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Mental health services at Tarrant County Jail and elsewhere are being cut by Bill Eaton even as Tarrant County’s lazy county commissioners earn more than $200,000 for working twice a week at most. Photo by Agustin Gonzalez

If you take out wasteful spending on assault rifles by idiot County Judge Tim O’Hare, Tarrant County’s $900 million annual budget provides important funds to many necessary government agencies, including My Health My Resources (MHMR). The community-based group that serves Tarrant County Jail, the homeless, participants in jail-diversion programs, and indigent youths and adults now faces drastic cuts, according to whistleblower Sam.

At a meeting with several MHMR nurses last week, Sam recalls that MHMR Program Administrator Bill Eaton said a Tarrant County group home had too many nurses. We are concealing the facility’s location to protect the whistleblower’s identity.

The news surprised Sam, who told us her colleagues balance caseloads of 15 to 18 patients. Two nurses at Sam’s group home were told their current positions were being cut but that they could transfer to a different department within MHMR. The restructuring will reduce MHMR’s staff of around 1,800 by 50 positions even as Tarrant County remains one of the fastest-growing counties in the country.

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While county nurses’ salaries average $75,000 per year, Eaton’s cuts could save the county a few million dollars annually even as our lazy county judge just gave himself a cool 3% raise.

Starting in October, O’Hare will earn $218,252 annually while his four fellow commissioners will take in $207,952 apiece. Not bad for a position that — unlike, say, nurses — requires showing up to work only twice a month. Several Tarrant County employees have conveyed alarm recently that, even with that cushy (many would say “unearned”) salary, O’Hare still appears unprepared for commissioners court meetings even as he routinely lambasts county officials for allegedly wasteful spending (“Southlaking Fort Worth,” July 12).

The politics don’t matter to Sam, though. Patient care does.

Sam is “concerned about the quality of care” at her group home once the nursing positions are removed.

“Something will get missed because nurses are human,” she continued. “We do have two strong nurses there who are staying. The two other nurses, I don’t know how that will work out. I’m concerned about the quality of care. We’re going to have more things that are missed.”

In a recent letter addressed to MHMR staff, MHMR CEO Susan Garnett said cuts in state and federal funding required the agency that relies on 40% of its budget from the county to eliminate the 50 positions.

“We have developed some fast-track options for similar and suitable positions that you can consider and transfer into,” reads the letter that was given to us by another anonymous source. “We ask that you keep this matter confidential as a matter of discretion.”

A spokesperson for MHMR confirmed that around 50 employees are currently being offered comparable jobs within MHMR as part of ongoing restructuring.

“We do not yet know the final decisions from each impacted employee as to whether they will choose to remain with the agency,” the spokesperson said.

MHMR’s programs for locals with intellectual disabilities are “facing some difficult challenges all across Texas,” the spokesperson continued. “These programs are funded through the Medicaid program with rates established by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Appropriations are made by the Texas legislature. As this legislative session began with historic revenue, we were optimistic that these programs would finally see some well-deserved rate increases. Unfortunately, the session ended with very modest increases.”

The budget cuts come at a time when MHMR of Tarrant County is already understaffed. The Star-Telegram found that, last year, the county agency budgeted for 2,311 full-time employees but had only 1,809 staffers on hand due to staffing shortfalls.

Sam worries that, under the new budget cuts, experienced nurses will likely find work elsewhere because there’s a general nursing shortage across the country and health-care facilities that actually care about patients are not hard to find.

“There will be an increase in burnout,” she said.

 

Correction

Due to reporter error, in our July 19 story “No Room to Breathe,” we incorrectly identified the location of the senior living facility in question. Fair Oaks is in Fort Worth, not River Oaks. We regret the error.

 

This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. He will gently edit it for clarity and concision.

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