China Spring faces $1.2 million deficit

The entrance to China Spring Youth Camp located south of Gardnerville in the Pinenut Mountains.

The entrance to China Spring Youth Camp located south of Gardnerville in the Pinenut Mountains.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.

Next fiscal year could be make or break time for China Spring Youth Camp, County Manager Jenifer Davidson said on Monday.

There is a $1.2 million shortfall at the camp and its continued survival depends on what happens with the budget in the coming months.

“I am projecting in the next year a $1.2 million deficit and I have to close that,” Davidson told the camp’s advisory board. “I’m sure I’m catching the advisory board off guard today.”

Budget hearings begin in March, and 77 percent of the camp’s budget is salaries and benefits, Davidson said.

The camp serves the 16 counties outside of Clark and has had some rocky years that started with the coronavirus outbreak in 2020.

One of the issues is that the camp is running under half capacity with just 20 boys and six girls.

That number directly affects how much revenue the camp generates through Medicaid.

While reimbursements in Medicaid were budgeted at $ 1million, it’s been some time since the camp received that much.

This fiscal year, the amount is expected to be $195,000.

“Looking back, that $1 million only hit one time,” Davidson said. “When you look at historic numbers it’s more $400,000 to $600,000. That begs the question to what extent Medicaid is a viable revenue source for us.”

She said cutting positions from line staff and beds isn’t something that will help bring the camp back into the black.

A reduction in salaries of 35 percent is as close as the China Spring can cut without cutting those positions.

Davidson, who worked at the camp for two years from 2009-2011, said full capacity is 40 boys and 16 girls.

District Judge Tod Young explained that the camp started seeking Medicaid funding to help deal with an increase in mental health needs among camp residents.

Washoe District Court representative Liz Flores said they view China Spring as a valuable intermediate step before commitment to state facilities.

“At the end of the line is a state commitment, which is what we all try to avoid,” she said. “What we’ve found in Washoe County is that one change is the mental health needs of this population.”

Young agreed.

“This is a program that’s designed to allow kids to stay in their communities and not put them into state custody,” he said. “There are much more mental health issues. That’s one reason Medicaid was used to provide mental health treatment. The mental health aspect still has to be addressed somehow. The social worker addresses that, but some of these kids need to be on medication.”

Sheriff Dan Coverley said he felt China Spring is a valuable program.

“I know several young men who are now contributing and doing very well,” he said. “We have a moral obligation to get kids back on track. Things change when they become adults. This helps get them going in the right direction when they’re young. That’s the key.”

The camp is currently recruiting a new director and assistant director after interim director Jenna Sexton resigned.

Interim Assistant County Manager Wendy Lang said the recruitment for a new director closes 4 p.m. Friday after being open for 30 days.

“It is generating a lot of interest,” Lang told the board on Monday.

That position is critical in saving the camp, Coverley said.

“It can be done, but you’re going to have to take some major leadership,” he said. “I agree with the comments on mental health. The camp will have to adjust. It’s a great program and we should do what we can to keep it going, but it’s going to be a heavy lift.”

Davidson said one thing she is proposing is to seek another $500,000 from the other counties to help support the camp.

The 2021 Legislature voted to cut funding from the state to the camp, though not as severely as then Gov. Steve Sisolak proposed in his budget.

Young said that the state should step in because it benefits as much as the counties do.

“If we didn’t have (China Spring) and we had to remove children from the community, the only other resource is state custody, and that’s expensive to the state,” he said. “This keeps it out of state custody. The state has a vested interest not just in the youth, but to be crass about it, also a financial interest in this in keeping them out of state custody. That’s not only expensive, but the likelihood of them offending goes up.”

Camp Information Technology Director Anthony Sullivan said he was pleased there’s support.

“There’s a ton of potential that we’re not tapping into,” he told the board.

The 17-year employee said he created the database that tracks the Medicaid, and that the camp isn’t doing group therapy, so it can’t bill for that.

“We should bill all our hours and spend time identifying youth early to build numbers up and increase Medicaid funding,” he said. “It seems like if you don’t figure out how to increase the budget year after year, it’s not a question of whether we shut down, but when we shut down.”

Lang said that there is an ongoing criminal investigation at the camp, in part connected to the arrest of a youth counselor for alleged sexual conduct with two 17-year-old residents.

Daryan Benka, 25, is scheduled to appear in East Fork Justice Court today.

She is facing charges of sexual conduct with children under the care, custody, control of supervision of the camp.


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