Valley Mental Health to suspend sending 'transition' letters to patients under new agreement

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 6 2013 4:35 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of patients to be transitioned off Valley Mental Health's rolls will stop at 730 under a new agreement among VMH, Salt Lake County and the County's contracted managed care organization, OptumHealth.

Earlier, Valley Mental Health officials said it may have to transition 2,200 clients from its caseload due to financial challenges it has faced in changing from the county's sole provider of mental health services to one of 200 providers in OptumHealth's network.

"What that means (is) it will stop at 730 clients who have received transition letters to date," Salt Lake County Human Services Director Lori Bays told the Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday morning.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said the agreement should preclude more consumers from being dropped from VMH's client rolls.

The agreement will enable 120 people who use VMH's respite program to continue to receive that care, and in most cases stay with the same provider.

The program, offered under the county's Medicaid plan, assists families who have a child under age 18 who receives mental health services through the county's network. The service, which is usually provided in the family's home, gives caregivers a break while the child participates in appropriate supervised activities.

McAdams said the county has two primary concerns — meeting the needs of people who rely on Salt Lake County for mental health services and using taxpayers' resources well.

The agreement, he said, is "a win for the consumer and the taxpayer because we've been able to identify other means to eliminate cuts of other services."

Brian Neilson, a longtime client of Valley Mental Health, said he was pleased that the agreement will curtail further cuts to people served by VMH.

"I think it's really good. I hope they join together and look out for the mental health system as a whole," he said.

Neilson said he has attended recent County Council meetings to learn more about the process and to represent peers in mental health treatment who remain concerned.

"I'm still trying to assure them we're trying to work it out," he said.

VMH, which has been harshly criticized by McAdams and members of the County Council for announcing through the news media its plan to reduce its patient rolls, addressed the council on a number of issues Tuesday.

Bruce Cummings, chairman of VMH's board of directors, said it had been advised by legal counsel from communicating directly with Salt Lake County officials.

"To interfere with your contractual relationship with OptumHealth could be viewed as potential illegal interference. We do not have the financial resources to defend ourselves in a dispute with United Healthcare, Optum's parent company," Cummings said.

Cummings provided the County Council graphs depicting declines in VMH's revenue and employees since 2010. Prior to July 2011, the county contracted directly with VMH to provide behavioral health and crisis services. After that point, the county, through a competitive bidding process, selected OptumHealth to manage the county's mental health resources.

"Our revenue has declined from $102 million to an estimated $59 million, a 42 percent decrease, driven almost entirely by mental health decreases from Salt Lake County. A majority of this funding is still in the system but is no longer available to VMH. The number of our employees has decreased by 28 percent in the same time period," he said.

Cummings said VMH is "committed to getting past this difficult time of policy transition."

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