Meet Trey Michael

ASCPA: Introduce us to SpectraCare.

TM: So, SpectraCare is a community mental health center. It was created by Act 310 of the legislature back in '60s, I think. Back in 1968, we were formed. So it's legislatively created. Basically what that means is the state of Alabama is split up into catchment areas for mental health needs.

ASCPA: How long have you been doing this?

TM: Almost nine years.

ASCPA: Tell us more about SpectraCare.

TM: We serve the southeastern counties, Houston County, Dale County, Geneva County, and Barbour County, and Henry County. We provide mental illness, substance abuse, and developmental disability services across that. Basically, we're what we call the safety net of the state's mental health needs. So we serve the sick and the poor. Our bread and butter is really that severe mental illness. Our substance abuse, is severe substance abuse. It's not to say we don't serve, what we call, the worried well. That's usually your anxiety and depression. We do - but we really specialize in people that have really severe psychological issues.

And that continuum spreads from everything from outpatient and case management and in-home stuff to, we have 10 residential facilities spread throughout that continuum. And they each have various intensity levels based on their mental illness, criticality, all the way from hospitals. We have beds at Dale Medical. So those people are incredibly sick. They're basically one step away from being at Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa, all the way to semi-independent living. Which is apartment complexes for those individuals who can basically, they can live on their own, they just need just a little bit of interaction with a case worker or something like that.

We've got over 100 beds spread throughout. Some of them are in the community. Our support apartments are in the community. You wouldn't know it was anybody else's. It is just another apartment. It's just that the case manager is going by and checking on them. Then we own a couple of apartment complexes that are specific to our population. And then we've got our intermediate care home. It's a locked facility. It's a 16-bed residential facility. And that's not just case worker. There's master-level program director, there's day treatment directors. It's much more intense continuum. And that's just the thing on my side. And then we have substance abuse facility that is 32 beds. And that's severe substance abuse, a 28-day program, type of thing.

We've got clinics in all counties. We've got day treatments in most of our counties. We have everything. We've got master's therapists and LPCs. We've got two psychiatrists. We've got nurse practitioners that are seeing people on that side of medication management and some of those critical things. So it's a broad continuum of what SpectraCare is. We probably have around 74 different call centers, 40 or 50 different actual facilities and stuff. So we're spread out. We got about 340 employees.

ASCPA: Have you always been in the mental health realm as far as your role in the accounting world?

TM: No. I went to the University of Alabama. I got my bachelor's in accounting. I got a master's in tax. And then I went to Ernst & Young in Nashville for a little over two years in their tax department. And Nashville was great. I loved it. It was a lot of fun. I got to do a lot of different things, got to go to a lot of different places. But Dothan has always been home, or the surrounding area has always been home. And so I got an opportunity to come back here to work for a small public accounting firm. They were looking for that generalist type thing.

I really didn't really want to pigeonhole myself into just tax. I really wanted a more broad based thing. So I went into the small public accounting firm here locally. That's really where I learned that broad sense of things. I did that for about two years. And then I got an opportunity to come here. I've been here about nine years. I started out as the assistant CFO. They were growing. They had just went through a big growth phase. They needed additional staff and kind of created a position. The CFO had been here for 28 years and retired, so I just kind of went up into that role.

I've been CFO since January 2020, so I became CFO right before COVID.

ASCPA: Right before COVID. So, what are some of those challenges that you overcame?

TM: So, I remember back in March, April of 2020, you know, there wasn't a lot of information about anything. Not just on the financial side, but I mean, people were scared, staff were scared, my staff were scared. So there was a lot of that kind of going on. Of course, we're a mental health company. So that kind of really exploded. I think now everybody's kind of hearing about it and recognizing that mental health really exploded during COVID.

But from a financial perspective, people started putting a lot of money into everything. There's PPP that was right away. And there were so many things going on with that, different information coming out, and COVID Relief Funds, and HHS had all these different types of funds. And the department, they had their own types of funds. And so you had all of these kinds of enhanced costs. Because everybody's trying to buy the same stuff. Everybody's trying to buy lots on wipes. You can't find them.

