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Sarasota nonprofit braces for new state funding arrangement

Coastal Behavioral Healthcare has been in business since 1971, serving more than 6,000 people every year who are dealing with mental health and substance abuse disorders in Sarasota, Charlotte, DeSoto and Lee counties.

Yet there are changes on the nonprofit's organization horizon with ramifications for other similar community-based nonprofits statewide.

Coastal recently learned that the Florida Department of Children and Families, its primary funding source, and Central Florida Behavioral Health Network would not be automatically renewing its multimillion-dollar social services contract.

Instead, Coastal will have to competitively bid for future contracts.

At stake are a $3 million adult mental health crisis services contract that expires June 30, as well as $11 million in non-crisis service contracts to be put up to bid later this year.

That's according to Larry Lumpee, chief operating officer of Coastal.

Why the changes?

For one, according to a release from regional director Mike Carroll, DCF "was not satisfied" with Coastal's performance in a number of areas and had "serious concerns" with Coastal's ability to partner effectively with DCF and effectively engage its community partners.

Neither Lumpee nor Carroll would elaborate.

For another, the competitive bidding process signals a new arrangement that DCF and Coastal may use with other community-based nonprofits providing such services.

People in the profession are anxious to see how this new arrangement with Coastal shakes out.

That includes Mary Ruiz, president and chief executive officer at Manatee Glens.

"Because we're neighboring counties and these are vital safety net services, any disruption in care in Sarasota County is going to be felt immediately in Manatee County," she said. "The short time frame concerns me."

Jack Donoghue, a retired hospital administrator with almost 40 years in the healthcare field who serves as Coastal's chairman of the board of directors and interim president, would not comment on the DCF statement.

"We do a great job," Donoghue said.

Nor would he comment on the recent resignation of Coastal president and chief executive Jerry Thompson.

What Donoghue did say is Coastal will be ready for the challenge.

"In the past contracts were a three-year term -- one year with two-year renewal, which were extended with little competition," he said. "But this is an overall change in the way contracts are implemented. It's our understanding that moving forward it will be more consistent with the conventional bid process as the state does in other procurement areas."

It's economic reality, he said.

"It's a product of the shrinking availability of social service dollars," Donoghue said. "All governmental agencies are ... adapting and adjusting to limited resources."

Bob Sharpe, president/CEO of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health in Tallahassee, said his concern is that Coastal is a long-standing agency with 10 sites and there is not another substantial provider.

"It affects thousands of people who get services there," Sharpe said.

Mark Fontaine, executive director for the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, wondered about the state's business plan for the future.

"When you start bidding out pieces of services, will that provider be able to get a community bond? Go to the bank for credit?" he said from New Orleans. "My concern is, how is that system going to be implemented?

Vin Mannix, local columnist/reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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