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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Former Valley Mental Health client and advocate Ginger Phillips presents a letter to Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams protesting the cuts from services in Salt Lake City Wednesday, July 10, 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, expressing "outrage" over Valley Mental Health's recent announcement that it would cut care for up to 2,200 clients, is calling for a review of the private, not-for-profit agency.

"We will likely be requesting an internal audit of VMH as well as the funding to perform such an audit in order to address some significant concerns related to VMH's management, service delivery, fiscal responsibility and communication strategies," McAdams wrote in a letter to the Salt Lake County Council.

Earlier in the day, current and former clients of Valley Mental Health asked the mayor to review Valley Mental Health's operations after the private, not-for-profit agency announced it would no longer provide services to 2,200 patients due to budget cuts.

Most mental health care providers that have contracts with OptumHealth, a managed care organization which has the contract to manage county-funded mental health services, experienced a 5.5 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursement, county officials said.

Valley Mental Health, meanwhile, received a 4.9 percent reduction in reimbursement rates because some services it provides cannot be cut due to federal requirements. Also, former Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon had made prior commitments not to cut the funding of the Carmen Pingree School for Children with Autism, which is operated by VMH.

"How does a 2.5 percent cut in budget translate into a 25 percent cut in clients?" McAdams asked.

Valley Mental Health President and CEO Gary Larcenaire said VMH has been serving the same number of clients for about $5 million less in revenue. "We maintained that as long as we could," he said.

VMH made "a conscious decision to only transition those clients who are doing well or are in recovery. We believe those clients are most capable of making that transition successfully," he said.

As for McAdams calling for an audit, Larcenaire said Valley Mental Health is audited "annually and frequently.

"If the mayor wants some additional information from us, we'll be happy to cooperate with all appropriate reviews."

McAdams said VMH's announcement to cut clients caught him by surprise. Other mental health providers that contract with OptumHealth, too, have said they would feel the pinch of cutting Medicaid reimbursements from $108 to $102 per visit. "Every other provider said they would make it work," McAdams said.

Rachelle Graham, a client of Valley Mental Health, said she fears that any change to her care will set back her recovery. "For me, Valley Mental Health was the only place that could help me," she said.

OptumHealth has established a process to assist VMH clients who have been notified by VMH that it will no longer be able to provide their care. The number of affected clients may be closer to 1,600 than 2,200, McAdams said.

For referrals to new providers or to learn more about the appeals process, call 1-800-982-3036.

Larcenaire encouraged clients to avail themselves to the appeals process.

"If you have any concerns, if you feel you're not going to be successful transitioning, then use the appeals process," he said.

Valley Mental Health will continue to serve patients with severe, persistent mental health issues. The cuts will not affect its other services, which include substance abuse treatment and serving children with autism.

Contributing: Keith McCord

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com