Mental health foundation questioned

By Vicki Hyatt | Mar 10, 2014

The Evergreen Foundation, an organization with $21 million in assets that provides grants to serve the mental health community in seven western counties, came under scrutiny Monday.

Denise Coleman, a part-time Evergreen Foundation employee who handles public education and awareness, presented the organization’s annual report to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners.

Evergreen’s assets include $14.5 million in investments, according to the report, $5.5 million is in property that is rented out to mental health providers or those needing mental health services at a below-market value, and nearly $1 million that is held in cash.

Last year the organization provided $237,000 in competitively awarded grants to provider agencies in the region, including the Haywood-based groups the Arc of Haywood County, Mountain Projects, Meridian Behavioral Health, the 30th Judicial District DV/SA Alliance and Kids Advocacy Resource Effort. This year, grants of $760,000 have been budgeted, Coleman said.

Coleman told the commissioners that 11 of 17 grants made last year directly benefitted residents in Haywood County.

The annual report shows that out of the $21 million in assets, the foundation had income of $2 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year, and expenses of $967,000. Of that amount, $341,000 was in depreciation cost and $186,000 was for administration.

Commission Chairman Mark Swanger said the amount of grants awarded was less than 3 percent of the organization’s assets.

“Do you consider that enough?” he asked Coleman.

“We take the income and decide on the amount that goes to grants,” Coleman said, adding that as the economy gets better, hopefully more grants can be awarded. "It’s based on investment income.”

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick asked how much of the administrative costs, which included audits and legal fees, was used for salaries. Coleman didn’t have that breakdown immediately, but said she would provide it.

Commissioner Bill Upton, who served on the regional mental health organization before the rules were changed, pointed out that funding from the western counties grew the foundation assets to where they are now.

“What bothers me is we have $14 million in reserves and there are such great needs,” Upton said. “Why do you need such a reserve? … We really don’t need a savings account. We have a lot of needs.”

Upton said he was also bothered because the county commissioners had a voice in how the foundation operates.

Coleman said there are representatives on the board from each county, with Bill Teague and Vicki Gordon representing Haywood.

Swanger said he has heard complaints from several organizations about the foundation about the number and size of grants that are being awarded. He, too, had concerns about how much of the funds are allocated to administrative costs and the lack of transparency on how that is spent.

The Evergreen Foundation was formed in 1977 as a separate nonprofit agency to financial support to address mental health needs. Now the agency overseeing mental health services in the region consists of 23 counties and will grow larger.

Coleman said the state has changed the way mental health needs are addressed numerous times through the years, and this region is fortunate to have an organization such as the foundation.