Avoyelles School Board halts VOA program

 

By Garland Forman
 
A proposed Volunteers of America (VOA) program to provide school-based counseling services has been cancelled after local businesses providing mental health services complained.
 
The business owners addressed the Avoyelles School Board Executive Committee March 31. The committee recommended halting the implementation of the program.The School Board adopted the committee’s recommendation at the April 7 board meeting.
 
The board had accepted VOA’s proposal at the March 3 board meeting.
 
Tracey Antee, VOA’s Cenla regional coordinator, had listed ways in which the organization is trying to help Avoyelles Parish youth. One was the proposal to put counselors in the public schools to provide immediate counseling to students with behavioral problems. A key factor behind the proposal and the board’s quick approval is the parish’s alarming suicide rate.
 
The existing mental health service providers told the Executive Committee that children and families could be hurt by the process that was being used to implement that program. They also pointed out that the VOA would bill Medicaid for services to students who are Medicaid-eligible.
 
Antee confirmed that the proposed program would be free to the school system, but VOA would bill Medicaid for services provided to Medicaid-eligible students.  She estimated that  80% of the students in the parish are Medicaid eligible.
 
A major issue of the business owners was a letter sent home with children asking parents to designate VOA as their child’s mental health care provider. Signing such a letter would mean the current agency could no longer serve their child.  
 
The business owners said any such letter should have listed all agencies providing mental health services and give the parents the ability to choose which agency would handle the care of their children.
 
Board attorney Anthony Salario said  at first glance the services appeared to be free, but they are not free if Medicaid is going to be billed. 
 
“I do see a problem,” Salario said. “This is something that someone is going to get money. Stop sending the forms and let’s study this issue more.”
 
After listening to the business owners, the committee called for schools to stop sending the letters home. Any letters that have been signed will be voided.
 
The board’s action in stopping the VOA program means the current service provider will continue serving those students.
 
“The board was trying to be pro-active in getting services provided to the schools,”  Superintendent Blaine Dauzat said. “On the surface, the services being provided sounded good -- but we are now being told different.” 
 
Board member Shelia Blackman-Dupas said “a lot of Medicaid laws were being violated with how VOA handled this. This could lead to children being left out in getting needed medication as the agency is changed.”
 
Blackman-Dupas’ sister, Brenda Blackman-Dawson, owns Community Support Services of Louisiana in Bunkie. Blackman-Dupas, who is still listed in Secretary of State records as the “registered agent” for CSS as of March 1, 2006,  no longer works for the agency, Dawson said.
 
Blackman-Dupas said principals have told agencies not to go to the schools, but will call when help is needed.
 
Brenda Sampson, owner of Exceptional Counseling Services in Bunkie, said any agency will send a counselor to a school when needed, but the providers strive not to take away from instructional time. She said much of the mental health work is done after school at the student’s home.
 
“Principals don’t want us at the schools all day,” Omar Dupas, of CSS, said.
 
Chauncey Hardy, of the Central Louisiana Human Services District, said he asked the VOA for the help due to the alarming suicide rate.
 
“There are still children falling through the cracks,” Hardy said at the committee meeting. “I was not aware of the other agencies in the parish.”
 
Antee also said there are Avoyelles Parish children needing help that are not being seen by any agency.
 
“This is about the children,” she continued. “Maybe this should have been done differently.”

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