Stanislaus supervisors hire water resources manager

kcarlson@modbee.comJanuary 14, 2014 

Stanislaus County supervisors, on a 4-0 vote Tuesday, approved the hiring of a former Modesto Irrigation District staff member as water resources manager.

Walter Ward, who oversaw MID’s water operations, will work with a committee the county is forming to develop groundwater policies.

Ward retired from MID in October after 17 years with the irrigation district.

The county will pay him a salary of $109,450 a year, the top of the scale for the manager position. Ward, 58, was earning about $150,000 annually as MID’s assistant general manager in charge of irrigation, reservoir and domestic water operations.

Supervisor Bill O’Brien pulled the item from the board’s consent agenda, announcing that he would abstain to avoid the perception of a conflict. O’Brien disclosed that his aunt is married to Ward but said he has no financial ties to the new hire.

Ward was among 22 applicants for the county position, which was created against the background of growing concerns over groundwater depletion. He boasts 30 years of experience working in water resources for public and private entities.

Supervisors also gave the green light for seeking $1.9 million in state funding to create a mental health crisis stabilization unit in Ceres. Located next to a new psychiatric health facility set to open in March, the center would be for people suffering from psychiatric episodes who can be stabilized without inpatient care. An additional $1 million is being sought from the state for increased staffing.

It’s part of an ongoing county effort to provide appropriate care for mental health patients who wait in hospital emergency rooms for days before they are placed. The proposed Ceres unit would be similar to an urgent care center, where patients could be stabilized through rest or talking with staff, said Madelyn Schlaepfer, director of behavioral health and recovery services.

Patients could be admitted to the 16-bed psychiatric health facility if it’s determined they need inpatient care, Schlaepfer said. A building at Stanislaus Recovery Center on Richland Avenue was remodeled for the new inpatient center to provide a less intensive – and less costly – level of care after county admissions skyrocketed at Doctors Behavioral Health Center.

Funds from the Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013 would be used to renovate and furnish a vacated wing at the Stanislaus Recovery Center for the crisis unit. Other county funds would pay for an emergency generator for the crisis unit and inpatient facility, bringing the total project cost to $2.19 million.

The county anticipates about $1.5 million in costs for design, construction, project management and administration, as well as $409,720 in startup costs. The center will receive Medi-Cal reimbursements for the services provided to patients.

This month, Doctors Medical Center and Memorial Medical Center, both in Modesto, and Emanuel Medical Center of Turlock each donated $10,000 for the project. The state could award the grant request in the spring. Renovations for the crisis stabilization unit would occur from July to November. The facility would open in February 2015.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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