clients."

Umatilla County is the first county in Oregon to be in danger of losing its license to operate its mental health services. It has been under intense scrutiny by the state and GOBHI since a mental health review in August 2002.

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