Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Tim Franklin
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Investigation into Riverwood finances planned


The state of Minnesota is investigating why Riverwood abruptly closed two weeks ago.

The agency served mental health patients in four counties, including Pine, which led to other counties scrambling to supply services.

“The attorney general is aware of what happened at Riverwood,” County Administrator David Minke told county commissioners last Tuesday afternoon at the regular board meeting in Sandstone, “and they want the records.”

Minke said Isanti County sued Riverwood to get the client records and it will be the lead county to get them from all affected counties, including Mille Lacs, which previously opted out of the agreement with Riverwood. Paper records have been secured, but they are also working with vendors to receive electronic records.

Minke said they were working on a plan to get the records back into the clients’ hands who need them. In the meantime, Isanti will be the custodian for the records for all given counties.

Pine County Health and Human Services Director Patrick Bruflat said the county is now taking care of the mental health needs of these patients to the best of its ability and also arranging for transportation of clients.

Although things are stable now, Bruflat said the county needs to have long-term stability and a solution to the issue.

“We want to have long-term solutions available,” Bruflat told the board.

Getting the records to the right entities, Bruflat said, “could be a mammoth task.”

The county has identified a list of possible vendors to provide services. Bruflat said ideally, they would like to contract with a mental health center.

Bruflat said they first talked to Central Minnesota Mental Health out of St. Cloud but their board did not want to expand. Bruflat said their response is that it was more of a state issue.

Other providers are being contacted to look at what services they can provide and at what cost.

Bruflat recommended the county opt for a fee for each service rather than a blanket amount.

“We will have more accountability than what we had before,” Bruflat said.

The most pressing need is crisis services. Bruflat said those needs are being met.

“A number of providers have really stepped forward,” Bruflat said.

Bruflat said he would bring more recommendations to the board when it meets next week.

“Our biggest concern is to get these mobile services out to them,” Bruflat said of patient needs. “A telephone call is great but it is not like a person going into a home.”

Minke said the five counties are still getting state money for mental health needs, but right now Isanti County will be the fiscal agent. State funds between these counties totaled $747,000 with another $180,000 going for a four-bed mental health facility.

Last Monday, the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) facilitated a meeting with entities affected and 150 people showed up, which included advocates and providers, along with medical staff.

“I think DHS is aware of our needs,” Bruflat said.

This raised awareness of mental health centers to DHS.

Along with the attorney general, DHS will also be investigating why Riverwood failed, Minke said, and if former employees had information to share, they are encouraged to contact DHS.

One outcome from the meeting was that DHS will look at Medical Assistance eligibility for small providers, some of whom said the paperwork was too complicated.

“Hopefully DHS will be supportive of accelerating our process,” Bruflat said.

Some state Senate committees, including one chaired by Sen. Tony Lourey, will also look into the language of mental health units to see if they are adequate.

County Commissioner Steve Chaffee of Hinckley said that what was lost in the conversation is that 75 people lost their jobs, were not paid and also lost their vacation time.

Still up in the air is how the corporation can be dissolved since it was set up before a joint powers law was enacted by the Legislature in 1968. The Riverwood bank account has been seized, County Attorney John Carlson said.

Riverwood Executive Director Kevin Wojahn has no authority to act since it is no longer an ongoing corporation, Carlson stated. Carlson added that the Minnesota attorney general will need to be notified of a list of assets and liabilities of the corporation.

The county did pass a motion to cancel all services through Riverwood at the end of the discussion.

The county will also be securing data from the Pine Government Center that Riverwood leased. The lock will also be changed. If the lease is not paid, it will also be looking for a new tenant.

Currently, Riverwood owes Pine County $66,000, but since the county also owes some funds, the net total owed is around $50,000.

“Our intent is that we will not make additional payments,” Minke said.

Minke said the learning lessons for this is that if any organization attempts to withhold information, red flags should be raised.

Riverwood management said they could not share this type of information with county commissioners.

“The problem is who does the audits,” Commissioner Stephen Hallan of Pine City said.

“I felt we as a board were making decisions without getting all the information,” Chaffee, who was Pine County’s representative on the board, told fellow commissioners. “We can only make the decisions on what we are given. I don’t want to get into a situation like this again.”

Minke said conversations were held months ago that Riverwood was not sharing information. He encouraged the county to have a file with all articles of incorporation in case this happens again.

Chaffee said that commissioners were told someone left Riverwood and left the books in disarray, and they were promised to get better financials, but Riverwood never produced them.

“What we would have done differently, I am not sure,” Chaffee said.

Chaffee said he was told he could not disclose information on Riverwood due to the corporation’s by-laws.

Commissioner Curt Rossow of Willow River said, with hindsight, perhaps the former director should have been fired.

“It could have ended 100 different ways, 99 of them better,” Minke said.

Carlson said he reviewed Riverwood’s tax return from 2012 and said the problems in the organization did not happen overnight.

“They did not have enough income to pay their bills,” Carlson said. “It should not have had to close.”

The DHS commissioner hopes to have a study on Riverwood finances done by June 1.

At the meeting, Bruflat asked all county employees to wear blue in April to raise exposure for National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The event raises awareness of child abuse and neglect.


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