Well, we're a 24/7 facility. We're central healthcare. And so we've got to operate with those people. We can't just go home. So during that time, we're still trying to operate. We're trying to operate within the parameters that either the governor's laid down, all of those emergency orders, but still provide the same amount of care for our people. That was a big challenge. And then you had to do it within certain means of financial, because the money didn't come till a little bit later. You kind of had to figure all that out in the front end. You got to figure it out on the fly. And we didn't stop. We didn't get to stop doing what we do. So that was a big challenge.

And then it was constantly new stuff. There was a lot of compliance that went along with it that is tied to those funds. I was actually just listening to the joint committee on the ARPA funds that they were having at the legislator today. They were talking about just now audits are starting to come down for municipalities and government entities. So we haven't seen anything like that here, but we expect it, because there's just so many funds that went out. And I mean, you spent them all, you put it all in operations. That was a huge challenge. And it was right when I became CFO.

TM: There is a certain sense of flexibility. You probably get that from anybody in the industry that you talk to. There's a certain sense of flexibility. But in the same sense, busy season, it's almost year round for everybody, for public accounts and for those CPAs in industry. So the challenges that each industry faces are becoming a lot more similar. We have the same staffing shortages that I know CPA firms are having right now. That labor shortage just in accounting in general is, I think, is more and more prevalent. There's less and less people going into it. And so then that kind of competitiveness for talent, we're still competing against each other for the same basic pool. So those kind of challenges are the same.

But I will say this, when I was in public accounting, there were times when I saw midnight. That's a rarity here. It doesn't mean I just clock out at 40 hours - I take my laptop on vacation. I'm connected all the time. And so there's Saturdays and Sundays that I do have to work. But there's a little bit more balance in the sense that if those times do come here, then there are times when we can pull back a little bit.

I will say that mental health is a lot different from just healthcare. It's a lot different from accounting. So it's got its own really unique niche kind of issues that we have to deal with. We've got CMS and Medicaid that we're billing services to. So the billing and insurance department is under me as well. So that whole insurance payer plan and compliance and all that kind of stuff, that's something that I've got to know about. We're quasi-governmental, so we present under governmental finance statements, but we're nonprofit. And so it's all these little different things that, from a CPA, that I get to experience that makes it a little unique.

And so there's something new every single day. And I think in public accounting, you start getting into the cycle where you get your book of business and it's the same kind of clients over and over again. And once you get them kind of set up and going, then it runs itself most of the time, unless there's some new legislative or some new compliance perspective. But with us, there's just always something new, the department's always coming up with new stuff, whether it's new regulations, social security, CMS, all these different things. That all impacts it.

ASCPA: You acknowledged the pipeline of accounting students and accounting professionals in general, people sitting for the CPA exam. Talk a little bit about that - you've noticed there is a shortage. Have you had a hard time hiring?

TM: Yeah. And, it may just be an echo chamber, but I've listened to the accounting podcast, I've read these blogs and websites. And I think it's not just one person, it's not just an echo chamber of a couple of people that are saying this, it's across the spectrum that less and less people are going... I saw, I think, a graphic or something that showed these undergrad programs where they would have 300 and 400 people in them. And now they've got 30 and 40 people in them. And so less and less people are going out of accounting. And then I know talking to mentors and people that are out in the community that have been CPAs for years, between PPP and employee retention credits, and COVID, and all the different things that went along. It made some people say, "It's not something I really want to do anymore." Where before partners never quit.

That's what I'm hearing that's out there. I talk to people that are in the community and they can't find people to fill basic staff roles. They can't find people on the manager level. There's a huge gap. As a staff guy you're still learning. Now in here, I had a controller who went back to public accounting. We talked about her. Now, that firm did what I thought was smart. They got creative, they offered her a flexible working arrangement. It was work from home. It was less hours. They still paid her more. And so she got all the things that she was really wanting, which is, "I want to be with my family. I want to be able to take them to daycare. I want to do all those kind of things." And so they were able to take that time away and it was an opportunity that I didn't think she could turn down.

But then trying to refill that controller position was incredibly difficult. It was incredibly difficult. We filled it and then we got an accounting manager position. So basically what I did is promoted from within that accounting manager. And then I thought, "Okay, the accounting manager maybe a little bit easier in to fill than the controller one." Because there's a lot more duties that go along with it. I talked zero applicants, zero applicants. Or the applicants, they don't have the experience. So that part has really, really been a challenge. And they're not there. And then I hear it from other counterparts. They're going through the same thing. And so less people are sitting for the exam. Less people are going into undergrad.

