County Hires New Deputy Health Director

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

January 29, 2021

San Luis Obispo County Health Department has filled a key management position from within, and saved a little money over the last person to fill the role.

County Supervisors approve hiring SLO native Nicholas Drews to fill its Deputy Health Director position that has been vacant since March 2020.

According to a staff report, Drews has been with the Health Agency for 5 years, working mainly on the electronic health records systems. He has also taken a leadership role in the County’s response to the Coronavirus Pandemic serving most recently as the Logistics Section chief.

Drews reportedly grew up in San Luis Obispo and earned an MBA focusing on finance and accounting from University of Southern California. Before he went to work with the County he was “a consultant leading projects to re-form several large companies to respond to changing financial conditions and to build new organizational cultures,” the report said.

He won’t be paid as much as his predecessor, who left the job at the highest pay level. Drews will come in at the second tier of the pay scale, which means he will make $127,858 in salary and $66,314 in benefits for a total compensation package of $194,172 per year, according to the report.

His predecessor at step 5 of the pay scale was making $148,000 salary and $74,242 in benefits ($222,255 per year total).
The current County budget, which is already half way over, includes a full year’s salary for the position, so the money not paid while it was vacant could be considered savings.

Drews’ hiring comes as the Health Agency enters into a new, 3-year $41 million contract for drug treatment services that will fund the County’s programs through June 2023.

Coming from State and Federal sources, the $41M in grants breaks down to $13.97M a year for this and the next two fiscal years. Of that annual total, $2.45M comes from the State and $11.52M from the Federal Government.

Called the “Drug Medi-Cal Organized Delivery System” or DMC-ODS, the program is designed to provide drug treatment services to patients that qualify for Medi-Cal and comes through the California Department of Health Care Services.

As one might imagine, there was a lot of paperwork to sort through to satisfy both State and Federal program requirements. According to the County, it first submitted an application to enter the program in July 2016. The Federal government waived regulations that required there to be existing drug treatment programs, but the County was subjected to increased requirements for quality assurance, monitoring and accountability.

The new funding also changed how the services are billed from where the State set the reimbursements based on service rendered, to the County setting reimbursement rates “to reflect the actual cost of providing covered treatment services.”
The County also had to establish “accountability measures including selective contracting process with providers, County monitoring of approved providers, State External Quality Review Organization annual audits, and implementation of evidence-based practices in substance use disorder treatment.”

In August 2016 the County began implementing its plan that included budgeting for 26.5 full time equivalent positions and adjusting the fiscal year budget.

But it wasn’t until March 2017 that the State Department of Health Care Services approved the County’s plan, and then it had to go to the Federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid for another approval.

After some more check-ins with the State, the County got the go-ahead to start its program on Jan. 1, 2018.
Among the issues that have made it challenging to meeting program goals, which are focused in Paso Robles, has been office space, or the lack thereof at the Paso Robles clinic site, but according to the report, the County has procured additional space in the Paso Robles area for future program growth.

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