Guilford County and Cone Health have banged out a contract that covers exactly who’s responsible for exactly what in the coming joint effort in which the county will hire Cone to provide the county’s mental health services.

In December, Guilford County and Cone announced that the two entities had come together with Sandhills Center – a management organization that administers mental health and substance abuse treatment services for nine counties including Guilford– in an attempt to greatly improve those services for Guilford County patients.

The new contract, which lays out the details of the complex arrangement between Guilford County and Cone, is expected to be approved by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners at the board’s Thursday, Jan. 17 meeting.

Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing provided details of the new contract to several county commissioners and some county staff in a meeting on Monday, Jan. 8.

Lawing told the group he was very pleased with the final result.

“Everything we’ve asked for has worked out well – in fact, better than we expected,” Lawing said.

Interestingly, one of the main sticking points that came up in the discussions is who would control the phone system in the new $20 million building that will be built by the county and operated by Cone.  Lawing said that, initially, Guilford County was going to purchase and maintain the phone system in the building, however, Cone had another preference.

“They had concerns about who would control the system and that type of thing,” Lawing said. “So they said, if we put the wiring in, they’ll put the system in and they will pay for it.”

Cone is also going to pay the utility bills.

According to the agreement, the county will provide the initial furnishings and equipment, however, when it comes time to replace those, Cone will do so at its expense.

Cone is also paying for the malpractice insurance and the health system had preferences as to how that was handled in the contract. Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said that those decisions were easy for the county: The county doesn’t have any malpractice concerns so it deferred to Cone.  While Guilford County will own and operate the building, the county will not provide any services that would incur medical malpractice liability.

One reason the contract negotiations for the highly complex deal went so smoothly is that the county and Cone have been negotiating the deal behind the scenes for almost two years and, during that time, all of the major issues were hashed out – or the two never would have reached a deal in the first place.