And here's the thing now with technology and software it is... This is what I think anyway. And I'm not being critical of the accounting profession, don't get me wrong. If it's helping nonprofits, you can go into different things that's either with software or stuff and serve. I came out of school, it was the worst recession that our country had ever experienced. So I was thrilled that I had an offer coming out in undergraduate, undergrad in '09, masters in 2010. So it was really time to change, unemployment's 3%.

Now you're competing with these companies that hire remote accountants and you can work from anywhere in the country. And so you're not just in this bubble of Dothan, or the Wiregrass area, or Montgomery, or Birmingham. And I'm competing with accountants in Mississippi that have Wi-Fi and broadband and stuff like that. So some of these firms I've seen, they are moving towards that. And industry is as well. I think they're realizing that they've got to offer more things than just salary or just benefits, so to speak. People want flexibility. Accountants want flexibility. And I think that's one thing that turns people away is those kind of hours.

ASCPA: We hear that a lot. Burnout. So, what keeps you coming back to work each day?

TM: My wife and I have four kids.

I did coach T-ball last year, and I was lucky enough that my oldest two, they would on the same team. And so that worked out. Now this year they would have to be on separate teams. So what we're going to do is we're actually going to play soccer, because soccer is 2:30 to 4:00 on Sundays and they practice and they play on one day. And because my oldest is 7, my youngest is 18 months. And so T-ball, especially being on two different teams, it just was not conducive for us to go five nights to the ball field.

Now when I was growing up, we lived at the ball field and it was just what you did. This age, we need a little down time.

That's like living there. I never missed a game last year. I never had a problem about missing the games. There's a guy that works with us, our IT officer, now, he's really big into it. And he never misses a practice, never misses a game, and there's never any kind of thought about that kind of stuff. It's funny though, because we, even in the industry, we're spending a lot of time talking about how to provide flexibility. Most recently, what our accruals look like. Do we provide paid time off on day one? Do we start allowing people to accrue? Because in the past, or currently right now, we have it to where it takes a little while. You still have to get through your probationary period. Well, is that something that we can offer?

We've got to be competitive with everybody, not just nonprofits, not just with health. So what is competitive? Well, we're not going to be able to compete on salaries all the time, but there are other things, benefits, retirement, those kind of things we can really have an impact on. And like paid time off is something that's easy fix to me. And I think people are wanting that because they want that time to be with their family and you need time to recharge.

Years ago we bought a farm, and so we thought we would do the chickens and the cows and stuff like that. And we did chickens last year during T-ball season, during all this. And we bought 25 of them. There were meat chickens. We raised them and then we butchered them ourselves, which was an experience. But it was a lot of work. And so having a farm is a lot of work. So that's a lot. But it's kind of a long-term dream.

Soccer is just because we want to get the kids active and together. Because that's the great thing is they all get to play at the same time. But we also have to balance that with being able to do all our other stuff, so with work and that kind of thing. I enjoy bourbon too. My brother's a huge bourbon hunter, and so he got me started on that. I've kind of backed off a little bit of it. The state has an interesting way of purchasing bourbon and allocating bourbon, and so it's kind of lost that luster for me.

TM: I enjoy industry accounting. There's certain things I miss about the public accounting, because there's that support system. If you don't know something, you have a question, you can ask. So I miss that part of things, but I enjoy the flexibility.

The good thing about it is that SpectraCare is part of a coalition that is a group of mental health centers called The Council for Mental Health in the state of Alabama, which basically includes all the CEOs of each one of the mental health facilities. And then they kind of have subgroups. And so one's called the administrative managers, which is all your COs and CEOs, and then one's your HR group, and then one's your clinical director group. And so we meet quarterly. And so we are able to talk about all these different things. If something new is coming up, then we get the Department of Mental Health to come on if we need something to explained or something to talk about.

But all these different things that impact us will get on there and we'll talk about and say, "Hey..." And then a lot of that stuff outside, how are you handling this? What are you doing with this? How are y'all doing this now?” It works out really well.