Sawyer County Administrator Explains County Position on Drug & Alcohol Testing Services
Sawyer County Administrator Thomas R. Hoff sent a letter to the Sawyer County Board of Supervisors stating that "It is important to understand that the County’s decision is not to terminate testing; it is the County’s determination that HHS may no longer complete the testing pursuant to State of Wisconsin requirements."
DrydenWire.com previously reported on this story and can be viewed HERE.
Mr. Hoff sent a copy of that email which was sent to the County Board of Supervisors, among others, to DrydenWire.com for publication and you may view the letter in its entirety below.
As I am sure you are aware, Judge Yackel voiced concerns regarding the County’s determination that its Health and Human Services Department (HHS) should no longer perform alcohol/drug testing as of June 29th for defendants that have such testing as a condition of bail. Given the concerns of public safety, it is important for the Board members to understand the steps that the County staff has taken to address the issue, both in the past months and in the last few days.
It is important to understand that the County’s decision is not to terminate testing; it is the County’s determination that HHS may no longer complete the testing pursuant to State of Wisconsin requirements. This is a key distinction given the public’s potential perception that the County does not care about public safety. On the contrary, and regardless of what others’ opinions may be, I want to make it clear that the Board members and County staff involved in the drug/alcohol testing issue have worked diligently over the past few months to find a solution, and we continue to work on finding a solution that is in the best interest of the County and its citizens. As such, I would like to share with you the steps taken, both in the past and right now to address this issue.
Basis for Termination Decision
- The County’s HHS raised concerns several months ago regarding its ability to continue conducting the drug/alcohol testing that Judge Yackel has ordered for certain defendants as a condition of a defendant’s bail. When Judge Yackel started ordering the testing as a condition of bail, the testing commenced at HHS since they were already performing testing for STOP participants. It is my understanding that discontinuing substance use testing through HHS was based on two primary concerns:
- Chapter DHS 75 Community Substance Abuse Service Standards (i.e., HHS AODA Clinic licensure). Polly Wong, DHS Surveyor, stated if substance use testing is administered under a DHS 75 license, then only employees listed under that license are allowed to provide testing. Therefore, licensed behavioral health clinicians are administering tests, providing substance use testing beyond Chapter DHS 75 approved intensive supervision programing (STOP in contrast to bail bond only), and limiting their clinical service availability. Ms. Wong indicated it is highly unusual for behavioral clinics with their clinical staff to deliver strictly bail bond substance use testing.CLIA certification regulates laboratory testing. The Sawyer County Public Health Lab is under such certification. The certification mandates the lab supervisor (i.e., HHS Public Officer) supervise all individuals administering tests. Substance use testing involves rigorous safety protocols to address the health hazards involved with testing. The HHS Public Health Officer does not have the capacity to supervise additional staff and ensure all safety measures are in place for the testers. The CLIA standards for substance use testing are not being met and thus potentially exposing the public and HHS staff to serious health risks. This is certainly not in the best interest of the County’s public safety.
Please also note that HHS is not saying that Judge Yackel may not order the drug/alcohol testing as a condition of bail. Rather, the County’s position is that if HHS continued with testing, the HHS AODA Clinic license would be at risk when it is necessary to use non-AODA Clinic HHS staff to assist with testing. Additionally, the Public Health Lab is not in full compliance with CILA with respect to substance use testing. Alternate testing locations that comply with the required testing standards, such as the County jail, have been explored over the past months. Moreover, the HHS staff may not have as easy access to various grant programs or other testing options that the circuit court may have access to as an arm of the state. This is the reason why CJCC’s and the court’s involvement with this issue was (and continues to be) necessary.
Public Discussion of Decision to Terminate Testing:
Given the significance of the decision to terminate the drug and alcohol testing at the HHS lab, the issue was brought before the HHS Board in May and June. It was also discussed at the CJCC. The termination, and the date for the termination, should not have been a surprise given the public discussion.
Current and Next Steps:
County staff is currently developing alternate testing procedures for continued testing through the week of July 4th and beyond. Staff met again this morning to further develop this plan. We had a very productive staff meeting where we discussed the procedures required to perform these tests. Judge Yackel will be providing an update on this status.
Meanwhile, the County is exploring other means to complete testing outside of HHS, thereby meeting the goal of continued testing but also compliance with State requirements. Unfortunately, these options are limited given the available resources. These potential permanent options include testing at the jail or an LCO facility. The County Board, the circuit court, and the CJCC must be involved in these discussions and participate in determining a future permanent solution.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak with several of you directly about the testing issue. Regardless of whether I have discussed the issue with you, please all feel free to stop by my office or contact me to set up a time to talk. I want to make sure that each of you have the most accurate information on this important issue. Also, please feel free to email me with any questions.
Thank you, Tom