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NEW CASTLE, PA. Counseling agency loses funds, faces closing



Published: Fri, August 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



About 100 clients and 11 employees would be displaced.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- A counseling agency for substance abusers will likely close this week because most of its service contracts were pulled by the Lawrence County Drug and Alcohol Commission.

Drug and Alcohol Community Treatment Services Inc., a nonprofit agency based on Highland Avenue, is losing about 60 percent, or nearly $300,000, of its funding, said Kathy Falkner, executive director.

The agency has 11 employees and about 100 clients. About 80 of those clients are in programs funded by the county's drug and alcohol commission, she added.

Falkner said her agency signed new contracts with the commission in July but learned last week that they were being terminated.

Commission's explanation

Judy Thompson, the commission's executive director, said her board of directors reviewed the services and decided the clients would be better served by other agencies.

She would not give further details about why the contracts were terminated.

DACTS handled four programs for the commission:

U Student Assistance Program, which identifies middle and high school children at risk for drug and alcohol problems.

U Jail counseling.

U Outpatient counseling.

U Partial counseling, a more intense program than outpatient counseling that includes daily sessions.

Thompson said her agency will hire four people to administer the student program out of the commission office. Outpatient counseling clients will choose from two other agencies that provide that service in Lawrence County, and a new agency will be chosen to do jail counseling, she said.

Thompson noted that no other agency provides partial counseling programs but those needing it can go to other counties.

Judy Martwinski, president of the DACTS board of directors, said she hopes to iron out some of the problems the commission had with DACTS and keep some of the programs.

Other contracts

If DACTS loses its contract with the commission, the remaining contracts for drug and alcohol counseling with other agencies will not keep it in business, she said.

Those agencies are Lawrence County Children and Youth Services, the federal government and a private insurance company, she said.

Martwinski said the boards of directors from DACTS and the commission met last week to discuss the problems.

"They gave us a long list of what they feel are infractions that we have created. Unfortunately, we weren't given a copy of the list, and Kathy [Falkner], as director of our program, would have had the answers they were looking for but was not permitted to attend the meeting," she continued.

Thompson said Falkner was not invited because the meeting was only for board members. Thompson left the meeting immediately after presenting the concerns to both boards of directors.

Thompson added that most of the concerns previously been relayed to the DACTS board and executive director.

Martwinski said her board members were not given a copy of the list at last week's meeting, but most complaints centered on staffing and fiscal problems at DACTS.

Reorganizing finances

Martwinski and Falkner admit the agency has had financial problems over the last several years, but had recently reorganized and was expected in the next three years to pay off a $21,000 deficit that had been incurred several years ago.

"This is the first year we had not gone to the [commission] to bail us out. We were gradually pulling ourselves out of the hole," Martwinski said.

Falkner added that the financial outlook was better than it had been for the past six years, and that they were even approved by the private insurance company to help its policyholders with drug- and alcohol-related problems.

"We wouldn't have acquired them if we weren't a viable organization," she said.

Effect on clients?

Martwinski said she's concerned about the nearly 80 drug and alcohol commission-funded clients DACTS handles.

There are only two other agencies that offer those services in the county.

One is operated by one person with a full caseload and the other is operated by a for-profit agency based in California, she said. Martwinski noted that DACTS has been in existence for at least 20 years.

Falkner said they expect to stop working with the nearly 80 clients funded through the commission Friday. It's unclear how long they will be able to continue working with the remaining clients from other programs, she added.

cioffi@vindy.com




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