11/16/11 — Commissioners weigh merger of mental health agencies

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Commissioners weigh merger of mental health agencies

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 16, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners Tuesday morning endorsed the merger of the Beacon Center and Southeastern Regional Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services with Eastpointe Human Services.

The move did not actually approve the merger. That action will require yet another vote after the three organizations, known as local mental health management entities, complete the final merger paperwork.

The combined group will still be known as Eastpointe.

"The other entities are merging into us," County Manager Lee Smith said. "We are not merging into the others. We are still the lead agency. That was at the behest of the state because of Eastpointe's administration and finances."

"(The merger) will prepare us to be a managed care organization for Medicaid behavioral health care services," said Ken Jones, Eastpointe executive director. "These are services for individuals that are seeking mental health, developmental disability or substance abuse services."

Jones said the merged agency will maintain a local presence and interaction in the counties it serves.

That will include a stronger component of care coordination, he said. That will keep the high-need, high-price consumers "from falling through the cracks," Jones said.

"It also provides prevention and intervention," he said. "Really what we are trying to do is to reduce the cost of services in our communities and provide the services that our individuals need, the appropriate services."

Eastpointe will become the third largest local mental health management entity in the state where the Medicaid patients are concerned and sixth largest in overall population, Jones said.

The actual merger is expected by Oct. 1, 2012, well-ahead of the state Department of Health and Human Service's statewide restructuring of the management responsibilities for delivering services for people with mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders.

The state plans to reduce the number of the agencies from 23 to no more than 11.

The state Division of Medical Assistance has said that to operate efficiently, a local management entity must have a minimum Medicaid population of at least 70,000 people and a total population of at least 500,000.

The division has recommended that the entities not meeting those thresholds collaborate or merge with one or more other entities.

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. Southeastern covers Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties.

Combined, the three will have a Medicaid population of approximately 178,000 and a population base of approximately 806,000 and will oversee in excess of $400 million in Medicaid annually.

Currently, the area served by Eastpointe has a population of 294,000 and a Medicaid population of 70,000. About 80 percent of the people served are adults and 20 percent children. Mental illness accounts for about 77 percent of the cases, 20 percent substance abuse issues and 3 percent developmental disabilities.

Commissioners in May unanimously agreed that the merger should come sooner than the state's 2013 deadline rather than risk the possibility that Eastpointe find itself not in control and/or merged with a less desirable agency.

In other business Tuesday, commissioners awarded three-year leases for several pieces of county-owned property for farming:

* Goldsborough Bridge site, Old Mount Olive Highway, eight acres, Bruce Howell of Howell Farms, $608 annually.

* Mt. Carmel Church Road, Pikeville, 47.32 acres, Paul Daw, $9,747.92 annually.

* Old Mount Olive Highway, Goldsboro, 62.3 aces, Larry Martin, $8,413.62 annually.

* Northern Landfill, Hinnant Road, 64.1 acres, John Lee Tyndall, $8,173.39 annually.

Commissioner Steve Keen asked Smith and Commissioner Bud Gray, who is a farmer, if three years was standard length of time for a lease.

Both said that it was. Smith also noted that some of the properties carried certain requirements. For example, the Goldsborough Bridge site has to be harvested in time to allow for the annual celebration of the Civil War battle that took place on the site.