05/08/11 — Mental health agency weighs merger

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Mental health agency weighs merger

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 8, 2011 1:50 AM

Wayne County commissioners did not appear to need any convincing by Eastpointe Director Ken Jones that the agency should take a lead role as the state prepares to shrink the number of public mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services system.

Jones appeared before commissioners to ask for their support of plans to merge The Beacon Center into Eastpointe by July 1, 2013.

Commissioner Jack Best said the merger should come much sooner than 2013 or Eastpointe could find itself not in control and/or merged with a less desirable agency.

Eastpointe serves Wayne, Duplin, Sampson and Lenoir counties and oversees a $22 million local budget and $88 million in Medicaid funding. The Beacon Center covers Wilson, Nash, Greene and Edgecombe counties.

The state plans to reduce the number of the agencies, referred to as local management entities or LMEs, from 23 to no more than 10.

County officials Tuesday said they were concerned that Eastpointe, which enjoys a favorable reputation statewide, could suffer if it failed to be pro-active in finding a merger partner.

The merger application is due to the state by May 20 and requires the support of the Eastpointe board and the boards of county commissioners in the area served.

The Beacon Center also has support from its board for the merger, Jones said.

"Eastpointe would be the surviving entity," he said. "Eastpointe would be the lead entity meaning that we would manage the funds. We will actually submit the application. The management would begin with Eastpointe. If we combine into an eight-county area program if you get down to an area director all of the county commissioners will have to vote on an area director.

"I can tell you that the area director for The Beacon Center has said she can do anything from being the director to sweeping the floors and she didn't want to do either of those. Eastpointe has a good reputation with the state and among the LMEs. Eastpointe will maintain a local presence and serve the communities with the same mission."

The only other option is to be assigned to a LME, Jones said.

Best said he did not like that idea.

"My motion includes to do it as quickly as possible," Best said.

"The good thing about the research Ken did is that we found out that if we don't do what he is recommending then the state is going to come down and put us with somebody or eliminate us," said Commissioner John Bell, who serves on the Eastpointe board. "This is our best bet."

The motion was unanimously approved.

To qualify as a LME under the new state plan, the area served must have a total population of 500,000 and Medicaid population of 70,000. Currently, the area served by Eastpointe has a population of 294,000 and Medicaid population of 70,000.

If the merger is approved, the population of the new LME would be 540,000 and the Medicaid population more than 100,000. The merged agency would managed state/Medicaid funding of approximately $200 million.

"There have been a lot of discussion over the last year to18 months about changes in mental health services," said County Manager Lee Smith, who also serves as chairman of the Eastpointe board of directors. "Our Eastpointe board has looked at the changes and mergers that are going to be so ordered by the state and wants to be pro-active."

Smith praised the Eastpointe board, made up of representatives from each county served, not only for being an advocate for mental health, but for tax dollars as well.

"We basically manage the services for anyone who has a mental illness, developmental disability or substance abuse issue," Jones said. "These services can range from outpatient therapy to hospitalization, housing, more intensive services in the community. In Wayne County we receive $640,000 (in local funds). What we do with this funding is we provide services that the state does not reimburse.

"Most of the funding that we receive in Wayne County goes into psychiatry. State funding does not pay for medicine."

At any given time, Eastpointe is serving about 6,000 clients with one of the eligible disabilities annually in Wayne County, he said. There were about 1,500 new client calls during the past year in Wayne and about 4,500 new calls across the entire service area.

"That (new calls) has escalated this past year," Jones said. "It is escalating across the state because of the economy that is what we continue to hear."

Commissioner Steve Keen asked Jones to provide commissioners with data on the number of military personnel those numbers include.

About 80 percent of the people served are adults and 20 percent children, he said. Mental illness accounts for about 77 percent of the cases, 20 percent substance abuse issues and three percent developmental disabilities.

"These people come from all walks of life," Bell said.